Who Was Reggie Kray?
Reggie Kray showed promise as a boxer growing up, but he chose a life of crime instead. He and his twin brother Ronnie Kray eventually built up their own gang, known as "The Firm," to engage in an array of illegal enterprises, from extortion to murder. In 1968 Reggie was arrested on murder charges. His life in crime ended the following year when he was convicted. Reggie spent nearly the rest of his days as a prisoner. He died in 2000.
Born on October 24, 1933, in East London, Reggie Kray ruled London's East End in the 1950s and 1960s with his twin brother Ronnie. The Kray brothers are still remembered as being two of England's most infamous crime bosses. They were very close to their mother Violet and her family. Their second-hand clothes dealer father, Charles, drifted in and out of their lives.
Reggie showed a talent for using his fists early on. He won several boxing tournaments, including the 1948 Hackney Schoolboy Boxing Championship. In 1951 Reggie had to trade in his boxing gloves for a uniform to perform his national service. But he and his brother were not interested in the military life at all and rebelled in their own ways. They were both dishonorably discharged in 1954.
East End Gangster
In the mid-1950s, Reggie and Ronnie turned to crime — extortion and robbery were among their illegal activities. They built up their own group known as "The Firm," which became a dominant force in the East End. Each brother had his own strengths with Reggie being known for his charm and brains while Ronnie was known for his might and short temper. Both loved to dress to the nines, and their high-end suits became part of their signature look. They ran several clubs and rubbed elbows with many celebrities, including singer Frank Sinatra and actor George Raft.
No amount of polish could hide the Krays' vicious actions, however. Reggie created a move called the cigarette punch. He acted as if he was going to place a cigarette in his intended target's mouth and then hit him while his mouth was open. The blow was meant to make it easier to break the victim's jaw. Both Reggie and Ronnie spent time behind bars for various offenses, but it didn't make a dent in their criminal activities.
Murder of Jack 'the Hat' McVitie
Reggie's downfall began in 1967 when he killed Jack "the Hat" McVitie. The Krays had hired McVitie to bump off someone, but he failed to pull the hit off. Their relationship with McVitie soured after that, and McVitie even made the mistake of threatening to kill the Krays. Reggie, at the urging of Ronnie, decided to get rid of McVitie. When his gun failed, Reggie ended up stabbing McVitie with such viciousness that his liver reportedly fell out.
The following year, the Kray twins were arrested for McVitie's murder. The pair were also charged with the 1966 murder of rival gangster George Cornell — a crime that Ronnie had done. They were convicted the following year and spent the remainder of their lives separated from each other. During his time in prison, Reggie wrote several books including the 1988 dual memoir Our Story with Ronnie and another autobiography Born Fighter (1991). He also claimed to have found religion in jail and became a born-again Christian.
Reggie's first marriage to Frances Shea was brief and troubled. The couple married in 1965, but Shea reportedly left him within a matter of weeks. Along with Reggie's possessiveness and out of fear of retribution, Shea stayed married to him for two years until she escaped their relationship the only way she knew how — by committing suicide. Described as bright and innocent, Shea overdosed on pills at the age of 23.
Reggie married his second wife Roberta Jones in 1997 and remained with her until his death in 2000.
Death and Legacy
In 2000, Reggie was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer. He was given compassion leave and left prison to spend his final weeks with his second wife Roberta Jones. Reggie died on October 1, 2000, at the age of 66. He passed away at a Norwich hotel.
Like his brother Ronnie, who died in 1995, Reggie was given quite the send-off in his native East End. Unlike his brother Ronnie, the number of mourners who showed up to pay their respects were scant in comparison: Reggie's funeral had an estimated 2,500 attendees in comparison to Ronnie's 60,000.
Services were held at St. Matthew's, which focused more on the latter part of Reggie's life as a born-again Christian, rather than his life as a career criminal. The entire Kray family are buried at Chingford Mount Cemetery in North East London.
The Krays' Movies
Countless books, news stories and documentaries have probed nearly every aspect of their activities. They have also inspired several films, including The Krays (1990) and Legend (2015), which starred Tom Hardy as both brothers.
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