Twin brothers Ronald “Ronnie” Kray (24 October 1933 – 17 March 1995) and Reginald “Reggie” Kray (24 October 1933 – 1 October 2000) were English gangsters who were the kingpins of organized crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s.

With their gang, “The Firm”, the Krays were involved in armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, assaults, and the murders of Jack “The Hat” McVitie and George Cornell.

As West End nightclub owners, they mixed with prominent entertainers including Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland, and with politicians.

During the 1960s, the Krays became celebrities in their own right, interviewed on television, and captured on film by iconic photographer David Bailey.

Brothers Gary and Martin Kemp (not twins) of the ’80s British pop band Spandau Ballet played the duo in the 1990 movie “The Krays”.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That’s the way it played out, on film.

Here’s what history has to tell us:

Early Life

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were born on 24 October 1933 in Hoxton, East London, to Charles David “Charlie” Kray, Sr., (10 March 1907 – 8 March 1983), a scrap gold dealer, and Violet Lee (5 August 1909 – 7 August 1982). Reggie was born about 10 minutes before his twin Ronnie.

Their parents already had a six-year old son, Charles Jr, (9 July 1926 – 4 April 2000). A sister, Violet, born 1929, died in infancy.

When the twins were three years old, they contracted diphtheria but recovered. Ronnie Kray almost died in 1942 from a head injury suffered in a fight with his twin brother.

In 1938, the Kray family moved from Stean Street, Hoxton, to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green.

At the beginning of World War II, 32-year-old Charles Kray was conscripted into the army, but went into hiding rather than serve.

The twins first attended Wood Close School in Brick Lane and then went Daniel Street School.

The influence of their maternal grandfather, Jimmy “Cannonball” Lee, caused the twins to take up amateur boxing, at that time a popular pastime for working class boys in the East End. Both are said to have never lost a match before turning professional at age 19.

National Service – or Not

The Kray twins narrowly avoided being sent to prison several times, and in 1952 both were called up for national service with the Royal Fusiliers. They reported, but deserted several times, always being recaptured.

While absent without leave, the brothers assaulted a police constable who tried to arrest them. They were held at the Tower of London (among the very last prisoners ever to be kept there) before being transferred to Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset for a month, to await court-martial.

They were convicted and sent to the Home Counties Brigade Depot jail in Canterbury, Kent. Their behavior in prison was so bad that they both received dishonorable discharges from the army.

Before their conviction, when they were moved from a one man cell to a communal cell, they assaulted their guard with a china vase and escaped.

Quickly recaptured, and awaiting transfer to civilian authority for crimes committed while at large, they spent their last night in Canterbury drinking cider, eating crisps (potato chips), and smoking cigarillos courtesy of the young national servicemen acting as their guards.

Burgeoning Criminal Careers

Their criminal records and dishonorable discharges ended the twins’ boxing careers, and they turned to crime. They bought a run down local snooker club in Bethnal Green, where they started several protection rackets.

By the end of the 1950s, the Krays were involved in hijacking, armed robbery and arson, through which they acquired a few clubs and other properties.

In 1960 Ronnie Kray was imprisoned for 18 months for running a protection racket and related threats. While he was in prison, Peter Rachman, head of a violent landlord operation, gave Reggie a nightclub called Esmeralda’s Barn on the Knightsbridge end of Wilton Place next to Joan’s Kitchen bistro. The location is where the Berkeley Hotel now stands.

This venue increased the Krays’ influence in the West End of London. They were assisted by a banker named Alan Cooper, who wanted protection from the Krays’ rivals, the Richardsons, who were based in South London.

Celebrity Status

In the 1960s, the Krays were widely seen as prosperous and charming celebrity nightclub owners, and were part of the Swinging London scene.

A large part of their fame was due to their non-criminal activities: being photographed by David Bailey on more than one occasion, and socializing with lords, MPs, socialites and show business characters such as the actors George Raft, Judy Garland, Diana Dors, Barbara Windsor and singer Frank Sinatra.

Lord Boothby and Tom Driberg

The Krays also came into the public eye when an exposé in the tabloid newspaper Sunday Mirror alleged that Ron (who was openly bisexual) had had a sexual relationship with Lord Boothby, a UK Conservative Party politician.

Although no names were printed, when the twins threatened the journalists involved in the story and Boothby threatened to sue, the newspaper backed down, sacked its editor, printed an apology, and paid Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

As a result, other newspapers became unwilling to uncover the Krays’ connections and criminal activities.

The police investigated the Krays on several occasions, but the twins’ reputation for violence meant witnesses were afraid to come forward to testify.

There was also a political problem for both main parties. It was in the interests of neither the Conservative Party to press the police to end the Krays’ power (lest the Boothby connection was publicized again), nor the Labor Party as their MP Tom Driberg was also rumored to have had a relationship with Ron.

Frank Mitchell

On 12 December 1966 the Krays helped Frank Mitchell, “The Mad Axeman”, to escape from Dartmoor Prison. Ronnie had befriended Mitchell when they served time together in Wandsworth prison.

Mitchell felt the authorities should review his case for parole, and Ronnie felt he would be doing him a favor by getting him out of Dartmoor, highlighting his case in the media, and forcing the authorities to act.

Once Mitchell was out of Dartmoor, the Krays held him at a friend’s apartment in Barking Road. However, as a large man with a mental disorder, he was difficult to deal with.

Mitchell disappeared, and his body has never been found. The Krays were acquitted of his murder.

Freddie Foreman, a former member of The Firm, in his autobiography “Respect”, claimed that Mitchell was shot and the body disposed of at sea.

George Cornell

Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel on 9 March 1966.

There had been a confrontation at Christmas 1965 between the Krays and the Richardsons at the Astor Club, when Cornell, an associate of the Richardsons, referred to Ronnie as a “fat poof”. However, Ronnie denied this and said that the reason for the killing was because he was threatening him and Reggie.

The result was a gang war, and Kray associate Richard Hart was murdered at Mr. Smith’s Club in Catford on 8 March 1966.

“Mad” Frankie Fraser was taken to court for Hart’s murder, but was found not guilty. A member of the Richardsons gang claimed that he saw him kicking Hart. Cornell was the only one to escape from the brawl in reasonable health, so it is likely that Ronnie thought that he was involved in the murder.

On the 9th of March 1966, Ronnie was drinking in another pub when he heard that Cornell was in the Blind Beggar. Taking Reggie’s driver John “Scotch Jack” Dickson and Ian Barrie, his right-hand man, he then killed Cornell, avenging Hart’s death.

Jack “the Hat” McVitie

In October 1967 (four months after the suicide of his wife Frances), Ronnie allegedly encouraged Reggie to kill Jack “the Hat” McVitie, a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to fulfil a £1,500 contract paid to him in advance by the Krays to kill Leslie Payne.

McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Evering Road, Stoke Newington on the pretence of a party.

As he entered, Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at McVitie’s head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge. Ronnie Kray then held McVitie in a bearhug and Reggie Kray was handed a carving knife. He stabbed McVitie in the face and stomach, driving it deep into his neck, twisting the blade, and continuing as McVitie lay on the floor dying.

Several other members of The Firm including the Lambrianou brothers (Tony and Chris), were convicted of this act.

McVitie’s body has never been recovered.

Arrest and Trial

When Inspector Leonard “Nipper” Read of Scotland Yard was promoted to the Murder Squad, his first assignment was to bring down the Kray twins. It was not his first involvement with Reg and Ron; during the first half of 1964 Read had been investigating their activities, but publicity and official denials surrounding allegations of Ron’s relationship with Boothby had made the evidence he collected useless.

Read tackled the problem with renewed activity in 1967, but frequently came up against the East End “wall of silence”, which discouraged anyone from providing information to the police.

Early in 1968, the twins used a man named Alan Bruce Cooper, who hired and sent radio engineer Paul Elvey to Glasgow to buy explosives for rigging a car bomb.

Police detained Elvey in Scotland and he confessed to having been involved in three botched murder attempts. However, this evidence was weakened by Cooper, who claimed to be an agent for the United States Treasury Department investigating links between the American Mafia and the Kray gang. The botched murders were claimed to be his attempt to pin something on the Krays.

Read tried using Cooper (who was also being employed as a source by one of Read’s superior officers), as a trap for Ron and Reg – but they stayed away from him.


Eventually, a Scotland Yard conference decided to arrest the Krays on the evidence already collected, in the hope that other witnesses would be forthcoming once the Krays were in custody.

On 8 May 1968, the Krays and 15 other members of their “firm” were arrested.

Many witnesses came forward now that the Krays’ reign of intimidation was over, and it was relatively easy to gain a conviction.

Of the 17 official Firm members, the Krays and 14 others were convicted.


The twins’ defense, under their counsel John Platts-Mills, QC, consisted of flat denials of all charges and the discrediting of witnesses by pointing out their criminal past.

The judge, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson said: “In my view, society has earned a rest from your activities.”

The Krays were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders of Cornell and McVitie – the longest sentences ever passed at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court, London) for murder. Their brother Charlie was jailed for 10 years for his part in the murders.


On 11 August 1982, under tight security, Ronnie and Reggie Kray were allowed to attend the funeral of their mother Violet, who had died of cancer the week before – but they were not allowed to attend the graveside service at Chingford Mount Cemetery in East London, where their mother was interred in the Kray family plot. The service was attended by celebrities including Diana Dors, and underworld figures known to the Krays.

The twins did not ask to attend their father’s funeral when he died seven months later in March 1983, to avoid the publicity that had surrounded their mother’s funeral.

In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ron’s, which prompted an investigation that revealed the twins – incarcerated at separate institutions – along with their older brother, Charlie, and another accomplice who was not in prison, were operating a “lucrative bodyguard and ‘protection’ business for Hollywood stars”.

Documents released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that officials were concerned about this operation, called Krayleigh Enterprises, but believed there was no legal basis to shut it down. Documentation of the investigation revealed that Frank Sinatra hired 18 bodyguards from Krayleigh Enterprises in 1985.

Reggie Kray was a Category A prisoner, denied almost all liberties and not allowed to mix with other prisoners. However, in his later years, he was downgraded to Category C and transferred to Wayland Prison in Norfolk.


Ronnie was eventually certified insane, and lived the remainder of his life in Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, dying on 17 March 1995 of a heart attack, aged 61.

During incarceration, Reggie became a born again Christian. After serving more than the recommended 30 years he was sentenced to in March 1969, he was finally freed from Wayland on 26 August 2000, at almost 67 years old. He was released on compassionate grounds due to having inoperable bladder cancer.

The final weeks of his life were spent with his wife Roberta (whom he had married while in Maidstone Prison in July 1997), in a suite at the Townhouse Hotel at Norwich, having left Norwich hospital on 22 September 2000.

On 1 October 2000, Reggie Kray died in his sleep. Ten days later, he was buried alongside his brother Ronnie, in Chingford Mount Cemetery.

Like peas, in a pod? More like bullets, in a gun.

I’ll be shooting your way soon, with another story.

Till then.