The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms
Charlie Kray, the eldest brother, died after complications due to heart trouble at about nine p.m. on the evening of April 4th, 2000.
He was serving a 12-year prison sentence for drug smuggling in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, just off the coast of southern England. He had been transferred to the prison hospital after becoming ill. His brother Reggie was moved from his cell at Wayland Prison in Norfolk so that he could spend time with his brother towards the end.
They put Charlie to rest on Wednesday, April 19th. It was a smaller version, scale size that is, of the way the East End had said goodbye to Ronnie five years earlier in 1995. Thousands of people crowded the streets and rooftops surrounding the funeral parlour of W. English & Son, the undertakers. The funeral cars were crammed to overflowing with flowers, one in the shape of a broken heart from Charlie's girlfriend Diane Buffini that read, "To my darling Charlie, with my eyes wide open. Am I dreaming, can it be time?"
At about 11a.m. Reggie, the last surviving brother, arrived to cheers and applause from the crowd. Trim and looking remarkably fit at 66 years old and after over 30 years in prison, he was smartly dressed in a double-breasted suit, and handcuffed to a female prison warder.
After a service at St. Matthews Church, which was packed to capacity with hundreds more following the service from outside, the funeral procession moved slowly north to Chingford Mount Cemetery, guided by police escorts with a police helicopter overhead keeping a close watch on the proceeding convoy.
At the cemetery, thousands of people had gathered for their last glimpse of Charlie. Reggie laid flowers, first on his first wife's grave and then his parents' burial plot before throwing a single rose into the grave that now held his eldest brother. It can only be imagined if he had begun to feel the first stirrings of the cancer that would destroy him, and in less than six months lead him back to this tree shaded corner site where he would join Charlie and Ronnie in the family burial site. He had originally purchased the plot back in 1967 as a resting place for his first wife, Frances Shea, and subsequently his mother, father and then Ronnie had been buried there.
Returned to Wayland Prison in Norfolk to continue his sentence, Reggie became ill and was rushed to hospital on August 3rd. After an exploratory operation, he was found to have inoperable cancer of the bladder, and three weeks later, Jack Straw the British Home Secretary, approved his official release from prison, after 32 years, on compassionate grounds.
He spent the final days of his life in the honeymoon suite of the Beefeater Town House hotel in Thorpe Saint Andrew on the outskirts of Norwich where he died peacefully in his sleep on October 1st.
Like his brothers before him, Reggie was buried from English and Son, the undertakers in Bethnal Green. Six black-plumed horses carried the coffin from the undertakers to St. Mathew's Church, half a mile up the road. It was estimated that up to one hundred thousand people lined the streets of the funeral cortege, crowds standing six deep along Bethnal Green Road. "It's an East End event said a woman. I think they were a legend. The public liked them. They were gangsters, fun."
The Metropolitan Police Force were in attendance, manning the route to maintain control, eight inspectors, twenty-six sergeants and one hundred seventy officers taking to the streets to ensure public safety. Police from six districts were called in on the mammoth crowd control exercise along the nine-mile funeral procession from the East End of London to the cemetery in Chingford.
Alongside them, almost 400 burly, sinister looking thugs in long leather jackets or Crombie overcoats wearing red armbands and lapel badges with the letters RFK (Reg Kray Funeral), provided a private security guard for the procession. 18 limousines carried family and friends, two being reserved solely for the huge collections of flowers and wreaths. One, from actress Barbara Windsor said simply, "With Love." Some read, "Respect," "Legend," "Free at Last," and "Beloved." But perhaps the most telling of all was "Reunited at Last."
As the quiet and almost intimate burial of Reggie, who was interred alongside his twin brother Ronnie at 3 p.m. on this slate grey afternoon, took place, his wife Roberta and a few chosen mourners were seen throwing red roses into the grave. In his will, Reggie had asked to be buried in the same grave as Ronnie because he said that way he would be back where he belonged - with his brother.
Kate Kray, who had married Ronnie in prison in 1989, remembered Reggie attending her husband's funeral. "Reggie died the day Ron died," she said. "The saddest thing I ever saw in my whole life was the moment Reg said goodbye to Ron. He was weeping uncontrollably. He was destroyed."
Now at last Reggie Kray was free and back home with his beloved brother.