Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Krays

Known as three of Britain's most brutal criminals in the 1960s, the Kray brothers, Charlie, Ronnie, and Reggie, were also lionized by many of their neighbors. Their organized crime activities included protection rackets, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, and murder, all in a period of little over a decade. Upon their capture and imprisonment, however, they gained something of a legendary status; to some, they were champions of the poor rather than vicious killers.

Charlie Kray was born in 1927 and the twins Reggie and Ronnie were born in 1933. Raised in London's East End, they engaged in petty crime from boyhood, but they did not seem destined for lives as criminals. Reggie and Ronnie showed talent as amateur boxers, and all three brothers served in the military. But by the late 1950s, the Krays had settled into a lifestyle that eventually put them in prison for the rest of their lives.

They set up a protection racket in their East End neighborhood but moved to the West End in 1960, where they started a gambling club. They tried to make the business appear legitimate, but they continued to engage in criminal activity. Charlie was the least violent and most responsible, at least to all appearances. He was credited with providing the "brains" behind the Krays' illegal activity. Reggie and Ronnie were known to be more volatile. All three brothers enjoyed socializing with celebrities, and celebrities enjoyed spending time with the Krays.

Throughout the 1960s, the Krays stepped up their illegal activities, making a reputation as some of the most deadly members of the London underworld. In 1966, Ronnie Kray shot a man who had called him fat. The following year, Reggie stabbed another criminal to death. Scotland Yard tried unsuccessfully to catch the Krays before they finally arrested Reggie and Ronnie in 1968 for their respective crimes. Charlie was also arrested and charged with a variety of crimes, including drug trafficking.

The Krays' 1969 trial was one of London's most sensational. Charlie received seven years, and the twins each got life sentences with eligibility for parole after 30 years. Charlie served out his term and tried to enter legitimate business, but he was still drawn to crime, and in 1997 he was sent back to prison for trying to sell cocaine to an undercover officer. He died in April of 2000. Ronnie was eventually sent to a prison for the criminally insane, where he died in 1995 of a heart attack. Reggie, terminally ill with cancer, was released from prison in the summer of 2000. He died in October of 2000 while on a long-delayed honeymoon trip with his wife, who had married him while he was incarcerated. Many East Enders, as well as others from all around Britain, continued to see the Krays more as folk heroes, noting that they never harmed women or children and only hurt fellow criminals. Many more, however, saw the Kray brothers as nothing more than deadly thugs.

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