Life in the East End with the Krays

Reginald and Ronald Kray were notorious criminals whose obsession with assaulting others, encouraging each other to greater levels of violence, and extending their personal power and domination culminated in a serious protection racket in London and a number of murders. Their blatant violence and unstable mental condition, particularly of Ronald Kray, led to intimidation of witnesses and the prospect of their escaping justice until they were arrested and convicted by the efforts of a special squad of detectives led by Detective Superintendent Leonard (“Nipper”) Read.

The twins were born in 1933 and made their first appearance at the Old Bailey in 1950, where a case of assault was dismissed for lack of evidence. In 1952 they entered a period of National Service remarkable for their violence, serious trouble with the military authorities and periods in custody. After being released, they commenced a period of increasing control over criminals, pubs and clubs in the East End of London. On 5 th November 1956 Ronald Kray was jailed for 3 years for assaulting Terence Martin in a gang-related incident. He later became friends in Wandsworth prison with Frank Mitchell and was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. His violence worsened after his release.

In February 1960 Reginald Kray was imprisoned for 18 months for protection-related threats, and whilst he was in prison, Peter Rachman, the head of a violent landlord operation, gave Ronald the Esmeralda’s Barn night club in Knightsbridge which served to increase the twins’ influence in the West End, and with some “celebrities” and famous people, rather than East End criminals. They were assisted by a banker Alan Cooper who needed protection from the rival Richardson gang from South London.

Christmas 1965 marked a confrontation between the Krays and Richardsons at the Astor Club when a Richardson associate, George Cornell, referred to Ronald Kray as a “fat poof”. A gang war followed, and a Kray ally, Richard Hart, was murdered at Mr Smith’s club in Catford on 8 th March 1966. Ronald Kray took revenge by killing George Cornell in The Blind Beggar public house, Whitechapel Road. Intimidation prevented any witnesses from cooperating with police.

On 12 th December 1965 the Krays assisted Frank Mitchell (“The Mad Axeman”) to escape from Dartmoor prison, but Mitchell became increasingly violent and unstable whilst staying in a flat in Barking Road. He disappeared and the Kray twins were later acquitted of his murder. The body was never recovered.

Ronald gave a gun and £100 to Jack “The Hat” McVitie with instructions to murder Leslie Payne and the promise of a further £400 when the murder had taken place. Payne remained alive, but it was Reginald who went to collect the £100. He was moved by McVitie’s tale of sorrow and gave McVitie £50. This infuriated Ronald, and led to a stand-off between the Krays and McVitie, culminating in the Krays inviting him to a “party” where Reginald, egged on by Ronald, murdered him. McVitie’s was another body not recovered.

The Krays tested Alan Cooper by suggesting that he carry out a murder, and Cooper in turn recruited Paul Elvey to do the work for him. Elvey was arrested, and Detective Superintendent Read’s team interviewed him. Elvey confessed, and Cooper became implicated in three attempted murders. Through Cooper there would be evidence against the Krays.

Lol had this cartoon of the Crow Twins on his office wall as a warm tribute to his friends

The Kray twins were arrested on 9 th May 1968 and once they were detained in police custody, witnesses slowly started to develop the confidence to give evidence of the truth to the police team. The trial lasted 39 days at the Old Bailey and the Kray twins were sentenced to life imprisonment, thereby removing from London a notorious criminal influence.