ADVERTISER 150: How we report downfall of Krays’ ‘empire of evil’ in 1969
- Credit: Archant
Violence has always been a part of reporting news of London’s East End at least since we began in 1866, you may have noticed in this nightly series marking the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary last month. Among the most violent episodes are the Kray twins and ‘the firm’ dominating the underworld in the 1950s and 60s, running their ‘empire of evil’ from their mum Violet’s rented terraced cottage in Vallance Road—until they are brought down at the Old Bailey in 1969...
1969: The criminal empire of the Krays comes crashing down at the Old Bailey in March with unanimous ‘guilty’ verdicts when the ruthless twins are jailed for a minimum of 30 years. The East London Advertiser’s front-page headline:
REIGN OF TERROR ENDS
30 years—at least—for Kray twins
Ronald Kray and John Barrie are convicted of murdering George Cornell at the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel three years earlier.
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Reginald Kray is found guilty of Jack McVitie’s murder in a basement flat in Evering Road, Stoke Newington, in 1967.
The Krays’ elder brother Charlie is found guilty of being an accessory to McVitie’s murder, along with their henchmen Freddie Foreman and Cornelius Whitehead.
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Other members of ‘The Firm’ that once operated out of the twins’ former home in Vallance Road, Bethnal Green, are sent down for 10 to 15 years apiece for their part in the murders, disposing of bodies and the extortion and protection racketeering that goes with it.
The trial has lasted 39 days, followed by the sentencing, the longest and most expensive ever at the Old Bailey.
Judge Justice Melford Stevenson tells Ronald Kray: “Society has earned a rest from your activities. I am recommending that you be held for at least 30 years.” Reg gets the same treatment.
The judge tells older brother Charlie Kray: “You were an active helper in the dreadful enterprise of concealing traces of the murders by your brothers.”
So ends nearly two decades of rule by the Krays. The senseless murders of two fellow criminals has turned the tide.
Even their henchman Foreman admits having had enough.
He confesses to the Advertiser many years later that he had plotted to assassinate the Krays in a “council of war” at a meeting at Simpson’s in The Strand in 1968 with some of London’s top gang bosses who decide the twins are out of control and should be “ironed out”.
Foreman admits in an interview in 2015: “We decided the Kray twins should be shot because they were dangerous to everybody. If they hadn’t been arrested, that’s what would have happened. That was on the cards.”
What sparks the plot is Foreman being “summoned” by Ron to be ready to dispose of Billy Gentry, who is about to be lured into an ambush.
“Gentry was a good fellah,” Foreman insists. “I’ve done loads of ‘bird’ with Gentry, so I told Ron to forget about it and calm down. I thought he was raving mad.”
Foreman is no angel. He is involved in the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell in a van outside a block of flats in the Barking Road, Plaistow, where the fugitive has been holed up after his escape from prison.
Mitchell had become a burden on the Krays, so Foreman is brought in to lure him into the van parked round the corner, where he is shot 12 times.
Foreman gets rid of his body. He also “sorts out” the remains of ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith as well as Jack McVitie.
Foreman later serves 10 years as accomplice to murder when the Krays and the rest of ‘The Firm’ go down in 1969.
“The Krays should have been ‘ironed out’ earlier and saved a lot of trouble,” he adds. “They were out of control.”
Foreman also reveals details of organising the prison escape of the 1963 Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs and the flight abroad of fellow robbers Bruce Reynolds and Buster Edwards.
There were many Kray victims who just disappeared, like Tommy ‘Ginger’ Marks who was gunned down outside Bethnal Green’s Carpenters Arms pub in Cheshire Street, the first pub owned by the Krays. Ginger had been involved in a shooting earlier over an affair with a married woman.
Retired police officer Bob Ragg tells the Advertiser years later: “We got a call at 5am to go to Arbour Square police station where Ginger Marks’s wife turned up after someone phoned her saying her husband had been shot in Cheshire Street.
“She had been to Cheshire Street and found bullet marks and blood on the wall. We found the bullet holes and quite an amount of blood. That was the last of what was known of Ginger Marks.”
Foreman is arrested for Marks’s murder, but acquitted at the Old Bailey. Years later, he admits he had shot Marks—but there is no double jeopardy law at the time to bring him to justice.
RONNIE TELLS HIS STORY TO THE ADVERTISER FROM BROADMOOR
1982: The East London Advertiser gets an exclusive ‘inside’ interview with psychotic Ronnie Kray in Broadmoor where he is nearly half-way through a 30-year stretch.
Our reporter is in the visitors’ hall face-to-face with the once burly killer who shot George Cornell at the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel 16 years earlier—now a small, shrunken man looking older than his 49 years.
“I don’t think about the past,” he says candidly in the interview we run on September 7. “Most of the time I spend thinking about the future. I’ve got plans.
“I don’t want to go back to the East End. I want to leave all that behind when I get out.”
It is an odd answer from someone facing another 17 years inside. His plans include a large house in the country.
He has no regrets about his violent past. But there is a strong dislike for the Old Bailey judge in 1969 who had slapped the Krays away for 30 years.
“It’s not fair—Reggie should be treated as a ‘Category A’ prisoner,” Ronnie scorns. “He only did one murder, while I did two. It’s just not fair.”
It is the year the Krays say farewell to their mum Violet Kray at east London’s Chingford Mount Cemetery with a poem, two hymns, 300 wreaths and 1,000 spectators—while accompanied either side by large men in dark suits ready to escort them back to prison.
Actress Diana Dors and the boxer Terry Downes stand by the grave with the twins’ Aunt May, who cries a lot, and their father, Charles.
Crowds had begun forming outside Violet Kray’s council flat in Clerkenwell at 8am. The first wreaths are laid on the pavement in front of the tower block after she dies the day before her 73rd birthday. There is a floral cross from Ronnie in Broadmoor and a wreath from Reggie in Parkhurst. Great Train Robber Buster Edwards sends a wreath.
The funeral procession from Clerkenwell goes through Hoxton where Violet’s boys were born over a shop in Pearson Street in 1934, then on to Bethnal Green past the now-demolished little terraced cottage in Vallance Road where the twins had grown up. It takes the cortege 50 minutes to reach Chingford cemetery where the twins are waiting—with their police escorts.
‘EMPIRE OF EVIL’ FINALLY LAID TO REST
2000: The death of Reggie Kray on October 1 is the final chapter in one of the most violent episodes in the history of London’s underworld.
The Krays are now all dead and their ‘empire of evil’ has become a chapter in the East End’s folklore.
Reggie dies of cancer just five months after attending older brother Charlie’s funeral in April and five years after psychotic Ronnie dies in Broadmoor of heart attack.
“They were two horrible bastards,” Jewel thief Lenny Hamilton recalls about the twins in an interview with the East London Advertiser in 2005.
“People feared the Krays—they were bloody animals. They were bloody ruthless and didn’t care about anyone.
“I’m glad they’re six feet under—it’s the best place they could be.”
Hamilton was almost blinded by Ronnie with a hot poker after being lured to his West End night-club following a dispute with a man whose father knew the Krays.
He was cornered in the kitchen of the night-club about to be tortured. It was only Reggie’s intervention that stopped psychotic Ronnie blinding him.
For Hamilton, there was no love lost between him and the Krays.