Ronald Kray (1933 – 1995) and Reginald Kray (1933 – 2000) were twin brothers (born 10 minutes apart) who ran a criminal Mafia-style operation in the East End of London, England, UK in the 1960s. They became an East End legend.
As children, they both fell ill with the often fatal illness of Diptheria, but while Reggie bounced back, the more sickly Ronnie threatened to succumb. After three months in the hospital, their mother, Violet – against all advice – took Ronnie home and nursed him to health against all the odds.
Managing their kingdom from their mother’s house in Vallance Road, Bethnal Green, the twins were primarily in the gangster business for glamour and reputation. They dreamed of comparisons with Al Capone but never really earned much from their gang activities.
Both could be overwhelmingly hospitable, and to be in their presence was to enter the atmosphere (laconic, lavish, dangerous) of an early Bogart movie. Their gang collected protection money, organised illegal gambling and drinking clubs, and participated in gang warfare – operating from Walthamstow to Chelsea, Soho to Whitechapel.
The twins also owned the Double R club and the Regal Billiards Hall in Bow.
Detectives felt powerless to stop the new breed of gangsters, and an early attempt to convict them of murder failed. Their activities became increasingly violent.
Ronnie Kray – known as ‘The Colonel’ – shot dead George Cornell (a member of a rival gang) in the Blind Beggar pub, Whitechapel, in March 1966, for supposedly calling the homosexual criminal a “fat poof”.
Reggie stabbed another man (Jack “The Hat” McVitie) to death in a basement flat in Stoke Newington, North London in October 1967 because he had threatened his brother.
The twins were tried at the Old Bailey in 1969, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment of not less than 30 years, with a recommended total of 130 years.
Their elder brother Charlie (seven years older than his more famous twin brothers) received ten years for being an accessory to the murder of McVitie.
Other Kray associates convicted included John Barrie (known as “Scotch Ian”), who went with Ronnie to the Blind Beggar; Christopher Lambrianou and his brother Anthony; Ronald Bender; Cornelius Whitehead (who cleaned up the flat where McVitie’s killing took place); and Freddie Foreman, licensee of the Prince of Wales pub in Southwark, who was imprisoned for helping dispose of McVitie’s body.
Ronald Kray was subsequently declared a paranoid schizophrenic and transferred to Broadmoor Hospital. A campaign to free the twins in 1987 failed.
Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet starred as the twins in The Krays (1990), a brutally stark account of the absolute rulers of London’s East End underworld through their reign of terror in the 1950s and 1960s.
Ronnie died of a heart attack on 17 March 1995 at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire. He was 61.
Reggie died from terminal cancer on 1 October 2000 after being released from prison on compassionate grounds. He was 66.