London's Most Notorious Gangsters

By Daan Deol Last edited 40 months ago
London's Most Notorious Gangsters

With gangsters like the Krays, Charles Sabini and Billy Hill wreaking havoc and causing terror, 20th century London was a dangerous place to be...

Charles Sabini: the one off Peaky Blinders

Brought up in London's 'Little Italy' in Clerkenwell, Charles Charles 'Derby' Sabini grew to prominence after toppling Billy Kimber from his position of reign over Tottenham Court Road and Warren Street. Kimber's rival, Charles McDonald, now became Sabini's — their two gangs fought throughout the 1920s.
Noah Taylor as Charles Darby Sabini in BBC 2's Peaky Blinders. Photo: BBC

Sabini's 'finest hour' came in 1927,  when his gang defeated McDonald's Elephant Boys at the 'battle of Waterloo' in which eight people died, and was so-called because it took place outside the Duke of Wellington pub in the Waterloo Road. Sabini now reigned over south London.

But he was to meet his own Waterloo.

In 1936, the Elephant Boys devastated the Sabinis in another brawl in front of the Duke of Wellington, and at the Lewes Racecourse, the Sabinis fell from their reign of terror.

Sabini's story has been explored in the BBC's Peaky Blinders, where he's played by Noah Taylor.

Billy Hill: "Only mugs do murder"

Billy Hill's reputation as 'the boss of London's underworld' is cemented in the film Carlton Brown of the F.O, starring Peter Sellers. In one scene, a character is thrown out of a nightclub. A staff member points out that the throw-ee is a member of the royal family. "I don't care if he's Billy Hill!" the nightclub manager replies.

It's fair to say that the nightclub manager would have cared. Born in Fitzrovia, Hill committed his first stabbing aged 14.

A picture of Billy Hill in a 1956 edition of Belfast News-Letter © The British Newspaper Archive

But he was never done for murder. Hill famously once said, "I was always careful to draw my knife down on the face, never across or upwards. Always down. So that if the knife slips you don't cut an artery. After all, chivving is chivving, but cutting an artery is usually murder. Only mugs do murder."

His 'signature' move was to carve a 'V' for victory on his victims' faces.

Hill, though, is best remembered for helping to swindle high society types out of millions of pounds, at The Clermont Club n Mayfair.

Well into his 50s, Hill continued to finance robberies and find ways to get in on London's growing casino scene.

As for the wisecrack made about Hill in that film; it was something he never tired of talking about.

Charlie and Eddie Richardson: "You can't prove to me that anybody got hurt"

The Richardson Gang, or the 'Torture Gang' (nice) was founded and run by the Richardson brothers, Charlie and Eddie. They set up the Peckford Scrap Metal Company in 1956, which acted as a front for their underworld activities.
The Blind Beggar, a pub on Whitechapel Road most famous for the shooting of the Richardson gang member George Cornell by rival Ronnie Kray in 1966. Photo: Past London

They were — unsurprisingly — notorious for their torture methods, which included pulling teeth, electric shocks and whipping, usually carried out by 'Mad' Frankie Fraser.

In the end they were all brought to justice for their crimes. Charlie served 25 years in prison for torture, being released in 1984 and Eddie also served a sentence for his crimes. Fraser spent more than 40 years behind bars for his crimes.

Giving an interview on his long jail sentence, and his activities during his gang years, Charlie said, "You can't prove to me that anybody got hurt, did anybody have any stitches or anything like that, or go to hospital? Nobody." Hmm.

Terry Adams: "Worse than the Krays"

Nicknamed the 'Godfather', Terry Adams ran the Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate its heyday. Owing to his nickname it was also known at the A-Team and Adams Family.

His most notorious moment was when he was dubbed by the police as "worse than the Krays".

Despite being connected to at least 25 murders, torture and drug-dealing amongst other things, Islington-born Adams avoided being brought to justice... that is, until 2007 when he was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. For money laundering, of all things.

Apparently these days Adams likes to call himself a 'former gangster'. According to the Express he indulges in "an almost genteel persona, buying clothes in expensive fabrics and indulging his love of art and antiques."

Tom Hardy as the Kray Twins in Legend (2015). Photo: Universal Pictures

Ronnie and Reggie Kray: David Bailey pin-ups

Ronnie and Reggie Kray are by far the best documented of London's gangsters. Visit an old East Boozer/caff/laundrette/boxing gym and you'll probably meet someone who 'knew them'.  

The Krays didn't shy from the camera; they posed for photographer David Bailey in 1965 for his Box of Pin Ups, which also included the likes of Mick Jagger and John Lennon.

The twins gave an interview in the late 60s, about how costly some of their legal trials had been. Reggie said "I don't suppose anyone likes the idea of spending that money for no reason at all."

Ronnie chimed in, saying "It doesn't leave us broke, but at the same time, it's a lot of money to have to pay up when one is innocent."

Innocent, of course, the twins were not. They got their comeuppance in 1969. It was a result of the brutal murder of Jack 'The Hat' McVitie. The brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, and never trod the London streets again.

Despite their wicked ways, there's often a strange nostalgia for these two — their image often appearing in London street art.

The Pink Panthers: the one who are still going

The Pink Panthers, though technically not Londoners, made their mark in the city. Their nickname comes from a 1993 heist, when they stole a diamond from a London jeweller, hiding it in a jar of face cream. Their average heist time is 90 seconds.

International crime-fighting agency Interpol believes that between 1999 and 2015, this international crime syndicate has stolen over $369.57m worth of jewellery across the world.

Through Interpol's Pink Panther project there have been several arrests of alleged Pink Panther members, as well as five arrests of alleged members in Spain in August 2016.

Linked with various London jewellery shop raids, the Pink Panthers remain at large.

Last Updated 21 December 2016