April 22, 2013

Murderous Intent

             Strangers on the street gawked at me oddly as I had my picture taken outside of a pub called The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel. They must have thought I had never seen a pub before. While this is untrue, most people wouldn’t think to get their cameras out, let alone stop at this otherwise innocuous pub. The Blind Beggar houses a hidden history, one that peaks a most intriguing and sinister interest.

             In the Swinging Sixties, identical twin brothers Reginald (Reggie) and Ronald (Ronnie) Kray and their gang, The Firm, practically ruled London. Anything criminal you can think of, these gangsters dabbled in: armed robberies, arson, violent assaults/murder, illegal drinking clubs, gambling clubs, drugs, pornography, fruit machines, hijacking, racketeering, and last but not least, nightclubs. Despite these illicit affairs, Reggie and Ronnie apparently had some redeeming qualities. They became highly respected in their social environment and mixed with prominent entertainers, such as Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Celebrities in their own right, the twins were frequently photographed and interviewed on television. The Twins were untouchable and the police were frantic. Fearing for their lives, nobody dared to bring evidence forward against Reggie and Ronnie. 

             On March 9, 1966, Ronnie shot and killed George Cornell in The Blind Beggar. Ronnie, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic was perhaps the more “unstable” one out of the twins. A confrontation supposedly occurred between the Krays and the Richardsons (rival gang) during Christmas 1965. Cornell, an associate of the Richardsons, called Ronnie a “fat poof.” Ronnie was in fact bisexual, and during that time, homosexuality was fiercely looked down upon, especially in a man as rugged as Ronnie. Ronnie claims that he killed Cornell because he had made threats against the Krays. When Cornell saw Ronnie walk into The Blind Beggar, he scoffed, “Look who’s here.” Ronnie promptly replied by aiming a 9-mm Mauser automatic pistol at Cornell and shooting him in the head three times. Ian Barrie, who had accompanied Ronnie, fired shots into the ceiling. One of the bullets ricocheted and lodged into the jukebox player, leaving the record to repeat a chilling line: “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, anymore, anymore…” A year later, Reggie killed a man called Jack “The Hat” McVitie and in 1968, The Twins reached their downfall. They were charged with the murders of Cornell and McVitie. Their reign of terror ended with life imprisonment, but they have been said to have “no regrets.”

             Reggie and Ronnie were some of the most influential mobsters in London and they are still influential today. Criminals have just as much power over a city as so-called “heroes,” whether their contributions be positive or negative. A homage to The Twins remains at The Blind Beggar with assorted keepsakes as a reminder of what took place there. There is even a walking tour guidebook that highlights areas to visit, including where the Krays grew up and went to school and where their funerals were held. The Krays are legendary figures in their own right and had no successors after their control from the 1920s to the 1960s. Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, but died during October of that year. After Ronnie’s death in 1995, it was discovered that Home Office Chiefs had ordered Ronnie’s brain to be removed before the funeral without the family’s consent. They wanted to use his brain to conduct research on criminal behavior. A second funeral had to be held several months later for Ronnie’s brain, so it would seem Ronnie took his secrets to the grave after all.

             View The Blind Beggar’s official website here.

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