The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms
Lords of the Manor
A year after they were dishonorably discharged from the Army, the twins went into their first business venture. With a loan from elder brother Charlie, they assumed the title to a lease on a fourteen-table billiard hall, which had been converted from an old movie theatre called The Regal in Eric Street, off the Mile End Road in Bethnal Green.
The hall was open day and nights, and soon became a regular meeting haunt for a disparate group of people. Men fresh out of prison, old friends the twins had known in the Army, some of the local criminals and tough teenage boys from the Mile End looking for some excitement. Ronnie began to develop an image he had dreamed of over the years. He started to dress gangster-style, double-breasted, wide shouldered suits, large rings and heavy bracelet watches. He had his own chair and liked to sit, facing the door, watching the arrivals. He loved the atmosphere, and as the table lights flickered on he would hand out cigarettes to people and say, "Smoke up. There's not enough smoke in here."
Some nights, the twins would invite a group of their hangers-on to drink with them. They would go to a crowded, noisy pub, never knowing what the evening would bring.
One thing was for certain. At some stage it would involve brawling and fighting.
The twins loved to mix it with anyone at any time. Although not particularly big men, standing about five-ten and weighing under one hundred seventy pounds, they were extremely skilled fighters, and in the several hundred bar brawls, woundings, and punch-ups they were involved in, they never seemed to come off second best. They both were abnormally tough, strong in the arms and shoulders and precise in the use of their fists as weapons. They seemed to exist on little or no sleep. Ronnie, on one occasion, reputedly drank fifty-five bottles of beer in one night, and yet the next day, carried on as normal.
Reggie developed a trademark "sucker punch." He practiced it for hours on a punch bag. He would offer a man a cigarette with his right hand and as the man was accepting it into his mouth, Reggie would slug him with a cruel left hook. He broke many jaws. An open jaw fractures easily.
The twins very quickly learned the importance of leadership and discipline. From the start, Ronnie understood the significance of reliable information and intelligence gathering, He gathered about him a group of young boys he used to meet in a cafe in the Bethnal Green Road. He called them "my little information service" and used them extensively to watch houses, clubs or to follow someone and then report back. He also started to develop a taste for them in a different way.
Although Reggie was an effective fighter and organizer, Ronnie seemed more and more to grasp the initiative. After one prolonged briefing with a group of their followers, one of them said, "Christ, Ron. You're just like a bloody colonel."
The name stuck.
Although short sighted and a mediocre shot, Ronnie was obsessed with firearms, and stored a collection of these, along with bayonets, cavalry sabers and Ghurkha knives, under the floorboards at 178 Vallance Road. Reggie was the more practical and opportunistic one and saw the billiard hall for what it could truly be: a venue, safe and protected from the police, where local villains could meet freely and exchange ideas and information without fear of interference from the law. Soon the hall was being used to store stolen goods and acting as a conduit for local fences. Always, a good percentage went to the twins.
At this time, the twins were basically outsiders in the criminal underworld of the East End. Most of the serious "guv'nors" or provincial crime barons ignored them. Then three brothers, dockers, who ruled the local area sent the twins an invitation for a Sunday morning drink at a pub in the Mile End Road. It was common knowledge that this was "D" day and the chips were down.
On that morning, the twins wandered down to the pub. At ten minutes past high noon, they walked into the private bar where three very large men were quietly drinking. The twins walked in, closed the door and the fight began. When it ended, the pub manager decided to check and see if the twins had learned their lesson. There was blood and broken glass everywhere; two of the dockers were stretched out unconscious on the floor, and Ronnie had to be dragged off the third one before he killed him.
Ronnie had a surprisingly simple life. He lived at his parents' home in Vallance Road, where his doting mother cared for his wants. Apart from running the billiard hall and getting into the odd fight, he seemed to have no other interests. He couldn't drive, didn't know how to thieve and had no understanding of betting or gambling. He had no urge for grand living. His only weakness was for young boys. He had no interest in women, but with boys he could be unexpectedly sentimental and gentle. But he was wary of being known as a homosexual and rarely, if ever, took a boy out on the town.
What he really wanted was fame and recognition. All his life, he had lived a "Walter Mitty" existence, peopled with gangsters, boxers, and military heroes. Now that he was the "Colonel," he was achieving his ambition. He had his haircut and his nails manicured at home. A masseur called to give him personal treatment every morning. He practiced yoga each day, and at one time lived on a diet of raw eggs because he believed they helped to strengthen the body and make it good for sex. He became obsessively cautious about the police and became convinced his telephone was tapped. He would sleep at night with a gun under his pillow and the light left on.
More and more Reggie slipped into the dark and brooding shadow of Ronnie. He adopted Ronnie's dress habits; he would match his violence when required, but he hankered for what he called "the good life." Possession, respect, a wife -- the very things that were furthest from Ronnie's thoughts.
By 1956, their twenty-second year, the twins were a formidable pair. Ronnie would garnish their reputation for violence and Reggie would promote it for all it was worth. But at the end of the day, they both were there if a serious fight presented itself.
Soon, the twins were generating cash by "poncing" off local villains. "Poncing" in the East End vernacular, was extorting a share of illegal profits resulting from thieving and robbery committed on their patch.
Illegal bookmaking and gambling dens also became a major potential source of corruption. Thieves, anxious to off-load their spoils, would make the twins their first contact point. There were also the old-fashioned cockney con tricks to be worked. They became experts at working the "tweedle" and "jargon" scams which involved manipulating paste rings and jewelery and screwing victims out of their money before they discovered their mistakes. But the twins were after more than the small time stuff. At some stage in this period of their lives, they both agreed that they were hungering for something else. They wanted to be the barons of crime, rather than the serfs.