Were the Kray twins gay? Inside the secret queer history of the notorious crime lords

Ronald and Reggie Kray

The formidable Kray twins were revered London criminals, but one question still lingers after their violent reign: Was Ronnie Kray openly gay? And did he really sleep with his brother? Let’s take a look at all of the evidence.

Firstly, some important background. Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Kray and Reginald ‘Reggie’ Kray ran London’s underworld in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

The pair became involved in murder, armed robbery, arson, protection rackets, gambling and assaults and gained such notoriety they had celebrity status. Their extensive crimes eventually caught up to them and they were arrested in 1968 and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

While in prison, acclaimed broadcaster Fred Dinenage was chosen by the twins to interview them while behind bars. In a recent interview with ITV’s This Morning, Dinenage revealed he had unearthed a tape recorded on which messages from Ronnie Kray were stored.

Playing an exclusive snippet of the recording, Ronnie appeared reflective: “Very young people who have read our books, they think we’ve had a glamorous life. But I advise any young people today not to get into any trouble because it will only bring them a life of misery.” 

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Was Ronnie Kray openly gay?

Ronnie Kray sits at home, smoking and holding a phone to his ear.
Ronnie Kray one of the Kray twins, pictured sitting at home after helping police inquiries into the Blind Beggar Pub shooting, London. 6th August 1966. (Getty)

According to rumours and several interviewers, Ronnie was an out gay man.

He is said to have been open about his sexuality from an early age, even at a time it was illegal to be gay.

Ronnie did, however, get married twice. Once to Elaine Mildener in 1985 before the couple divorced in 1989. Then he married Kate Howard, whom he divorced in 1994.

Author John Pearson, who interviewed both twins, noted that Ronnie concealed his gay identity and didn’t initially want his sexuality to be public.

“Homosexuality was nothing to be proud of in the East End,” Pearson wrote in his book Notorious: The Immortal Legend of the Kray Twins.

“But as they became more notorious, Ronnie became quite shameless about it,” he continued. 

After the Kray twin’s death – Ronnie in 1995 and Reggie in 2000 – Pearson also then published some far more disturbing claims about the twins: that they were in an incestuous gay relationship.

“According to Ron, in the early days they had sex with each other because they were terrified about people finding out,” Pearson noted.

Pearson has written three books on the subject of the infamous twins and claims that Ronnie told him about the relationship during one of many interviews.

Was Reggie Kray openly gay?

London gangster Reggie Kray (1933 - 2000) relaxing shirless by the sea during a holiday, circa 1965.
London gangster Reggie Kray (1933 – 2000) relaxing by the sea during a holiday, circa 1965. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Throughout his life, Reggie remained closeted, and was posthumously outed via his own brother’s revelations – if they’re to be believed, at least.

Reggie married Frances Shea in 1965 and she died in 1967. Reggie believed her death was a suicide until Ronnie confessed he had murdered her, supposedly out of jealousy. 

Though the twins’ sexualities were held close to their chests for most of their lives, rumours still swirled around them. 

In 1964 The Sunday Mirror printed details of a homosexual relationship between “a prominent peer and a leading thug of the criminal underworld.”

The paper then claimed it was in possession of a photo of the gangster and his peer together. 

A German publication named Lord Boothby as the man with the gangster. Boothby then confirmed his presence in the image alongside Ronnie Kray – many claim that the pair were in a relationship. 

“I have met the man alleged to be King of the Underworld only three times, on business matters, by appointment at my flat, at his request, and in the presence of other people… Lastly, I am not, and never have been, homosexual,” Booth wrote in a statement to The Times.

The newspaper then apologised for the publication of the piece and agreed to an out-of-court settlement of £40,000 for Boothby. 

The Krays were violent criminals and certainly don’t deserve any form of ‘trailblazing historical gay icon’ status: but it does seem likely that they were members of the LGBTQ+ community.