Kray twins

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Ronald and Reginald Kray
Reginald (left) and Ronald Kray, photographed by David Bailey
Born(1933-10-24)24 October 1933
Haggerston, London, England
OccupationGangsters, nightclub owners
OrganizationThe Firm
  • Reggie:
    Frances Shea
    (m. 1965;died 1967)

    Roberta Jones
    (m. 1997)
    [1] [2]
  • Ronnie:
    Elaine Mildener
    (m. 1985;div. 1989)
    Kate Howard
    (m. 1989;div. 1994)

Ronald "Ronnie" Kray (24 October 1933 17 March 1995) and Reginald "Reggie" Kray (24 October 1933 1 October 2000), twin brothers, were British criminals, the foremost perpetrators of organised crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s. With their gang, known as "The Firm", the Krays were involved in murder, armed robbery, arson, protection rackets and assaults.


In the 1960s, as West End nightclub owners, the Kray twins mixed with politicians and prominent entertainers such as Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. They became celebrities themselves, were photographed by David Bailey and interviewed on television.

The Krays were arrested on 8 May 1968 and convicted in 1969, as a result of the efforts of detectives led by Detective Superintendent Leonard "Nipper" Read. Each was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ronnie remained in Broadmoor Hospital until his death on 17 March 1995 from a heart attack; Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, eight-and-a-half weeks before he died of bladder cancer.

Early life

Ronald "Ronnie" and Reginald "Reggie" Kray were born on 24 October 1933 in Haggerston, East London, to Charles David Kray (10 March 1907 – 8 March 1983), a wardrobe dealer, [4] and Violet Annie Lee (5 August 1909 – 4 August 1982). [5] The brothers were twins, with Reggie was born in 10 minutes before Ronnie. [6] Their parents already had a six-year-old son, Charles James (9 July 1927 – 4 April 2000). [6] A sister, Violet (born 1929), died in infancy. [6] When the twins were three years old, they contracted diphtheria.

The twins first attended Wood Close School in Brick Lane, and then Daniel Street School. [7] In 1938, the Kray family moved from Stean Street in Haggerston to 178 Vallance Road in Bethnal Green.

During the Second World War, the twins were evacuated to East House in Hadleigh, Suffolk with their mother Violet and their older brother Charles. They stayed at East House with the owners Dr and Mrs Style for about one year before moving back to London as Violet missed her friends and family. While they were in Hadleigh, the twins attended Bridge Street Boys School. When the twins were interviewed in 1989 while at Broadmoor Hospital, Ronnie described Hadleigh as their first time in the countryside. What appealed to the twins was the "quietness, the peacefulness of it, the fresh air, nice scenery, nice countryside – different from London. We used to go to a big 'ill called Constitution Hill and used to go sledging there in the winter-time." [8]

The influence of their maternal grandfather, Jimmy "Cannonball" Lee, [9] caused the brothers to take up amateur boxing, then a popular pastime for working-class boys in the East End. Sibling rivalry spurred them on, and both achieved some success.

Military service

The Krays were called up to do National Service in the British Army in March 1952. Although the pair reported to the depot of the Royal Fusiliers at the Tower of London, they attempted to leave after only a few minutes. When the corporal in charge tried to stop them, he was seriously injured by Ronnie Kray who punched him on the jaw. The Krays walked back to their East End home. They were arrested the next morning by the police and turned over to the army. [10]

In September while absent without leave (AWOL) again, they assaulted a police constable who tried to arrest them. They became among the last prisoners to be held at the Tower of London before being transferred to Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset for a month to await court-martial. After they were convicted, both were sent to the Buffs' Home Counties Brigade Depot jail in Canterbury, Kent. However, when it became clear they were both to be dishonourably discharged from the army, the Krays' behaviour became worse. They dominated the exercise areas outside their one-man cells, threw tantrums, emptied a latrine bucket over a sergeant, dumped a canteen full of hot tea on another guard, handcuffed a guard to their prison bars with a pair of stolen cuffs and set their bedding on fire. [11] [12] Eventually they were moved to a communal cell where they assaulted their guard with a vase and escaped. After being quickly recaptured, they spent their last night in military custody in Canterbury drinking cider, eating crisps and smoking cigarillos courtesy of the young national servicemen acting as their guards. The next day the Krays were transferred to a civilian prison to serve sentences for the crimes they committed while AWOL.

Criminal careers

Nightclub owners

Their criminal records and dishonourable discharges from the Royal Fusiliers ended their boxing careers, and the brothers turned to crime full-time. They bought a run-down snooker club in Mile End where they started several protection rackets. By the end of the 1950s, the Krays were working for Jay Murray from Liverpool and were involved in hijacking, armed robbery and arson, through which they acquired other clubs and properties. In 1960, Ronnie Kray was imprisoned for 18 months for running a protection racket and related threats. While Ronnie was in prison, Peter Rachman, head of a landlord operation, sold Reggie a nightclub called Esmeralda's Barn, to ward off threats of further extortion. The location is where the Berkeley Hotel now stands. [13]

This increased the Krays' influence in the West End by making them celebrities as well as criminals. The Kray twins adopted a norm according to which anyone who failed to show due respect would be severely punished. [14] They were assisted by a banker named Alan Cooper who wanted protection against the Krays' rivals, the Richardsons, based in South London. [15]

Celebrity status

In the 1960s, the Kray brothers were widely seen as prosperous and charming celebrity nightclub owners and were part of the Swinging London scene. A large part of their fame was due to their non-criminal activities as popular figures on the celebrity circuit, being photographed by David Bailey on more than one occasion and socialising with lords, MPs, socialites and show business characters, including George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Peter Sellers, Judy Garland, Diana Dors, Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Cliff Richard, Jayne Mansfield, Danny La Rue and Barbara Windsor.

They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world... and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable...

– Ronnie Kray, in his autobiography My Story [16]

Lord Boothby and Tom Driberg

The Krays also came to public attention in July 1964 when an exposé in the tabloid newspaper Sunday Mirror insinuated that Ronnie had conceived a sexual relationship with Lord Boothby, a Conservative politician, [17] at a time when sex between men was still a criminal offence in the UK. Although no names were printed in the piece, the twins threatened the journalists involved, and Boothby threatened to sue the newspaper with the help of Labour Party leader Harold Wilson's solicitor Arnold Goodman (Wilson wanted to protect the reputation of Labour MP Tom Driberg, a relatively open gay man known to associate with both Boothby and Ronnie Kray, just weeks ahead of a pending General Election which Labour was hoping to win). In the face of this, the newspaper backed down, sacking its editor, printing an apology and paying Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement. [18] Because of this, other newspapers were unwilling to expose the Krays' connections and criminal activities. Much later, Channel 4 established the truth of the allegations and released a documentary on the subject called The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009). [19]

The police investigated the Krays on several occasions, but the brothers' reputation for violence made witnesses afraid to testify. There was also a problem for both main political parties. The Conservative Party was unwilling to press the police to end the Krays' power for fear that the Boothby connection would again be publicised, and the Labour Party, in power from October 1964, but with a wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons and the prospect of another General Election needing to be called in the very near future, did not want Driberg's connections to Ronnie Kray (and his sexual predilections) to get into the public realm. [20] [21]

George Cornell

Blind Beggar pub in 2005 The blind beggar 1.jpg
Blind Beggar pub in 2005

Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell, a member of the Richardson Gang (a rival South London gang), at the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel on 9 March 1966. The day before, there had been a shoot-out at Mr Smith's, a nightclub in Catford, involving the Richardson gang and Richard Hart, an associate of the Krays, who was shot dead. This public shoot-out led to the arrest of nearly all the Richardson gang. Cornell, by chance, was not present at the club during the shoot-out and was not arrested. After visiting the hospital to check up on his friends, he randomly chose to visit the Blind Beggar pub, only a mile away from where the Krays lived.

Ronnie was drinking in another pub when he learned of Cornell's whereabouts. He went there with his driver "Scotch Jack" John Dickson and his assistant Ian Barrie. Ronnie went into the pub with Barrie, walked straight to Cornell and shot him in the head in public view. Barrie, confused by what happened, fired five shots in the air warning the public not to report what had happened to the police. Just before he was shot, Cornell remarked, "Well, look who's here." He died at 3:30am in hospital. [22]

Ronnie Kray was already suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the killing. [23]

According to some sources, Ronnie killed Cornell because Cornell referred to him as a "fat poof" (a derogatory term for gay men) during a confrontation between the Krays and the Richardson gang at the Astor Club on Christmas Day 1965. [24]

Richardson gang member "Mad" Frankie Fraser was tried for the murder of Richard Hart at Mr. Smith's, but was found not guilty. Richardson gang member Ray "the Belgian" Cullinane testified that he saw Cornell kicking Hart. Witnesses would not co-operate with the police in the murder case due to intimidation, and the trial ended inconclusively without pointing to any suspect in particular. [15]

Frank Mitchell

On 12 December 1966, the Krays helped Frank Mitchell, "the Mad Axeman", [15] to escape from Dartmoor Prison. Ronnie had befriended Mitchell while they served time together in Wandsworth Prison. Mitchell felt that the authorities should review his case for parole, so Ronnie thought that he would be doing him a favour by getting him out of Dartmoor, highlighting his case in the media and forcing the authorities to act.[ citation needed ]

Once Mitchell was out of Dartmoor, the Krays held him at a friend's flat in Barking Road, East Ham. He was a large man with a mental disorder, and he was difficult to control. He disappeared, but the Krays were acquitted of his murder. [15] Freddie Foreman, a friend of the Krays, claimed in his autobiography Respect that he shot Mitchell dead as a favour to the twins and disposed of his body at sea.[ citation needed ]

Jack "the Hat" McVitie

The Krays' criminal activities remained hidden behind both their celebrity status and seemingly legitimate businesses. Reggie was allegedly encouraged by his brother in October 1967, four months after the suicide of his wife, Frances, to kill Jack "the Hat" McVitie, a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to fulfil a £1,000 contract, £500 of which had been paid to him in advance, to kill their financial advisor, Leslie Payne. [25] [26] McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Evering Road, Stoke Newington on the pretence of a party. Upon entering the premises, he saw Ronnie Kray seated in the front room. Ronnie approached, letting loose a barrage of verbal abuse and cutting McVitie below his eye with a piece of broken glass. It is believed that an argument then broke out between the twins and McVitie. As the argument got more heated, Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at McVitie's head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge. [27]

McVitie was then held in a bear hug by the twins' cousin, Ronnie Hart, and Reggie Kray was handed a carving knife. He then stabbed McVitie in the face and stomach, driving the blade into his neck while twisting the knife, not stopping even as McVitie lay on the floor dying. Reggie had committed a very public murder, against someone who many members of the Firm felt did not deserve to die. In an interview in 2000, shortly after Reggie's death, Freddie Foreman revealed that McVitie had a reputation for leaving carnage behind him due to his habitual consumption of drugs and heavy drinking, and his having threatened to harm the twins and their family. [28]

Tony and Chris Lambrianou and Ronnie Bender helped clear up the evidence of this crime, and attempted to assist in the disposal of the body. With McVitie's body being too big to fit in the boot of the car, the body was wrapped in an eiderdown and put in the back seat of a car. Tony Lambrianou drove the car with the body and Chris Lambrianou and Bender followed behind. Crossing the Blackwall tunnel, Chris lost Tony's car, and spent up to fifteen minutes looking around Rotherhithe area. They eventually found Tony, outside St Mary's Church, where he had run out of fuel with McVitie's body still inside the car. With no alternative but to dump the corpse in the churchyard, and attempt to plant a gang south of the River Thames, the body was left in the car and the three gangsters returned home. Bender then went on to phone Charlie Kray informing them that it had been dealt with. However, upon finding out where they had left McVitie's corpse, the twins were livid and desperately phoned Foreman, who was then running a pub in Southwark, to see if he could dispose of the body. With dawn breaking, Foreman found the car, broke into it and drove the body to Newhaven where, with the help of a trawlerman, the body was bound with chicken wire and dumped in the English Channel. [29]

This event started turning many people against the Krays, and some were prepared to testify to Scotland Yard as to what had happened, fearing that what happened to McVitie could easily happen to them. [30]

Arrest and trial

Photograph of London gangster Reginald Kray (second from left) taken in the months leading up to his trial in 1968. The evidence from this file and others resulted in him and his brother Ronald being sentenced to life imprisonment. London gangster Reginald "Reggie" Kray in 1968.jpg
Photograph of London gangster Reginald Kray (second from left) taken in the months leading up to his trial in 1968. The evidence from this file and others resulted in him and his brother Ronald being sentenced to life imprisonment.

Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard "Nipper" Read of Scotland Yard was promoted to the Murder Squad and his first assignment was to bring down the Kray twins. It was not his first involvement with them. During the first half of 1964, Read had been investigating their activities, but publicity and official denials of Ron's relationship with Boothby made the evidence that he collected useless. Read went after the twins with renewed activity in 1967, but frequently came up against the East End "wall of silence" which discouraged anyone from providing information to the police. [31] They were represented in court by Nemone Lethbridge. [32]

Nevertheless, by the end of 1967 Read had built up enough evidence against the Krays. Witness statements incriminated them, as did other evidence, but none made a convincing case on any one charge.

Early in 1968, the Krays employed Alan Bruce Cooper who sent Paul Elvey to Glasgow to buy explosives for a car bomb. Elvey was the radio engineer who put Radio Sutch on the air in 1964, later renamed Radio City. After police detained him in Scotland, he confessed to being involved in three murder attempts. The evidence was weakened by Cooper, who claimed that he was an agent for the US Treasury Department investigating links between the American Mafia and the Kray gang. The botched murders[ which? ] were his attempt to put the blame on the Krays. Cooper was being employed as a source by one of Read's superior officers, and Read tried using him as a trap for the Krays, but they avoided him.

Conviction and imprisonment

Eventually, Scotland Yard decided to arrest the Krays on the evidence already collected, in the hope that other witnesses would be forthcoming once the Krays were in custody. On 8 May 1968, [33] the Krays and 15 other members of the Firm were arrested. Exceptional circumstances were put in place so as to stop any possible co-operation between any of the accused. Nipper Read then secretly interviewed each of the arrested, and offered each member of the Firm a deal if they testified against the others. Whilst in prison, the Krays had come up with a plan, which included having Scotch Jack Dickson to confess to the murder of Cornell, Ronnie Hart to take the McVitie murder and Albert Donoghue to stand for Mitchell.

Donoghue told the twins directly that he wasn't prepared to be cajoled into pleading guilty, to the anger of the twins. He then informed Read via his mother that he was ready to cooperate. Read set up another secret interview, and Donoghue was the first to tell the police everything that he knew.

Ronnie Hart had initially not been arrested, and was not a name initially sought after by the police. With Donoghue's testimony, Hart was hunted down, found and arrested. Offering the same terms as the others arrested, Hart then told Read everything that had happened during McVitie's murder, although he did not know anything about what happened to the body. This was the first time that the police knew exactly who was involved, and offered them a solid case to prosecute the twins for McVitie's murder.

Although Read knew for certain that Ronnie Kray had murdered George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub no one had been prepared to testify against the twins out of fear. Upon finding out the twins intended to cajole him, 'Scotch Jack' Dickson also turned in everything he knew about Cornell's murder. Although not a witness to the actual murder he was an accessory, having driven Ronnie Kray and Ian Barrie to the pub. The police still needed an actual witness to the murder. They then managed to track down the barmaid who was working in the pub at the time of the murder, gave her a secret identity and she testified to seeing Ronnie kill Cornell.

Frank Mitchell's escape and disappearance were much harder to obtain evidence for, since the majority of those arrested were not involved with his planned escape and disappearance. Read decided to proceed with the case and have a separate trial for Mitchell once the twins had been convicted.

The twins' defence under their counsel John Platts-Mills, QC consisted of flat denials of all charges and discrediting witnesses by pointing out their criminal past. Justice Melford Stevenson said: "In my view, society has earned a rest from your activities." [34] It was the longest murder hearing in history of British criminal justice, [35] during which Justice Melford Stevenson stated of the sentences "which I recommend should not be less than thirty years." [36] In March 1969, both were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders of Cornell and McVitie, the longest sentences ever passed at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court, London) for murder. Their brother Charlie was imprisoned for ten years for his part in the murders. [37]

Later years

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were allowed, under heavy police guard, to attend the funeral service of their mother Violet on 11 August 1982 following her death from cancer a week earlier. They were not, however, allowed to attend her burial in the Kray family plot at Chingford Mount Cemetery. The funeral was attended by celebrities including Diana Dors and underworld figures known to the Krays. [38] To avoid the publicity that had surrounded their mother's funeral, the twins did not ask for permission to attend their father's funeral in March 1983.

Ronnie Kray was a Category A prisoner, denied almost all liberties and not allowed to mix with other prisoners. He was eventually certified insane, his paranoid schizophrenia being tempered with constant medication; [36] in 1979 [3] he was committed and lived the remainder of his life in Broadmoor Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire. [39] Reggie Kray, constantly being refused parole, [36] was locked up in Maidstone Prison for 8 years (Category B). In 1997, he was transferred to the Category C Wayland Prison in Norfolk. [40]

In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ronnie's that led to evidence that the twins, from separate institutions, were operating Krayleigh Enterprises (a "lucrative bodyguard and 'protection' business for Hollywood stars") together with their older brother Charlie Kray and an accomplice at large. Among their clients was Frank Sinatra, who hired 18 bodyguards from Krayleigh Enterprises on his visit to the 1985 Wimbledon Championships. Documents released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that although officials were concerned about this operation, they believed that there was no legal basis to shut it down. [41]

Personal lives


In his book My Story and a comment to writer Robin McGibbon on The Kray Tapes, Ronnie states: "I'm bisexual, not gay. Bisexual." In the 1960s, he also planned to marry a woman named Monica whom he had dated for nearly three years. He called her "the most beautiful woman he had ever seen." This is mentioned in Reggie's book Born Fighter. Also, extracts are mentioned in Ron's own book My Story and in Kate Kray's books Sorted; Murder, Madness and Marriage, and Free at Last.

Ronnie was arrested before he had the chance to marry Monica, and although she married his ex-boyfriend, 59 letters sent to her between May and December 1968 when he was imprisoned show Ronnie still had feelings for her, and his love for her was very clear. He referred to her as "my little angel" and "my little doll." She also still had feelings for Ronnie. These letters were auctioned in 2010. [42]

A letter Ronnie sent to his mother Violet from prison in 1968 also refers to Monica: "if they let me see Monica and put me with Reg, I could not ask for more." He went on to say, with spelling mistakes, "Monica is the only girl I have liked in my life. She is a luvely [sic] little person as you know. When you see her, tell her I am in luve [sic] with her more than ever." [43] Ronnie subsequently married twice, marrying Elaine Mildener in 1985 at Broadmoor chapel before the couple divorced in 1989, following which he married Kate Howard, whom he divorced in 1994. [23]

In an interview with author John Pearson, Ronnie indicated he identified with the 19th century soldier Gordon of Khartoum: "Gordon was like me, homosexual, and he met his death like a man. When it's time for me to go, I hope I do the same." [44]


Reggie married Frances Shea in 1965; she died by suicide two years later. Reggie married Roberta Jones, [23] whom he met while still in prison. She was helping to publicise a film he was making about Ronnie, who had died in hospital two years earlier. [45]


There was a long-running campaign, with some minor celebrity support, to have the twins released from prison, but successive Home Secretaries vetoed the idea, largely on the grounds that both Krays' prison records were marred by violence toward other inmates. The campaign gathered momentum after the release of a film based on their lives called The Krays (1990). Produced by Ray Burdis, it starred Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp, who played the roles of Reggie and Ronnie respectively. Ronnie, Reggie and Charlie Kray received £255,000 for the film. [23]

Reggie wrote: "I seem to have walked a double path most of my life. Perhaps an extra step in one of those directions might have seen me celebrated rather than notorious." [46] Others point to Reggie's violent prison record when he was being detained separately from Ronnie and argue that in reality, the twins' temperaments were little different.

Reggie's marriage to Frances Shea (1943–67) [47] in 1965 lasted eight months when she left, although the marriage was never formally dissolved. An inquest came to the conclusion that she had committed suicide, [48] but in 2002 an ex-lover of Reggie Kray's came forward to allege that Frances was murdered by a jealous Ronnie. Bradley Allardyce spent 3 years in Maidstone Prison with Reggie and explained, "I was sitting in my cell with Reg and it was one of those nights where we turned the lights down low and put some nice music on and sometimes he would reminisce. He would get really deep and open up to me. He suddenly broke down and said 'I'm going to tell you something I've only ever told two people and something I've carried around with me' – something that had been a black hole since the day he found out. He put his head on my shoulder and told me Ronnie killed Frances. He told Reggie what he had done two days after." [49]

A British television documentary, The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009), claimed that Ronnie Kray was a rapist of men. The programme also detailed his relationship with Conservative peer Bob Boothby as well as an ongoing Daily Mirror investigation into Lord Boothby's dealings with the Kray brothers. [50] [51] [52]


Ronnie died on 17 March 1995 at the age of 61 at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire. He had suffered a heart attack at Broadmoor Hospital two days earlier. [53] Reggie was allowed out of prison in handcuffs to attend the funeral. [54]

During his incarceration, Reggie Kray became a born-again Christian. [55] He was freed from Wayland on 26 August 2000 on compassionate grounds, on the direction of Home Secretary Jack Straw, following the diagnosis of cancer. [56] He had been diagnosed with bladder cancer earlier that year, and the illness had been declared as terminal. [57] The final weeks of his life were spent with his wife of three years, Roberta, [58] in a suite at the Townhouse Hotel at Norwich, [59] after he left the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 22 September 2000. [60] On 1 October 2000, Reggie died in his sleep. [61] Ten days later, he was buried beside his brother Ronnie in Chingford Mount Cemetery. [62] During the funeral, crowds of thousands lined up to applaud.

Ronnie and Reggie's older brother Charlie Kray was released from prison in 1975 after serving seven years for his role in their gangland crimes, [63] but was sentenced again in 1997 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine in an undercover drugs sting. [64] He died in prison of natural causes on 4 April 2000, [65] aged 73. [63]

The Kray twins have seeded an extensive bibliography leading to many autobiographical accounts, biographical reconstructions, commentaries, analysis, fiction and speculation. [36]


In addition to films explicitly about the twins, James Fox met Ronnie whilst the twins were held at HM Prison Brixton as part of his research for his role in the 1970 film Performance, and Richard Burton visited Ronnie at Broadmoor as part of his preparation for his role as a violent gangster in the 1971 film Villain . [23]





Warped by Martin Malcolm directed by Russell Lucas opened at VAULT Festival in 2019. The play tells the story of two young men who idolise the Krays.

Two plays were produced in the 1970s that were based on thinly-veiled versions of the Krays:


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