Queer True Crime: The gay Kray Twins

kray twins reggie kray ronnie kray

The gay Kray twins remain two of the most notorious gangsters in British history. Ronnie and Reggie Kray ran a criminal organisation known as the Firm in East London during the 1950s and 1960s. But their reign of terror ended with convictions for murder in 1968.

Renowned for their ruthless tactics and violent behaviour, the Kray twins grew up in a poor and violent household. Their abusive and alcoholic father was usually absent, so parenting fell on Violet, their doting mother. The teenage boxers became involved in petty crime and eventually formed their own gang.

“I’m a giver, not a receiver.”

However, Ronnie and Reggie Kray had a secret. They were gay. Years later, Ronnie told a biographer that the pair initially restricted their sexual activity to each other for fear of discovery. He eventually came to terms with his sexuality and flaunted his younger boyfriends in public. According to a barrister who represented the brothers, Ronnie boasted of his affairs while insisting he was a top. “It’s alright because I’m a giver, not a receiver.”

If Ronnie was a top, Sherlock Holmes would undoubtedly decide Reggie was a bottom. Elementary, dear Watson. But Reggie remained closeted all his life, only outed posthumously by his brother’s disclosures and the revelations of friends. A childhood friend of the Krays said Reggie admitted his sexual preference privately. But publicly, he maintained a veneer of heterosexuality despite an even greater fondness for young men than his brother. “I would say that Reg fought the fact he could also be bisexual more than Ron, but I knew of his affection for quite a few young male teenagers with whom he kept company.”

Reggie Kray did briefly marry though the marriage was apparently never consummated. His young wife died in a supposed suicide. However, Ronnie confessed to a biographer years later that he killed his brother’s wife out of jealousy.

The brothers ran gambling dens, protection rackets, and prostitution rings in East London. They also owned legitimate nightclubs and befriended movie stars and other celebrities. Their close ties to politicians, police officers, and other high-ranking officials helped them evade prosecution for many years.

Lord Boothby

The Kray twins usually evaded negative media attention. But their relationship with government spokesperson Lord Boothby made headlines in 1964. Career politician Baron Boothby of Buchan and Rattray Head might have achieved high office but for his flagrant corruption. As a junior minister at the Ministry for Food in his friend Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet, Boothby loudly proclaimed the benefits of vitamin-enriched bread. However, he neglected to mention his 5000 shares in the company that supplied the vitamins.

An inveterate gambler, Boothby presumably met the Kray twins through one of their gambling dens. But Ronnie and Reggie Kray also enjoyed renown as purveyors of fine flesh, and Baron Boothby enjoyed the delights of the flesh, both male and female. That caused him occasional botheration.

In 1959, a 17-year-old lad, ‘helping out’ at Boothby’s residence in the absence of His Lordship’s manservant, stole a watch and gold coin valued at £50. Then, in 1963, a 17-year-old gambling club cloakroom attendant was convicted of forging Boothby’s signature on a cheque for £1800 and attempting to cash it. Jimmy Buckley claimed he found Boothby’s chequebook in the street and threw it down a drain after removing one cheque. But police found the undamaged chequebook at Boothby’s residence. The Bobbies never uncovered how Jimmy really obtained the cheque.

But Jimmy’s brother Bobby was the kept boy of a notorious film consultant who lived rent-free in a Kray flat in return for allowing Ronnie occasional access to Bobby. And the Kray twins owned the gambling joint. What a twisted web we weave!

The peer and the gangster

But trouble struck in 1964. The Sunday Mirror printed accusations of a homosexual relationship between a prominent peer and a leading thug of the criminal underworld. (Click on the clipping below to read.)

12 Jul 1964, Sun Sunday Mirror (London, London, England) Newspapers.com



















The Picture We Must Not Print

The following week, a new headline, The Picture We Must Not Print.  The paper claimed it possessed a photograph of the unnamed peer sitting on a sofa with a similarly nameless gangster. Soon after, a German publication, safely distant from British libel laws, named Boothby. His Lordship penned a letter to The Times, outing himself as the subject and threatening to sue.

I have met the man alleged to be King of the Underworld only three times, on business matters, by appointment at my flat, at his request, and in the presence of other people… Lastly, I am not, and never have been, homosexual.

“In the presence of other people’ was a funny line. The ‘other people’ visible in the photo with Lord Boothby and Ronnie Kray consisted of just one person.  Ronnie’s ‘driver’, Leslie Holt, a highly accomplished cat burglar and top London rentboy.

Mirror Newspapers apologised and agreed to pay Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement.


reggie kray ronnie kray kray twins
Sunday Mirror Headline and the picture referred to

Queer True Crime

Haters inevitably seize on the crimes of queer criminals to justify bigotry. They do the same with People of Colour or of different religions, political persuasions, nationalities, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But people are just people. They share a wide range of characteristics — some good, some bad — in varying proportions. Humans range from the virtuous through moderately decent to intrinsically evil. Saints and sinners.

LGBTIQA+ people are people, so some are bound to be arseholes, just like other people. Humans, despite the wishful thinking of religious mumbo-jumbo, are not perfect creations. We evolved… and continue to do so. Thus, mistakes happen. Mistakes like the Kray Twins.

Too cocky

The Kray twins eventually became too cocky. In 1966, Ronnie walked into a pub and shot fellow gangster George Cornell in full public view. Some sources claimed it was retaliation for Cornell calling him a ‘fat poof’.

Through intimidation and bribery, the Krays initially avoided prosecution for the murder. But the following year, Reggie murdered a petty crim who worked for the Firm, again with witnesses.

By this time, Scotland Yard had been quietly gathering evidence for years. They arrested the Krays and 15 other members of the Firm, making it difficult to enact the usual intimidation and bribery. Witnesses came forward, and Justice Melford Stevenson sentenced both Ronnie and Reggie Kray to life imprisonment with non-parole periods of 30 years.

Life remained pretty cushy for the Krays in prison. They ran a celebrity bodyguard business from behind bars earning them £3000 a week. And they had enjoyed the same unrestricted access to good-looking young men as on the outside.

Compliant East End lads

A biographer of gay Labor MP Tom Driberg wrote that prior to their prison life, “rough but compliant East End lads were served like so many canapés” at parties at Ronnie and Reggie’s flat.

An armed robber who served time with Reggie said starstruck young prisoners followed the gangster around the exercise yard.

“The minute he returned to his cell, they would have everything ready for him.

“Good luck to him. He wasn’t harming anyone, and if he was that way inclined, that was his business… it was quite funny with the young fellows.”

Diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental health issues, Ronnie spent his final years in various mental hospitals. When he died in 1995, Reg sent a wreath: ‘To Ron, my other half.’

Eventually released from prison due to his declining health, Reggie died of cancer soon after.

The Kray twins’ legacy has been the subject of much debate and controversy. Some view them as folk heroes. Others romanticise their criminal antics. But Ronnie and Reggie Kray were violent and abusive men who caused immense suffering and destruction.

Read also: QCrime, Sparkling cyanide: The Cocktail Killer & the perfect crime…

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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