The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms
Good Times Rolling
Peter Rachman became known eventually, as London and Britain's most notorious landlord. He acquired many slum properties in the north London suburbs, particularly around the Notting Hill area, which in those days did not have the hip and trendy image portrayed today in movies and television. His policy was to acquire tenanted buildings, hike up the rents forcing out immigrant families, and then bring in prostitutes and drug dealers who could afford to pay him. He used a team of strong-arm toughs to intimidate and guarantee he achieved his objectives.
Ronnie had learned about Rachman and was interested in finding out if he could milk him. One night, Ronnie and a bunch of his pals, crashed a party Rachman was giving in Soho. After a bit of minor terrorism, Rachman agreed to pay protection money to Ronnie to prevent "trouble" arising among his rent collectors and enforcers. Rachman paid his first instalment to Ronnie by a cheque, which bounced, and then he disappeared when Ronnie came searching for him. Sure enough, just as The Colonel had predicted, trouble began in Notting Hill
Rachman's rent collectors were beaten up and his enforcers became victims of worse enforcers. As Reggie once commented, "His rent collectors were big, but our boys were bigger." His empire was in danger of disintegrating. Rachman was a clever man, who well understood the mentality of someone like Ronnie. He realised that once he started paying protection, it would never stop. He needed to offer a big carrot, one that would get him off the hook for good.
Illegal gambling had always been the lodestone to organized crime in London. Earlier crime bosses such as Billy Hill and Jack Spot had generated much of their income from illegal gambling clubs. By the mid 1950's, gambling fever was in full swing in London and it was turning into a major industry. The British Parliament was on the verge of legalising gambling in the mistaken belief that it would drive away the criminals. It would have the opposite effect in that with gambling legalized, the underworld would virtually be legalized as well. London would become the Las Vegas of Europe, and any self-respecting gangster knew what went on in Vegas.
Rachman was connected to people who were aware of a man called Stefan de Faye. He owned a gaming club called Esmeralda's Barn in Wilton Place, which was a fashionable street running off Knightsbridge. One of the most exclusive areas in London, it houses Harrods and Harvey Nicholson, two of the premier department stores in the world, and just down the road is Buckingham Palace.
At a meeting attended by the twins (Reggie was out on bail after nine months awaiting a review of his case) and a friend of theirs called Leslie Payne, de Faye agreed to sell his shareholding for cash, but decided to remain as a director and manager running the club for the Krays.
Payne had become an important advisor to Ronnie, while his brother had been away in prison. At the time he met up with Ronnie, Payne was a bankrupt businessman who had seen fourteen of his companies disappear into liquidation. He saw in Ronnie opportunities to rebuild his commercial career. He was a clever man, with a sharp brain, and also a great sense of humour. Married to a very pretty wife, he lived with her and his two children in Dulwich, south east London. As Ronnie came to rely more and more upon him, he acquired the nickname "Payne the Brain."
Esmeralda's Barn was a gold mine for the twins. One of the first gaming clubs to open after the new Gaming Act came into force, it had the best croupiers and workers in town. It had a bar and a good restaurant and the staff was well trained to care for the needs of their customers. Soon, Payne had restructured the legal ownership of the club. The executive manager was given a 50% stake in the business and the twins and Payne owned the balance.
The twins would earn close to one hundred thousand pounds a year from their shareholding, for doing absolutely nothing. This was a huge amount of money at the time when the average wage was less than one thousand pounds a year. Just before Christmas, Reggie's appeal failed, and he went back to prison for six months. Ronnie had the club to himself.
He revelled in the opportunity to be the boss. Soon he was running up huge bills as he accepted markers that bounced. The manager, in desperation, offered he and his brother one thousand pounds each week just to stay away. Ronnie refused. Eventually the manager resigned and went off to start his own club, which became one of the top four in London. Ronnie mixed with a class of people he had never known before. They introduced him to celebrities, invited him into their homes, and even dined him at The House of Lords. He became a playboy gangster, even going so far as moving into an apartment on the King's Road in Chelsea, which he had assumed in payment for a gambling debt. It was truly the good life — for a time.
He now made no bones about his homosexuality. His preference was for youngish men, with long eyelashes and a sense of innocence about them. He paid them well and treated them well, and was proud to insist that he held no prejudices; he would relate with Arabs, Chinese, Negroes or Anglo-Saxons. More and more he needed someone to sleep with to help him combat his growing fear of the dark and being alone at night.
But his world was slowly slipping out of control. His heavy drinking mixed with the drugs he was taking, such as Stematol, did not help and life seemed just as hopeless as it was after his Aunt Rose died.
Reggie came back from Wandsworth prison, but things were changed now, for a different reason. He had fallen in love. He was twenty-seven, and was smitten with a dark haired, pert, innocent young girl of sixteen. Her name was France Shea. She would offer Reggie the opportunity to make a different life. He could work towards those things that had so tantalisingly evaded him for so long- a home, a family and a normal lifestyle.
Her father had run The Regency Club in Stoke Newington, where the twins had an interest, and Reggie had met her here when he was free on bail. He went out with her a few times, but it was only when he was sent back to prison that he realised how deep his feelings for her had become. He wrote letters and sent poetry to her each day he was locked away. When eventually he was released, he couldn't wait to sweep up the Irish girl with long eyelashes, deep brown eyes and chestnut-coloured hair, and show her how much he loved her. She was his cockney princess.
Ronnie, who hated all women, except his mother and the memory of his Aunt Rose, saw Frances as a threat to his relationship with his brother. They rowed, repeatedly, with an intensity that no one could remember. But Reggie was determined to find happiness with Frances. In some respects he did. But their love affair was to be a torturous adventure that would take them through a maze of conflicts and on a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs, before it ended in the tragedy that it was probably always fitted out for from the moment it began.