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The Boys from Bethnal Green – Part 3: How the infamous Kray Twins ruled the London underworld

By Thom L. Jones

This is part 3 of a series. To go back to part 2 click here. To skip to part 4 scroll down.

Boss of bosses

More and more Ronnie was dreaming of a gangland federation in London, uniting all of the separate criminal groups under one command with himself as the alliance head. But as he planned and schemed, and created more opportunities to involve violence and terrorism on a grand scale, all the excellent work Reggie had done over the past three years was slowly crumbling around them. The billiard hall, their first headquarters closed down, under demolition orders from the local council. The income from The Double R and the gambling club in Wellington Way was barely covering the expenses of the twins.

In the summer of 1959, a man in London called Daniel Shay was living a prosperous life. He owned a car dealership and lived with his wife in an expensive apartment in Edgware. Although he was not a villain in the strict sense of the word, he was undoubtedly "bent" with at least thirteen convictions, mainly for fraud. He met up with Ronnie and began boasting of his relationship with the Krays. On several occasions, Ronnie borrowed money from him and somehow never got around to repaying it. Shay saw the twins for what they were, and perhaps a little of their bravado rubbed off on him.

Towards the end of Edgware Road, as it runs into the wealthy and affluent suburb of Hampstead, was a shop called Swiss Travel Goods. It was owned and run by a Pole called Murray Podro. Shay called in here one day in February 1960, and purchased an expensive briefcase, promising to return later to pay for it.

A few days later, Shay returned to the shop accompanied by Reggie and George Osborne . For some inexplicable reason, Shay decided to try and extort Podro and demanded a large sum of money after threatening to attack the shopkeeper. Another version of this incident, states that Shay was trying to recover a gambling debt from Podro. After he and the twins left, Podro called the police and reported the incident. When Shay returned two days later, hoping to collect the money, Reggie and Osborne accompanied him. They were both arrested. After a trial at the Old Bailey, Shay went to prison for three years for trying to operate a protection racket and Reggie was sentenced to eighteen months.

With Reggie out of action, Ronnie was in his element. Never mind that his ineptitude was costing the twins money. He was finally the sole boss of “The Firm.” Arms were stockpiled at "Fort Vallance," and he spent his time organizing and directing the skirmishes and minor conflicts that had always obsessed him. What use was a Colonel without troops and what purpose were troops without wars to fight? Living at home with Violet, planning his tactical strategies, free from any harassment from Reggie, or even Charlie who now left him completely alone, Ronnie would no doubt have drifted from one pub brawl to another. And then in the autumn, he met Peter Rachman.

Good Times Rolling

Peter Rachman became known eventually, as London and Britain's most notorious landlord. He acquired many slum properties in the north London suburbs, particularly around the Notting Hill area, which in those days did not have the hip and trendy image portrayed today in movies and television. His policy was to acquire tenanted buildings, hike up the rents forcing out immigrant families, and then bring in prostitutes and drug dealers who could afford to pay him. He used a team of strong-arm toughs to intimidate and guarantee he achieved his objectives.

Ronnie had learned about Rachman and was interested in finding out if he could milk him. One night, Ronnie and a bunch of his pals, crashed a party Rachman was giving in Soho. After a bit of minor terrorism, Rachman agreed to pay protection money to Ronnie to prevent “trouble” arising among his rent collectors and enforcers. Rachman paid his first installment to Ronnie by cheque, which bounced, and then he disappeared when Ronnie came searching for him. Sure enough, just as The Colonel had predicted, trouble began in Notting Hill.

Rachman's rent collectors were beaten up, and his enforcers became victims of worse enforcers. As Ronnie once commented, “His rent collectors were big, but our boys were bigger.” His empire was in danger of disintegrating. Rachman was a clever man, who well understood the mentality of someone like Ronnie. Realizing that once he started paying protection, it would never stop he needed to offer a big carrot, one that would get him off the hook for good.


Illegal gambling had always been the lodestone to organized crime in London. Earlier crime bosses such as Billy Hill and Jack Spot had generated much of their income from illegal gambling clubs. By the mid-1950s, gambling fever was in full swing in London, and it was turning into an important industry. The British Parliament was on the verge of legalizing it in the mistaken belief that it would drive away criminals. It would have the opposite effect in that with gambling legalized, the underworld would virtually be legalized as well. London would become the Las Vegas of Europe, and any self-respecting gangster knew what went on in Vegas.

Rachman was connected to people who were knew of a man called Stefan de Faye. He owned a gaming club called Esmeralda's Barn in Wilton Place, which was a fashionable street in Belgravia. One of the most exclusive areas in London, it houses Harrods and Harvey Nicholson, two of the premier department stores in the world, and just down the road is Buckingham Palace.

At a meeting held in an apartment above the famous Scotch Corner in Knightsbridge attended by the twins (Reggie was out on bail after nine months awaiting a review of his case) and a friend of theirs called Leslie Payne, de Faye agreed to sell his shareholding for cash but decided to remain as a director and manager running the club for the Krays.

Payne had become an essential adviser to Ronnie, while his brother had been away in prison. At the time he met up with Ronnie, Payne was a bankrupt businessman who had seen fourteen of his companies disappear into liquidation. He saw in Ronnie opportunities to rebuild his commercial career. A clever man, with a sharp brain, and also a great sense of humor. Married to a beautiful wife, he lived with her and his two children in Dulwich, south east London. As Ronnie came to rely more and more upon him, he acquired the nickname “Payne the Brain.”

Esmeralda's Barn was a gold mine for the twins. One of the first gaming clubs to open after the new Gaming Act came into force, it had the best croupiers and workers in town. One of them, Bobby Buckley, became Ronnie’s favorite boyfriend. It had a bar, and an excellent restaurant and the staff was well trained to care for the needs of their customers. Soon, Payne had restructured the legal ownership of the club. The executive manager was given a 50% stake in the business, and the twins and Payne owned the balance.

The twins would earn close to one hundred thousand pounds a year from their shareholding, for doing absolutely nothing. This was a vast amount of money at the time when the average wage was less than one thousand pounds a year. Just before Christmas, Reggie's appeal failed, and he went back to prison for six months. Ronnie had the club to himself.

Gay crime boss

He reveled in the opportunity to be the boss. Soon he was running up huge bills as he accepted markers that bounced. The manager, in desperation, offered he and his brother one thousand pounds each week just to stay away. Ronnie refused. Eventually, the manager resigned and went off to start his own club, which became one of the top four in London. Ronnie mixed with a class of people he had never known before. They introduced him to celebrities, invited him into their homes, and even dined him at The House of Lords. He became a playboy gangster, also going so far as moving into an apartment on the King's Road in Chelsea, which he had assumed in payment for a gambling debt. It was indeed the good life-for a time.

He now made no bones about his homosexuality. His preference was for youngish men, with long eyelashes and a sense of innocence about them. He paid them well and treated them well, and was proud to insist that he held no prejudices; he would relate with Arabs, Chinese, Negroes or Anglo-Saxons. More and more he needed someone to sleep with to help him combat his growing fear of the dark and being alone at night.

Drugs and booze

But his world was slowly slipping out of control. His heavy drinking mixed with the anti-anxiety drugs he was taking, such as Stemetil, did not help and life seemed just as hopeless as it was after his Aunt Rose died. Perhaps he became the man Waylon Jennings would sing about in the years ahead: “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”

Reggie came back from Wandsworth prison, but things were changed now, for a different reason. He had fallen in love. He was twenty-seven and was smitten with a dark-haired, pert, innocent young girl of sixteen. Her name was Frances Elsie Shea (left). She would offer Reggie the opportunity to make a different life. He could work towards those things that had so tantalizingly evaded him for so long- a home, a family and a normal lifestyle.

Her father ran The Regency Club on Amhurst Road, in Stoke Newington, in which the twins had an interest, a trendy night spot favored by criminals and celebrities. It was rumored Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister, was a frequent visitor. Reggie had met up with Frances here when he was free on bail, having first been introduced to her at the family home in Ormsby Street, Hoxton. He went out with her a few times, but it was when he was sent back to prison that he realized how deep his feelings for Frances had become. In France, they call it “le coup de foudre,” a bolt of lightning. Reggie wrote letters and sent poetry to her each day he was locked away. When eventually released, he couldn't wait to sweep up the Irish girl with long eyelashes, deep brown eyes and chestnut-colored hair, and show her how much he loved her. She was his Cockney princess. He’d meet her after she finished work at an office in The Strand and take her to the movies or dinner. Or plush nightclubs “Up West.” At week-ends they would drive out into the countryside. One of Reggie’s friends thought she looked like the famous movie star, Brigitte Bardot.

Ronnie, who hated all women, except his mother and the memory of his Aunt Rose, saw Frances as a threat to his relationship with his brother. They rowed, repeatedly, with an intensity that no one could remember. But Reggie was determined to find happiness with Frances. In some respects he did. But their love affair was to be a torturous adventure that would take them through a maze of conflicts and on a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs before it ended in the tragedy that it was probably always fitted out for from the moment it began. In the depths of their ravines and the mountains of their hidden hearts, Reggie’s and France’s East Side story would be more a Greek tragedy than a London fable.

Big-Time Gangsters

Not long after Reggie was released from Wandsworth prison, he was arrested on a charge of housebreaking. The woman who had initially filed the allegations failed to identify him in court, and the case was dismissed; Reggie was awarded costs.

Then, he and Ronnie were charged with "loitering" with intent to steal parked cars in the Queensbridge Road, the main thoroughfare that connects Hackney to Bethnal Green. It was a ludicrous charge, and Ronnie was determined to use it to expose what he perceived to be a vendetta against him and his brothers by the local police.

He hired a famous young female barrister, Nemone Lethbridge, to defend them, and used private detectives to check out the charges. Eventually, eight witnesses came forward to provide a cast-iron alibi. Through contacts he had on the local paper, Ronnie made sure the East End press carried their side of the story.

On May 8th, 1961, the Marylebone Magistrates' Court dismissed the charges. A full-scale party was held at Esmeralda's Barn, where Ronnie proposed a toast to “British Justice.” He had all the national press coverage he wanted. The Daily Express, one of Britain's leading newspapers, carried a long article about them. Ronnie felt he was untouchable. The frontier between authority and crime was becoming more and more blurred.

Reggie proposed marriage to Frances in the autumn of 1961, but she turned him down. She felt she was too young to marry. One night, after the twins had one of their many arguments, Ronnie decided he had finished with life “up West,” and he moved into a caravan he owned which was parked on a plot of land in Vallance Road.

More and more, his time was devoted to planning and scheming through a nebulous itinerary of fantasies. Treasure hunting in the Congo; establishing an English version of Murder Incorporated; giving it all up and going off to work in a leper colony in Africa. He spent lengthy sessions with a lady clairvoyant, who confirmed that he was, in fact, the reincarnation of Attila the Hun; he would achieve greatness through violence and then die young.

Ronnie soon tired of his lifestyle in the caravan and by1963, along with Reggie, moved into their separate apartments in a U-shaped block called Cedra Court, on Casenove Road which was in Clapton, about four miles north of Vallance Road. He began building up “The Firm,” adding to it many villains from outside of London. He found these men legitimate employment. Some were installed as managers in the clubs the Krays' owned or had interests in. Some were placed as bouncers in West End clubs that looked to the Krays for protection.

Reggie was also working hard at this part of their business, and by the end of 1962, their revenue from this source had doubled. The twins had developed such a reputation that often club owners approached them first, seeking their guarantee of cover. Soon, as well as the East End, “The Firm” was protecting clubs in Shepherd's Market, Mayfair, Soho, Chelsea, and Knightsbridge.

They had a seemingly endless list of these businesses paying tribute to them: Benny's in Commercial Road; Dodgers in Brick Lane; in Whitechapel, the Green Dragon and next door to this The Little Dragon; The Two Aces; in Soho the Gigi Club, The New Life, and The New Mill. The list went on and on. Every Friday, gang members, Albert Donaghue, Ronnie Hart, Jack Dickson, and Ian Barrie would make the rounds, collecting the cash for the twins. It was known as "the milk round."

Representatives from American Mafia families, as well as French and Corsican criminals, who were scoping out London as a potential market, were contacting Reggie early on in their initial market surveys. There was a seemingly endless list of opportunities being presented to the brothers.

London’s West End

By now the twins had set their sights on dominating the control of crime in the West End of London. What they had done so successfully for so long back in the East End, would work just as well in the vibrant and more vulnerable swinging London of the sixties. There was really nothing to stop them now. They seemed untouchable.

They had cultivated an illusion that they had many senior police officers in their pocket; their recent successful actions against the law made them appear invincible. It was assumed to be very unwise even to contemplate giving evidence against them, and then there was their elaborate network of informants that kept them abreast of any activity that might threaten their security. Like politicians, gangsters are often perceived more for what they might do, than for the acts they actually perform. Ronnie loved to have people go in fear of him and his fellow criminals. The stronger the rumors, the eviler the insinuations, the more he enjoyed it. He and Reggie were growing into a legend. The myth that surrounded them was good for business.

In the context of organized crime, society in this time had little or no understanding of the phenomena. The police in Britain in 1959 were divided into 117 forces across England and Wales, employing 72000 officers. These units did not cooperate at the level they do today. The first motorway opened in 1959, north from London to the Midlands, so rapid vehicle mobility was severely limited across the country, forcing criminals to operate for the most part in their own “manor.” Gangsters in Glasgow rarely worked with their counterparts in London for example.

Most mornings, the twins would meet for breakfast at a “greasy spoon” cafe called E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road, to discuss their day’s strategies. The cafe, in business since 1900, and still run by the same family, was a favorite destination for East End gangsters.

In the early part of 1962, the twins opened their latest club venture and called it The Kentucky. It was situated in Mile End Road in Stepney, just across from the Empire Cinema. It was a plusher version of The Double R and designed to attract a smart, sophisticated clientele to the East End.

Their previous clubs had been closed down by the authorities. One of the reasons why was a 25 year old man named Ronnie Marwood.

A classic “Teddy Boy” with all the gear: drain-pipe pants, thick-wedge-sole shoots, three-quarter length suit jacket and greased, swept back hair, he was by day, a scaffolder, and got his kicks by drinking and fighting at night. Late one evening in December, 1958, he finished a long day of drinking-by his own admission at least ten pints of beer- at the Kray’s Club in Bow Road. From there he went to a dance hall in Holloway, met up with a gang and finished up fighting another group in the street outside the hall. A lone policeman, PC Raymond Summers, trying to break this up, was stabbed in the back by Summers, and died.

A friend of the Krays he went to them for help and Reggie hid him away from the intense police hunt, in a flat in Edgeware, North-West London. Eventually arrested, tried, convicted and hung in 1959, Marwood’s link to the twins brought them a lot of police and media heat, and their clubs were gone.

Reggie was working around the clock putting deals together, and his relationship with Frances was being sorely tested. She objected strongly to the way Ronnie and his friends were seemingly taking over their lives. They agreed it might be better if they saw less of each other.

Leslie Payne was more and more becoming involved in the administration of “The Firm.” One of their great sources of income was a scam that they ran called the "long firm" fraud.

It was in essence so simple, but yet so effective. Using a front man over whom they had control, they would set up a business. Open premises, in places like Brixton, Mile End, Whitechapel and Hackney, originate lines of credit and a bank account and then begin to trade. Over a period of time, they would create a good impression, pay their bills on time and do their banking by the book. Then, choosing the right moment, they would place large orders with their suppliers, who confident because of their credit history would deliver the goods. These would then be sold off in one mad day of sales, at any prices, because the products had to go. The business would then close down, and everyone would vanish, leaving unpaid bills, angry creditors and the police wondering what had happened.

If the managers were ever caught, they would accept their punishment and go to jail, knowing that the twins had deposited a hefty sum in a Swiss bank account for them. In 1962 alone, the Krays cleared over one hundred thousand pounds from this scam. Three million in today’s currency. The twins used one of their bigger members, physically, to handle the transfer of money between these scams. “Big” Albert Donoghue would move between retail outlets and drop-off points carrying cases of cash. Civilians were rarely if ever involved or collateral damage in the seamy side of London’s underworld.

There's an engaging vignette from the early sixties featuring a young journalist from the north of England. He will remain anonymous, but otherwise, this is exactly how the episode went down as he recalled:

“I made a late afternoon visit to the Royal London Hospital to have minor surgery on my hand. I cannot be precise about the date, but it was in the early sixties after I had returned to The Smoke after spending a year or so in Sheffield. I was working in Park Lane at Marble Arch for a small advertising agency at that time.

When I left the Out Patients department of the hospital, it was about 5.30 pm and I was feeling in urgent need of liquid refreshment. I knew of a “fighting pub” (Probably the one where the Krays and Watney Street Gang had their rumble. Author’s Reference.) in a side-street adjacent to the hospital, and headed there for some of the divine amber fluid. When I saw that one of my all-time favourites- ‘snake and pygmy’ pudding-was on the bar menu, (steak and kidney pudding AR,) I ordered a hot meal for six o’clock.

There was a back room-a wide corridor, really-where the landlady dished-up excellent-quality pub grub and, when I got the call, I took my pint and moved from the front bar into the back. The room had a long upholstered bench down one side, with oblong tables, each with two facing chairs. So, I took-off my new Burberry mac, and parked it on the bench beside me, together with my brolly and briefcase.

Several other individuals were eating, but I was nearest to the door. From my position, I could see into the bar, and I noticed one of “the faces” of the East End in those days-the feared Albert Donoghue one of R&R’s inner circle-was holding court at the center of a group of young tearaways. At his feet was a commonplace briefcase-the Gladstone Bag type- almost exactly like mine. The next thing, there was some urgent whispering around Big Albert, and he came hurtling towards the dining room, with the briefcase. Only seconds later, a two plain-clothes detectives walked into the bar-presumably two of the lads working for the police, and Big Albert calmly walked over to me, swapped his briefcase for mine, and started walking towards the pub’s back door at the far end. He wasn’t hurrying, because common sense indicated that if Plod (Enid Blyton character, Mr. Plod, policeman AR,) was at the front door, then there would be more of the Met’s finest in the rear alley.

I was too dumbfounded to do anything other than continue eating my absolutely delicious S&P, garnished with a splash of Lee & Perrins (an inferior type of Henderson’s Yorkshire Relish). What was said in the alley, I haven’t any idea. However, after five minutes or so, a smiling Albert walked through the dining room, winking at me as he passed my table-swinging my briefcase, and went into the bar. There was a lot of animated chatter, mainly Albert winding-up the frustrated coppers, until the two officers got fed-up and disappeared into the night. As soon as they had gone, the terrifying Albert walked back to my table, returned my briefcase, took his own back, said “Thanks, son,” and walked back into the bar. He handed the briefcase over the bar to the landlord, and carried on chatting with his cronies as if nothing had happened. A few minutes later, after I had returned from the Gents, a well-filled balloon of brandy had been placed next to my dinner-plate and, when I looked up quizzically, Albert gave me a wave. It was a bit like being smiled at by a hungry shark. When I went to pay the landlady for my meal, she told me that Mr Donoghue had settled the bill.”

Leslie Payne, using an accountant who worked for him, set up a legitimate business operation that was to be used to cover shady deals that would involve not only domestic but international business frauds. By the summer of 1963, the twins' horizon was expanding dramatically. Their protection rackets were developing; they were looking at buying betting shops, tobacconists and restaurants and also a demolition business. Reggie was keen to acquire a security firm specializing in the protection and transportation of valuable goods. Who better to offer protection than the Krays?

The brothers decided to move their headquarters first from Esmeralda's Barn to a hotel in Seven Sisters Road in Stoke Newington. Ronnie felt the need for something grander, and so they made a move to take over The Cambridge Arms and Rooms, a big restaurant in Burlington Road, off the Kingston Bypass, in New Malden, close to the Surrey stockbroker belt in south London.

Ronnie had a long talk to the manager, and an agreement was reached allowing the twins to become partners in the business. The night they consummated their takeover of the management, they held a big party. Billy Daniels broadcast a message of congratulations over loudspeakers, direct from Hollywood, and Sonny Liston, then heavyweight champion of the world attended as the guest of honor.

After a raucous evening of partying, Reggie, very drunk, insisted on driving Liston home to his room at The Dorchester Hotel in west London. Liston said afterward that the thirty minutes he spent in that car were the scariest moments of his life, bar none

It’s odd that the brothers choose a headquarters so far from their natural boundaries, both physical and physiological. Especially in “Indian Country,” south of The River Thames. Although Payne was a part owner, making it much easier to edge into the business, they were deep in the territory of other gangs, One in particular, based in Lomond Grove, Camberwell, just ten miles north-east, was to be a constant source of irritations in the years ahead.

Ronnie met up at some stage during these times, with Ernest Shinwell, the son of the famous Labor politician, Lord “Manny” Shinwell. Ernest was involved in trying to finance a deal to help build a new town in Nigeria near a place called Enugu. Although there was a lot of interest from the Nigerian government, and architects and contractors had all committed to the project, the raising of money to fund the venture was causing problems.

It was arranged to fly Ronnie out to Nigeria, where he was given a welcome more fitting to a diplomat or royalty, than a gangster from the East End. For three days he was wined, dined and given VIP treatment.

Back in London, Payne was setting the wheels in motion to create holding companies to act as the vehicle for the fundraising. But the project was doomed from day one, and when Payne was detained in Nigeria while visiting to set up contacts, and a builder demanded monies promised but outstanding, the whole thing collapsed. The twins had to bail Payne out and bring him back to England. Ronnie was devastated and felt betrayed by the loss of an opportunity that could have propelled him into the greatness he believed was his to achieve.

He descended increasingly into his own brutal world of shadows and imagined dangers. His capricious violence erupted more often. A boxer who insulted him had his face slashed open, requiring over seventy stitches to repair the damage. An old friend of the twins who offended one of their allies had his face branded in retaliation. Two men were hired to shoot another malcontent who had the nerve to pick a fight with an associate of the twins. They shot his brother by mistake. The man lost a leg.

Ronnie toyed with the idea of using castration as a suitable form of punishment on some of their enemies, but fortunately never found the opportunity to put his perverse conception into practice. More and more, Reggie was spending his valuable time trying to keep his brother from losing his grip on reality and doing something seriously stupid.

By the end of 1963, in debt and with tax problems looming, Esmeralda's Bar was closed down. The twins had plenty of other business ventures to occupy their time, and there were many potentially essential deals in the offing. They would be crossing paths with some big-time gangsters from America, and there were to be many more famous and influential people to meet and socialize with over the next five years.

And there was one person in particular who would have a profound impact on them. Moving through the periphery of their beleaguered lifestyle was a small, neat and precise man, waiting and watching for an opportunity to strike them down. His time would come, early one morning in May 1968.


On July 16, 1964, The Daily Mirror, a leading British tabloid newspaper, went on sale with blazing headlines: THE PICTURE WE DARE NOT PRINT. Its copy stated that it had incriminating pictures of a prominent politician, a well-known member of the House of Lords, taken with a gangster who was head of the most significant protection racket in London. Six days later, unconcerned about British libel laws, the German magazine Stern, named the gangster as Ronnie Kray and the politician as Lord Robert Boothby (right).

In a statement made via The Times newspaper, Lord Boothby thoroughly refuted any close connection between himself and Ronnie, as well as the inference that there could have been homosexual relations between them. On August 7, The Daily Mirror carried a full and unreserved apology, and its parent company IPC paid Lord Boothby forty thousand pounds plus his legal costs. According to Boothby, Ronnie had contacted him on several occasions in connection with the Nigerian scheme, and when the Kray twin visited him, he agreed to the photograph being taken purely for promotional purposes.

MI5 files released 50 years later indicated that Boothby “was a kinky fellow who liked to meet odd people.” And “Boothby and Kray attended several homosexual parties together.” Leslie Holt, a career burglar, Boothby’s former chauffeur and, alleged lover, admitted to a newspaper reporter that Boothby and Ronnie were hunter’s of young men rather than lovers.

Homosexual acts between consulting adults was a criminal offense in Britain until July 1967 when Parliament changed the law. Those convicted faced prison sentence.

Ronnie tried to cash in on the settlement; all he received was an apology, but no cash. Because of their problems over this affair, The Daily Mirror, backed off from a projected series that they were going to do on the gangland of London, and other newspapers wary of risking similar problems also decided to keep away from the Krays. As a result, the twins were to become immune to investigative reporting for the next three years. Whenever they did appear in the press, they were simply referred to as “those well-known sporting brothers..…”

It was alleged by Lenny Hamilton, a member of the Harry Abraham’s Firm, that the photo published had been sent to the newspaper by Johnny Squibb. From a gypsy family, like the twins, he had grown up with them as school boy pals. He was particularly close to Reggie, even meeting up with him and Frances, his girlfriend, in Spain, on holiday in 1964. While he was never part of “The Firm” he was always available for them. He kept clear of Ronnie about whom he once said, “If he sent for you, you’d take six pair of pants with you.”

The Boothby affair raised particular problems within the hierarchy at Scotland Yard.

The Commissioner of police-Sir Joseph Simpson- publicly denied that there had been a police investigation of the Boothby-Kray affair. However since the beginning of 1964 the Kray twins and their gang had been under the scrutiny of Detective Chief Inspector Leonard Read, also know by his sobriquet, “Nipper.”

In early 1964, Read had been promoted and transferred from the Commercial Street Station to the West End Central Police Station. He had first come across the twins when he had been operating as a detective out of the Paddington district. They were an elusive duo to keep track of, but the more he learned about the local criminals, the more significant they seemed to be. A good copper makes his bones by using informants, but Read found it almost impossible to find anyone in the East End who was willing to “peach” or talk about the Krays, and none with the suicidal tendency necessary to testify against them. He thought he had all his bases covered early in 1965.

On January 10, the twins were arrested and charged with demanding money with menaces from one Huw Cargill McCowan. They were refused bail, and the case went to court. At its best the charge was questionable.

McCowan owned a club in the West End called the Hideaway. Located in Gerrard Street Soho, it was visited one night by Teddy “Mad” Smith, an associate of the twins, who tried to smash up the club and made threats against the owner.

Before this, McCowan had been to the police to complain that the Kray twins had been harassing him, demanding a half share in his business. Although it was a weak indictment, it was doubly important in that Read was putting a lot at stake to try and pin the twins down once and for all, and they were determined to make an exemplar of police corruption in a final showdown. Using a team of private investigators to dig out all the information they could, the twins and their lawyers went to trial on February 28, 1965.

The jury failed to reach an agreement, and a re-trial was ordered. By then, the private detectives had unearthed evidence against McCowan that cast his character in disrepute. The twins' lawyers made the most of this in rebuttal, and the judge eventually stopped the trial, finding for the defendants on April 5.

This case brought about a significant change in the British jury system, abolishing a majority vote in favor of an eleven-one decision. It was strongly believed at least one member of the jury had been bribed.

That night the twins hosted their biggest party ever, and in the act of supreme irony, held it in McCowan's club, which they by now had purchased and renamed the El Morocco. They invited everyone they knew, including the police. “Nipper” Read went along, if for no other reason than to see who else was there. Reggie claimed, that the famous actress, Judy Garland, sent him and Ronnie a telegram congratulating them on their release.

Pat Connolly, left, and Reggie. Background Teddy Smith and Ronnie celebrating outside Vallance Road April 5, 1965

The most significant problem law enforcement faces when dealing with organized crime is trying to determine the social structure of criminal cells: who makes up the members and associates, the clients and friends. This mixture is continually changing, making it difficult to track and record events and happenings.

Read chatted to Ronnie and, at some stage in the evening, had his photograph taken with him. Naturally, this appeared in the newspapers the next day and created a storm of criticism. Letters of complaint flooded into Scotland Yard, most originated via the twins, who were carefully orchestrating a campaign to discredit the police. Although Read was exonerated in a subsequent inquiry, he was removed from the jurisdiction of the Kray investigation, promoted and sent off to help unravel the mystery of The Great Train Robbery, one of the most significant theft the world had ever known, which had taken place in August 1963.

Instructions went out immediately to all police units involved in organized crime investigations to exercise extreme caution and not to be seen associating with any known criminals. It seemed as if the twins were invulnerable. But it would be a Pyrrhic victory, although four more years would pass before the law finally got it right.

Continue reading - Part 4

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