`So, have you killed anyone?' I asked Ronnie Kray

He was the twin who was feared. Cal McCrystal recalls the gangster with dead-fish eyes who died yesterday
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The Independent Online
Ronnie Kray had an inordinate fondness for ceremonial. This was especially evident at bereavements, which he was occasionally blamed for inducing. Temporarily out of Broadmoor for his mother's funeral in 1982, he showed that he could grieve with decorum, filial tears trickling silently off his pallid cheeks and on to his dark lapels. While applying a blade to a squealing human body, he was said to be capable of unusual artistry, his cuts to the buttocks ("striping") performed in strict parallel.

Weddings, too, alerted his sense of propriety. At his twin brother Reggie's church ceremony in 1965, so disappointed was he at the congregation's failure to sing that he personally threatened the pews until they fairly hummed. For these and other talents Ronnie Kray gained respect in certain quarters.

Neither Ronnie nor Reggie can be said to have had a rewarding life. Each has spent half his 61 years behind bars, and Reggie has been given no prospect that he will be released soon. But in the Sixties, when I was chronicling their activities, their world was an oyster deftly shucked with a well-honed knife. The East End and much of the West End of London were in their thrall. They ran gaming clubs, mixed with glamorous showbusiness people, contributed to charities, cherished the idea that they might bump into royalty and dealt with rivals as they saw fit. Some policemen ate out of their hands. They were as spangled as Carnaby Street. But when the spangles fell off, no one was very surprised. The twins had begun to believe their own publicity, to assume that their intimacy with such members of the Establishment as Lord Boothby put them beyond the law.

My conversations with the Krays occasionally took place in the parlour of their parental home in Vallance Road, White-chapel (tea in mum Violet's best china). Sometimes parking their Chevrolet or Jaguar outside the newspaper I worked for then, they would enjoy the startled executive expressions on the way up in the lift. In those days a gangster presence was more out of place in a national newspaper office than perhaps it might seem today.

My first conversation with Ronnie began with a straight enough question. "Did you ever kill anyone?" He stubbed out a cigarette and lit another before answering. "Why do you want to know?" he mumbled. At his side, Reggie smiled faintly and took over. He mentioned an occasion down the street when they were ten or eleven years old, just kids you understand, when another kid was bouncing a ball against a gable, and there was this bread van parked near by, and they got into the van and let off the brake and it rolled back into the kid and squashed him.

"Don't get us wrong," Ronnie said. "We believe in God. We don't believe in hurting people. We believe in good causes. We stand by the people of east London, no matter what. By the way, who told you to ask that question?" Ronnie was more daunting than was Reggie to question. Reggie had quick, glittering eyes capable of showing warmth. His brother's were dead-fish eyes. He would lower them on to your face when you arrived and not remove them again until you were leaving. Sometimes leaving was hard. As I tried to squeeze down Violet's hallway to the street, Ronnie trapped me against the wall with a belly which, even in those days, resembled a bread van. "I need someone to write my biography," he mumbled, the eyes very close.

My mouth dried. "I ... I don't think ... that's possible ..." His belly bounced the air out of my lungs. "There'd be readies in it for you," Ronnie confided. "Take a day to think about it." I gasped my excuses and left.

Mourned and reviled, page 3

Good to his mum, page 13

Obituary, page 14