What would a list of Britain’s most prolific, infamous and brutal gangsters be without mention of the Kray Twins? Ronald and Reginald (known as Reggie) were born in East London in the year 1933, shortly before the Second World War, to a Irish-Romani family of modest income.
Their life of crime began somewhere around the time that the brothers were called up for military service, where, after reporting to their station, attempted to leave after just a few minutes and assaulted the commanding officer who tried to stop them. They were arrested the next day and handed over to the army, however, and after a series of misdeeds including multiple occasions of being AWOL (Away Without Leave), they were dishonourably discharged. This brought an end to the brother’s prospects of a legitimate career, and they delved into crime full-time. They bought a run-down snooker club in London, and proceeded to open a racketeering business. They gradually expanded their business to the point that they held great influence throughout London and became very financially successful. What set them apart from many other gangsters of the time, however, was their near-celebrity status that they attained from their legitimate activities and their reputation of being charming nightclub owners. The brothers often fraternised with politicians and celebrities who visited their establishments, and were photographed in public on numerous occasions. Behind this charming public image, however, they were brutal gangsters. Their crimes included murder, racketeering, theft, and prison escape. Members of their gang who failed to live up to the Twins’ expectations were punished severely, with one contract killer, Jack McVitie, who failed to complete a murder contract, being stabbed four times for his ineptitude in carrying out his end of the bargain. Connections to major government officials like Lord Boothby ensured that they evaded capture for their crimes for many years, and their reign of terror dominated London for the better part of the 60s. In Ronnie Kray’s words, they were, for a time, “f***ing untouchable”.