In the fifties and sixties, the Krays ruled East London – but South London was another “manor”. It belonged to another pair of brothers, Charlie and Eddie Richardson, whom Ronnie and Reggie never dared to touch.
The Krays and the Richardsons lived parallel lives in many respects. Both were working-class brothers with little formal education. Both had dodgy fathers who ended up deserting them. As boys, they were both good at boxing and got into scrapes. As men, they beat other men with untrammelled savagery and got into scams. All spent several decades in prison.
Unlike their infamous counterparts, Charlie and Eddie Richardson were not national names in their heyday. They didn’t go in for having their photograph taken for the papers with the likes of Bob (later Lord) Boothby. But in their own world, the Richardsons were everything the Krays were, and more. If anything, they were even more dangerous to cross.
Their wider notoriety came via the so-called “Torture Trial” of 1967, of which the grisly details still resonate: “Mad” Frankie Fraser pulling out a victim’s teeth with pliers; the black box with the wind-up handle that directed electricity through the genitals; and, perhaps most chillingly, Charlie sending out for fish and chips when he got peckish in the middle of a torture session.
Before their downfall, the Richardsons and their henchmen were the English “goodfellas”. They dined in fine restaurants, dressed elegantly and exuded a spurious glamour that made stars such as Stanley Baker and Diana Dors want to befriend them. All of it, however, was bought with violence. We tend to romanticise gangsters as quasi-heroic figures who kept the streets safe with their rough justice, but only hurt those who deserved it and always loved their dear old mums. Certainly, it is hard to reconcile the soft-voiced, grandfatherly gentleman sitting opposite with the man who would smash your legs with an iron bar as soon as look at you.
Eddie Richardson, now 69, has spent a total of 23 years in jail, most of them in high security blocks – and it shows. As we talk, he constantly scours the room over his shoulder. He keeps his chin tucked in, as if he expects to get thumped any minute. He is smartly dressed in a beige suit, pink shirt and brown suede shoes, ready for the launch part for his autobiography, The Last Word – My Life As a Gangland Boss.
It is full of underworld slang and should really include a glossary of terms. Non-villains will not necessarily know about “straighteners” and “long firms”. The names are straight from an Ealing comedy – Bobby Bill, Jimmy Blore, Harry Rawlings – but, of course they were anything but funny. Rawlings, Eddie’s best friend for 45 years, died three weeks ago of a heart attack. “It was unexpected. We had three holidays together just this year” , says Eddie. “We did everything together. A lot of bird [jail] and a few other things we shouldn’t talk about. We even got shot together.”
That was in the fight at Mr Smith’s nightclub in Catford, which was really the beginning of the end for Eddie as it eventually led to the “Torture Trial”. As he lay recovering in hospital, Eddie could hear Harry in the next bed refusing to give the police a statement. “The police were saying, “You’re dying anyway so it won’t cause you any bother if you tell us what happened”. And Harry just said, “Well eff off and let me die, then”. He was such a good mate. Loyal.”
Edward George Richardson was born in January 1936 in Camberwell, South London, the second of four children. His grandmother, Lizzie, had a sweets and tobacco shop, which his mother, Eileen took over. He adored them both.
“The more time goes on, the more I admire the women in my life. My mum and grandmother were such decent, hard-working people. My ex-wife, Maureen, was a wonderful wife and mother. She kept the family together when I was away and campaigned for me. And I am so very proud of my two daughters”.
Unlike the Krays, the Richardsons started off as legitimate scrap metal dealers and always ran genuine businesses alongside their scams. “The Krays never had the brains to run their own clubs and businesses. They had to employ other people to do it. All my life, I’ve been a grafter and I always made more straight money than crooked. The Krays played at being gangsters and they loved the publicity. They were comic book gangsters”.
The two “families” only met once outside prison, for a brief drink and handshake. Years later, Eddie served time in Parkhurst with the twins and later still, he spent time in Long Lartin with Reggie and the Krays’ older brother, Charlie. Reggie was still as arrogant as ever.
“We went for a walk and I was talking about preparing to get out. Reggie said, “I’m not talking to the probation people”. I said, “well if you don’t, you won’t get out because they’re the ones who decide”.
“Lifers also get a psychologist appointed to them but Reg wouldn’t take to them either. I said, “You don’t have to do anything clever for them, just act normal”. But he wouldn’t have it. They always thought they were bigger than they were.
From scrapyards, the Richardsons diversified into gambling clubs and nightclubs. Eddie went into the fruit machine business with Frankie Fraser, then into porn magazines, peep-shows and movies.
While Eddie and his brother Charlie worked together, they rarely socialised together. The first crack in what was to become an unbreachable chasm between them came when their younger brother, Alan, was drowned in a boating accident on Charlie’s speedboat in the Thames when he was only 18. Alan had not wanted to go on the boat at all, but Charlie had persuaded him.
“I still well up when I think of it,” says Eddie, “Alan was a lovely, sweet kid. He wouldn’t have gone the same way as Charlie and me.”
The Richardsons began acquiring their reputation as hard men in their teens. Both skipped National Service – Charlie by making himself a nuisance and Eddie by pretending to be retarded. While Eddie had a short fuse, Charlie’s brutality was more arbitrary. He once threw their sister’s Alsatian dog over the balcony because it wouldn’t stop barking.
“I was full of aggression and very quick to get into a fight, but it was also over quickly. Charlie liked to stretch things out.” But did Eddie get any pleasure out of inflicting pain? There is a long pause and then, slowly he nods. “If I’m perfectly honest, yes, I did. I won’t say I loved hurting people. It was more about proving my manhood. It does make you feel powerful.
Forget Ronnie and Reggie Kray' no one terrorised London's Sixties underworld like Eddie Richardson and his brother Charlie. Now retired the man whose name was once a byword for violence tells the truth about the 'Torture Trial' and admits his regrets.
“People were afraid of me, but I had no fear. When you’re that steamed up you don’t feel any pain. Now, of course, I think it’s much better to be diplomatic. I wouldn’t like to meet myself today.”
Eddie also blames Charlie for getting them all arrested and convicted in the “Torture Trial”. Charlie had acquired business interests in South Africa. He had also acquired a mistress, with connections to BOSS, the South African secret service. Eddie is convinced that Charlie began spying for the South Africans too and that meant that he and all is associates had to be “put away” whatever it took.
“Charlie isn’t stupid – he knew what he was doing. It was a bit of excitement, a touch of the James Bonds. He was showing off. There were Special Branch officers in court throughout the whole trial. The people who dropped us in it were all fraudsters – people who are good at lying. Pulling teeth out with pliers? Ridiculous! We had the bloke’s medical records, proving he’d had the tooth extracted a year before after an accident.”
Now a minor celebrity, Frankie Fraser has taken to carrying golden pliers. “Can you blame him? He’s getting a living out of it. Why keep denying it? But if you were to ask him straight, he would tell you straight, he never did it.”
Eddie’s 10 year sentence in the “Torture Trial” was added to the five years he got for the Mr Smith’s nightclub fracas and he served 11.
His second conviction, however, was all his own doing. His marriage to Maureen was ending, the scrapyard and porn shop had run down during his first stretch and he needed money. Importing cocaine seemed to offer a solution. Instead, it got him 25 years – and the final, permanent break with Charlie after he discovered his brother had been stealing from him.
He says “I never knew it, but Charlie was jealous of me. I’ve had good mates all my life. People trust me and ask my advice. Charlie doesn’t hang on to friends. He’s too self-interested, he just takes people to Promise-land. “He struggled when he came home [from prison] but I always helped him. Even my mum told me to steer clear of him. She loved him but knew what he was like. Anyway, I’ll never deal with him again.”
Crime certainly paid for a lavish lifestyle. But what about the pain it cost those he loved? Even when he wasn’t in prison, he was always out wheeling, dealing and carousing.
“I kept a lot of the business away from my family. I was a womaniser – it came on a plate to me - and Maureen shut her eyes to it. But the family never, ever went without.”
There is a sadness in his voice when he adds: “I know now that spending time is as important as spending money”.
Much of his first prison term was spent rebelling. He used the second more usefully, knuckling down to courses and discovering a talent for painting. Eileen, his long-suffering mother, lived long enough to welcome her boy home after 12 years in 2001.
She died earlier this year, aged 89 and Eddie honoured a promise to bury her with Alan, the only son who had never caused her heart break. Eddie now lives with Eileen’s sister, his Aunty Doll, in Beckenham, Kent.
“Mothers are the one constant. In prison, men lose wives and girlfriends, but their mums stick by them. My mum knew what we were, she also knew a lot of it was exaggerated – but she loved us unconditionally.
“Do I regret my life? Who doesn’t regret something? I’ve seen some bad things, but I’ve also enjoyed the best things the world has to offer.”
This article was written by Anna Pukas and published in The Daily Mail on Saturday 29th October 2005.