The hit at the Royal Hotel: James Moody had been on the run for 13 years when somebody finally caught up with him. He wasn't in Marbella, but on his old stamping ground in east London. And whoever killed him knew where to find him, in his local pub

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TWO or three times a week over the past 13 years, James Moody made the short journey from his council flat in Hackney, east London, to the Royal Hotel, a pub on the edge of Victoria Park less than half a mile away. These excursions were always on foot, always on weekdays and always in the evening. In the neighbourhood, on the way to his favourite

watering-hole, he cut a familiar if cautious

figure: 6ft tall, broadly built, eyes shadowed by black brows, greying head turning almost imperceptibly on a short, thick neck at any unusual sound that might punctuate his progress over the Grand Union Canal and down Gore Road, a narrow thoroughfare leading directly to the pub.

The last of these trips was made on Tuesday, 1 June, this year. He did not return home.

Moody lived in Wadeson Street - a grimy, depressing place not much wider than an alleyway, off Hackney's busy Mare Street. The flat, number 12, was on the first floor of the kind of low-rise block that, since the 1960s, has replaced much of east London's Dickensian housing. Hardly less shabby than the mean terraces they replaced, the flats are small and look fragile, despite the fortress-like mentality of their occupants.

Pulling the blue front door behind him shortly after 7.30 that evening, Moody secured his exterior anti-burglar bars. With thundery showers threatening, he descended the concrete steps to the street.

In the Royal Hotel, custom was slow. Despite a fresh lick of paint, the pub is less grandiose than its name suggests, since it long ago stopped taking overnight guests. Few cars were in the small parking area near the entrance on the left. The gates into Victoria Park, on the right, were closed. A handful of people stood at the L-shaped bar, while two other customers, a man and a woman, occupied one of the few tables around the large, otherwise bare room. Behind the bar, Joe Anderson, the Royal's landlord, was polishing glasses as Moody appeared at the doorway on the left, wearing a black leather jacket, light woollen shirt and black shoes.

'Evening, Mick,' Anderson said. Moody nodded, heading straight for the bar. To patrons of the Royal, he was a drinker who revealed little of himself. He was not exactly unsociable - in fact, he enjoyed the reputation of being something of a ladies' man. But he never discussed his background; given his powerful frame and arrogant eyes, no one was tempted to inquire. To everyone in the pub, he was known as 'Mick'. The Royal is an easy- going establishment where customers mind their own business and are more or less given a free run of the place.

Anderson's sister, Sharon, his co-landlord, says nobody knew much about Mick's past. 'But he was a fine man and seemed very caring. He talked about his baby granddaughter sometimes. He was devoted to her. He would get very upset when he heard stories about child molesters.' Being a keep-fit fiend, he sometimes remonstrated with smokers. Otherwise, in the bar at least, Moody kept his emotions under control.

By 10 o'clock that night, the occupants had dwindled to four: Moody, standing at the bar, between the two entrances; Anderson (his sister was off-duty that night) and the couple at the table. From outside, few sounds of human activity drifted in. The unsettled weather kept most locals indoors. Inside, the air was humid - even with both doors open to the twilight.

Anderson continued to polish glasses and Moody to nurse his beer as a white Ford Fiesta slid slowly by outside the pub, turning unhurriedly into the space in front of the park gate. Its driver, 5ft 10in-6ft tall and aged between 30 and 40, appeared in the doorway on Moody's right, his blue eyes sliding from Moody to the seated couple and on to the landlord. He sauntered to the bar, his black monkey-boots making no noise on the polished wooden floor, and quietly ordered a pint of Foster's lager. He placed two pounds 1 coins on the bar.

Then, without touching his drink, he backed away from the bar, moved casually past Moody

and reached inside a pocket of his dark brown jacket. His lightly-tanned face impassive under tousled, blond (or possibly greying) shoulder- length hair, he turned to shoot four bullets from a Webley .38 revolver into Moody. 'It had all the marks of an execution,' says a police officer on the case. 'But the killer did an odd thing for a professional: he swore at his victim while pulling the trigger. Hired killers don't usually betray such emotional signs.'

Nevertheless, the gunman remained in total control. As two young women approached the left-hand entrance from the street, he took a step backwards and slammed the door in their faces. Crossing the room, he calmly left the way he had entered and drove into the night.

DETECTIVE Superintendent Harry Wilkins was in Suffolk, working on the house he planned to retire to, when a colleague rang suggesting that he take a look at a corpse in Poplar mortuary. On Sunday, 6 June, less than eight weeks before starting his retirement, Wilkins looked down on the man he had been pursuing for 13 years, a gangster who knew the Krays and worked for the Richardsons, the legendary criminal fraternities of the Sixties.

'He was considerably older-looking than his pictures,' Wilkins says. 'But it was the body of a man who kept himself in trim.' The police officer noted the two bullet holes in the back, a third in the head and the fourth in the chest. He examined the contents of Moody's pockets, which included house keys and pounds 90 in cash. A closer inspection of the body revealed attempts to remove tattoos of an eagle and a geisha girl from the arms. But there was no doubt the 18- stone cadaver was that of James Moody, whose famous escape from Brixton Prison on 16

December, 1980, had pushed him to the top of Scotland Yard's wanted list.

Aside from the circumstances of his death, Moody was not quite the stuff of banner headlines or television documentaries. His significance lies less in what he achieved than in the people with whom he once associated: James Moody was, in a sense, a remnant from an era of London criminality, the 1960s, when gangsters appeared to glitter, malevolently but often triumphantly. It is not just that gangsters became fashionable with the chattering classes, but that they rubbed shoulders with them (the Krays liked to boast that they knew the late Lord Boothby 'personally' and that they had once been interviewed - by me - in Lord Snowdon's office at the Sunday Times). That era closed with the jailing of the Krays and the Richardsons. But Moody survived it, after a fashion, going on to make a mark, of sorts, on the lower echelons of London gangsterism. His career since the Sixties was, like that of his ageing peers, a desperate attempt to adjust to a criminal life without glitter.

The manner of Moody's escape from Brixton was as dramatic as his death. Having done time for manslaughter in 1967, Moody, freed in 1972, was picked up again at the close of the decade and charged with armed robbery. It was while awaiting trial that he and the IRA terrorist in an adjoining cell, Gerard Tuite, struck up a friendship. When Moody and a fellow-robber organised their Brixton breakout in December 1980, they took Tuite with them. Numerous crimes, including a handful of murders, have since been attributed to Moody. London police sought him, for example, in connection with the contract killing of David Brindle, a 23-year-old south London gangster, at the Bell public house in Walworth two years ago. But it was from earlier decades that Moody derived his formidable reputation.

HE WAS still in his teens when control of what the newspapers liked to call London's 'underworld' suffered a change in the mid-1950s. After the Second World War, the underworld had fallen into the hands of a few people who, in turn, were glamorised by the press with 'royal' titles: 'King of the Underworld', 'King of the Dog Dopers'. These few, among them 'Jack Spot' Comer and his bitter rival Billy Hill, organised the protection men, minders, thieves, hitmen and hardmen who had gravitated to Soho and other sections of the West End from east and south London.

In his recent book, Gangland, the lawyer and journalist James Morton writes that after the eclipse of the ageing Comer and Hill in the late 1950s, 'control of Soho and the West End was seemingly wide open . . . (but) it seemed there was no one with the necessary charisma and will to take over'. Eventually, however, some newcomers did take over: the twins, Ron and Reggie Kray from east London, and the Richardson brothers (Charles and Eddie) from south London. At first, says Morton, they established 'a loose cross-London alliance' with the help of a third family, the Nashes from Islington, described by contemporary journalists as 'the wickedest brothers in England'. The alliance did not hold long into the 1960s, but it helped to propel James Alfred Moody into notoriety.

In the early Sixties, 'quality' newspapers had begun to interest themselves in London's organised crime, until then (for them) an arcane subject. When a hitherto unsung petty criminal called 'Ginger' Marks disappeared into thin air in January 1965 after being shot in Bethnal Green, the Sunday Times asked me to investigate. Several weeks of naive inquiries failed to finger his killers or locate his body; mistaken identity was a persistent suggestion. Moody, then 24, knew Marks quite well, I learned later, though was not implicated in his disappearance. The burly Jimmy was among a wide assortment of knaves whose names kept coming up in my perambulations around the East End and south London.

Harry Wilkins, now 49, was an inexperienced Scotland Yard constable with only two years service behind him at the time of the Marks affair. He did not begin to concentrate on east London crime for another eight years, but was, nevertheless, reasonably familiar with what the Krays and the Richardsons were running at the time.

'People like the Krays and Richardsons felt they were above the law,' Wilkins recalls. 'They felt they were leading a charmed life.' The Kray twins ran clubs, hobnobbed with showbiz celebrities and ostentatiously donated money to charity; the Richardsons moved from scrap metal in Camberwell to mines in southern Africa. The leaders of both gangs all but courted publicity. 'Yes, they were relatively open then,' Wilkins says.

Ronnie Kray, currently - and probably to be indefinitely - in Broadmoor for shooting dead George Cornell, a Richardson hoodlum, in the Blind Beggar pub on the Mile End Road in 1966, once invited me to ghost his autobiography. This was after my newspaper had published an article containing damaging innuendo against the twins, but which they approved of anyway because it also highlighted their charitable work; they even distributed copies to their friends. I heard that Ronnie was offended by my refusal to immortalise him between hard-covers, but he was arrested before he could tell me this personally. Reggie Kray, doing life for knifing to death another hoodlum, 'Jack the Hat' McVitie, invited me to his wedding in 1965 to Frances Shea (who later killed herself), and to meet Violet, the twins' mother, at the family home in Vallance Road, Bethnal Green. (There sometimes seemed a missionary zeal in the twins. 'Of course we believe in God,' they once told me at Vallance Road. 'Everybody needs to believe in God.' And at Reggie's wedding, photographed by David Bailey, I was impressed when the best man, Ronnie, left his pew, strode down the aisle, glowering at the congregation as the organist thumped out a hymn. 'Sing, fuck ya, sing]' he croaked). Charlie Richardson, now at liberty after serving a 25-year sentence in the 1967 'torture' trial, invited me to his home a few months before his arrest to tell me his rags- to-riches story and introduce me to his wife and his Dobermann pinscher. Life sparkled with invitations in those days. But I had never been invited to meet James Moody.

UNLIKE many of the gangsters with whom he associated, Moody was not actually London- born. His mother, Rosina Hart, an East End girl, was in Looe, Cornwall, as an evacuee from the war, when she gave birth to her second son in 1941. Little is known about the father, other than that he had a weak character and often beat up his two sons and daughter. It is said that young Jim worshipped his mother with the same intensity that the Krays offered Violet.

Returning to London in the closing months of the war, the Moodys faced hard times: rationing, an unreliable head of the household, an aversion to school. But while Moody greeted the Sixties without an examination success to his name, he had become respected for his cunning. This took him (as it did the Richardsons) into the scrap metal business, plentiful in the East End slum clearances at the time. It also took him into Richardson territory.

When Moody entered the Richardsons' orbit, the latter were playing for high stakes: protection rackets, car park fraud, supplying stolen cigarettes and booze to pubs and clubs, and fighting off rivals. By March 1966, Moody was a close associate of Eddie Richardson, the more impetuous of the brothers, who regarded himself as having an unwritten contract to 'police' a Catford club called Mr Smith's.

In James Morton's Gangland account, Eddie and 'Mad Frankie' Fraser spent the evening drinking at the club. Then someone noticed a .410 shotgun strapped inside the jacket of another drinker, Billy Haward, a hoodlum and club-owner who increasingly used Mr Smith's as his unofficial headquarters. The

situation deteriorated, insults were traded,

trigger-fingers became happy. In the affray

that exploded over the gaming tables and

spilled out on to the street, Richard Hart,

a friend of the Kray twins, was killed.

Eddie Richardson was shot in the thigh and

backside. Fraser's thighbone was shattered. Others were injured.

Morton's book describes the bloody end to the affair: 'When the police arrived, all that was left of the fight was the body of Dickie Hart lying under a lilac tree . . . He had been shot in the face and his face was smashed in. Initially he was mistaken for a sack. Fraser had escaped . . . Jimmy Moody had scooped up Eddie Richardson, driving him off in his Jaguar.'

Although Moody was found not guilty of affray charges, he was sucked into a serious gang feud. On 9 March, 1966, two nights after the gun-fight at Mr Smith's, Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell - a member of the Richardson gang - between the eyes in the Blind Beggar. Increasingly preoccupied by thoughts of vengeance, the Kray and Richardson gangs were fast losing their aplomb - if that is the right word. Their leaders became less approachable and more sensitive to newspaper reports. Anonymous phone callers began bothering me at home. One worried aloud about the fire risk to my house; another considered I might be safer abroad. Gangster clubs closed. Celebrities, such as Lord Boothby, fled their taint. The law closed in.

Yet Moody not only survived the leaders but, largely due to the publicity surrounding the Dickie Hart killing, became a 'face' - a recognisable bigshot - himself.

His home was in Dulwich. His wife, Valerie, gave him respect and babies. In 1966, the year of the affray, she produced a son. Four years later, she presented him with a daughter, mother of his beloved granddaughter. When they were divorced 18 years ago, they remained close - even though, by then, Moody's prodigious sexual appetite was securing for him a different woman virtually every night. Valerie was among five carloads of extended Moody family which attended his funeral. He is said to have been an attentive father: Jason, his son, has told friends that where other fathers told their children nursery rhymes, his dad would place him on his knee and regale him with stories of his criminal escapades. Throughout his 13 years on the run, Moody continued to confide in his son, according to a police source. The fact that the murder of David Brindle was not mentioned, suggests to Jason Moody that his father could not have committed it. The victim's mother disagrees. 'I'm glad (Moody) is dead. He got it the way he gave it out. That man was evil and I hope he rots in hell.'

Newspapers have laid a number of 'gangland murders' at Moody's door, unaware the door was in the heart of old Kray territory. It was reported that he killed a businessman, Terry Gooderham, and his girlfriend, Maxine Arnold, in Epping Forest at the end of 1989, and antiques dealer Peter Rasini in Winchmore Hill just over a year later. Some reports contend the IRA paid Moody pounds 10,000 for springing Gerard Tuite from jail and suggest he helped the IRA in some of its mainland activities, including the 1989 murders of Peter Dixon and his wife, Gwenda, near an arms cache in South Wales. All of this is speculation - probably unfounded. 'Between Moody's escape and his murder, we have one big black hole - we have no real idea what he'd been doing, other than a bit of interior decorating; we found rolls of wallpaper in his flat,' says Harry Wilkins.

JAMES Moody was on remand for three armed robberies totalling pounds 930,000 when he and Tuite and a third prisoner burrowed out of Brixton with tools smuggled into the jail in a sock. By then, his renown as a 'blagger' (armed robber) had been firmly established by his successful attacks on cash shipments trucked across London in the late 1970s. 'He was a fearsomely hard man and a lot of villains were terrified of him,' says a former acquaintance. Two days after Moody died, an unnamed policeman was quoted as saying: 'Moody was not the sort of guy you fight. You don't punch him or rough him up. You kill him.'

His reputation for brutality had been enhanced in the Sixties when he punched two detectives investigating the Richardsons. In 1968, a year after the so-called 'torture' case in which the Richardsons were accused of systematically torturing rivals, Moody demonstrated his talent more fully. He and his older brother, Richard, exchanged sharp words with a merchant navy steward, William Day, who was later found in the garden of his house, his head smashed in. Both were jailed for six years.

In 1972, when Moody re-emerged, the underworld was changing again. Parts of south and east London were being gentrified or colonised by new office buildings. The Krays and Richardsons were inside and many of their accomplices had fled the country. Small-time gangsters squabbled among themselves. 'Supergrasses' appeared on the scene: informers who were criminals themselves, but who found a nice little earner in turning rivals over to the police. (The supergrass, for seven to eight years a real threat to organised gangs, has since fallen into disfavour). The ethnic make-up of the old criminal 'manors' was being transformed with the arrival of thousands of new immigrants, particularly from Asia. Had Moody been a smarter operator, he might have taken better advantage of these rapidly changing circumstances. But according to someone who knew him then, 'he wasn't a born leader; he was a natural lieutenant'.

He was also 'extremely professional' (a detective's words) and 'extremely intimidating' (another detective), having the build of 'a brick shithouse'. His speciality was robbing armoured trucks.

In the Seventies, the first big boost to Moody's reputation among blaggers was his chainsaw. Using it to cut through the side of security vehicles to get at the cash, he showed no sign of fatigue. The tabloids dubbed the raiders the Chainsaw Gang, until it was noticed that attacks occurred most often on Thursdays - payroll delivery day. They then became the Thursday Gang, their haul well over pounds 2m. Moody was thought not to be the inspiration behind the Thursday Gang, but was highly thought of within it none the less, not least for his ability to 'enforce' decisions (ie, convert recalcitrance to pulp with his knuckles).

The second big boost came from another of his innovations: dressing up as a policeman. In one raid in the Blackwall Tunnel in 1978, the uniformed Moody jumped out of a car, forced a security van to stop and impounded the keys of several other motorists in the tunnel (to prevent them from driving off to raise the alarm). Just as he was becoming arrogant about his prowess and reassessed by associates as more than a lieutenant, he was caught in 1979.

And just as he was becoming a habitue of the Royal, he was killed.

The fact that Moody was simply known as Mick in his favourite pub cannot obscure the likelihood that he had accomplices - who knew his real name - while he was on the run. Some significant questions remain. Who arranged for him to live in a council flat? Did his neighbours know who he was? When I went there a week ago, neighbours were aggressively uncommunicative. When Harry Wilkins revisited No 12 to be photographed, they stayed out of sight (the security bars of Moody's flat had been wrenched away).

Even larger questions loom. Who killed James Moody, and why? In his office at Arbour Square police station last month, Harry Wilkins had packed away most of his personal belongings for shipment to Suffolk. Remaining on the wall was one of his framed Norman Rockwell paintings; and on the desk, a half- empty jar of Gold Blend coffee, a Granny Smith apple and a box of tissues for wiping sweat from furrowed brows. In the Moody 'incident room', there was little sign of activity and no sign of optimism. The case was being wound down. Wilkins shook his head when it was suggested that Moody might have been stiffed over a woman. 'Doubt it. Could be anything - drugs perhaps. Moody's a typical East End story: a name to conjure with in his younger days - then it's over.'

When the Kray and Richardson gangs were active, one could nip into a pub in Peckham or Whitechapel and be discreetly nosy. Old lags would, for a pint or two, spill things from the side of their mouths, almost all of them untrue or exaggerated, but occasionally a piece of information that might help make sense of a recent mysterious murder. Policemen would enter these pubs, too, buy drinks, cultivate acquaintances, strain for a helpful syllable. The criminal profile, I suppose, was higher then: big shoulders, huge signet rings, natty suits, highly polished black leather shoes, a strong sense of self-regard perhaps. (Released from jail a few years ago, Charlie Richardson phoned me to insist that he had 'never tortured anyone in his life - how could I do such a thing?') Today, I'm not quite sure what the sartorial image is, never mind how the criminal regards himself. 'They're toe-rags, mostly,' Wilkins volunteers.

Given the fact that so many gangsters have perished in pubs, it was surprising to learn at Arbour Square station that police are now discouraged from fraternising with the enemy in public houses. It is not the only change in

East London law enforcement. Drug-dealing on a large scale has pushed up the level of gangland terror; yet, with tighter rules of evidence and an increasingly selective Crown Prosecution Service deciding who goes into the dock, police are having to work within constraints absent in the Sixties (Arbour Square station, hidden by planks and scaffolding while a new roof goes on, seems the very epitome of a force under fire).

Some officers lament, most of all, the restriction on boozing with shadowy characters. As I leave the station, one says: 'It's not what you think: concern about us being too cosy with the enemy. It's all these rules about us not drinking and driving. You can't really argue, but it makes it very hard for us to gather intelligence.' Which partly explains (as in the case of Ginger Marks) why the police haven't a clue why James Moody's luck ran out in his 13th year of stolen liberty.