The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms
Not long after Reggie was released from Wandsworth prison, he was arrested on a charge of housebreaking. The woman who had originally filed the charges failed to identify him in court and the case was dismissed; Reggie was awarded costs.
Then, he and Ronnie were charged with "loitering" with intent to steal parked cars in the Queensbridge Road, a main thoroughfare that connects Hackney to Bethnal Green. It was a ludicrous charge and Ronnie was determined to use it to expose what he perceived to be a vendetta against him and his brothers by the local police.
He hired a famous young female barrister, Nemone Lethbridge, to defend them, and used private detectives to check out the charges. Eventually eight witnesses came forward to provide a cast-iron alibi. Through contacts he had on a the local paper, Ronnie made sure the East End press carried their side of the story.
On May 8th 1961, the Marylebone Magistrates' Court dismissed the charges. A full-scale party was held at Esmeralda's Barn, where Ronnie proposed a toast to "British Justice." He had all the national press coverage he wanted. The Daily Express, one of Britain's leading newspapers, carried a long article about them. Ronnie felt he was untouchable.
Reggie proposed marriage to Frances in the autumn of 1961, but she turned him down. She felt she was too young to marry. One night, after the twins had one of their innumerable arguments, Ronnie decided he had finished with life "up West" and he moved into a caravan he owned which was parked on a plot of land in Vallance Road.
More and more, his time was devoted to planning and scheming through a nebulous itinerary of fantasies. Treasure hunting in the Congo; establishing an English version of Murder Incorporated; giving it all up and going off to work in a leper colony in Africa. He spent lengthy sessions with a lady clairvoyant, who confirmed that he was in fact the reincarnation of Attila the Hun; he would achieve greatness through violence and then die young.
Ronnie soon tired of his lifestyle in the caravan and moved into an apartment in a block of thirty, called Cedra Court, which was in Walthamstow, about five miles north of Vallance Road. He began building up "The Firm," adding to it many villains from outside of London. He found these men legitimate employment. Some were installed as managers in the clubs the Krays' owned or had interests in. Some were placed as bouncers in West End clubs that looked to the Krays for protection.
Reggie was working hard at this part of their business and by the end of 1962, their revenue from this source had doubled. The twins had developed such a reputation that often club owners approached them first, seeking their guarantee of cover. Soon, as well as the East End, the Firm was protecting clubs in Shepherd's Market, Mayfair, Soho, Chelsea and Knightsbridge.
They had a seemingly endless list of these businesses paying tribute to them. Benny's in Commercial Road; Dodgers in Brick Lane; in Whitechapel, the Green Dragon and next door to this The Little Dragon; The Two Aces; in Soho the Gigi Club, The New Life and The New Mill. The list went on and on. Every Friday, members of The Firm, Albert Donaghue, Ronnie Hart, Jack Dickson and Ian Barrie would make the rounds, collecting the cash for the twins. It was known as "the milk round."
Representatives from American Mafia families, as well as French and Corsican criminals, who were scoping out London as a potential market, were contacting Reggie early on in their initial market surveys. There was a seemingly endless list of opportunities being presented to the brothers.
By now the twins had set their sights on dominating the control of crime in the West End of London. What they had done so successfully for so long back in the East End, would work just as well in the rich and more vulnerable swinging London of the sixties. There was really nothing to stop them now. They seemed untouchable.
They had cultivated a myth that they had many senior police officers in their pocket; their recent successful actions against the law made them appear invincible; it was assumed to be very unwise to even contemplate giving evidence against them; and then there was their elaborate network of informants that kept them abreast of any activity that might threaten their security. Like politicians, gangsters are often perceived more for what they might do, than for the acts they actually perform. Ronnie loved to have people go in fear of him and his fellow criminals. The greater the rumours, the more evil the insinuations, the more he enjoyed it. He and Reggie were growing into a legend. The myth that surrounded them was good for business.
In the early part of 1962, the twins opened their latest club venture and called it The Kentucky. It was situated in Bow Road in Stepney, just across from the Empire Cinema. It was a plusher version of The Double R and designed to attract a smart, sophisticated clientele to the East End. Reggie was working around the clock putting deals together, and his relationship with Frances was being sorely tested. She objected strongly to the way Ronnie and his friends were seemingly taking over their lives. They agreed it might be better if they saw less of each other.
Leslie Payne was more and more becoming involved in the administration of The Firm. One of their great sources of income was a scam they ran called the "long firm" fraud.
It was in essence so simple, but yet so effective. Using a front man over whom they had control, they would set up a business. Open premises, originate lines of credit and a bank account and then begin to trade. Over a period of time they would create a good impression, pay their bills on time and do their banking by the book. Then, choosing the right moment, they would place large orders with their suppliers, who confident because of their credit history would deliver the goods. These would then be sold off in one mad day of sales, at any prices, because the goods had to go. The business would then close down and everyone would vanish, leaving unpaid bills, irate creditors and the police wondering what had happened.
If the manager were ever caught, he would accept his punishment and go to jail, knowing that the twins had deposited a fat sum in a Swiss bank account for him. In 1962, the Krays cleared over one hundred thousand pounds from this scam.
Payne, using an accountant who worked for him, set up a legitimate business operation that was to be used to cover shady deals that would involve not only domestic but international business frauds. By the summer of 1963, the twins' horizon was expanding dramatically. Their protection rackets were developing; they were looking at buying betting shops, tobacconists and restaurants and also a demolition business. Reggie was keen to acquire a security firm specialising in the protection and transportation of valuable goods. Who better to offer protection than the Krays?
The brothers decided to move their headquarters first from Esmeralda's Barn to a hotel in Seven Sisters Road in Stoke Newington. Ronnie felt the need for something more grand, and so they made move to take over The Cambridge Rooms, a big restaurant on the Kingston bypass, close to the Surrey stockbroker belt. Ronnie had a long talk to the manager and an agreement was reached allowing the twins to become partners in the business. The night they consummated their takeover of the management, they held a big party. Billy Daniels broadcast a message of congratulations over loudspeakers, direct from Hollywood, and Sonny Liston, then heavyweight champion of the world attended as guest of honour.
After a raucous evening of partying, Ronnie, very drunk, insisted on driving Liston home to his room at The Dorchester Hotel in west London. Liston said afterwards, that the thirty minutes he spent in that car were the scariest moments of his life, bar none.
Ronnie met up at some stage during these times, with Ernest Shinwell, the son of the famous Labour politician, Lord "Manny" Shinwell. Ernest was involved in trying to finance a deal to help build a new town in Nigeria near a place called Enugu. Although there was a lot of interest from the Nigerian government, and architects and contractors had all committed to the project, the raising of money to fund the venture was causing problems.
It was arranged to fly Ronnie out to Nigeria, where he was given a welcome more fitting to a diplomat or royalty, than a gangster from the East End. For three days he was wined, dined and given VIP treatment.
Back in London, Payne was setting the wheels in motion to set up holding companies to act as the vehicle for the fund raising. But the project was doomed from day one, and when Payne was detained in Nigeria while visiting to set up contacts, and a contractor demanded monies promised but outstanding, the whole thing collapsed. The twins had to bail Payne out and bring him back to England. Ronnie was devastated and felt betrayed by the loss of an opportunity that could have propelled him into the greatness he believed was his to achieve.
Ronnie descended more and more into his own pitiless world of shadows and imagined dangers. His capricious violence erupted more often. A boxer who insulted him had his face slashed open, requiring over seventy stitches to repair the damage. An old friend of the twins who offended one of their allies had his face branded in retaliation. Two men were hired to shoot another malcontent who had the nerve to pick a fight with an associate of the twins. They shot his brother by mistake. The man lost a leg.
Ronnie toyed with the idea of using castration as a suitable form of punishment on some of their enemies, but fortunately never found the opportunity to put his perverse conception into practice. More and more, Reggie was spending his valuable time trying to keep his brother from loosing his grip on reality and doing something seriously stupid.
By the end of 1963, in debt and with potential tax problems looming, Esmeralda's Bar was closed down. The twins had plenty of other business ventures to occupy their time and there were many potentially important deals in the offing. They would be crossing paths with some really big time gangsters from America, and there were to be many more famous and influential people to meet and socialise with over the next five years.
And there was one person in particular who would have a profound impact on them. Moving through the periphery of their beleaguered lifestyle was a small, neat and precise man, waiting and watching for an opportunity to strike them down. His time would come, early one morning in May, 1968.