The Krays in London: Your Questions Answered

Date post added: 10th July 2024

Switch on your TV or browse the bestselling books or podcasts and you can’t fail to notice the popularity of true crime stories. We can’t get enough of those gruesome tales. And they don’t come much more grisly than the tales of East End gangsters, the Kray twins. Here we answer your questions on two of the most notorious English gangsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

Where were the Krays from?

On 24th October 1933, Violet Lee gave birth to identical twins in Haggerston, East London (near Hoxton and Shoreditch). Born ten minutes apart, Reggie arrived first, followed by Ronnie. Together with their elder brother, Charles (Charlie), and their father, also Charles, they lived in Stean Street, Haggerston.

Their mother, Violet, was lauded at the time for raising healthy twins successfully. Child mortality was common amongst working class families at the time. In fact, the Krays lost a daughter, Violet, in her infancy before Ronnie and Reggie were born.

The East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s was a hard place to live. Legendary photographer David Bailey came from the East End at that time. He said, “If you came from the East End and you wanted out, there were only three things you could become – a boxer, a car thief or maybe a musician.” Bailey went on to photograph Ronnie and Reggie along with other leading names of the 1960s.

The Kray twins took the boxing route out of those three options. Inspired by their grandfather, Jimmy ‘Cannonball’ Lee, they were committed to the sport. Rumour has it that they never lost a match, before the age of 19. Reggie in particular could’ve been a contender, but instead of becoming professional boxers, the twin brothers opted for a life of criminal activity instead. Reggie’s signature move was the “cigarette punch”. He’d offer someone for a ciggie, and when their jaw was jutting out to capture the nicotine stick in their mouth, he’d strike them hard, pretty much guaranteeing a broken jaw.

Where did the Krays live?

They were East End boys through and through. In 1938, the Krays left their birthplace of Haggerston and moved to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green. Violet and Charlie Kray, the twins’ mum and dad, stayed in that house until 1967. It’s the home most associated with Ronnie and Reggie Kray. We visit this spot on our The Kray Twins walking tour.

What did the Kray twins do?

Ronnie and Reggie Kray famous Londoner

Image by Matt Brown

The twin brothers went AWOL and got kicked out of the army in 1952 during their national service. They were seriously ill-suited to the disciplined military. So they got a criminal record early on.

Soon after, their criminal activity started with protection rackets in their native East End. They formed The Firm, their gang, with their older brother Charlie (the quieter, less public facing Kray brother). They bought an old snooker club in Mile End, where they started their protection rackets. They soon graduated to Long Firms – fraudulent businesses trading. The Firm was responsible for murders, armed robberies, money laundering, arson and assaults.

In the 1960s, they set their sights on the West End where they ran a night club, Esmerelda’s Barn in Knightsbridge (along with other clubs in the East End). They became part of the Swinging 60s London scene [link to 60s blog], regularly schmoozing with MPs (Conservative and Labour), nobility and big stars of the day. They were commended for ascending from East End poverty to West End riches and celebrity.

During this time they became involved with the American mafia. Aware of the Kray twin’s influential connections with politicians and government officials, Ron and Reg looked like good prospects for some money laundering.

In 1964, the Sunday Mirror exposed the Kray twins, making out that Ronnie had a homosexual relationship with Conservative politician, Lord Boothby. This scandalous, yet riveting read, made Ronnie and Reggie Kray household names.

In 1966, they helped their mate Frank ‘the Mad Axeman’ Mitchell escape from Dartmoor Prison. They harboured him in an East End flat for a while until he disappeared mysteriously.

How many people did the Krays kill?

Their criminal activity did escalate to killing. It’s said that the brothers goaded each other to take a life. Ron was the first to do so when he shot a rival gangster, George Cornell in the Blind Beggar Pub in Whitechapel on 9th March 1966. Their former gangster mate, George Cornell had ditched The Firm for rivals, The Richardson Gang. This was a game-changer for them.

Next came, Jack ‘the hat’ McVitie who was killed by Reggie Kray at a party in Stoke Newington. Jack had failed to fulfil a contract killing for the Kray brothers, and he’d kept the money anyway. Reggie tried to kill him but the gun failed, so he stabbed him repeatedly instead. That was in October 1967. Tony and Chris Lambrianou and Ronnie Bender helped to clear up the evidence of this crime, and were involved in disposing of the body.

These are the two most well-known killings, but it’s almost inevitable that two of Britain’s most notorious criminals will have murdered more.

Were the Krays caught?

Yes, on more than one occasion. After going AWOL from National Service in the 1950s, the Kray twins were imprisoned in Shepton Mallet Prison. It was there that they met their future gangland rivals Charlie Richardson and George Cornell.

Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read was tasked with trying to catch The Kray twins when he joined Scotland Yard’s murder squad in 1964. He’d always been met with an East End ‘wall of silence’ whilst trying to get information from locals. It wasn’t until 1968 that Scotland Yard police arrested Reginald and Ronald Kray, along with 15 members of The Firm. They attempted to get members of The Firm to snitch on each other, and especially The Krays.

From January to March 1969, their trial was the longest murder hearing in the history of British criminal justice. Both Ronnie and Reggie were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of George Cornell and Jack McVitie. Charlie Kray got ten years for his part in the murders.

What happened to the Krays?

The Krays’ prison sentences included a 30 year period without parole. They were sent to separate prisons. In 1979, Ronnie was certified insane and committed to Broadmoor Hospital. Reggie was locked up in Maidstone Prison until 1997 when he was transferred to Wayland Prison, Norfolk.

Despite being in separate prisons, the Krays continued to operate businesses. One enterprise offered security and protection for Hollywood stars, with Frank Sinatra being one of their clients.

Charlie Kray served seven of his ten year sentence. But he was sent back to prison in 1997 for smuggling cocaine.

When and how did the Krays die?

Ronnie Kray had a heart attack at Broadmoor Hospital on 15 March 1995. Two days later, he died at Wrexham Park Hospital in Slough.

Reggie Kray was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer in 2000. At the end of August that year, the Home Secretary Jack Straw released him from prison on compassionate grounds. He died on 1st October.

Charlie Kray died in prison on 4 April 2000. His was a death by natural causes.

Where are the Krays buried?

Ronnie, Reggie and Charlie Kray are buried, along with their parents Charlie and Violet, in Chingford Mount Cemetary, East London.

What films have been made about The Krays?

The notoriety of the gangster Kray brothers lives on. In 2015, their story was told in Legend starring Tom Hardy as both twin brothers. Before that , in 1990, real life twin brothers, Martin and Gary Kemp played the Kray twins in the aptly named film, The Krays. Also in 2015, there was The Rise of the Krays followed not long after by The Fall of the Krays in 2016.

Walk where The Krays walked

Want to know more about these infamous East End gangsters? Step back into the darker swinging 60s Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. Visit their childhood home and The Blind Beggar pub. And importantly, hear the grisly reality of their lives and those of their victims and associates. All this and more, will be revealed in The Krays in London walking tour

What’s more, this walk’s guided by Adam, who comes trailing clouds of guiding glory. He’s widely regarded as the most gifted guide currently working in London. The fascinating combination of The Krays and the brightest star in the London guiding constellation makes for an outstanding walking tour!


Pippa Jackson

Pippa Jackson

Pippa is a word nerd and content aficionado with a background of working in TV on both sides of the globe. She loves to discover and share the diverse and wonderful stories of her much-loved London. When she’s not writing blogs and articles, you’ll find her walking beside the Thames or even paddleboarding on it (in the finest of conditions only!) or enjoying a coffee in the sunshine with a good book.

Read all articles by Pippa Jackson

Adam

Adam

Before he became a London Walks tour guide, Adam was a freelance arts journalist covering theatre and music for a variety of publications including The Independent and the Evening Standard. He lives in North London with his wife (piano & clarinet), daughter (piano, clarinet, guitar & bass), his small collection of vintage record players, three ukuleles, six guitars, one piano and far too many records.

Read all articles by Adam