The Profession of Violence

BOOK: The Profession of Violence
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JOHN PEARSON
THE PROFESSION OF VIOLENCE

The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins

TO FRANK TAYLOR

Contents

Introduction to the Fourth Edition

1 Violet's Twins

2 Battle Training

3 The Billiard Hall

4 The Colonel

5 Gun Time

6 Twins Apart

7 Flight from Long Grove

8 Comeback for the Colonel

9 Barn of Gold

10 Organized Crime

11 Twins Victorious

12 A Marriage in the Family

13 Axe Man

14 The Murder Machine

15 Nipper's Secret War

16 Arrest

17 Retribution

Postscript

Note on the Author

Introduction to the Fourth Edition

‘You can't come to terms with criminals and there's
no real excuse for doing so except total ignorance
of the real nature of their crimes.'

H.H. Kirst,
The 20th of July

It seems an age since I first met the Kray twins and was able to observe them at close quarters in their last extraordinary phase of freedom before their arrest in May 1968; and in retrospect I am slightly shocked by the naivety with which I agreed to write the story of their lives. Had they not been arrested when they were it would never have been possible, and had my ‘research' continued, it would certainly have become dangerous.

But in early autumn 1967 I was bored and missing England after a spell in Italy. The name ‘Kray' was only vaguely familiar from my days as a
Sunday Times
reporter, and when Frank Taylor – who as Editor-in-Chief at McGraw Hill had published my
Life of Ian Fleming
– arrived in Rome and suggested I write a book about ‘the top criminals controlling London', with their full co-operation, it seemed an intriguing proposition. I was curious. After writing about Ian, I was probably hankering for a touch of action,
à la Bond,
and thought I'd get it. What I didn't know was that the suggestion had originally reached McGraw in a roundabout way from a lawyer representing various Mafia interests in New York, that he in turn was doing a favour for the twins, who were hoping to extract a large sum of money from McGraw for ‘world rights' in the story of their life,
and that the twins had not the faintest intention of allowing anything except the most flattering picture of themselves to appear in print.

Certainly the next step in this whole bizarre adventure was extremely Bond. Tickets to London were waiting in my name at Rome International Airport. At Heathrow I was met by a very silent ex-heavyweight boxer who drove me in a silver-grey Mercedes to the Ritz Hotel where a suite had been booked for me, and at ten o'clock next morning the world of Bond continued. The silent man in the Mercedes was waiting to drive me to an undisclosed destination in the country, and half an hour or so beyond Newmarket we went through a pair of elaborate park gates and drove towards a large Elizabethan mansion. Apart from horses grazing in the paddock there was no sign of life, and the car drove round the back of the enormous house. We stopped. The driver hooted and finally a door did open. Three men emerged to welcome me. They stood with some formality and my driver announced them like some old-school boxing referee, ‘Mr Charles Kray, Mr Ronald Kray, Mr Reginald Kray.' Luncheon was waiting and my book had started.

It was one of the more memorable meals of my life. There was a large panelled dining-room with a baronial fireplace and a number of bogus-looking ‘ancestors' round the walls. There was cold tongue and coleslaw salad and a choice of Yugoslav Riesling and brown ale. On the moat beneath the windows swam three black swans.

There was quite a gathering of heavy-looking characters, clearly on very best behaviour but, Krays apart, the only one I really remember was the man I soon discovered was my host. This was a portly, personable ‘businessman' friend of the Krays with a pale blue Rolls, a large cigar, and two extremely pretty wives (one ex, one current, both cheerfully in residence) who had lent the twins the house for the weekend. He told me he ‘dabbled a bit in property' – which was more or less the truth: he was something of
a specialist in high-grade arson and some years later went to prison after collecting a quite extraordinary amount of money from a number of insurance companies on a series of large country houses which went up in smoke – the one that we were in included.

As for the Krays, Charlie, the elder brother, seemed distinctly ill-at-ease and rather jumpy. He had a habit of agreeing with everything one said, and the twins were obviously in charge. Ian would have relished Ronnie, who would have made a most convincing Mr Big. Like his twin he wore a dark blue suit, white shirt, very tightly knotted tie, and solid gold bracelet watch – and managed to look permanently nasty. He had a slow, faintly sneering way of speaking that sounded threatening even when it wasn't, and his eyes bulged too much for comfort.

Although they were obviously identical twins, Reggie was very different – thinner, quicker, with a certain shifty charm. He made most of the conversation – which to tell the truth was slightly heavy going – speaking in a rapid, almost inaudible monotone. I noticed his right hand was bandaged. (He had cut his thumb rather badly murdering Jack ‘the Hat' McVitie a few weeks earlier.)

‘How did you hurt yourself, Mr Kray?' I inquired brightly.

‘Gardenin',' he answered.

But small-talk and a great deal of brown ale apart, we did manage a fairly businesslike discussion. Reggie explained that he and his brothers were planning to retire: he made this sound quite normal, as if he and Ronnie were selling up a profitable haulage business and settling in Surrey. And like many businessmen tired of making money after the rough and tumble of an interesting career in industry, they wanted someone to record the range of their achievement.

‘So much rubbish gets written about our sort of people that me an' Ron both think it's time the truth was told for once.'

‘An' with no messin' about,' said Ronnie.

‘Quite,' I said.

I raised the all-important question of how much they imagined they could tell me. Reggie answered airily that there were ‘just a few things we must hold back so's not to get other people into trouble. You'd not want to make trouble for our friends, now, would you?'

‘Perish the thought,' I said.

Reggie nodded and explained that as he and Ronnie planned to disappear from circulation now for good, they felt at liberty to tell the truth about themselves.

‘We've not been angels, but we've done some interesting things and met a lot of interesting people. This book could be something quite out of the ordinary.'

Upon this modest note of hope and mutual trust, collaboration started.

The twins and their world were fascinating, and during the following few months I saw them fairly regularly. They found me a basement flat off Vallance Road in Bethnal Green where they had grown up. Part of a late Victorian tenement improbably entitled ‘The Albert Family Dwellings', it was nicknamed by the twins ‘the Dungeon', and they said I could stay there whenever I was in London. The curtains were permanently pulled, the windows screwed up, and after the twins' arrest, the police took up the floorboards, searching unsuccessfully for corpses.

But I rather enjoyed my periods in residence at ‘the Dwellings': the Krays took a lot of trouble over me and were conscientious hosts. Their power and influence in this part of the East End was extraordinary. They had the use of innumerable pubs and houses, and there was one pub in particular, a discreet, low-ceilinged Victorian alehouse with a piano and a personable landlord, which was something of an exclusive club for the Krays and their ‘Firm' when they felt like entertaining. Whenever the Krays were there, the locals got the message to keep clear, and the twins held court with considerable style and lavish
hospitality to much of the criminal fraternity in London.

It was at these sessions that they often talked about the past. Both were good
raconteurs
with extraordinary memories. Ronnie could be moody, but here he would relax, and he was often genuinely funny as he talked about his childhood and his apprenticeship to crime. They had considerable nostalgia for the old East End, and enjoyed discussing the methods and morality of what they would refer to as ‘our way of life'. They were highly sociable and certainly knew everyone worth knowing in the London underworld. Through them I met quite a gallery of assorted criminals of the sixties: Billy Hill, back briefly from his house in southern Spain and reminiscing about the twins in their early twenties – ‘always a little wild, but willing to be educated' – and along with him a whole range of burglars, bruisers, former boxing champions, conmen, pickpockets, ponces, fences, professional gamblers, crooked club-owners, shady financiers and visiting Americans in dark glasses.

Before long it was clear the twins' hopes of a great bonanza from the world rights of their story had misfired, but I think it rather flattered them to be able to introduce me as ‘our biographer'; and as well as their criminal acquaintances I got to know their family and many non-criminal friends and relations who were part of this vanishing world of the Dickensian East End.

What is extraordinary is that throughout this period the Krays were facing the final crisis of their criminal careers, but almost until the end they gave no hint of what was going on. Those who did know were under very strict instructions over what they said to me, and it was not until a month or so before their arrest in the spring of 1968 that I began to get a glimmering of the truth behind the secrets they kept so carefully to themselves – that people had been murdered, that former members of the gang had ‘grassed', and that the twins were everywhere surrounded by their enemy – ‘the Law'. Then for the first time too one heard
references to a mysterious character called ‘Read' – ‘the flash bastard copper who is out to get us'.

By the time of their arrest both twins had become dangerously suspicious of almost everyone around them – me included – and a friend I had made within the Firm gave me a warning to stay clear as the twins had come to think I was working for MI5 or some other undercover group planning their downfall. I took the hint, and the last I saw of the twins at liberty was in early April when I visited them at their mother's flat at the top of a modern high-rise block on the edge of the City. It was an uncomfortable meeting. Ronnie was ominously silent and the few words he did speak were to ‘Nipper Read', the young boa constrictor he had purchased from Harrods' pets' department, and named after his greatest enemy. While ‘Read' coiled and uncoiled himself round Ronnie's brawny arms, Reggie talked mysteriously about their ‘master-plan' to foil the police. They had their spies at work, their sources of information, and there were things that they could do that no one had dreamed of.

I knew better than ask what they were and, as I left, my last sight of the twins was of the pair of them stretched out in their mother's comfortable armchairs, playing with their boa constrictor. Behind them, through the big window of the flat, I could see the whole of London. They had ‘ruled' it long enough, and suddenly I felt the city closing in on them, leaving them beleaguered, waiting for their end, with nothing but a snake for company. A few weeks later on my radio I heard of their arrest.

Then, finally, I did begin to learn the truth about them. People I had already met began to talk more freely. So did the police. Almost overnight the famous ‘wall of silence' crumbled. It was as if everyone around them suddenly awoke from a collective nightmare. But even then there were certain areas I could not penetrate. Several influential criminals and businessmen closely associated with the Krays took care to protect themselves. So did certain
members of the ‘Establishment' who performed an extraordinarily smooth cover-up over their relations with the twins.

BOOK: The Profession of Violence
9.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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