The Richardson Gang
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|Founded by||Charles Richardson|
|Founding location||London, United Kingdom|
The Richardson Gang was an English crime gang based in South London, England in the 1960s. Also known as the "Torture Gang", they had a reputation as some of London's most sadistic gangsters. Their alleged specialities included pulling teeth out using pliers, cutting off toes using bolt cutters and nailing victims to floors using 6-inch nails.
Charlie and Eddie Richardson
Charles William "Charlie" Richardson (18 January 1934 – 19 September 2012) was born in Brentford, Middlesex to Eileen Elizabeth Mary (née Allen) and Charles Frederick Richardson, who had married the previous year in Camberwell, South London. The family soon moved back to Camberwell, where younger brother, Edward G. "Eddie" Richardson, was born on 21 January 1935, followed by youngest sibling, Elaine (born 1940). Charlie and Eddie turned to a life of crime after their father deserted the family.
An important member of the Richardson gang was George Cornell. Cornell was heavily involved in drug dealing, in purple hearts and dexys, uppers, downers and cannabis. He was also involved in pornography and may have been associated with criminal Jimmy Humphreys, whose arrest led to the exposure of corrupt police officials in 1971, including Commander Ken Drury of the Flying Squad.
Humphreys was under investigation by another squad, and Drury refused to acknowledge his association with Humphreys even after Drury reportedly received a "Wish you were here" holiday postcard from him. Cornell was originally a member of an East End gang called "The Watney Streeters" and later became involved with the Krays. However, he changed sides around 1964 and allied himself with the Richardsons. Cornell was unstable and unpredictable, and nearly caused an all-out war between the two gangs before his death when Ronnie Kray shot and killed him in 1966.
"Mad" Frankie Fraser
During the Second World War his crimes escalated, including shopbreaking and desertion. He was a known associate of gangster Billy Hill throughout the 1950s. After joining the Richardsons, he served as their enforcer. Reportedly, Fraser's favourite brand of punishment was extracting teeth with pliers.
Other members of the gang included the hitman Jimmy Moody, Roy Hall (who operated the electric generator), Bartholomew (Barry) Harris (who was the getaway driver for the gang), Albert Longman, Grandad Findley (South London Enforcer for the gang), Harry Rawlins, Alan Morse/Rigby, Frank Bailey, Harry Banks, Tommy Clark, Ron Large (Ronnie), Tommy Quinlan, James Kemmery and Mick O'Brien.
Charlie invested in scrap metal, whilst Eddie set up a company selling fruit machines. These businesses were fronts for underworld activities which included fraud, racketeering, usury, theft and stolen goods. Eddie would on occasion "suggest" that a pub landlord should buy one of his slot devices; failure to do so meant running the risk of being beaten and the pub vandalised.
They preferred investing in fraud schemes known as long firms. A company would be set up by an acquaintance, who was well paid for the prison term he might eventually serve. The company would conduct normal business for some months, building lines of credit and winning the trust of suppliers. Eventually after gaining the trust of the suppliers it would order an extra large order and then decamp with both the goods and profits from previous sales. The goods would then be sold without the suppliers getting any of the profits. The company and those involved in running it would suddenly disappear.
Mock trials and torture
The Richardson gang frequently used mock trials to punish transgressors and intimidate others. The accused were hauled in front of Charlie, Fraser and others in a kangaroo court. After the mock trial the punishments were meted out, ranging anything from beatings to more severe forms of torture such as whippings, cigarette-burning, teeth being pulled out with pliers (for which Fraser was especially notorious), nailing to the floor, having toes removed with bolt cutters and giving electric shocks until unconscious. The electric shocks were inflicted by an old Army field telephone, which included a hand-crank-powered generator, much like the notorious Tucker Telephone. The victims were placed in a bath of cold water to enhance the electrical charge and the terminals attached to the victims' nipples and genitalia.
After trial and punishment, victims who were too badly injured would be sent to a doctor who had been struck off the Medical Register. This process of trial and torture was known as "taking a shirt from Charlie", because of Charlie Richardson's habit of giving each victim a clean shirt in which to return home since the victim's original shirt was usually covered in blood.
On one occasion, a collector of "pensions" (protection money from publicans and others), was punished after being twice warned by the Richardsons for pocketing the money and spending it at Catford dog track. He was nailed to the floor of a warehouse near Tower Bridge for nearly two days, during which time gang members (for example, driver Harry Beard) frequently urinated on him.
In his later years, Fraser claimed the facts the jury accepted as proven beyond all reasonable doubt as to torture were exaggerated. He cried "Rubbish!" to stories of electrified genitals. As to foot-nailing and tooth removals, he said that it was "all false... Today, we wouldn't have even been charged, let alone gone to prison."
Feud with the Krays
On 7 or 8 March 1966, Richard Hart, one of the Krays' associates, was shot dead, intentionally or otherwise, during a brawl involving the Richardson Gang at Mr Smith's Club in Rushey Green, Catford. Mr Smith's was owned by Manchester-based businessmen Dougie Flood (a club/hotel/leisure business owner and alleged member of the Quality Street Gang) and Bill Benny. They had asked Eddie Richardson and Frankie Fraser to "protect" the club in exchange for gaming machines being placed there. That night members of the Richardson gang were drinking at Mr Smith's. Members of another South London gang led by Billy Hayward were present that night including Peter Hennessey.
On the night in question, both gangs were "drinking and chatting quite happily". That was according to a guest who was with his girlfriend in the bar but was suddenly ushered out of the club soon after midnight. At around 1.00am, Eddie Richardson told Peter Hennessey and the others to "drink up" and leave. In response, Hennessey called Eddie Richardson a "half-baked fucking ponce" and shouted that he could "take you any fucking time you like". Richardson and Hennessey began exchanging blows. Other fistfights had started when gun shots rang out.
Several years after the incident, an unnamed gangster who was in the club at the time said that it was "like Dodge City". It was said that Hart was shot on or near the bottom of the stairs as he was making his getaway. For many years Fraser was held responsible for murdering Hart. Fraser always vehemently denied it. It is alleged that Billy Gardner confronted Fraser, asking, "You tooled up, Frank?", and shot Fraser through the thigh with a .38 pistol. Eddie Richardson, Frankie Fraser and others ended up in Lewisham Hospital. They denied all knowledge of the incident ("Shooting? What shooting?") when questioned by police. Hennessey sustained a bayonet wound to his scalp. Hennessey, Gardner and others sought help from Freddie Foreman after the altercation.
Although most of the gang were arrested, some were put up by Foreman until things had blown over. Fraser had been officially declared insane at least twice previously. It has been suggested though that Fraser acquired his "Mad Frankie" sobriquet from this incident. Apparently, a Hayward associate named Henry Botton saw Fraser kicking Hart in the head and shouted, "You're fucking mad, Frank. You're fucking bonkers." The whole incident at Mr Smith's caused the arrest of nearly all of the Richardson gang.
Fallout continued the next day. A member of the Richardson gang, Jimmy Andrews, was injured in the affray and went for treatment at the Whitechapel Hospital the day after. This was where George Cornell, one of the few members of the Richardson gang who were not in jail or hospital, and an old friend of Andrews, went to visit him. That evening at about 8:30 Cornell was inside The Blind Beggar public house. Ronnie Kray arrived with two associates and shot Cornell through the head at close range, killing him. One of several local businessmen, in the saloon bar at the time, said he heard Cornell's last words: "Well, look what the dog's brought in."
The downfall of the Richardsons began because of mounting testimony to the police. The incident at Mr Smith's and the later arrests helped seal their fate.
In July 1965, one of the gang's victims reported the crime to the police. The victim told the tale of being severely beaten and bruised after being found guilty of disloyalty by a kangaroo court; he then had to mop up his own blood using his own underpants.
A member of the Richardson gang, Johnny Bradbury, turned Queen's Evidence. Bradbury was convicted of murdering a business associate named Waldeck in South Africa, allegedly on orders from Charlie Richardson. When sentenced to hang, Bradbury offered to inform on the Richardson gang in exchange for a pardon and immunity. This was arranged by a special squad of the CID, led by Inspector Gerald MacArthur.[note 1]
Other victims of the Richardsons were granted immunity from prosecution in other crimes if they turned Queen's Evidence. With the assistance of the Home Office, which arranged different identities and passports, several witnesses fled the country immediately after the trial. A few went to South Africa and others to Spain or Majorca; many did not return to the UK for a considerable time.
Arrests and trial
Charlie Richardson was arrested for grievous bodily harm 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. In July 1966, police arrested the remaining members of the Richardson gang following a series of raids in South London.
Accurately dubbed as to allegations, the "Torture Trial" convened 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.
In 1980, after many attempts to obtain release, Charlie Richardson escaped from an open prison. He went "on the trot" for almost a year, even dressing as Santa Claus and giving out presents to children to publicise his requests for release. He openly drank with friends and old associates (including police officers) at several pubs on the Old Kent Road before fleeing to Paris, where he gave an interview to a journalist.
He was arrested with five other men in Earl's Court on suspicion of possession of drugs, having just been seen coming out of a sex shop which was known to be controlled by the Richardson family. His identity only came to light once arrested and in police custody in Kensington when his probation officer contacted the police, having been informed by other gang members that he had been arrested. In 1983, Charlie was able to go on day release to help the handicapped and was allowed to spend a weekend with his family. Charlie was finally released in July 1984.
In 1990, Eddie Richardson was sentenced to 35 years after being convicted of involvement in a £70 million cocaine and cannabis heist. He was originally sentenced to 35 years, but was released after 12, bringing his total number of years served to 23.
The brothers fell out badly after Eddie accused Charlie of fraudulent business deals during Eddie's time in prison.
White Horse public house
There are pictures of the Richardson gang in the White Horse pub (now a community run venture) in Upton, Norfolk. The gang chose this as their rural "bolt hole" whenever they were under investigation in London. It is alleged that a lot of local houses were built with Richardson gang money, all cash-in-hand, and then sold legitimately, thereby laundering the gang's ill-gotten gains.
- Under MacArthur's leadership, the Hertfordshire force was investigating the Richardsons because the Home Office could not trust the Metropolitan Police, many of whom were in the pay of the Richardsons and other London gangs. By 1966, the Metropolitan Police was allegedly so corrupt that the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, was considering replacing up to 70% of the CID and other specialist branches with CID from Manchester, Kent, Devon & Cornwall and Birmingham. When Robert Mark became Police Commissioner in 1972, he succeeded Sir John Waldron. More than 400 CID officers and 300 uniformed police officers were "retired" early. Not long after Mark's appointment, Drury, Wally Virgo, Head of the Serious Crimes Squad, and other senior officers were sent to prison for corruption.
- Armstrong, Jeremy; Myall, Steve (19 September 2012). "Hard as nails: Kray Twins gangster rival Charlie Richardson dies". The Mirror. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "Obituaries: Charles Richardson". The Telegraph. 20 September 2012. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Leshchinskaya, Nastacia (27 November 2012). "Ask a Former Gangster Anything". Crime Library.
- Williams, Rhys (17 February 1994). "Gangland enforcer sets the record straight about 'the bad old days': Rhys Williams meets 'Mad' Frankie Fraser, once known as Britain's most violent man". The Independent. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Beattie, Geoffrey (6 December 1999). "My night with Mad Frankie Fraser". New Statesman.
- Morton, James (1992). Gangland: Underworld in Britain and Ireland. Little Brown Book Group Limited. ISBN 0-7515-1406-3.
- Carpenter, Julie (21 September 2012). "The truth about the Torture Gang". Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Keeling, Neal (18 April 2010), "Flood's children win will payout", Manchester Evening News
- "Dougie was no gangster", Manchester Evening News, 19 April 2010
- "Eddie Richardson and gangland 1960s London". Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Donaldson, William. Brewer's Rogues, Villains, and Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages. London: Sterling Publishing Company, 2004. ISBN 0-7538-1791-8
- Parker, Robert. Rough Justice: The Truth about the Richardson Gang. Fontana Books, 1981. ISBN 0-00-636354-7
- Richardson, Charlie. My Manor: The Autobiography of Charlie Richardson. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1991. ISBN 0-283-99709-5
- Richardson, Eddie. The Last Word: My Life as a Gangland Boss. Headline Book Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7553-1401-8
- Richardson, Charlie and Meikle, David. Charlie Richardson, The Last Gangster. Random House, 2014. ISBN 1780891369