In the long and grisly history of organised crime, at least in the days before the internet, the control of geographic territory is a recurring factor. In big cities such as New York, Los Angeles and, in this case, London, criminal gangs have tended to carve out for themselves areas of influence which can be defined with an almost postcode accuracy. Such is human frailty, greed and weakness that there is almost always enough loot to be shared between different operators, and it has often been the case that gangs have been prepared to tolerate fellow crooks just as long as they stay on their own patch. Sometimes the gangs have been defined by ethnic origin as with the traditionally bitter competition in New York between the Irish, the Jews and the Italians.
In London, the geographically insignificant island of Malta produced a whole string of thuggish gangs in the middle years of the twentieth century, but history will always confer the accolade of “headline act” of the 1960s to the Kray twins. Their villainy has attracted myth, legend, and certain dubious glamour which still endures, but were the gangs of the time to have been quoted on The Stock Exchange, it is quite possible that investors would have been more attracted by the business acumen of Charlie and Eddie Richardson. (below)
The Richardsons operated ‘sarf of the river’ which, to those not familiar with London, means the districts south of The Thames, including Camberwell, Brixton, Stockwell, Lewisham, Deptford and Lambeth. While the Krays always seemed to be gazing at the stars, with their love of night clubs, celebrity culture and fine living, the Richardsons were perfectly happy to be in the gutter, safe in the knowledge that scrap metal and fruit machines were a less glamorous, but more profitable route to riches.
Charles “Charlie” William Richardson (1934 – 2012) and Edward “Eddie” Richardson, (1936 – ) were the CEOs of the firm while on the board of directors were none other than Frank ‘Mad Frankie’ Fraser and George Cornell. Fraser, who offered his employers informal dentistry using pliers, ended his days in sheltered accomodation suffering from Alzheimers, having recently been served with an ASBO for assaulting another resident. The 90 year-old had carved out something of a media career in his final years, guiding trips around his former stamping grounds for gullible tourists. (Below – Fraser with Eddie Richardson at Charlie’s funeral)
George Cornell’s demise was more spectacular. Having allegedly angered Ronnie Kray by calling him “a fat poof”, he was shot dead (by the allegedly overweight homosexual) on 9th March 1966. Cornell (right) was having a quiet drink in The Blind Beggar pub, well inside Kray territory on Whitechapel Road, when Ronnie walked in and put a bullet from a 9mm Luger into his head. Needless to say, none of the bar staff or other customers saw a single thing. Kray was eventually convicted of the murder when a barmaid, aware that Ronnie was already safely under lock and key for other misdeeds, testified that she had witnessed the killing.
Older readers will have chuckled at the Monty Python parody gangster sketch featuring the The Piranha Brothers, Doug and Dinsdale. (click the image to see the video)
This classic was an inspired homage to both The Krays and The Richardsons, but amid the laughter there is a horrible truth. Charlie and Eddie had a variety of punishments to inflict on those who crossed them. In addition to the dentistry skills of Frankie Fraser, they also used hammer and nails, and did a special line in victims’ genitals being attached to the terminals of an old fashioned crank-up WW2 field telephone generator. They were also fond of removing fingers and toes with bolt cutters.
Charlie Richardson was arrested for torture on 30 July 1966, the World Cup Final day. Eddie Richardson was sent to prison for five years for affray. There were also stories of Charlie being connected to the South African Bureau of State Security and an attempt to tap then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s telephone.
The so-called “Torture Trial” began at the Old Bailey at the beginning of April 1967. The Richardsons were found guilty of fraud, extortion, assault and grievous bodily harm. Charlie Richardson was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Eddie had ten years added to his existing sentence. Charlie Richardson was not freed until July 1984, and died in September 2012.