Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms

Invincibles

On July 16th, 1964, The Daily Mirror, a leading British tabloid newspaper, went on sale with blazing headlines: THE PICTURE WE DARE NOT PRINT . Its copy stated that it had incriminating pictures of a leading politician, a well-known member of the House of Lords, taken with a gangster who was head of the biggest protection racket ever known in London. Six days later, unconcerned about British libel laws, the German magazine Stern, named the gangster as Ronnie Kray and the politician as Lord Boothby.

Lord Boothby & Ronnie
Lord Boothby & Ronnie

In a statement made via The Times newspaper, Lord Boothby fully refuted any close connection between himself and Ronnie, as well as the inference that there could have been homosexual relations between them. On August 7th, The Daily Mirror, carried a full and unreserved apology, and its parent company IPC paid Lord Boothby forty thousand pounds plus his legal costs. According to Boothby, Ronnie had contacted him on a number of occasions in connection with the Nigerian scheme, and when the Kray twin visited him, he agreed to the photograph being taken purely for promotional purposes.

Ronnie tried to cash in on the settlement; all he received was an apology, but no cash. Because of their problems over this affair, The Daily Mirror, backed off from a projected series that they were going to do on the gangland of London, and other newspapers wary of risking similar problems also decided to keep away from the Krays. As a result, the twins were to become immune to investigative reporting for the next three years. Whenever they did appear in the press, they were simply referred to as 'those well-known sporting brothers.....'

The Boothby affair raised particular problems within the hierarchy at Scotland Yard.

The Commissioner of police - Sir Joseph Simpson- denied publicly that there had been a police investigation of the Boothby-Kray affair. However since the beginning of 1964 the Kray twins and their gang had been under the scrutiny of Detective Chief Inspector Leonard Read, also know by his sobriquet-'Nipper.'

In early 1964, Read had been promoted and transferred from the Commercial Street Station to the West End Central Police Station. He had first come across the twins when he had been operating as a detective out of the Paddington district. They were an elusive duo to keep track of, but the more he learned about the local criminals the more important they seemed to be. A good copper makes his bones by using informants, but Read found it almost impossible to find anyone in the East End who was willing to talk about the Krays, and none with the suicidal tendency necessary to testify against them. He thought he had all his bases covered early in 1965.

On January 10th, the twins were arrested and charged with demanding money with menaces from one Hew McCowan. They were refused bail and the case went to court.

At its best the charge was questionable.

McCowan owned a club in the West End called the Hideaway. Located in Soho, it was visited one night by Teddy 'Mad' Smith, an associate of the twins, who tried to smash up the club and made threats against the owner.

Prior to this, McCowan had been to the police to complain that the Kray twins had been harassing him, demanding a half share in his business. Although it was a weak indictment, it was doubly important in that Read was putting a lot at stake in order to try and pin the twins down once and for all, and they were determined to make an example of the police in a final showdown. Using a team of private investigators to dig out all the information they could, the twins and their lawyers went to trial on February 28th 1965.

The jury failed to reach an agreement, and a re-trial was ordered. By then, the private detectives had unearthed evidence against McCowan that cast his character in disrepute. The twins' lawyers made the most of this in rebuttal, and the judge eventually stopped the trial, finding for the defendants.

That night the twins held their biggest party ever, and in an act of supreme irony, held it in McCowan's club, which they by now had purchased and renamed the El Morocco. They invited everyone they knew, including the police. 'Nipper' Read went along, if for no other reason than to see who else was there.

The greatest problem law enforcement faces when dealing with organized crime is trying to determine the social structure of criminal cells: who makes up the members and associates, the clients and friends. This mixture is constantly changing, making it difficult to track and record events and happenings.

Read chatted to Ronnie and, at some stage in the evening, had his photograph taken with him. Naturally this appeared in the newspapers the next day and created a storm of criticism. Letters of complaint flooded into Scotland Yard, most originated via the twins, who were carefully orchestrating a campaign to discredit the police. Although Read was exonerated in a subsequent inquiry, he was removed from the jurisdiction of the Kray investigation, promoted and sent off to help unravel the mystery of The Great Train Robbery, the biggest theft the world had ever known, which had taken place in August 1963.

Instructions went out immediately to all police units involved in organized crime investigations to exercise extreme caution and not to be seen associating with any known criminals. It seemed as if the twins were invulnerable. But it would be a pyrrhic victory, although four more years would pass before the law finally got it right.

 

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