On this day…in 1967

John McVitie, a British drug dealer and thief known as “Jack the Hat,” is stabbed to death in London by the Kray brothers, Britain’s most notorious criminals of the 1950s and 1960s.

Ronald and Reginald Kray, identical twins, were eventually convicted of McVitie’s murder, putting an end to their lengthy underworld careers.

The Kray brothers were born on March 24, 1933, in London’s East End. Raised primarily by their mother, the twins reportedly were inseparable during their childhood and much of their adult lives.

As young men, they were professional boxers before turning to racketeering, robbery and other illegal activities. They formed a gang called “The Firm,” which eventually became a major force in London’s criminal world. The twins’ reputation for violence and intimidation largely prevented witnesses from speaking up about the Krays’ crimes.

During the late 1950s, Ronnie, the more domineering and violent of the two brothers, was sent to prison for several years, during which time he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. The twins acquired several profitable gambling parlors and nightclubs and became well-known figures during London’s “Swinging ‘60s” when they associated with celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. In the mid-60s, Ronnie generated further media attention for an alleged homosexual relationship with a British politician, Lord Boothby.

On October 29, 1967, “Jack the Hat” McVitie was lured to the party and killed by the Reggie Kray for failing to carry out a murder contract for which the brothers had already paid him. McVitie’s body was later moved, and was never found. By May 1968, Scotland Yard investigators had enough evidence to arrest the Kray brothers and bring down their crime empire. In March of the following year, the brothers were convicted in the murder of McVitie. Ronnie was also convicted of killing another man, George Cornell, at a the Blind Beggar, which was a pub in the East End, in front of numerous witnesses. The Krays got life sentences, requiring them to serve a minimum of 30 years in prison. Their older brother Charlie also received a 10-year sentence as an accessory to the murders. The twins’ sentences were considered harsh for the time and various unsuccessful petitions for reduced prison time were made on their behalf over the years.

While the Krays were behind bars, a movie version of their life story was released in 1990, starring siblings Martin and Gary Kemp of the music group Spandau Ballet. Which was quite good, considering Spandau Ballet was such a limp-wristed band.

Ronnie, who married and divorced twice while incarcerated, died of a heart attack at Broadmoor, a British psychiatric prison hospital, on March 17, 1995. Reggie, who was suffering from inoperable bladder cancer, was released from prison in August 2000. He died on October 1, 2000, and was buried next to Ronnie.

Thousands of spectators attended the funeral processions of both Krays.

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