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16: The Kray Twins Part 2 - A Few More Murders

Cody and Greg discuss the downfall of The Kray Twins. In this last episode on the series, the guys cover Reggie's relationship with his wife Frances as well as the "murders" of Frank "the Mad Axeman" Mitchell and Jack "The Hat" McVitie.

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Episode Information

Today will be the conclusion of our series on the twin London crime lords, the Kray Twins. Last episode, we discussed the twin’s rise to power and Ronnie Kray’s descent into madness. Ronnie’s mental instability led to him shooting George Cornell in the head inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966. 

 

Today’s episode will jump back in time slightly to discuss Reggie and his wife Francis. We’ll then hop forward in time to cover some of the more intriguing deaths that occurred around the Krays. These deaths are still hotly debated to this day, so we’ll try to give multiple sides to the murders. But it’s obviously quite difficult to decide what is truly fact and what is a lie. What is true is that the information in this episode describes the downfall of the Kray Twins.

Reggie and Frances

In 1962, Reggie went to meet with a friend by the name of Frank Shae at his home. However, Frank wasn’t actually home. Who was home was Frank’s sister, Frances. Her being the one to open the door for Reggie may be seen as good or bad luck, depending on how you look at it. Reggie himself saw this as incredibly good luck, because he describes that moment as love at first sight. However, the ending to this relationship would prove to be nothing but unlucky for Frances.

 

Reggie asked Frances to go on a date with him, to which she agreed. At this time, Frances was 18 years old with Reggie being almost 30. I’m not sure if it was the age difference or the fact that Reggie was an actual crime lord who beat people up for a living, but either way, Frances’ parents did not like the fact that their daughter was dating Reggie. Even still, the two continued dating for years. 

 

During this time of their relationship, Reggie states in his book that Frances was a very well-mannered, well brought up girl. She was a very respectable girl, somewhat very old-fashioned. However, he also describes her in a pretty odd way in their book, Our Story. He describes her as a child, really. In one sentence, he’ll describe her as a child with no real experience of the world, but in the next he’ll say she’s a mature woman. He even refers to her once as his princess, which really just rubbed me the wrong way. 

 

Other than her mannerisms and maturity, Reggie also describes a bit of Frances’ mental state. According to Reggie, Frances seemed depressed even from the moment he met her. He recalls hearing Frances regularly say that she would never live to see old age, to which he would disagree. It’s a pretty striking thing to read in a book that was written in the 80s and discussing a girl in the 60s. It’s fairly interesting to me that even Reggie would likely see her as having mental issues even in a time when mental issues weren’t necessarily in the forefront. However, this could have come from the fact that Ronnie dealt with a lot of mental health problems. Either way, it seems that Frances was not mentally healthy. 

 

To that point, I think the real disagreements between historians or Kraynamaniacs comes when you try to figure out what caused Frances’ mental health issues. Some claim that Reggie was violent and controlling towards her. That may have been the case. Reggie somewhat denies this in the book. However, he also states that he didn’t want her working and would rather her be taken care of by him. This was obviously very common in those times, but it does show a level of controlling behaviour. The claim is that Reggie’s alleged controlling and abusive behaviour, whether physical or mental, caused Frances’ mental problems. 

 

Reggie himself claims that they were a madly in love couple and he blames Frances’ mental health issues on her controlling parents. You see, even though the two were dating for years, Frances’ parents never really accepted Reggie. He asked multiple times for their blessing to propose to Frances, and every time they said no. It got to a certain point where he ended up just asking Frances without their blessing. She did say yes, and her parents were pretty much forced into accepting it. 

 

The two were married when Frances was 22 and Reggie was 31. The wedding was said to have been a grand affair. One of the biggest celebrations in the East End. Celebrities were in attendance, along with nearly every business owner in the East End under the Kray’s protection. Afterwards, the two had a honeymoon to Greece, where it was claimed that Reggie was impotent, but this has been vehemently denied by Reggie. As I’m sure it would be. Reggie claimed the two had a very enjoyable, normal honeymoon. However, the trouble started when the two returned. 

 

Frances’ mental health began to deteriorate over the first few months of their marriage. Eventually, Reggie was sent to prison and this only worsened her mental state. Once Reggie was out of prison, Frances ended up being hospitalised due to her depression. To battle the depression, she was prescribed barbiturates, which are an anti-anxiety medication. It’s claimed by some that Reggie was the one to introduce Frances to barbiturates, but he claims that they were legitimately prescribed for her conditions. 

 

All of this took its toll on their marriage and Frances eventually moved back in with her parents. Finally, one morning Reggie woke up with a terrible feeling that Frances had died. He was right. When he called at her parents’ house, it was found that she had overdosed on her medication in an apparent suicide. She had died at the age of 24, unfortunately proving her own premonition of her early death. 

 

We will come back to Frances’ suicide in a moment, but for now, we will skip ahead to the twin’s, just after Ronnie had killed the gangster George Cornell.

Possible Murder of Frank “Mad Axeman” Mitchell

Now, this episode, unlike last week’s episode, will contain a bit of information about the Kray Twins’ brother, Charlie Kray. After the murder of George Cornell, Ronnie was taken to a hiding place in the East End. Although the police could not really find enough evidence to convict him of the killing of George Cornell, the Firm still wanted to keep Ronnie safe. 

 

Charlie was called on to meet at Ronnie’s hiding place, which he did. However, Charlie was oblivious to the actual shooting, and the information was sort of just dropped on him when he met up with Ronnie. Charlie was certain that Ronnie would soon be arrested and charged by the police. But that day never came; and that went straight to Ronnie’s head. As Charlie puts it in his book, Ronnie believed that he was now above the law. This combined with his mental instability made for a terrible combination. This is evidenced by Ronnie’s decision to break his friend out of prison: Frank “the Mad Axeman” Mitchell. 

 

Frank Mitchell was a brutal man, just like the Krays, known for beating and killing men with very little provocation. And just like Ronnie, he dealt with issues of mental instability. Maybe Ronnie saw a bit of himself in him. Maybe that’s why Ronnie came up with the idea of breaking him out of Dartmoor prison. Much like Ronnie’s escape from the mental institution, the hope was that if Frank Mitchell could do well on the outside, then he should be pardoned by the Home Office just like Ronnie had been. A very lofty goal, to say the least. 

 

Well, I would like to say that the Krays planned a very elaborate escape plan, or even that they attempted to use the old switcheroo they had used in the previous episode. But that is not the case. In fact, to escape, Frank Mitchell just walked away from the prison. He was outside with a prison group and just walked off. He walked down the road and was picked up by a Kray henchman. The Kray’s described this escape plan as their most ingenious. 

 

As you listeners will remember, once Ronnie had escaped from the mental institution, he was successful in being released. He was able to show that he was capable of living on the outside well enough. This was not the case with Frank Mitchell. Mitchell was not an easy person to deal with. He was a large and violent man, and not someone that was easy to control. He began causing a lot of trouble for the Krays. So, the Krays decided to smuggle him out of the country. In their book, they claim this to be true. However, another member of the Firm tells a different story. Before I say this, please note that it has never been proven. 

 

It’s claimed that the Kray’s did tell Mitchell that he would be moved out of the country. It was planned that he would be picked up by a van to be given a ride to another hideout before being smuggled out of England. Once the van arrived, a man stepped out and opened the door for Mitchell. Mitchell entered the van and sat on one of the van’s wheel coverings. Two members of the Firm were sitting opposite him. The Firm member who had opened the door for Mitchell made his way to the passenger side, climbed in and shut the door. Apparently, the closing of the passenger door was a signal. Once the two men in the back of the van heard the door shut, they started firing on him non-stop until he fell from his seat and leaned back against the van wall. One of the men fired three more shots into his heart - the wounds around his heart were described as “jumping under his shirt” due to the flow of blood spurting from the wounds. Mitchell then let out a groan. One of the men said that he needed another, so they put their gun to Mitchell’s head and fired one more bullet behind his ear.

 

Now, again, this has not been proven. However, it did make the Kray’s relationship with the police even worse. By this point, the police wanted to put a stop to the Kray’s once and for all. However, they would not get the chance with Mitchell’s supposed murder. Since the body has never been found there was not enough evidence to convict the brothers or any members of the Firm. However, the Firm didn’t like the fact that the Kray’s had “allegedly” had one of their own killed. So, this would come back to haunt them in the near future.

Murder of Jack “The Hat” McVitie

Up to this point, the Krays have been the ruin of many men; allegedly, at the very least. George Cornell was absolutely murdered by Ronnie and Frank Mitchell was very likely dead. However, the true downfall of the Krays began with the murder of Jack “The Hat” McVitie. 

 

Jack McVitie was a balding man who always wore a hat to hide his bald head (hence the nickname “The Hat”). He was also a true piece of shit. He was a violent man, as well as a drunk and a druggie. Here are just some of the things he did in his past. Once, McVitie had his hands mangled by a group of men because he had violently sexually harassed women in a bar. A few weeks later he was back to harassing again. Another time, he shot a man in the foot for seemingly no reason. And finally, in a particularly violent moment, he actually threw a woman from his moving car while he was driving at 40 miles per hour. The woman broke her back and was in agony, and McVitie just laughed. 

 

Throughout this time of causing trouble, McVitie had also been making threats towards the Krays. They usually would let this go, because he would normally do so while drunk and he would always beg the twins for forgiveness. However, they did warn him many times that he was going a bit too far. Finally, the entire thing came to a head and the twins had had enough after McVitie told Reggie that he would kill him if it was the last thing he’d do. Much like Ronnie’s run in with George Cornell, this was the moment Reggie decided he would kill McVitie. 

 

One evening, the twins were going to attend a party at a friend’s flat. Ronnie was apparently in a bad mood, so he sent the flat owner and her girlfriends to another flat, which is a pretty funny show of power. Once the flat was clear, the twins sent a member of the Firm to find McVitie and invite him over to the flat, not letting him know the twins were waiting for him. Reggie didn’t think he would show up, but he walked through the door at about midnight saying, “Where’s the birds and the booze?”

 

Reggie instantly stood up, put his gun in McVitie’s face, and pulled the trigger. But nothing happened. McVitie, obviously surprised by this, asked the twins to let him live. Ronnie told him that he would not live because he had already crossed too many lines. Then Reggie began to struggle with him. Reggie describes McVitie as a pretty strong guy and he initially had trouble with wrestling him. McVitie escaped Reggie and headed for the door, but it was blocked by members of the Firm. He then turned back towards Reggie and ran past him to the window. He attempted to dive through the window, shattering the glass and breaking the wood frame, but his back half was still stuck in the apartment. The members of the Firm grabbed him and pulled him back in. Reggie was then handed a carving knife. As the members of the Firm held him still, Reggie stabbed McVitie in the face near his eye. Reggie continued stabbing until McVitie was lifeless on the floor and he was covered in his blood. Afterwards, the twins left the body in the apartment for the other members of the Firm to clean up.

 

(Mention Ronnie saying “slag”)

Trial

I mentioned earlier that some members of the Firm were not very happy that the Krays had killed off one of their own with the alleged killing of Frank Mitchell. This was brought into the limelight when the Twins were finally arrested and charged with the murders of George Cornell and Jack McVitie. 

 

The single murder of George Cornell was not enough to get the Twins off the street. The police needed more dirt on them to truly bring them down for good. Once word got out that Reggie had killed Jack McVitie, the police knew they had enough information to build a case against the Twins, if not get them convicted. The Twins were arrested and the pieces began to fall.

 

Unfortunately for Ronnie and Reggie, the police were able to get the barmaid from the Blind Beggar to testify that Ronnie had been the one to kill George Cornell. One by one, members of the Firm also started to turn on the Krays. The men they had employed and looked after started spilling as much information as the police wanted in exchange for deals that gave them little to no jail time. 

 

In the end, only a handful of Firm members were left on the Twins’ side. This included their brother, Charlie. Charlie, unfortunately, was even given ten years in prison for helping to dispose of Jack McVitie’s body. However, McVitie’s body was never actually found. Further, Charlie was actually home asleep at the time of the murder. But, since he was a Kray, he was brought down with the Twins’ empire. 

 

Eventually, the judge ruled against the brothers in an incredible quote saying: “I am not going to waste words on you. In my view society has earned a rest from your activities. I sentence you to life imprisonment, which I recommend should not be less than thirty years.”

Deaths

Following the trial, the twins lived the rest of their lives in prison. Their mother eventually passed away and they were allowed to attend the funeral, although it was completely ruined by a slew of reporters hounding the twins. Because of this, the twins decided not to attend their father’s funeral a few years later. 

 

After a number of years inside the prison, Ronnie was transferred to Dartmoor Hospital after being certified insane once again. He lived the rest of his life in that hospital until his death at age 61 due to a heart attack. 

 

Reggie Kray lived his life in prison until he was released on compassionate grounds in 2000 due to a lengthy battle with cancer. He lost that battle in October of the same year. 

 

The Twin’s brother Charlie served 7 of his 10 year sentence, but found trouble in actually staying out of prison. He dealt with many drug related issues that saw him arrested multiple times. He finally passed away in 2000 at the age of 73 from natural causes while still serving a sentence related to drug abuse. 

 

I want to mention one final note. While Reggie was in prison, he allegedly developed a homosexual relationship with another inmate, which isn’t very hard to imagine. He was living his entire life in prison. However, this inmate alleges that one evening, Reggie confided in him something that he had only confided in two other people in his life. Reggie told this inmate that his brother Ronnie had been the cause of Frances’ death. He said that Ronnie had forced Frances to take the pills that ended her life, likely jealous that she was coming between him and his brother. Reggie says that Ronnie confessed this to him two days after her death. This is not certain but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.

 

The Krays were a force to be reckoned with. Two identically unstoppable people hell bent on running things their own way in the East End. They made a mark that still survives to this day in England. Children hear stories about them and want to be them; adults idolise them. But they were not nice people. They were hardened criminals. They caused the deaths of multiple people, possibly including the young Frances. I don’t think this story could possibly end more unfortunate than that.

 

And that’s the story of The Kray Twins. If you’d like to know more details about the brothers and their crimes, be sure to check out their book Our Story, Charlie Kray’s book Me and My Brothers, and a few other books you can find on Google. 

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