Quite often, participants on our Jack the Ripper tours ask about those other legendary East End criminals, the Kray Twins, usually wanting to know where the Blind Beggar pub is, or even if it still exists. One of the most notorious locations in the area, it was where Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell on the night of 9 March 1966.
That night, the twins were drinking with members of their ‘Firm’ in The Lion in Tapp Street, Bethnal Green, when a phone tip-off alerted them to the fact that Cornell was drinking in the Blind Beggar. Cornell, who worked for the rival Richardson Brothers south of the river, had a long history with the Krays and there were a number of factors which contributed to the deterioration in their relationship which ultimately led to Cornell’s death.
Former jewel thief Lenny Hamilton claimed it was because some time before, Cornell had knocked Ronnie unconscious outside the Brown Bear in Leman Street, a terrible loss of face for Ronnie. Subsequently, Cornell became very scornful of the twins and would often belittle them in public; the most famous incident was when he allegedly described Ronnie as a ‘fat poof.’
There were other reasons, including a shootout in a south London nightclub involving the Richardsons and where a Kray associate, Dickie Hart, was shot dead. Apparently Ronnie was beside himself over this and when he found out that Cornell was drinking on their patch, he decided there and then to settle the score.
Armed with two guns, Ronnie and Ian Barrie entered the Blind Beggar and found Cornell drinking with two friends at the end of the bar. According to the barmaid, two or three shots were fired, one of them hitting Cornell in the forehead and passing out the back of his head.
George Cornell was still alive when he was taken to the London Hospital over the road and then on to Maida Vale Hospital for surgery, but he died at 10.29 pm, before anything could be done.
There were certainly witnesses to the shooting, but the ‘wall of silence’ generated by fear of the twins assured that nothing concrete made it to the police until 1968 when the Kray trial began and loyal members of the firm (and the barmaid) gave evidence against their bosses.
The Blind Beggar today is a pleasant enough pub and there are a few pictures of the twins on the wall in the back bar area, not far from where the murder took place.