Published: 06:00, 19 October 2019
Twelve days before he died in 2000, Reggie Kray gave his final interview.
The notorious career criminal and gang leader was experiencing freedom after spending 31 years behind bars for the brutal murder of Jack 'the Hat' McVitie. But he was a shadow of his former self.
Lying in a bed suffering from the advance stages of bladder cancer, it was a rare opportunity for him to speak about his life to a public who had become entranced over the years by the portrayal of him and his twin Ronnie.
He gave little away, nor was he posed the question which could have ended generations of Kentish urban myths - just how many pubs and clubs in the county did he and the remnants of his East End empire really own?
Because regardless of where you live in the county, every town has its own tale of how a certain hostelry was once under the control of the Kray twins.
Few were based in any form of fact, but it all added fuel to the remarkable legend which the pair generated.
Although it could be argued anyone who thinks spending half of your life in a prison cell is something to aspire to, is perhaps a little disillusioned, to put it mildly.
But then the Kray legend is built around half-truths and rumours.
If you believed it all, then the unfortunate McVitie ended up in a freshly dug grave in Gravesend. Although Kray associate Freddie Foreman insisted he hurled the lifeless body off a boat off the coast of Newhaven. Either way, his body was never recovered.
We take a look at the real links the county has to the gang leaders who ruled London during the 1960s before both were arrested in 1968 and jailed the following year.
In 1969, after one of the most famous criminal cases in British legal history, Ron and Reggie Kray were convicted of murder and jailed for life terms with a minimum of 30 years and no parole. Both were just 35 at the time.
They were sent to separate jails, with Ronnie's mental ill health ultimately leading him to be transferred to the top security Broadmoor - an institution he would never emerge from, eventually dying at the age of 61 in 1995 after suffering a heart attack.
But for eight years Reggie would spend his time at Maidstone Prison; transferred to the Category B jail - for long-term and high security inmates - in 1989.
During his time there he would correspond on headed notepaper which came complete with his picture and initials RK, as well as return address - Weald Wing of HMP Maidstone.
He kept himself in shape during his time behind bars - a cold shower each morning followed by a work-out.
It prompted one guard to say of him: "He's as good as gold. If every prisoner was like him there would be no problems here at all."
It was there he learned of his brother's death and, he would reflect in that final interview, he felt his presence within him.
He said: "I noticed I had this nice warm glowing feeling in my back - I'm sure it's Ronnie's presence. I felt it in Maidstone."
In 1997, he tied the knot to his second wife Roberta Jones in the chapel at the jail.
Then aged 63, his wife was 38, in typical Kray fashion, a 30-minute laser show lit up the prison walls the day before, beaming the names of the happy couple for all to see.
The couple were allowed to keep just 10 wedding photographs - all of which were Crown copyright, preventing them from distributing them or publishing them.
He left the prison later that year - but not before he noticed his health declining - which he later believed was the start of the bladder cancer which would ultimately kill him.
He was transferred to the Category C Wayland Prison in Norfolk, where he would stay before his release, permitted only after his illness was declared terminal. He spent a little over four weeks as a free man before dying in his sleep.
He is buried in Chingford Mount Cemetery, next to his brother.
Signs of things to come
At the age of 18, the Kray twins were set for their first major run in with the authorities.
Having been called up for National Service in 1952 they decided - after a few minutes of reporting for duty at the Tower of London - it wasn't for them, with Ronnie marking the occasion by punching the corporal in charge in the face.
Picked up from their East End home the following morning, they were put in solitary confinement for a week. No sooner had they completed it, however, they escaped once again, and the next few months saw them brought back only to jump ship again.
With the Army losing patience, they were transferred to Howe Barracks in Canterbury. They spent three months in the cells there as they waited a court-martial prior to being dishonourably discharged.
The twins acted up and many of their apparent incidents are now legend such as emptying a latrine bucket on the head of an officer and setting fire to their bedding.
Finally, they were sentenced to six months in prison in Somerset.
There is little doubt that Reggie Kray ensured his influence continued to be felt outside despite spending half his life behind bars. This is, after all, a man who said he didn't have "much time for reading" while serving a life sentence. But quite whether that involved having a stake in the Kent pub trade is something that will continue to be a mystery it would seem.
One venue which it is insisted was in Kray hands for a while was the former Russell Hotel in Maidstone.
According to previous owner Don Verrell, speaking to the KM in 2015: “I put it on the market in 1978. The next thing, this long Mercedes limousine, with dark tinted windows, pulls up.
"I knew they were acting on behalf of one of the Krays’ companies, because I was informed so. Two smartly suited men stepped out and asked me to show them round.
“After viewing it they said ‘right, we’ll have it. How soon can we start converting it?’".
It was said to be the crime which would ultimately lead to the twins' reign of terror coming to an end.
A furious, and let us not forget, paranoid schizophrenic, Ronnie Kray walked into the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel and shot George Cornell in the head - in front of a host of witnesses.
Not only did it make the pub an instant tourist attraction, but the shooting of one of the few members of the rival Richardson gang not arrested in a massive police crackdown the night before, also left the Krays personally exposed to their crimes.
And the link to Kent? Well Cornell frequently spent his weekends at a bungalow his family owned in Maidstone.
Speaking three years ago, Cornell's son, Billy, says he remains scarred by his father's death. He was just seven at the time and doted on by his father, and says the twins were "vicious and evil" and could not understand how anyone could hero worship them.
Not that his dad wasn't capable of handling himself.
He remembered: "As a boy I had no idea what my dad was doing. He was very affectionate, lovely to me and so proud of having a son.
"One time we were in Maidstone, where we had a bungalow, and we’d stopped in the town centre so mum could get some cakes.
"My dad parked his Austin 11, and we were waiting in the car when a bloke came over and told him not to park where he had as it was for cabs.
“My dad told him to ‘leave off’ and said he was only waiting for his wife but the bloke wouldn’t let it go and three other men came over and were getting on to Dad.
“He got out of the car and took all four of them on and gave them a hiding.”
The Lambrianou brothers - Chris and Tony - both paid a high price for their involvement in the murder of Jack 'the Hat' McVitie - and for staying loyal to the twins at the trial.
The pair were associates of the Krays and had been ordered to get McVitie to a flat in Stoke Newington, London, on the pretence of a party. The brothers anticipated he'd get a beating.
What took place would deprive Reggie Kray of his freedom for more than 30 years. High on drugs and drink, Reg brutally stabbed McVitie multiple times and then instructed the brothers to get rid of the body. They drove it as far as Rotherhithe (where the petrol in their car ran out) before Freddie Foreman apparently drove the body to Newhaven and dumped it in the Channel.
Chris Lambrianou, was sentenced to 15 years but has since turned his life around, spending the last 25 years helping ex-cons and drugs addicts.
His brother Tony became a mini-celebrity in the years after his release, always defending the Krays.
He died in Greenhithe in February 2004 at the age of 61.
More by this authorChris Britcher