Ronnie died in Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, while Reggie died eight and a half weeks after he was released on compassionate grounds. The brothers became much more famous during their incarceration than they were when they were at large although such was their infamy that when Frances Shea died, her death was reported on the front page of The Times.
There were films (starring the Kemp brothers and Tom Hardy playing both roles) and innumerable books including ones by the Krays themselves and assorted wives, associates, hangers-on and fellow criminals.
The definitive book was waiting to be written.
Best-selling crime James Morton has filled that gap with Krays The Final Word.
He was the amanuensis for several books by “Mad Frankie” Fraser and has written a number of titles on gangs around the world so is well-versed in the underworld.
The Krays were sent down for two murders – “Jack the Hat” McVitie stabbed by Reggie in a Stoke Newington basement and George Cornell shot by Ronnie in Whitechapel pub The Blind Beggar – but they almost certainly committed several more including Frank “Mad Axeman” Mitchell and “Mad Teddy” Smith.
Was boxing champion Freddie Mills also killed by the Krays? Or Beatles solicitor David Jacobs? What about Ernie Isaacs – was he shot by Reggie?
James Morton takes a look at the family that bred the terrible twins.
Violet, their mother, probably saved Ronnie’s life when both boys came down with diphtheria aged three.
Reggie recovered quickly enough but Ronnie became progressively worse pining for his brother until Violet took him home to his brother and he soon got well.
One of the problems with books about underworld figures is ascertaining the truth about them and who did what.
Ronnie was known as “The Colonel”.
Some years ago, I interviewed Kate Kray and she told me that she would bump into someone who would say “Give my regards to the Colonel”.
When the greeting was passed on, Ronnie had no idea who his so-called friend was.
James Morton has done a great job in untangling the claims and counterclaims.
Albert Donoghue was a genuine Kray acolyte but the assertion by Tony Lambrianou that he was a “Kray boss” is questionable despite a book and several TV appearances based on that claim.
Morton also dismantles the myth of a Kray criminal empire.
Most of their crimes revolved around Bethnal Green, Soho and an outpost in Essex.
They made no attempt to move into the south London of the Richardsons, the north London of Bertie Smalls or even Millwall, virtually next door.
Even parts of Soho were off-limits.
The Krays made their money in four ways: first was protection money; secondly taking a share from other criminals; thirdly as an underworld employment agency and fourthly through fraud.
The Krays’ disgusting treatment of Frances, Reggie’s young wife, and her family after her death makes for distressing reading.
The book contains a number of photographs I had not seen before and is great value for money.
Krays The Final Word is probably not the ultimate story on the terrible twosome – there is too much money and public interest for that to be the case – but it is a cracking not to mention myth-busting read.
My only complaint about the book is that it does not have an index.