The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms
In and Out
In the East End of London anyone serving a prison sentence is simply referred to as an "away." Any close friend of the Krays who had been locked up had always been looked after. The brothers would organize regular visits and do what they could to help the prisoner's family. The professional prisoners in Wandsworth had heard about "The Colonel" and the way the Krays looked after their friends. They knew he had a brother outside who still commanded much power and could be of great help to men on release.
Prison life adjusted smoothly for Ronnie. In theory all men are equal in prison. In practice, it varies greatly according to the distribution of the currency that governs the prisoners' lives. In all prisons, everywhere, the currency is tobacco. Reggie soon had manipulated the currency at Wandsworth to benefit his brother. Once Ronnie had all the tobacco he needed, he began to use it to isolate himself from the rest of the prison society. He manipulated the work system and supplemented his prison diet with private supplies bought from the canteen.
And so, Ronnie started his jail sentence to suit his requirements, rather than that of the penal system that had sent him there. His life behind bars became an extension of his other life. He had his followers and sycophants to flock around him and listen to his philosophy on the masterminding of crime. He had his servants to look after his needs, and he had his periods of silence and meditation when he was not to be disturbed.
Back on the streets, Reggie began life without his brother. He became more relaxed and confident outside of his brother's shadow. Now that he was head of the "Firm," he came into his own, and started showing he was a leader and an earner. He decided that they needed a new base, and started looking for a suitable site. The billiard hall was under threat in any case, as the area was to be redeveloped into blocks of city funded apartments or housing projects.
After a long and thorough search of his "manor," he settled on an empty shop, which was located in Bow Road about two miles east of the family home in Bethnal Green. It was derelict, but it was well located and the rent was cheap. Reggie and two of his crew did all of the redecorating and, a few months after Ronnie walked into Wandsworth Prison, Reggie was hosting the opening night on the new base —"the finest drinking club the East End's ever known."
Reggie built a gym above the clubrooms and Henry Cooper, the famous British boxer, came along and officially opened the premises. It soon developed a reputation and started to attract celebrities —show business personalities, artists, a playboy or two. To them is was authentic East End atmosphere. To Reggie, they were the start of a love affair he would develop over the years with the rich and famous. Although the club was all Reggie's, his brother was not forgotten. He called it The Double R.
The club was a success and Reggie started to make money as a legitimate businessman, although he did not forsake his criminal activities. Instead he moved through these more cautiously. He was still cunning and manipulative and was prepared to settle old scores.
A few months after Ronnie went to prison, a club owned by the Martin family, in Poplar near The Isle of Dogs, was burned to the ground. At the time, Reggie and a friend, who just happened to be a policeman, were fishing in Suffolk. He heard about an enemy who was shopping around for a gun and visited the dealer who subsequently sold the gun to the man. When the enemy fired the gun at Reggie one night outside The Double R, it exploded and blew away most of his hand.
Elder brother Charlie came back into Reggie's life. Without Ronnie around, Charlie and Reggie seemed to relate to each other in a more equitable way. Charlie was an easygoing sort of man and he and his wife Dolly fitted in well with the atmosphere of The Double R. They mixed and mingled comfortably with the stars that were now visiting in increasing numbers, particularly women such as Jackie Collins, Sybil Burton and Barbara Windsor.
Charlie was a shrewd businessman. He convinced Reggie to expand and they bought another drinking club in Stratford and developed a used car lot on some spare land next to the billiard hall in Eric Street. Although gambling was illegal and horse betting could only take place at recognized racetracks, they set up The Wellington Way Club, as an illicit gambling venue. It became their biggest money-spinner by far. What made the place particularly interesting was that it was situated in a house they had rented right next to the car park of Bow Street Police Station.
After six months in Wandsworth Prison, Ronnie was transferred to Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight, about one hundred miles southwest of London. This was not to Ronnie's liking. Here, he had no power, no tobacco currency clout and seemed a continent away from his friends and contacts back in the East End. Slowly he began to change. He withdrew into himself and began to believe that he was the target of unknown assailants. He spent most of his time in his cell, and the wardens, worried that he might harm himself, kept him under constant observation. This only made him more nervous.
In due course, he was moved back across to the mainland and sent to Winchester Gaol and transferred into the psychiatric wing for observation. He was diagnosed as having "prison psychosis," which covered any kind of mental disorder brought on by confinement, and was heavily sedated. It seemed that the treatment was working and he would recover, and then on Christmas Day, 1957, Aunt Rose died after a long battle with leukemia. Ronnie learned of the news two days later and went berserk. He had to be placed in a straightjacket for his own safety.
On the morning of December 28th, Violet Kray received an official telegram from the governor of Winchester Gaol:
"Your son Ronald Kray is certified insane."
On February 20th 1958, Ronnie was removed from Winchester and driven by ambulance back towards London. He was taken to Long Grove Hospital, situated in the peaceful Surrey countryside. A Victorian lunatic asylum, located just a mile from Epsom, it was one of many erected in the late nineteenth century to accommodate the growing numbers of mentally disturbed people from the slums of London.
After analyzing and examining him, the doctors decided he was "A simple man of low intelligence, poorly in touch with the outside world." He had been the victim of a schizophrenic breakdown and although he could never be cured, drugs would make his life easier. The experts however were not quite on the ball in diagnosing Ronnie.
He undoubtedly was schizophrenic, but what they missed was the fact that his illness also fell into a category that was often very difficult to spot. He was a paranoid schizophrenic. In this version, the patient, although apparently outwardly normal, is driven inwardly by his obsessions. The classic symptoms — delusions of grandeur, extreme feelings of persecution, self-protection phobia and identification with historical figures — were apparent in Ronnie's mental instability, but without a thorough background check on their patient, the doctors came to miss this and underestimated the seriousness of his illness.
Although the doctors noticed an improvement in Ronnie's condition, they decided he should stay at Long Grove and by the end of May he was desperate to escape. Reggie was just the man to come up with the perfect plan.
Sundays were the main visiting day, and on one of these in June, Reggie accompanied by a friend, George Osborne, walked into the visiting room at the hospital. Reggie was wearing a fawn raincoat and Ronnie was there to greet them, smartly dressed in a blue suit and maroon colored tie. Although there was always a male nurse on duty during visiting hours, Ronnie did nothing to arouse his concern. He and his brother and Osborne sat chatting until afternoon tea was ready. This was prepared in a kitchen along a corridor from the visiting room, and as patients were not allowed to leave the room, guests were allowed to collect it.
The twin in the fawn raincoat left the room and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen. About twenty minutes later, the nurse realized that the guest had not returned and went to check with Ronnie and the other guest. Of course it wasn't Ronnie sitting there, but Reggie. He and his brother had agreed to wear identical clothes, and Ronnie had flown the coop by now and was on his way to London. The police were called and questioned Reggie and Osborne for over an hour, but as usual were helpless in the face of the intractable fact, that yet again, the twins had used their identities to fool the authorities. As Reggie said to an officer, "It's not as if we actually done anything. We've been sitting here waiting for a cup of tea that never came."