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 Gangsters’ paradise
Kim Smith uncovers evidence that the Kray twins planned to retire in Suffolk
The Krays are the most mythologised gangsters of all time, twin brothers whose sharp suits and friendships with the Swinging Sixties’
most glamorous stars almost overshadow their heinous crimes.
It seems ludicrous now, but before the pair were arrested for murder in 1968 they felt so untouchable they were considering retiring to Suffolk to become country gentlemen.
That fact emerged when journalist Robin McGibbon conducted a series of interviews with Ronnie, Reggie, and their older sibling Charlie, for two biographies and an audio book of their unedited conversations published between 1976 and 2011.
The Krays’ link with the county actually dated back to the Second World War, when all three were evacuated to Hadleigh from their native east London in January 1940. Ronnie and Reggie were six and Charlie was 12, and their father, Charles senior, was on the run from Army service. Along with their mother Violet, they were taken in by a Mrs Styles at East House, a listed Georgian property in George Street that could not have been more of a contrast to their two-up, two- down Victorian council house.
Charlie recalled in his autobiography Me and My Brothers: “After the cramped terraced house in Vallance Road (Bethnal Green) it was a palace, and Mrs Styles went out of her way to help us adapt to the traumatic change in our lives.
“The people were friendly, but we didn’t have much in common and I missed the East End, particularly my football and boxing. The twins, though, were happier than ever. In fine weather they would spend hours scouring the fields and woods for miles around, revelling in the fresh air and boundless freedom of country life.
“When the snow came, Mrs Styles’
nephew lent me his sledge and I’d take the twins to the nearest hill. I’d lay full length on the sledge with the twins on my back and push off. We nearly always ended up in a heap of tangled arms and legs, laughing. It was great fun.”
Ronnie confirmed this in a telephone chat with Mr McGibbon from Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital after he and Reggie were both sentenced to life for the murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie.
“It was the first time we ever went to the county and we got to like the
butchered their host’s cockerel. Meanwhile, Charlie tried to earn some
legitimate money. “I quickly got a job in the local fish and chip shop and later worked full-time as a tea boy in a factory making mattresses,” he wrote.
Hadleigh was home until Violet was spooked by rumours of a German invasion along the East Coast. “Mum got more and more worried until one day she announced that she was taking us back to London,” explained Charlie. “Mrs Styles tried to dissuade her, but Mum said she had given it a lot of thought and her mind was made up.
“I was pleased; I couldn't wait to see my mates and take up boxing again. But the twins were not. They had fallen in love with the countryside and preferred green fields and animals to teeming streets and noisy traffic.”
As Ronnie and Reggie grew into men, they became the East End’s foremost crime lords, leading a gang called The Firm. The police investigated them many times but intimidation meant witnesses were reluctant to testify. Famously, they also bought a West End nightclub and became prominent on the celebrity circuit, mixing with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Diana Dors and Barbara Windsor.
After Ronnie shot and fatally wounded rival hood George Cornell in 1966 and Reggie stabbed Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie – a minor member of The Firm – to death in 1967, Scotland Yard detective Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read was determined to tear down the wall of silence that protected them.
The Krays escaped scrutiny by fleeing to Suffolk, initially staying at Gedding Hall, near Bury St Edmunds. Then owned by an underworld contact, it is now the home of Bill Wyman. It was while there that they bought two properties in Bildeston, a large period house for themselves called The Brooks and a pink-washed cottage for their
  “They fantasised about retiring there to live like squires, and spend their
time buying antiques and drinking gin and tonic in The Crown and
The Red Lion.”
country,” he said. “The quietness, the peacefulness of it, the fresh air, nice scenery – different from London. We used to go to a big hill called Constitution Hill to go sledging in the winter-time. We had a good time.”
Apple scrumping and games of cowboys and Indians were other innocent pursuits.
However, the twins offered a glimpse of the brutality they would later use to run their criminal empire when they

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