Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms

Death of a Villain

The Richardson brothers differed from the Krays in many ways. They were not twins; they were not traditional cockney villains, but more "bent" businessmen who were not notorious at first, for their violence; they operated scrap-yards south of the River Thames, organized long firm schemes and floated dubious companies from time to time.

There was no apparent reason why the two groups could not have co-habited. After their arrest and trial, the press made much of their reputation as torturers and the details of their internal brutality; their use of pliers to extract teeth and fingernails, and that electrodes were used to punish their victims. But in 1965, they represented a threat to the twins mainly because of two men who were in their gang.

One of these was "Mad" Frankie Fraser. In the autumn of 1965 he was released from prison after serving his sentence for slashing the face of Jack Comer. He joined up with the Richardson gang and quickly reaffirmed his reputation as a dangerous villain. He soon moved in, and forced his way into ownership of a chain of gambling machines that the twins owned. This seriously upset Ronnie. The twins had also been trying to strong arm the Richardsons into giving them a percentage of the extortion racket that the Richardson gang was operating through the car parks at London Heathrow Airport. Fraser turned them down.

The twins kept needling away at this and eventually another member of the Richardson gang, George Cornell, told Ronnie in no uncertain terms where to go. Legend has it that Cornell called Ronnie a "big fat poof," but according to Fraser, this never happened. The car park scam belonged to the Richardson gang, and that was that. But Ronnie did not forget.

George Cornell
George Cornell

The twins knew Cornell from his days as a member of the Watney Street Gang, and although they were not afraid of him, they were careful around him. He was a dangerous man. His original name had been Meyers, and he had changed it some years earlier. He stood about six feet tall, thick set, with a neck like a bull. He knew no fear and was totally aggressive, able to handle anyone or thing that got in his way. He was also known as a sadistic bully, and once had gone to prison for three years for slashing the face of a woman. He was a heavy drinker and very dangerous when intoxicated. Cornell had worked with the Krays at one time, but after he married, he crossed over into South London and joined up with the Richardson gang.

On March 8th, 1966, there was a major gangland fight at a club called Mr. Smith's, which was in Rushey Green, Catford, about three miles south of Greenwich. There have been a number of versions about just what did happen there that night, but one thing is certain. Three men were shot and wounded and one man was killed.

The club belonged to two men from Manchester, in northern England. They were club owners there, and had set their sights on developing their business into the London area. They had bought the club, but were having problems controlling some of the customers. Through Billy Hill, the retired gangster, they were introduced to the Richardson brothers. They agreed to handle the security problems and they also agreed to install gaming machines.

Late on this evening, Frankie Fraser, Eddie Richardson, and other members of their gang, including Jimmy Moody, Harry Rawlings and Ron Jeffries were sitting drinking on one side of the bar. Across the room, was a group of men including Billy Hayward, who along with his brother Harry, ran a group of villains operating in South London. Drinking with them, that night, was Dickie Hart, a member of The Firm.

Trouble started at 3.30 a.m. in the morning. It is thought that Billy Hayward, fearing retribution from the Richardson gang because of an affair he had been having with the wife of Roy Porritt, their mechanic, produced a gun and began to fire. In a shoot out that followed, Fraser and his boss, Eddie Richardson were wounded, Harry Rawlings was shot in the shoulder, and someone shot Richard Hart dead. Hart just happened to be a cousin of the twins. Rumor spread quickly that Cornel also had been there that night, and it was he who shot Hart.

The "Battle of Mr. Smith's Club" eventually resulted in the demise of the Richardson gang. The police moved in and the main members were soon tried and sent off to prison. The twins however were very upset, and felt the death of their cousin was a personal insult.

According to Fraser the next day, Cornell had been visiting a friend of his called Jimmy Andrews, who was in hospital recovering from a gun shot wound that had resulted in one of his legs being amputated. After the visit, Cornell and a friend of his called Albie Woods stopped off at a pub called The Blind Beggar, which was in the Whitechapel Road. Unknown to him, a few hundred yards to the north in Tapp Street, Ronnie, Reggie and some members of the Firm were drinking. Someone called the pub where they were, The Lion, and told Ronnie that Cornell was just down the road.

The Blind Beggar Pub
The Blind Beggar Pub

Taking one of his men, John "Scotch" Dickson and with another, Ian Barrie driving, they made their way down Brady Street, turning into the Whitechapel Road and pulling up outside The Blind Beggar. It was 8.30 p.m. and the pub was relatively empty. In the saloon bar, sitting on a stool next to a stone pillar, was Cornell. The juke-box was playing a Walker Brothers record — "The sun ain't gonna shine anymore." Only minutes before, a Metropolitan police inspector had left, after enjoying an after-work drink and a sandwich.

Cornell glanced across as Ronnie and Ian Barrie walked in. He sneered and said in a sarcastic sort of way, "Well look who's here now." Ronnie walked across the room and without a word, took out a 9mm Mauser semi-automatic pistol, presented it and shot Cornell in the head three times. With blood and brain tissue flying, Cornell bounced back against the pillar and then tumbled to the floor like a disjointed puppet. Barrie fired his gun into the ceiling and the few customers and the barmaid dived for cover. A ricocheting bullet hit the juke-box, and as Ronnie and his partner walked out of the bar, it stuck in its track and kept playing, "The sun ain't gonna shine anymore, anymore, anymore..."

For George Cornell, it never was.

After they left the pub, Ronnie's gun was dropped into the River Lea, which flows through Canning Town into the River Thames. Months later it was recovered, and today it reposes as an exhibit in Scotland Yard's famous Black Museum.

Cornell had been the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. With Fraser and Eddie Richardson in hospital and the rest of their gang locked up, he was the only one available on whom to seek retribution for the killing of Hart. Cornell had been bad mouthing the Krays, but his murder was more about power and prestige than simply the avenging of insults. Quite simply, Ronnie believed his honor as a leader was involved and he had to show The Firm that he could act with authority when anyone threatened them.

Scotland Yard sent in one of their best detectives, Superintendent Butler, to carry out the investigation into the murder. Like everyone else, he knew who had killed Cornell, but proving it appeared impossible. The waitress who had witnessed the killing was unable to pick out Ronnie in a police line-up, and once more he went free.

Through the rest of the year, the twins operated in a state of unrest. They were still not sure just how much evidence the police were gathering against them. They often stayed the night with their mother in Vallance Road, and one night the widow of Cornell, Olive Hutton, came rampaging through the street smashing windows in the house and screaming threats at the twins for killing her husband. Hearing rumors of fresh evidence being uncovered against them, the twins fled the country and traveled to Morocco where they stayed for a few weeks, until the chief of the police threw them out of the country as undesirable aliens.

In October, Frances attempted suicide by gassing herself. Her father found her in time and she was rushed to Bethnal Green Hospital where she recovered.

The twins carried on with their business, but once again Ronnie was sinking into one of his manic periods, drinking and meditating often for days on end, leaving Reggie more and more in charge of running The Firm. Although they did not realize it, the retribution clock was now ticking, and the twins were living on borrowed time. By the time Reggie decided to go on holiday, in fact it was to be a second honeymoon, and take Frances to the Spanish island of Ibiza, he and his brother had less than a year to go.

 

Categories
Advertisement