The Murky Guide to London's Criminal History
London is a city rich in history, however there are many sinister tales involved as well. The criminal world of London's past has introduced some infamous names, whose bad deeds and despicable behaviours still incite curiosity and fascination today. Hopefully this short guide will be interesting to the layman and the students (such as those taking an MA criminology degree at MDX). These are some of the most well known:
Jack the Ripper
The mysterious Jack the Ripper is one of the most famous criminals to come out of London's gory history. This serial killer was known for disemboweling his victims in the backstreets of East London in 1888. He killed at least five women although it is believed there may have been more. The Ripper's identity has never been proven, and over time many lunatics tried to take credit for his crimes, although none of the claims were substantiated. Today you can follow the footsteps of the famous killer on a Jack the Ripper walking tour which set off every evening from Tower Hill, and takes in the very East London streets where the Ripper committed his ghastly crimes.
Another famous criminal mind from England's capital is Guy (or "Guido") Fawkes, who tried to assassinate the King - a Protestant - in 1604 so that a Catholic would take his place as the reigning English monarch. His attempt to blow up Parliament (famously known as the Gunpowder Plot) failed after he was discovered hiding beneath the House of Lords with many barrels of gunpowder. The date he was discovered and his mutinous plan foiled, 5th November, is still celebrated each year with fireworks in London and across the country. And effigies of Fawkes are often burned upon a bonfire.
The famous highwayman and murderer of the 1730s is the subject of many famous stories and ballads which romanticise his name and lifestyle - but few are true to his real life story. Turpin was certainly no romantic. He was a horse thief whose gang (known as the Essex Gang) wreaked havoc throughout London, Essex and other areas of England, stealing horses and money, often by violent means. His gang often used Epping Forest, in east London, as their hideout, and it was here that Turpin killed Thomas Morris, who had attempted to capture the wanted criminal. This shooting merely fuelled the quest for Turpin's eventual capture and execution.
The Kray Twins
Ronald "Ronnie" and Reginald "Reggie" Kray were twin brothers were London’s most prominent leaders in organised crime from the 1950s to late 1969s. Behind a facade of charming socialites during the swinging 60s the Krays perpetuated a life of violence, torture, arson, robbery and murder. They were finally caught in 1968 and both sentenced to life imprisonment. You can still visit the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, where Ronnie Kray famously shot a man in front of fellow drinkers. There is also a crossbow once used by the Krays at London's "Black Museum", a collection of criminals' property dating back to 1874. This grim display is closed to the public, although given its gruesome nature, perhaps that's for the best.
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