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Stephen Cape reports
"Kray helped build the family's crime empire"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
The Krays: A history of violence
Ronnie and Reggie Kray
Violence became a hallmark of the Krays' lives
The Krays were the most notorious criminals of the 1960s, heading an organised underworld empire of protection rackets, violence and murder.

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were identical twins, born and raised in the East End of London - Charlie was born seven years earlier.

The family moved from Hoxton to Bethnal Green when they were small, and the twins were soon involved in juvenile crime.

Charlie Kray with mother, Violet
Charlie Kray with mother, Violet
Both were promising amateur boxers, but the sport - and National Service in the Army - did little to instil discipline or control the violence which was to become a hallmark of their lives.

In the 1950s they set up an East End protection racket and in 1960 moved into the West End to open a gambling club, Esmerelda's Barn, in Knightsbridge.

They even persuaded a peer to join them on the board to give the club an appearance of respectability.

With Charlie providing the business brainpower behind the operations the twins became the public face of The Firm.

Obsessed with celebrities, they entertained actors, pop stars and sportsmen and anyone else with a claim to fame in the club.

Homosexual scandal

They were not well known to the public until July 1964, when the Sunday Mirror ran a story that Scotland Yard had been investigating a homosexual relationship between a prominent peer and a leading thug in the London underworld.

They were not named, but it soon became clear that they were Ronnie Kray and Lord 'Bob' Boothby, a media personality and former Conservative.

Boothby denied any impropriety, explaining away a photograph of them together as simply Ronnie's wish to be pictured with a celebrity.

The Mirror backed down, sacked its editor, apologised, and paid Boothby 40,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Over the next four years the Krays imposed a reign of violence in the London underworld, before being arrested for murdering two other gangsters.

Murderers jailed

Ronnie shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel in 1966 for calling him a "fat poof".

A year later Reggie stabbed Jack 'The Hat' McVitie in a flat in North London. His body was never found.

Scotland Yard had been on the trail of the Krays for years, and in 1968 they were arrested by Detective Superintendent 'Nipper' Read and charged with murder.

They appeared at the Old Bailey in 1969, along with members of their gang, including Charlie, who got seven years for other crimes.

The twins were jailed for life with a recommendation that they serve 30 years.

Kray legend

The twins started serving their sentences in various jails, until Ronnie was committed to Broadmoor as criminally insane.

But their incarceration did little to suppress the Kray legend.

Reggie Kray
Reggie Kray: Sole survivor
Both wrote books. Reggie claimed to have become a born-again Christian, and Ronnie got married in Broadmoor to a twice-divorced former topless kissogram girl.

The marriage lasted four years until their divorce in 1994.

In 1990 a full-length film, The Krays, earned 255,000 for the twins and Charlie.

Over the years a campaign for the twins' release built up. Their supporters claimed that they were guilty only of crimes against other criminals, and that the streets of the East End had been safe for women and children in their time.

Copies of the family photo album, T-shirts and records were sold to back the campaign, and in 1993 several hundred people held a rally in Hyde Park, before marching to Downing Street to hand in a 10,000-signature petition.

Reggie: The survivor

Ronnie died of a heart attack aged 62 in Broadmoor in 1995. Charlie cried on Reggie's shoulder at Ronnie's funeral.

In June 1997 Charlie was found guilty of masterminding a 39m cocaine plot and jailed for 12 years.

He was convicted of offering to supply the drug to undercover police officers and also of supplying 2kg of the drug worth 63,500.

Charlie's death leaves Reggie still dreaming of release after serving more than 30 years.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | UK
Charlie: The quiet Kray
12 Feb 99 | UK
Kray's appeal rejected
02 Apr 98 | UK
Kray - no way out
09 Nov 98 | UK
Kray loses appeal
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