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Crime World Podcast Kray brothers ‘weren’t very good at crime’ but their love of violence created a myth

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Ronnie and Reggie Kray were obsessed with their image

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were obsessed with their image

Ronnie and Reggie Kray were obsessed with their image

They had a status in gangland that has yet to be matched and Ronnie and Reggie Kray are still making headlines today.

Pursued by the infamous detective Nipper Reed, they ruled with fear in London’s East End while mixing with politicians and film stars.

Movies, theatre and television dramas portrayed their lives while an incredible 33 books about them have been written by friends, foes and lovers. Photographed by David Bailey, never have underworld gangsters enjoyed such X Factor.

But a top criminal lawyer and author James Morton says that their fame overshadowed their crimes and that they weren’t quite as successful with their Firm as they were with their public relations.

In an interview on this week’s podcast Crime World, Morton, who has penned the definitive account of the life of the twins, says he has spent years separating fact from fiction.

“They were from a family with strong links to boxing but they really were just gangster boys who grew up with an adoring mother and where they were forever supported,” he says.

“As young upcoming criminals they quickly honed their trade. They paid prisoners to create a loyal following, they extorted money and they quickly ruled with fear through a network of informers. They liked good publicity and they courted the media to highlight their charitable endeavours.

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The Kray twins in their boxing days

The Kray twins in their boxing days

The Kray twins in their boxing days

“They opened a home for alcoholics in East London, similar to Pablo Escobar really, they became local heroes.

“But they weren’t that

terribly successful or outstanding at crime. They were small time when it came to it.

“The other big firm at the time in South London were the Richardsons who were far smarter and far more intelligent than the Krays.

“But they very sensibly kept their head down under the parapet. The Krays craved publicity, they were forever taking out elderly boxers, failing film stars — they loved being seen with celebrities and that was part of their myth that they created themselves.

“Secondly, they were twins and they were murderous twins and there aren’t too many of those around.”

Morton, who has penned more than 130 books in a lengthy career examining the underworld, says that Ronnie Kray in particular was psychotic and suffered from mental illness all his life.

At one point he ran hot pokers across the eyes of a man he was torturing and threatened to take his eyeballs out.

Morton’s book, The Krays: The Final Word, weaves through the underworld and sophisticated society and details how many of the rich and famous used their clubs and even ended up owing them a debt, people including the painter Lucien Freud.

In 1969 the brothers went down for two murders, those of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, but they are suspected of many more. But far from being forgotten behind bars, their fame just kept growing.

According to Morton, prison was their ‘beatification’.

“This legend built up that they were Robin Hood characters, ordinary decent criminals.

“But the fact is that they were clinically insane and they were violent thugs who brought nothing to society and did

nothing if it didn’t feed their ego.”

Behind bars the Krays created a collection of merchandise containing their image which was sold to the public, including t-shirts and mugs which could be purchased as collectors’ items.

Ronnie was a Category A prisoner denied all liberties and not allowed to mix with other prisoners. He was certified insane in 1979 and moved to Broadmoor Hospital. He died in 1995 of a massive heart attack. Reggie was repeatedly refused parole but eventually released from prison on compassionate grounds, weeks before he died from bladder cancer.

One of the problems with books about underworld figures is trying to decipher fact from fiction but that is exactly what Morton has attempted to do.

“There is just so much written about the Krays, so many movies and books that it can be difficult to know what is true and what is not. I tried to use evidence based research to create the ultimate account of their lives and crimes,” says Morton.

James Morton’s interview can be heard on the Crime World podcast today.

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