What does East End Gangster mean

Kings of the underworld

The Krays - Part 1

Forty years ago, the longest and most expensive trial in British criminal history began. The process marks the end of an era and the beginning of a myth that has shaped British gangster films ever since. It is also about a piece of British social history.

On the morning of January 7, 1969, just before 9 a.m., the lights suddenly turned red on the route between Brixton Prison and the Old Bailey Courthouse. Then a police convoy, consisting of two armored cars, several escort vehicles with elite police officers armed to the teeth and a motorcycle escort with flashing lights, raced through the British capital. Those responsible had previously worked out six different routes. The drivers were not informed of the chosen route until the convoy started moving. Such security precautions were known from Palermo, where a spectacular mafia trial was just ending at the time. They were completely new to London. At the moment when it was supposed to be demonstrated that law and order had prevailed over a gang of gangsters, the feeling of a general threat arose. If such measures had to be taken to guarantee safety, it was one thing above all: worrying.

The trial itself was not all about guilt and atonement. In Court No. 1 of the Old Bailey, the world's most famous courtroom, two parts of British society came together, two cultures that at times seemed to come from different countries. This was already clear through the language. Some, the defendants and the witnesses, spoke with the Cockney accent; the others, the judge and the lawyers, with the accent of the British upper class. In Court No. 1 the advocates of the law met a world they knew nothing about and which they did not understand. Ten criminals were tried, but also the old East End, which had been badly damaged by German bombs in World War II and would soon be largely wiped out by the bulldozers of Thatcherism, so that it is only used in novels and films today nostalgic memories and in the anecdotes of the tour guides exists.

Living on the Edge: The East End

The East End is considered a 19th century invention. The term "East End" was coined in the 1880s when it became fashionable for the wealthy to visit the slums around the docks to get a good shudder. But east London existed long before that as a separate area from the rest of the metropolis. To protect against flooding, the Romans built walls in the area of ​​what was then Londinium, which favored the west and disadvantaged the east. It was an important cultural achievement and at the same time created the dark side of London populated by the underprivileged. The Saxon conquerors of the fifth and sixth centuries settled in the west, the Celto-Roman losers were pushed to the east. It stayed with this classification. The rich and powerful lived in the west; the poor who had come to London fleeing religious persecution (French Huguenots, Eastern European Jews) or famine (the Irish), in the east.

The prevailing westerly winds along the Thames played an important role. Because of him, everything that stank was moved to the east: factories that made paints and solvents, fertilizer, bone meal, glue, paraffin or matches, slaughterhouses, tanneries and fish farms. The factories grew steadily, and the docks, originally limited to the area between the Tower and London Bridge, continued to expand. They needed cheap labor, crammed with their families into inhumane dwellings, built in former Thames villages, of which in the Victorian era only the names were left: Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Stepney. The East End - so the general feeling - was topographically, culturally, spiritually and economically cut off from the rest of London. The few journalists and sociologists who were even interested in these slum areas compared the residents with African pygmies and Polynesian savages. Jack London (author of The sea wolf) in his social report published in 1902 People of the Abyss.

For the middle class, the East End was a nightmare (at the same time, many of the good citizens - from factory owners to businessman to slum lord - lived not badly from the exploitation of the east). This nightmare was all the more threatening because the abyss described by Jack London began right behind the tower. The city, the richest financial center in the world, was in the immediate vicinity of the poorest part of the city. How quickly borders could be overcome was shown in the 1860s when 20,000 starving residents of the East End roamed the City to Trafalgar Square to demonstrate for higher wages (to no avail). Most western Londoners saw the protesters as an outlaw mob eager to destroy their security and prosperity. That had lasting consequences. In the last decades of the 19th century, the East End became synonymous with the criminal underworld. In Oliver Twist of Charles Dickens, Fagin and Bill Sykes drive their mischief out of the slums of the East End (with Dickens, however, from a socially critical background), Limehouse is the retreat of Sax Rohmers super criminal Fu Manchu, and most of the villains at Edgar Wallace are Cockneys (the Term originally referred to the people of London as a whole, but then specifically to the residents of the East End).

Of course, these weren't just clichés. "The East End," writes criminologist Dick Hobbs in Doing the business“Was a land of the living dead, a symbol of all the consequences that had to be borne by those who could not partake of the normal activities of capitalism.” The East End was a land of horror, but also something of savage West of london. The big street markets, such as the one on Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane), sold cheap stolen goods. Those who were not satisfied with the entertainment in the West End made the short trip to the east. There was prostitution, gambling and drugs there - and gangs waiting to steal their money from visitors. Jack the Ripper slashed whores in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, drawing attention to the misery there, but also confirming old clichés. In the East End, a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys that were hardly lit at night, people lived according to their own rules. There was a sense of togetherness that historians like to compare to tribal solidarity among indigenous people.

Heroes and Villains

The cooperation with the police, the whistling of other Cockneys was frowned upon. Police officers, who were often used as strikebreakers or beat protesters down, were perceived as intruders and as instruments of the powerful. The twins Reginald and Ronald Kray were born into this culture, which has grown over centuries, in 1934 (the East End nostalgics will celebrate their 75th birthday on October 17th of this year). Crime was an integral part of that culture back then, a career as a criminal not something to be ashamed of. This is important in understanding how the Krays came to be the most famous British gangsters of the 20th century. The album of memories that the mother, Violet Kray, wrote about her sons is very telling. There she first pasted newspaper reports about her sons' boxing career, then about their criminal trials, as if it made no difference. Violet regularly lied to the police and had a reputation for being a thoroughly honest person who always spoke the truth. In the East End that wasn't a contradiction either.

The London underworld was more heterogeneous than, for example, American cities with centralized mafia structures. As far as it was organized, it can best be compared with a feudal system. The villains were feudal lords. A villain is not just, as the dictionary claims, a villain or a criminal. It is a job title. A villain is one who takes a share of the booty of other crooks, who lives on intimidation and a reputation for being ready for anything, regardless of the consequences. Villains were known, talked about, and enjoyed a certain prestige. For Reggie and Ronnie Kray, who worked in this field themselves, they were the "aristocrats of crime". John McVicar, turned from robber to underworld sociologist for domestic use, calls them “thieves and pimps who lived on crimes they could not commit themselves”. You can also say it with the vocabulary of capitalism: For a villain, violence is a commodity like any other. It is the product that he sells and with which he makes his money. The prototype of the Villain is Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist.

Reggie and Ronnie Kray grew up on Vallance Road in Bethnal Green, just around the corner from the house where Jack the Ripper killed Annie Chapman. Old people still liked to tell the story of how they met the Ripper on the street, just as it was later told that you knew the Krays personally and how you now, when you are too young for that, underpin your cockneyism by supposedly was at the funeral of Violet or one of her sons. Number 178, where the Krays lived, was the second of four tiny row houses. This Victorian "cottage" (the official name) had four rooms and no bathroom. The toilet was in a small back yard that was mostly full of junk. Ronnie and Reggie later stated that this "cottage" was the only real home they had ever had. The rest of the maternal family also lived on or in the immediate vicinity of Vallance Road. Everyone knew everyone, the front door was rarely locked. The road ended at a soot-blackened viaduct, which was the main connection to Liverpool Street Station, five minutes away. When the trains rattled by, the row houses on Vallance Road shuddered. In the late 1960s, the cottages were demolished because unsuitable for human habitation.

Twins and Schizophrenia

The Krays' main caregiver was their mother Violet. Ronnie and Reggie were very special to Violet because they were identical twins. They were everything to her - to the detriment of her son Charlie, a few years her senior, who always came up short in every respect. Violet called them only "Twins" and not by their names, dressed them identically and treated them as a unit instead of as separate persons. That couldn't have been easy for the twins either. Because they had learned to be the same, one was constantly watching the other. Everything that one did was judged and commented on by the other. Often the pressure seems to have grown so great that it erupted into fights. The Twins then either beat each other or beat up others.

The twins developed diphtheria when they were three and a half years old. Reggie recovered fairly quickly. Ronnie spent nearly three months in a hospital isolation unit, then was brought home by Violet and painstakingly nursed back to health (the doctors soon gave up on him). It was a decisive event in the life of the twins. Afterwards they seemed as inseparable and as identical as ever. But those who knew her well noticed differences that were slowly becoming clearer. Ronnie was more awkward and less coordinated, slower and more shy than Reggie, and his mood swings greatly; Reggie was quicker, more articulate, and easier to make friends. It seems to be linked to diphtheria, which can produce neurotoxins that damage the brain and central nervous system. Ronnie was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia much later. One theory is that schizophrenia is caused by a recurring disorder of hormones in the brain, such as diphtheria can cause. One can speculate about whether everything would have turned out differently if Ronnie had received better medical care thanks to a different social background. The history of the Krays is also a history of the class system in healthcare.

As teenagers, both twins were successful amateur boxers. Reggie was the more talented one believed to be a professional. Ronnie made up for the lack of technology and overview with brutality and fearlessness. Her first offenses were the usual ghetto crime of young people with little to lose: theft, acts of violence, gang fights. Outside the ring, on the street, Ronnie was the stronger because he showed no consideration. In brawls, he got out of hand. That scared even the hardened professional criminals in the neighborhood. Reggie, who could have resolved conflicts other than violence, regularly allowed himself to be involved. Ronnie's accusation that he was a coward always worked. Reggie then became just as ruthless as his brother. Together they developed an eerie synergy. The constant competition made them more and more brutal and feared. The Krays would be interesting study objects for twin research.

At 16, the brothers were the leaders of a youth gang that no other gang in Bethnal Green could match. They fought with everything that caused great damage to the enemy: with bicycle chains, iron bars, broken bottles. Ronnie had a sharp sheath knife that he used to cut other people's faces. Such facial injuries became his trademark. Why Reggie gave up his boxing career is unclear. Probably it had to do with the fact that Ronnie could not have followed him on this way; and a separation was still unthinkable back then. Reggie now used his technique in gang fights. Over the years he perfected his "cigarette hit". With his left hand he offered someone a cigarette. When the other person was about to put the cigarette in his mouth, he hit him on the chin with his right hand. He did it with such force and precision that he broke his opponent's chin (it's easier with an open mouth than with a closed one).

The law of silence

In 1950 a seriously injured man was admitted to a clinic. Police found two witnesses who identified Reggie and Ronnie as the perpetrators. The Krays have been charged. At the trial, the witnesses forgot everything. The victim couldn't remember anything either. It was the Krays' first triumph over the legal system. The case showed them that the East End was still governed by the law of silence (or at least enforced by violence and intimidation) and that even if you were on trial at the Old Bailey, there was still a way out. After this experience, they acted even more brazen and carefree than before. In 1953 they were called up to the Royal Fusiliers. Most of the time, they were on the run or they were serving disciplinary sentences. The military prison, says the Kray biographer John Pearson, was their "university", the next stop on the way to the villain. In 1954 they were dishonorably discharged from the army. By now they were determined to become professional criminals. They organized their gang according to "military" criteria. Ronnie liked being called "Colonel".

As a teenager, Ronnie Kray worked as an extra in The Magic Box (1951) with, a film about William Friese-Greene, the pioneer of early cinematography. A picture from the film adorns one of Ron's books. “Young actor” is written below it, and you don't know exactly whether this is meant ironically or not. The influence of film and show business on the Krays' careers is unlikely to be overestimated. It is therefore consistent that their rise began in an old movie theater, the Regal on Eric Street, which was converted into a pool hall in the 1930s. Suddenly there were fights and property damage. When the operator had had enough, the run-down hall could be rented cheaply. The Krays repainted it and turned the establishment into a profitable business. Even gangsters want to relax and chat in peace. The twins guaranteed they would not have any old feuds. So the shelf developed into the meeting point of the underworld.

Anyone who extorts protection money from respectable citizens must expect that they will eventually go to the police. Criminals can't. The logical victims of the villains were therefore thieves, con artists, operators of illegal gaming clubs, pimps, producers of porn films. A share of the profits was squeezed out of them. On the shelf people told each other who was running which thing. The Krays listened carefully and then demanded their share. Ron was one of those Hitlerites My fight actually read.The work didn't appeal to him very much, but he studied it at a profit because he learned from it the importance of propaganda and a functioning spy system. The Krays were usually better informed than others. That was one of their strengths.

Murder was good for business as long as the plausible threat of killing someone remained. That made a villain's arguments more powerful. A real death, on the other hand, endangered profit. A corpse forced the police to act, which disrupted business and could lead to an indictment or even a conviction. Reg took that into account. Ron was more interested in violence than in money, and talked more and more about wanting to kill someone. That went well at first because Reg held his brother in check or, when Ron freaked again, did what he called "cleaning up". This could mean intimidating witnesses, bribing police officers, frightening victims, paying a small amount of compensation, or getting them medical care (the Twins had Doc Blasker, their trusted doctor, for such cases).

Ron Kray admired Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, and General Gordon, who tried to defend Khartoum against the Mahdi's forces and died in the process. In times of crisis he put on his records with Churchill's war speeches. He continued to share a room with Reg on Vallance Road. Ron collected everything that could cut other people, from cutlass to sword, and he had various firearms hidden under the floorboards, which is why the house was now called "Fort Vallance" in gang circles. The Kray gang were commonly known as "The Firm".

Madness with a certificate

The company collected protection money from used car dealers in the East End. One of them had an argument with a customer and asked Ron for help. The next day the brawlers had calmed down. Ron shot the customer in the leg anyway. Reg successfully cleaned up, which reinforced Ron in his fantasies of omnipotence. His reputation was now so terrifying that other gangs preferred to run away than face him to fight. Since Ron had no control over his aggression, he occasionally responded to bystanders. Terry Martin was playing cards at the Britannia pub in August 1956 when Ron attacked him with a bayonet. He survived with a lot of luck. Martin testified in court despite Reg threatening him and offering him money. Ron was sentenced to two years in prison.

He spent the first year in Wandsworth, a notorious prison for felons. Ron seems to have agreed. At Wandsworth he met old friends and made new ones. He got along particularly well with Frank Mitchell, a mentally retarded giant. The enormously strong Mitchell was originally convicted of a violent robbery. While trying to escape, he threatened an old couple with a hatchet, which earned him the nickname “the crazy ax murderer”. He was considered one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. Ron promised to campaign for his release when he was transferred to Camp Hill, a lower-security prison, in 1958.

In the very strict (today one would say: sadistically) run Wandsworth, Ron had gotten along well. He suffered a nervous breakdown at Camp Hill. He stared at himself for hours in the mirror because he was convinced that he was changing, had crying fits or beat up fellow prisoners. Eventually he was transferred to the mental health department of Winchester Prison. There Reg brought him the news that Aunt Rose had died. "Battling Rose", like Ron, had attacked anyone who annoyed her, regardless of loss, and she was his favorite aunt. Ron reacted like the gangster Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) in White heat on the death of his mother: with a rampage. When the guards managed to put him in a straitjacket, he was declared insane and transferred to Long Grove Hospital near Epsom. Long Grove is one of a number of rather creepy, identically built, madhouses built around London around 1900 to house the growing numbers of the insane. Anyone who was declared insane and who came from the slums of Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Hackney ended up in Long Grove. Nothing about that had changed. "A simple man of low intelligence, with little connection to the outside world," wrote the attending physician in Ron's file. He considered more detailed investigations to be superfluous.

Gangster chic

While Ron was incarcerated in various institutions, Reg, with the help of his older brother Charlie, founded his first legal venture: a club he called Double R (for Ron and Reg). The timing was right, as the East End was becoming all the rage. Those who wanted to be in, made appointments at the Chinese in Limehouse or in pubs like the Prospect of Whitby. Joan Littlewood opened her experimental theater, the Theater Royal, and photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowdon, bought an apartment overlooking the Isle of Dogs, where he secretly met his future wife, Princess Margaret. In films like Carol Reed's stirring piece A Kid for Two Farthings (with Diana Dors, the Cockney answer to Marilyn Monroe) it can be seen that the sentimentalization of the East End had begun.

West Londoners flocked to the Double R Club knowing they could have their whiskey with big boys at Reg without fear. His guests included pop singer Lita Rose, writer Jackie Collins, Diana Dors and soubrette Barbara Windsor, another East End starlet. Even Edmund Purdom, the star of the TV series, stopped by Sword of Freedom (Robin Hood moved to Italy). In the East End, this pocket edition by Errol Flynn was, for inexplicable reasons, the epitome of elegance. Reg's style icons were the early Humphrey Bogart and George Raft. He had a pair of those dark blue double-breasted suits tailored like the ones George Raft wore in gangster films. His guests found it very sexy.

Long Grove didn't know exactly what Ron was suffering from, but they found a regimen to which he responded. Stematol was a sedative that relieved symptoms of mental illness without completely sedating the patient. With Stematol, Ron's condition was stabilized to such an extent that he could be moved from the closed to the open department. But since he had officially been declared insane, he feared that he would be held forever like his friend Frank Mitchell. Urged by Violet to intervene, Reg came up with a plan. He was based on the fact that Ron had a "nerve thing" but was by no means insane. That was the family's view that Violet did not abandon for the rest of her life. Ron should therefore be released, have his mental health confirmed by a psychiatrist and report to prison with this report to serve the remainder of his sentence.

The liberation action went like in the film. Ron got a visit from the family. Under his coat, Reg wore the same suit as his twin brother. Ron put on his coat and left the hospital as Reg. Reg played the innocent, proved his identity and was allowed to leave. The only problem was that Ron was actually insane and soon suffered again from the anxiety in which he wanted to kill all of his enemies. Fortunately, there was Doc Blasker, who got enough stematol on dark channels to stabilize him in such a way that a well-known psychiatrist would not notice anything abnormal. With the certificate obtained in this way, Ron reported back to prison. Everything went as planned. But a new problem arose from that. None of the prison doctors thought it appropriate to inquire at Long Grove. Since Ron had been classified as sane, he was not entitled to the usual medication. When he was released after six months, he suffered from such anxiety that Blasker had to do well again.

The doc provided his paranoid-schizophrenic private patient with stematol for years to prevent him from killing himself or other people (Ron Kray kept an enemy list like Richard Nixon). Ron consulted dozens of psychiatrists in hopes of a cure. Nobody could help him. To forget, he got drunk. When combined with large amounts of alcohol, the effect of Stematol is difficult to predict. The drug attacks the central nervous system. When Ron sat in Long Grove, the twins were so much alike that one could be mistaken for the other. Now Ron was beginning to change physically. He grew beefier, got the neck of a bull, his features became coarser, his chin broadened.

Attila, the king of the Huns

Reg had made contacts with other gangsters in order to gradually expand the Kray empire into the West End with its lucrative entertainment establishments. Ron was going too slowly. He regularly consulted a clairvoyant. From her he had learned that he was the reincarnation of Attila the Hun King and destined for great things. So he led his troops into battle. Reg, now also a heavy drinker, joined in as always. In 1959 the West End saw some brutal gang fighting. Reg's partners saw themselves as business people, didn't want any trouble with the police and broke off contact. In a few months Ron broke what his brother had built up over the years.

Ron had some wealthy friends who bragged about him and lent him money that he never paid back. Car dealer Daniel Shay was a multiple convicted scammer, but not a gangster. Due to the frequent interaction with the Krays, he seems to have forgotten that. Ron received protection money from several shopkeepers. Shay wanted that too. His first, extremely bumbling coup was supposed to bring him a briefcase and 100 pounds. When he was about to collect, the police were waiting for him. Reg had come along as reinforcement. He was sentenced to 18 months. Ron ran the company alone at the time and expanded his arsenal.

In 1961, gambling was legalized in Great Britain. The law should keep the gangsters away from the gambling clubs. The opposite happened. Anyone who already ran a game club was now legally running it. The underworld had a great competitive advantage thanks to its know-how. And whoever opened a new club as a non-criminal received a visit from some gentlemen who offered their "help". The Krays soon ran one of the most successful of these clubs. They probably owed that to the fact that while Reg was at Wandsworth, Ron won Peter Rachman as a client of the firm.

Rachman gave the English language an ugly word. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the term “rachmanism” as “exploitation of slum dwellers by unscrupulous landlords”. Rachman commanded a real estate empire, preferably slum dwellings. His usury rents were collected by a gang of thugs. Ron wanted a share. He invited Rachman to Fort Vallance, introduced him to his mother, and then retired with him to the small living room on the first floor, where he enjoyed discussing business over a cup of tea. After initial resistance, Rachman appears to have decided to evade regular claims by making some sort of one-off payment.

In the upscale part of London, down the street from Harrod’s luxury department store, there was the Esmeralda’s Barn game club. Rachman helped with the takeover. The negotiations led Ron's new advisor Leslie Payne, nicknamed "The Brain". Educated and cultured, Payne had a wife, two children, a house in the suburbs, and had slipped into bankruptcy with a complex network of companies. With the help of the Krays, he solved his financial problems. The "man with the briefcase" made his partners with profitable business models like the long firm familiar. A long firm is a company that rents a warehouse, orders goods and pays for them on time. When the supplier's trust is won, orders are placed in bulk until the warehouse is full. Then everything is sold in one day and at a third of the market price, the company disappears and the suppliers are left with their demands. According to Payne, the Krays made more than £ 100,000 from them in 1962 alone long firms.

Ronnie, Reggie and the crowd

Payne knew the sixth Earl of Effingham. The earl was a direct descendant of the man who commanded the English fleet in defeating the Spanish Armada. Plus, he was a gambler, a drinker, and bankrupt. He lived on the £ 13 daily attendance fees paid when the House of Lords met. He was only too happy to accept the proposal to serve as one of three directors of the game club; for that he got ten pounds a week. His name was on Esmeralda’s Barn's stationery next to that of his fellow directors, Messrs. Ronald and Reginald Kray. The club had highly trained staff, an earl on the letterhead and two gangster businessmen to greet the guests. Esmeralda’s Barn was one of the hippest addresses in town. Each of the twins received an annual profit share of approximately £ 40,000. Quite legally and without risk.

Parts of the sentimental Cockney comedy Sparrows Can't Sing were shot in the Double R Club. March 1962 premiered in the East End. The Snowdons, Princess Margaret and her husband pulled up in the Rolls. After the premiere, the actors and high society partied in Kentucky, the Krays newest club. The twins support charitable organizations, and it just so happened that a press photographer was always there when the "well-known businessmen" presented the check. Later, on his deathbed, Reg told about Billy Hill, who had been his "mentor". Hill was one of the leading post-war London villains, retiring a wealthy man. In Spain he enjoyed the luxury life of a retired gangster, giving interviews and willingly posing for British newspapers, with a cigar and in expensive suits (PR photos by Edward G. Robinson were recreated). His appearances on the "Costa del Crime" inspired a number of British crime films; the best are The hit by Stephen Frears (with music by Eric Clapton, who made some of his first appearances at Esmeralda’s Barn) and Sexy beast by Jonathan Glazer.

Double life and gay outing

Reg was striving for something like that too. His idea of ​​happiness also included a wife and children. That was a problem, of course, because the Kray twins were gay. Reg suffered and led a double life. That was how Frances Shea came into play. Frances lived on Ormsby Street, just around the corner from Vallance Road. She was considered the prettiest in the district, and as "Reggie's girl". She was not to be envied for that. No other man dared to go out with her. When Reg slept with men, mostly very young men, sooner or later he felt guilty and decided to get better. During these straight periods he presented Frances as his girlfriend, made her big and showered her with gifts. But that never lasted long.

Ron was more confident than his brother and stood by his sexual orientation. At first he was still discreet by his standards, in order not to worry his mother Violet. Then he saw no more reason to hide anything. On the contrary. After all, the Swinging Sixties had begun, which consisted not only of Carnaby Street, but also of immersing yourself in a strange, fascinating and dangerous world. From today one has the impression that the gangster Ronnie Kray was exactly the man the Chelsea crowd had been waiting for. But the crowd had to get to know him first. David Litvinoff helped with this.

Litvinoff, the son of a Russian tailor in Bethnal Green, was a gifted storyteller and something like the court jester of the rich and the beautiful. And he was addicted to gambling, owed the Krays. Ron forgave him and took over his apartment in upscale Kensington, which he moved into with his current lover. Litvinoff stayed there and became a kind of PR man for the Krays, whom he introduced to his friends. One of these friends was the painter Francis Bacon, who said that Ron had the most terrifying face he had ever seen. Another was Christopher Gibbs. The esthete Gibbs had an antique shop in Chelsea and furnished the apartment for rock stars, aristocrats and the nouveau riche. He knew a lot of people who would like to meet real villains. Litvinoff developed a Kray obsession and told about them at every party. The twins were known to those who had never met them. Today nobody can say for sure whether the stories of machete fingers, testicles, and noses cut off are true or not. It was important to trust the Krays with them.

Ron's openly lived out homosexuality was also a door opener. It gave him access to a circle of gay or bisexual supporters of society, for whom he organized sex parties and film screenings.One of his new friends was Labor MP Tom Driberg, who was later said by obituaries as the most unworthy MP of all time. Driberg made contact with the conservative politician Lord Boothby, the former private secretary of Winston Churchill. Boothby appeared regularly on television and radio to comment on current issues. In the circle of his friends, he announced that he did not know exactly who he liked better: women or boys. Ron helped him find out.

Characters like Driberg and Boothby could be blackmailed through their intimate dealings with the Krays, which they apparently didn't care about (or only after the Krays presented them with compromising letters and photos). It was chic to show up with gangsters. Perhaps someday someone will publish a photo book with the many pictures in which the Krays or the Richardsons can be seen with nobles, business leaders or stars like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Stanley Baker. It would be an exciting contribution to social history. Even George Raft, the style icon of the Krays, came to London, had the twins show him the sights and reciprocated with wisdom such as that you stay young longer if you socialize in the evening instead of sitting in front of the TV. You can read all of this in the autobiographical works of the brothers. Raft's sentences are presented as if they were from Confucius.

The lord and the gangster

On July 12, 1964, the Sunday Mirror on page 1 an article entitled "THE NOBLE AND THE GANGSTER". It was reported that Scotland Yard will soon make arrests in a case that also involves the relationship of a well-known nobleman to "a homosexual thug at the top of the London underworld". Names were initially only mentioned in Germany (in star July 22nd), but it wasn't much of a secret who was meant: Lord Boothby and Ron Kray. Indeed, it was determined. But Sir Joseph Simpson, the chief of police, denied it.

What followed was a cover-up in which both the government and the opposition were involved (there is no longer any need to speculate about this, as relevant documents have been available in the Public Records Office since the 30-year embargo period). The year before that, the Conservative Prime Minister Macmillan had resigned because of the Profumo affair. Christine Keeler, one of the main characters in the affair, had been the lover of Rachman, the Krays business friend. Another sex scandal would have further damaged the country's extremely battered image. New revelations could have toppled the government of Macmillan's successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home. For the Conservative Party it was so explosive because Lord Boothby was one of its figureheads. He was also Lady Dorothy's longtime lover. That was the wife of Macmillan, to whom he owed his title of nobility.

Actually, one might think, the whole thing was a hit for the opposition. But Harold Wilson, the head of the Labor Party, had already acted very hesitantly in the Profumo affair because he did not want to have anything to do with such messy stuff. Wilson had the best chance of winning the upcoming elections and didn't want to be accused of having become prime minister because of a sex scandal. That was the honorable part of the deliberation. The decisive factor, however, was probably that in the police files there was talk of Boothby's meetings with London gangsters and Tom Driberg. The gay Driberg (later Lord Driberg), involved in several corruption scandals, was a Labor MP. That could also have caused turbulence for the opposition.

So it came about that suddenly prominent members of the Labor Party campaigned for the conservative Lord Boothby. He was also represented by two prominent Labor lawyers: Arnold Goodman (later Lord Goodman) was Harold Wilson's favorite lawyer; Gerald Gardiner (later Lord Gardiner) was appointed to his cabinet by Wilson the following year. On her advice, Boothby went on the offensive. He wrote a letter to them Timeswhich was released on August 2nd. In it he declared himself an innocent victim of a smear campaign. Boothby's explanation was a lie from A to Z, but without the help of Sir Joseph Simpson's police he could Mirror not prove that. It was also advantageous that the editor-in-chief and the chairman of the supervisory board of Mirror-Group supported the Labor Party and (rightly) hoped that after their election victory they would be ennobled for their services to the common good. That now helped a conservative. The Mirror agreed out of court with "Mr. Fixit “Goodman, retracted all claims, apologized to Boothby and paid him £ 40,000 in compensation for pain and suffering (plus legal fees). Today that would be well over half a million.

A photo of the gay thug

Lord Voldemort, the villain in Harry Potter, is so feared that witches and wizards usually only speak of him as “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”. J.K. Rowling says in an interview that the idea goes back to the Krays, whose names were also taboo. It's a myth. The Krays didn't want to be the anonymous rulers of the underworld. Her goal was to be someone ("to be somebody"). When the Mirror apologized in large letters to LORD BOOTHBY, but only indirectly and without naming Ron, it was annoying. So something had to be done.

A photographer had that Mirror sold a series of paintings showing Boothby with Ron Kray. A few days later the man had obtained an injunction prohibiting the newspaper from publishing. The Mirror thereupon (July 16) reported a photo that he did not dare to print; the picture shows "a well-known member of the House of Lords, sitting on a sofa with a gangster who runs the largest ring of protection racketeers that London has ever seen". Ron now picked the picture of himself and Boothby that he found most flattering and had it sold to a competitor for £ 100. The Daily Express brought the photo to page 1 on August 6th. This made it clear once and for all who was meant by "homosexual thug".

Those involved in the cover-up would probably talk their way out of the raison d'être. It may be that Britain's reputation in the world had to be protected. But that was at the expense of the future Kray victims. The crime reporters of the Mirror had just started a series of articles about the London underworld, which should also deal with bribed officials (the Simpson era is considered particularly corrupt). The series has now been discontinued. The message also reached the other newspapers. Boothby had received £ 40,000, although every editorial office knew he had lied. From this it was concluded that he had protection from above - protection that the Krays apparently also enjoyed. Better to keep your fingers off them. It was like that at Scotland Yard. Police officers also want to make a career. After the police chief claimed that the company had never been investigated, such investigations were not considered particularly beneficial to one's career. The Krays now considered themselves "untouchable". You were right about that.

In January 1965, the company demolished Hew McCowan's nightclub, who then reported the Krays for extorting protection money. The case was prosecuted when McCowan, contrary to expectations, upheld his complaint. The twins hired two of the most expensive criminal lawyers and got names and addresses of the jury just to be on the safe side. At least one juror was contacted and one juror pleaded innocent. Without a unanimous verdict, it had to be renegotiated (the case helped change the law later). By the second trial, the Krays had discovered unsightly things about McCowan's past. After the credibility of the main witness was destroyed, the twins were acquitted. The BBC invited them to the television studio and gave them the opportunity to complain about a police plot. For the next three years they were able to rule almost at will without being bothered by Scotland Yard.

The Al Capone of London

Ronnie Kray didn't want to be a breakfast manager, but a real gangster who earns his money through hard (and for those affected, very painful) work. Leslie Payne, he was getting more and more sinister. "The Brain" began to sever its ties with the Krays. Ron's new life advisor was Alan Cooper, head of the private Europan Exchange Bank. With his help, the Krays turned stolen US securities into cash on behalf of the Mafia. The Mafia put out feelers to London because gambling was now legal there. Package tours were planned for wealthy US customers, on which all sexual desires were also satisfied. The Krays should make sure that you could book an all-inclusive package and that you were not harassed by the police or local criminals.

Ron dreamed of becoming the Al Capone of London (like Reg, he had had a pair of those dark blue double-breasted suits that George Raft wore in his gangster films). How far the cooperation with the Mafia had actually progressed in 1968 was never really cleared up. The best movie on the subject is John Mackenzies The Long Good Friday (1979), with Eddie Constantine as the business-only mobster and Bob Hoskins as the Krays-inspired gang boss who fails to keep solving problems the way he did in the East End. When the film started, Hoskins received mail from Broadmoor, a closed clinic for mentally ill offenders. Ron Kray praised him for the successful presentation. So now finally begins the part of this pretty crazy story that can only be told because it really happened that way. If the story were made up, one would have to be told that it is unbelievable and that one should think of something better.

Part 2: Murderers and Gods

(Hans Schmid)

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