NYTimes.com Article: Reggie Kray Is Dead at 66; Cockney With Gangster Chic

jpino at SPAMkent.edu jpino at SPAMkent.edu
Tue Oct 3 15:02:19 MDT 2000


This article from NYTimes.com
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"But you're still fuckin' peasants as far as I can see,
A Working-class hero is something to be."

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Reggie Kray Is Dead at 66; Cockney With Gangster Chic
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/03/world/03KRAY.html

October 3, 2000

By WARREN HOGE

LONDON, Oct. 3   Reggie Kray, the last survivor of the three-brother
gang of ruthless enforcers with Cockney accents who ran London's
underworld in the 1950's and 1960's while gaining reputations as
smart-suited escorts to the show business set and Robin Hood
figures in their old neighborhood, died Sunday in Norwich. He was
66.

 Suffering from terminal bladder cancer, he had been granted parole
by the government on Aug. 26 on compassionate grounds after serving
32 years on a murder conviction. He died in the honeymoon suite of
a waterfront hotel in the eastern England town, surrounded by his
wife from a prison marriage and four of his old organized crime
associates.

 Over the years, even after they were imprisoned, the dashing Mr.
Kray, his identical twin, Ronnie, and their older brother Charlie
were glamorized in newspapers, magazines, books, songs, theater
pieces and movies. Their faces were on everything from T-shirts to
boxer shorts after the photographer of London's swinging 60's,
David Bailey, gave them their gangster-chic image with a black and
white picture of the twins looking muscular, menacing and well
dressed.

 But the explosive and random violence that secured the twins their
control of London's protection and extortion rackets also meant
that they and Charlie spent almost half their lives as inmates.

 The three brothers were born in the blitz-blighted East End of the
London docklands area and earned early local fame for bare-fisted
fighting and quick-handed use of pocket knives. The twins became
boxers and reportedly could have had professional careers if they
had confined their violence to the ring.

 They were both discharged dishonorably from the army in 1954 after
spending most of their time in the stockade, and on returning to
civilian life, they moved quickly from street thuggery to
collecting protection payments from businesses and clubs and
eventually taking them over, running the places themselves and
opening their own. As nightclub owners, they regularly appeared in
the press with actors, actresses, rock stars and boxing champions.

 Elated with their success, they called their gang "the Firm."
Ronnie wrote, "Everyone seemed frightened of us. People were
actually ringing in, begging to pay protection money! Reg and I
were the bosses of London."

 At the same time, they gave money to charities and to former East
End neighbors, insisted on gentlemanly behavior at their clubs and
gaming rooms and always professed adoration for their "mum,"
Violet.

 Reggie was the brains and Ronnie the brawn, and the two were so
inseparable that a slight to one was avenged, usually in the most
sadistic possible fashion, by the other. Ronnie perfected a
notorious "cigarette punch," a devastating jaw-breaking uppercut
delivered to an enemy who had just opened his mouth after being
offered a smoke.

 In 1966, Ronnie, hearing that he had been slighted for his closet
homosexuality by a hitman from a rival gang, walked into the Blind
Beggar pub in East London, had the song "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine
Anymore" put on the jukebox and shot the man, George Cornell,
between the eyes.

 A year later, he taunted his brother Reggie, saying, "I have done
mine; about time you done yours." Reggie went to the apartment of
Jack (the Hat) McVitie, a small-time villain and former accomplice
who had fallen out with the gang, shot him twice and then stabbed
him so ferociously that his liver fell out.

 The acts ended whatever police tolerance there had been of the
brothers' activity, and in an attention-getting 1969 trial in the
Old Bailey, Ronnie and Reggie were found guilty of the two murders
and given sentences that specified no parole for at least 30 years.
While the fan magazine-style celebration of them did not abate with
their convictions, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" provided some
perspective, lampooning them as "the Piranha brothers."

 Ronnie died of a heart attack in the Broadmoor institute for the
criminally insane in 1995 at age 61, and Charlie died in April at
age 73 on the Isle of Wight while serving a 12-year sentence for
his role in a $50 million cocaine-smuggling operation. Reggie was
allowed to attend the two funerals and was greeted as a returning
hero at both.

 In the last decade, Reggie published an autobiography and a book
of doggerel verses, and he gave studiously courteous jail-house
interviews in which he pleaded for his release and claimed to be a
born- again Christian. In 1997 he married a 38-year-old public
relations woman, Roberta Jones, who had become a frequent visitor
after she joined the growing campaign to free him.

 He had been married once before, in 1965 to Frances Shea, a
21-year-old sister of a friend, who moved out after eight months
and killed herself two years later.

 One gangland tribute came today from Tony Lambrianou, a former mob
member who served 15 years for having disposed of Mr. McVitie's
body by having it crushed by a car press into a small box-like
shape that the Firm jocularly called the "Oxo," after a British
bouillon cube of the same name.

 "Let's get this into perspective here," Mr. Lambrianou said. "They
done unto those what they would have done to them, and this
involved other villains."

 But Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust,
protested the romanticizing of the gangster. "Reggie Kray was no
hero or celebrity and should be remembered as neither," he said.
"He was a career criminal and a convicted murderer, and anyone who
believes differently will have forgotten that he held part of East
London to ransom."
   


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