The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms
London has always had criminals. The biggest city in Britain, it acted as a magnet, drawing into its fold those anxious to make money without the respectable inconvenience of working for it. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Odessian and Bessarabian gangs preyed on Russian immigrants in the Whitechapel quarter of the East End. The Blind Beggar Gang, a team of skilled pick-pockets, operated out of a public house that would become famous in later years as the site of a gangland shooting. Street thugs formed into groups and called themselves "The Titanics" or "The Hoxton Mob" or "The Vendetta Mob." The Jamaican Eddie Mannings, and a Japanese called Sess Miyakawa rang drug rings in the early 1920's.
The first of the British gangs that had any real international connections were the Sabinis, led by Charles "Darby" Sabini. They operated around the racecourses of South England and also ran protection rackets with clubs as well as operating highly organized robbery teams. The Sabinis flourished for almost twenty years, often importing Sicilian criminals to help them in their skirmishes with other groups such as the Elephant and Castle Mob. After the Second World War, the two major gang leaders in London and South England were Billy Hill and Jack "Spot" Comer.
They had formed an alliance and liked to refer to themselves as "the kings of the underworld." And then, for some reason they fell out. Spot was attacked in Soho and had his faced slashed. He called on the twins to back him against Billy Hill and his gang. The twins accepted the invitation and made it known they were supporting him.
Off and on over the next twelve months, the two groups fronted up to each other, but full-scale warfare never erupted; then on a warm May night in 1956, Jack Spot was ambushed outside his apartment in Bayswater, West London. Two tough young thugs, Frankie Fraser and Alf Warren, attacked him and again his face was slashed. That was it for Jack Spot. He called it quits, retired and bought a furniture store. Billy Hill also retired and bought a villa in southern Spain.
The twins had been almost ready to graduate into the big time, but without Spot to guide them they were lost in the intricacies of serious criminal administration. The vacuum created by the resignations of Spot and Hill was filled by a number of criminal gangs, the most important being a group of Italians, based in a social club in the Clerkenwell Road. Rumors spread that some of these men were after the twins to settle old scores resulting from the Hill-Comer altercation.
One night, the twins and a group of their gang drove to this address. Ronnie stormed into the club and, after a brief dispute with a group of men at the bar, he drew out a Mauser pistol and fired three shots. He hit no one, and no one attempted to stop him as he walked back out to the group waiting for him in a truck parked outside.
Ronnie left the social club in a glow. This was what being a gangster was all about. If Spot and Hill could rule the London underworld with gangsters like the Italians, he and Reggie would be unstoppable. Now as Ronnie said, "We weren't playing kid's games any more."
Things began to change, subtly within their group. The kids' games were over. There would still be plenty of partying and good times, but now they no longer had gang fights just for the hell of it. Acts would require reason. Everything had to have a purpose.
The billiard hall became more a business venue than a party place. Ronnie spent more time thinking about what he called the "politics' of crime." Genuine criminals and villains began to replace the young tearaways that had formed the nucleus of the gang. These new men banded together into what became known as "The Firm" and, over the years to come, would consist of Ronnie and Reggie, their cousin Ronnie Hart, and men such as Albert Donoghue, Ian Barrie, Pat Connolly, Big Tommy Brown, also known as "The Bear", Connie Whithead, Dave Simmonds, Nobby Clarke, Sammy Lederman, Scotch Jack Dickson, John Barry, Ronnie Bender, and the Greek brothers, Tony and Chris Lambrianou. Charlie Kray did not play much of a part in the gang, and was often left out of many of their enterprises. At some stage late in the 1950's, a man became attached to the Firm, working small time on the fringes, never strictly "made" into the group. He was balding, and always wore a hat, and one day he would come to haunt the twins.
Now, for the first time in their lives, the twins were making some real money. Reggie acquired his first American car and Ronnie was openly admitting his homosexuality. By the end of 1956, the twins controlled an area from Bethnal Green east to Mile End, Stepney and Bow, and north to Hackney and Walthamstow. Within this area of over fourteen square miles, every thief, gambling den, most of the pubs and many business paid their dues to the Krays. They were becoming known as "the most dangerous mob in London."
In the autumn of 1956, Ronnie shot someone for the first time.
A car dealer in Bethnal Green Road was under the "protection" of the twins. He sold a car to a dockworker from South London. When the man returned the car, complaining it burned oil, the dealer refused to refund the purchase price. The irate buyer threatened to return the next day with his friends from over the water (the River Thames). The dealer rang Ronnie who agreed to deal with the matter. The next day the man did return, but he came alone. He was talking to the car dealer when Ronnie stormed into the office and in a brief struggle, fired his Luger pistol, shooting the man in the leg.
Taken to Bancroft Road Hospital, the man identified Ronnie as the man who had shot him. The next day, a man was brought to the hospital and the victim identified his attacker. Except when the police charged Ronald Kray with GBH (grievous bodily harm), the man swore he was not Ronnie but Reggie, and produced his driving license to prove it. His alibi for the time of the shooting was so strong, the embarrassed police at Arbour Square station had to release him. Then using the services of "Red Face" Tommy Plumley, an East End fixer of great renown, all the other parties involved were sworn to secrecy, and the victim was rewarded with a substantial cash settlement for his pain and suffering.
After the shooting, Ronnie seemed a bit like Superman, according to one of his gang. It appeared that there was nothing he couldn't do and get away with.
But tension between the twins increased dramatically after the affair with the shooting of the docker. Although Ronnie couldn't stop boasting of his confrontation, Reggie's attitude was the opposite. At times he seem horrified at Ronnie's actions. "You must be raving mad," he would shout at his brother. "You shoot a man, then leave it to me to clear up the mess. One day you'll get us hanged." His brother invariably replied something along the lines of, "You couldn't shoot a man if you tried. You haven't got the guts of a flea."
By the middle of 1956, the twins at last had a foothold in the West End of London. A friend of theirs, Billie Jones, had taken over a drinking club called The Stragglers, situated off Cambridge Circus in Soho. Although it was a good club, it also attracted a lot of undesirables and, consequently, was a popular place for fights. These were unwelcome by the owners, as they, in turn, also attracted the law. An associate of Jones, called Bobby Ramsey, suggested calling in the twins as partners to handle the troublemakers. Reggie and Ronnie were delighted to be partners and they soon put an end to the trouble. Then some real problems developed.
Jones got into an argument with a thug called Charlie who was part of a gang called The Watney Streeters, descendants of the old-time Watney Street gang who had always been enemies of the villains of Bethnal Green.
They were mainly dockworkers, who apart from their reputation as brawlers, thieved off the docks they worked. Jimmy Fuller was their leader and many were related by marriage. They were all thieves and renowned for their drinking capabilities.
Jones came off the worst in the fight. Ramsey, the boxer, retaliated by beating up Charlie the next night. Two nights after that, Charlie and a bunch of thugs corner Ramsey in an East End pub called The Artichoke, beat and kicked him and left him on the street, badly worked over.
Although Ramsey recovered, Ronnie felt he now had to become involved because of his relationship with both Jones and Ramsey. He laid careful plans, using his secret service of small boys to up-date him on the movements of his victims. Two weeks after Ramsey was beaten, Ronnie, Reggie and a dozen men descended on a pub called the Britannia in Stepney where Charlie and his friends were drinking. However, they had learned of the ambush and as Ronnie and his mob came in through the front door, the intended victims disappeared through the back door. The only one left in the pub was someone called Terry Martin, who Ramsey believed had been one of his attackers. He was dragged outside and beaten almost to death.
Later that night, Ramsey and Ronnie were stopped by a police patrol car, as they were driving through Stepney in Ramsey's black Buick. Eventually both brothers were tried for assault on Martin, and although Reggie was acquitted, Ronnie took the fall and went off to prison. On a miserable, wet Friday, November 5th, 1956, he entered Wandsworth Prison to start a three-year sentence. Things would never been quite the same after this day for Ronnie.