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Eddie Richardson arrives at the pub and orders a cup of tea. He's dressed in a camel-coloured suit which is paired with a pink shirt. He's friendly, and talks happily, but the casual niceties are offset by an intense stare which lingers for a little too long and is framed by a pair of wild eyebrows. He's surprisingly charming. It's almost easy to forget about his violent past as one of London's most notorious gangsters.
Eddie, along with his older brother, Charlie, was a founding member of the notorious Richardson Gang during the 1960s. The gang had a criminal empire which was equally feared and respected. Their flirtation with illegality and their merciless manner eventually gave them their infamous nickname - 'The Torture Gang'. The Richardsons made a lot of their money working in slot machines and scrap metal yards, but their legitimate businesses acted as a front for other activities, including racketeering, fraud, money lending, theft and stolen goods.
The gang comprised of three main members - Eddie, Charlie and, later, 'mad' Frankie Fraser. The brothers grew up together in Camberwell, south London, and eventually went into business with their father when Eddie was 17.
Regardless of their criminal activity, the gang's shrewdness and business acumen is impressive. Whenever he's managed to stay away from prison cells, Eddie has run many businesses, including a scrap metal company - something he's keen reiterate. "I've done proper legitimate companies, you know," he says wryly.
Eddie (second from left) out for a party in the 1960s; Featured Image Credit: Eddie Richardson
The gang's infamy and business acumen was almost unrivalled, if it wasn't for the other mob over in east London: The Kray twins. The two opposing gangs had a tempestuous relationship. If you were to believe local folklore, you would assume the two gangs had gun-toting, Jesse James-type wars, both spraying bullets like swarms of locusts across London. But, in reality, the two tried to avoid each other. The Krays went out looking for the headlines, and the Richardsons went looking for money.
The Kray Twins were rivals with The Torture Gang; Credit: PA Images
Eddie doesn't like the Krays, or what they've become. Today, the brothers are idolised figures of the London underworld, but, to Eddie, they were the opposite of gangland icons. "They was two lost sheep in the prison," he says with a smile. He even reminds us of the hierarchy behind bars by the way they queued, "Reggie Kray used to walk behind me."
The 2015 film, 'Legend', starring Tom Hardy and Emily Browning, has cemented the Krays' status as bona fide gangster royalty, but Eddie says the film depiction of the twins couldn't be further from the truth. "It was a load of rubbish - they were both gay," he says.
"Reggie never came out straight away, he came out at the end. I mean he [Reggie] married that girl and never consummated the marriage. Terrible life for her. He was just trying to prove something, that he wasn't gay like his brother or something, I don't know the idea of it. It was a shame for her."
The film has sparked discussions about the Krays' sexuality, but Eddie insists 'Legend' is riddled with inaccuracies. "The film makes him [Reggie] heterosexual and also makes him the governor of the two of them. Ronnie Kray was 100 per cent the governor of the two of them."
Though the spotlight shone firmly on The Kray twins in the '60s, the guile of the Richardsons was their ability to stay in the dark. They ran businesses and committed crimes, while making much more money.
In 1963, Eddie left his brother and started businesses on his own. This is where he met 'Mad' Frankie Fraser. Frankie had a fearful reputation as a henchman. According to Eddie, his reputation was unwarranted, and mainly owed to time Frankie served in Broadmoor, the high-security psychiatric hospital.
When Frankie joined the Richardson Gang it was described by a rival as akin to 'China getting the atom bomb'. He was ruthless, and nobody was likely to cross the gang with Frankie there. He also played a key role in the acquisition of the Torture Gang nickname. It's hard to find out how the nickname officially started, but inevitably it was one poor soul who found themselves on the end of the depraved acts before word quickly got around.
Before he died, Charlie Richardson was desperate to make a film about his legacy. He succeeded. The film, 'Charlie', starred Luke Goss and was released in 2004. It tracked the trial of their brutal crimes as well as his dealings with a South African businessman. However, when Eddie is asked about the film, he becomes increasingly aggravated.
Eddie: "That [the film] is nothing to do with me, that's my brother who made them fucking shitty ones. If I had been involved they would have been much better."
Me: "What was it your brother did wrong?"
Eddie: "Trying to make out he was a straight businessman; it was a load of rubbish."
Me: "What was the true story then?"
Eddie: "The true story was he was a bigger fucking villain than me. Torturing fucking people; I never tortured people, it was him."
Me: "He did do it then?"
Eddie: "Yeah, he had them for three days sometimes, people. Trying to control them, trying to make them work for him. With tools and that."
Me: "Do you know what he did to them?"
Eddie: "Well, he would humiliate them. A lot of things he done. I don't really want to go into it."
According to London folklore, the gang carried out mock trials where an unfortunate individual would face questions based on their actions. Charlie would head these and once the trial was done the torture would begin. Typical forms of torture would involve whippings, having toes removed with bolt cutters, cigarette burns, electric shocks (sometimes to the genitals), and having teeth pulled out with pliers. Frankie was particularly notorious with the latter, earning the nickname 'The Dentist'. Once the depravity was finished, the victim was usually covered in so much blood that they needed a change of clothes. This part of the trial was wickedly given the nickname 'taking a shirt from Charlie'.
Eddie (left) with Frankie Fraser in 2012; Credit: PA Images
Aside from the torture, Charlie was now getting wrapped up in the world of the long firm. He would set up companies and run them legitimately for months, and then place an order on credit for goods. Eventually the company would sell all the goods and disappear, while Charlie kept all the profits. "He got involved with all these long firm people," says Eddie. "Running these long firms, and he was trying to control them. So he was giving them the fucking treatment if you like, and trying to control them. But they was like a trained load of monkeys."
This period of the Richardsons' tenure would be cagey, with it all blowing up in a fight with some rivals on a night in Catford. They were at Smithy's, a club that was under the Richardsons' protection. "They was out for trouble, the other little mob, and they had guns, two guns, and one of them wanted to have a straightening with me," Eddie recalls. "Peter Hennessey, a big lump, he wanted to have a fight with me. So, we went on the dance floor, and I done him. I really want to punch his head through the fucking floor boards, to be honest. But I'd been shot in the back, hadn't I?" He laughs at the thought. After he was shot, a brawl ensued and men were arrested. Eddie and Frankie were taken to Lewisham Hospital.
Eddie (first on the left) on a night out in the 1960s; Credit: Eddie Richardson
Eddie and the rest of the gang were arrested on the day of the 1966 World Cup final. Eddie got five years for affray due to the Catford incident, but then the Torture trial came up at the Old Bailey, and his sentence was extended by 10 years. Charlie got 25 years, and Frankie got 10 years.
From his spell in prison, which included time at a jail in Durham in the north east of England, Eddie has some great stories, ranging from the bizarre to the violent. "I was away with the IRA," he says. "Brian Keenan, the number one man in the IRA, was my bridge partner." It's also clear, that whilst he was young, disobedience got the better of him in prison.
"I lost a lot of remission on the first sentence," he remembers. "I lost 450 days' remission, which is a lot. People lose a week and they cry their eyes out."
In a woodwork class in jail, the prisoners were instructed to make some shelves. They instead chose to make two 26-foot ladders and had a go at a break out. "We had an escape plot," explains Eddie. "And it could easily have worked but we had one in the firm that let us down a bit.
"I was in a mutiny at Durham [prison]. I didn't lose remission for that because we managed to get through to the Daily Mirror," Eddie tells me. "So we broke into the deputy governor's office, barricaded it up and got straight on the phone to the Mirror and told them what was happening."
When Eddie was released from prison, he tried to go back into normal business, but the murky underworld tempted him to return. He was involved in a cannabis and cocaine importation gig, but it didn't work out. "Well, there was someone in the plot that was obviously giving out information and that was how it came atop," he says.
Eddie (first on the left) with friends in South Africa; Credit: Eddie Richardson
However, that wasn't his original intention for his new lease of life. He set out to make a clean break. "I set up quite a successful company in Greenwich," he explains. "It wasn't gonna last long; it was being taken over. A lot of the companies in Greenwich was moving out, being offered more money. I was losing customers, left, right and centre, and I had people working for me like my brother's son, and people like that. That's what really got me involved in the bloody drugs. I knew it wasn't gonna last and I couldn't keep them forever so I thought I'd get a lump [of money] and sort them out. But it didn't quite happen."
Eddie was sentenced to another 35 years but only served 25. On his second sentence there was a change in mentality. He wasn't the same young man who was trying to get in trouble. "On the second sentence, that's when I started to paint," he says. "I'm a lot older now and I'm not running round tearing up visiting rooms like what I was doing before. I've calmed down a bit. I've always had a good work ethic."
Eddie continues to paint, and has seen success in his work. "I had a one-day exhibition about 10 years ago at Cabins Square and took £30,000 in one day," he says. "I made it pay even in prison."
Eddie with some of his artwork; Credit: PA Images
For now, Eddie is the last man standing of the infamous London gang bosses of the 1960s. He's candid and selectively honest about his reign and the gang's reputation. Charlie Richardson died in 2012, but the two brothers didn't speak after Eddie's last sentence.
There are plans for a movie about Eddie's life. It's hard to say whether he'll be as honest in his film as he has been with me. One thing is for sure, there are some interesting stories locked away in the memory of Eddie Richardson; it's just whether he lets you in.
Words by Sean Kelly
Featured Image Credit: Creative Commons
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