Frankie Fraser

Crime Files

"My father was very, very honest and we were very, very poor.” Fraser’s factory worker father and his Irish, cleaner mother welcomed Frankie into their family on 13 December 1923. Frankie always wished he’d been born on the 12th, the same day as his hero, Frank Sinatra. Unluckily, Frankie Fraser’s birth-date would also be the date for many of his future arrests. Frankie was one of five children raised in the family’s South East London home. It was an area of extreme poverty plagued by money lenders and prostitutes. Frankie looked at his father, an honest man working seven days a week and at his mother working her fingers to the bone. Frankie wanted different. “I did not feel guilty about thieving-it was just redistributing the wealth to those who needed it most.” His sister Eva agreed with Frankie and together they started stealing. They could steal in one go what others earned in a week. Frankie didn’t much like school but he did like playing sport. His favourite sport, still legal for schoolchildren then, was boxing. Frankie didn’t like to lose. “The only trouble was I always cheated. I always had a lump of lead in my glove.” Outside of school, Frankie was fast learning the then criminal code: Never inform and never hurt women or children. Frankie was first ‘nicked’ for stealing cigarettes at 13. He would go on to collect 26 convictions and spend nearly half his life inside. OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR Some of Frankie’s happiest times came with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. As every able bodied man, and most police, joined up to fight the threat of Nazism, Frankie deserted and looted. Blitz bombed Britain was a goldmine for Frankie. It was said that if one stuck on an air raid warden’s helmet, a gullible public would actually help load up a van with stolen goods. With few proper police left, Frankie ran rings around the remaining ‘Specials’- volunteers and retired policeman. He took advantage of the rationed food and goods to sell on marked up items on a booming black market. And the blackout-intended to deny enemy bombers easy targets-provided perfect cover for criminals like Frankie who liked to operate in the shadows. It was during this time that Frankie started to hang out and drink with Charlie Kray, elder brother of the Kray twins. As the pubs shut at three in the afternoon, Charlie used to take Frankie home for a meal. There he would meet the twins, still in shorts and just out of primary school. They called him ‘Uncle Frankie’. But Frankie’s money making came at a cost. In the spring of 1943 he took part in a bid to release another army deserter from Wandsworth prison. The attempt left two people dead. The Allied victory in Europe in 1945 was the answer to many prayers. For Frankie it meant the nightmare of the return of a proper police force. “I’ll never forgive Hitler for surrendering”

The Crime

‘It was like a way of getting out of the gutter...Be it a boxer, or a footballer or something. I chose something different. The only trouble with mine was that it always led to the Old Bailey.”Frankie Fraser’s criminal career stepped up after the Second World War. He started doing smash-and-grab raids and bank hold ups. He claimed to be the first man in Britain to have worn a stocking over his head.COOL AND CRUEL But money made was soon spent. Fraser liked to be seen out in tailor made Savile Row suits. And he liked to go out and party a lot. He later claimed that he distributed any surplus profits to his less successful criminal counterparts. Like much of the Frankie Fraser story, this is hard to either substantiate or disprove. It does, however, reveal much about how Fraser likes to portray himself.After a stint in prison for attacking the gangster Jack Spot, Fraser’s sister introduced him to the heavy smoking Charlie Richardson and his business minded brother, Eddie. The scrap metal business they ran would soon be the scene for some of the most sickening torture of the sixties. Fraser and Charlie had a similar attitude to conscription. Charlie had tried but failed to fake insanity to avoid the army and ended up court-martialled instead. Fraser would later find he had no problem being certified. He once said he was meant to have worn a policeman’s ear on a chain round his neck. He neither denied nor confirmed the allegation. He simply repeated it.Initially, it was the Richardson’s instalment of one-arm bandits in pubs and clubs that made Fraser his first big money. Thousands of pounds came his way, whether he was inside or not. Their joint criminal enterprise soon included fraud, gambling and protection rackets. And it was said that it was all enforced under the threat of torture.THE DENTIST Fraser was alleged to take part in kangaroo court trials of enemies. In addition to using an axe to kill and dismember an adversary, Fraser was said to have used pliers to extract teeth. Fraser later denied this. He stated that anyone who crossed him would have been so comprehensively punched that he wouldn’t have had any teeth left to extract.But allegations persist of torture. The police stated that enemies of the gang were first partially drowned and once wet, electrocuted. After further beatings, bloodied and burnt, victims were always given a clean shirt with which to return home.Relations at this stage with the Krays were still amicable. When Fraser was doing seven years for cutting a rival, the twins used to send his sister by taxi to whichever prison he was in. After another release from yet another prison, the twins organised a party and a whip round. And during the ‘60s, East London based Reggie Kray sought Fraser’s services. Fraser chose to stay with the South London based Richardsons. Fraser claimed that later reports of gang rivalry were exaggerated.In 1963, Fraser reported that he had the opportunity to take part in the Great Train Robbery. It was decided, however, that because he was on the run at the time, he would be a liability. He was proud, however, to have known the mum of his future girlfriend, Marilyn. She was the woman who made the balaclavas for the Great Train Robbery. She caused the robbers extra problems when she didn’t make the eyes level.Back in London, gang rivalries were about to explode. When George Cornell, another Richardson crony, insulted Ronnie Kray, calling him a ‘fat poof’, Ronnie shot him through the head. In March 1966, the Richardson’s revenge attack failed to wipe out the Krays. During the gun battle, Fraser was shot in the hip - Eddie was shot in the backside. The seedy side of the swinging sixties and its bloodstained backstreets were about to be brought out into the spotlight.On the day England won the World Cup in 1966, the police arrested Charlie Richardson. Fraser would stand trial with him at the Old Bailey in 1967.

The Aftermath

“I am not nippy enough to smash windows and jump into cars anymore.”In 1985 Fraser was released from jail for the last time. He says he owes his straight patch to his girlfriend, Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of the Great Train Robber, Tommy Wisbey. He met her again in his nephew’s wine bar near Charing Cross Road. She was the singer. Appropriately enough, she won him over with her rendition of Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy.’Marilyn invited him to go with her to visit her dad in HM Prison Parkhurst. It was their first date. She forgot to include Fraser on the visiting order. Predictably, one prison officer recognised him and surprisingly, they let him in. After that, Marilyn and Fraser were inseparable. This was despite the fact that Fraser not only had a girlfriend, Val, but also a wife, Doreen. But Fraser wasn’t worried about marrying Marilyn without a divorce. As he said:‘Bigamy won’t matter with my record.’In 1991, ‘The Independent’ reported that Fraser had been shot dead outside a London club. Two years later the paper interviewed him, now aged 70, and admitted reports of his demise were ‘premature’. But he was shot at and Fraser is convinced it was undercover police that pulled the trigger. The police suspect a gangland hit. Fraser again credited Marilyn for saving him by pulling him out of the line of fire of the next shot.CON TO ICON Proving that the wages of sin are royalties, in 1995, Fraser released ‘Mad Frankie: Memoirs of a Life of Crime.’ This was to be the first of four books. In 1999 he published ‘Mad Frankie and Friends’. 2001 saw ‘Mad Frankie’s Diary: A Chronicle of the Life of Britain’s Most Notorious Villain’ and 2003 saw the release of his fourth cash in, ‘Mad Frankie’s Britain’.As part of his rehabilitation into civilised society, the BBC even made him into a series producer for its series, ‘The Underworld’. During these years, he became a cult celebrity appearing on numerous shows either as himself, or as a send up of himself. He earned money from after dinner speaking and criminal tours of his old stomping grounds.In 2009, an application was made to the Criminal Cases Review Commission over the ‘Torture Trial.’ The application was based on the fact that Fraser had approached Sir Lawton before and the judge, having a prior connection, should have recused (excused) himself. Fraser had claimed this for years.Fraser received an ASBO in 2011 for arguing with another resident at his care home in Bermondsey.In 2012, now aged 88, Fraser attended Charlie Richardson’s funeral. The career criminal now needed a cane. He still expressed no remorse for his past.“The only regret I have is being caught.”Interviewed in December 2012, Fraser said that he thought that Ray Winston would be a ‘very good’ choice to play him in a film of his life.

The Trial

In 1967, Frankie Fraser went to the Old Bailey for what became known as the ‘Torture Trials’. They were to become some of the most infamous criminal trials of the last half century. The court detailed how Charlie Richardson used iron bars, pliers and electrodes on opponents. He was accused of fraud, extortion, assault and GBH.The trial judge was Sir Frederick Lawton, QC. His father was the famously strict governor of Wandsworth prison and Fraser had been one of his inmates.One of the chief informers was an ex-gang member Johnny Bradbury. Bradbury was under a death sentence for the killing of a Richardson business partner. Bradbury hoped that his testimony might mean he’d escape the gallows.Fraser was sentenced to 10 years for his role as the ‘dentist’ in the so-called Richardson Torture Gang. Gang leader Charlie Richardson received 25 years. Fraser later denied the claims of the prosecution that he electrocuted genitals, nailed feet to the floor and removed teeth. The prosecution had even alleged they’d used bolt cutters to remove fingers and toes. All of the convicted insisted that the torture allegations were made up to enforce their convictions.Said to have used pliers to extract teeth, Fraser argued that no one, toothless or otherwise, has ever come forward to testify that this happened. Many believe the pliers Fraser carried were a warning, not a tool, for the potentially loose lipped.Fraser was about to embark on a long period of prison. And because he would never admit his guilt or show remorse, there would be no remission.

Prison

MAD FRANKIE’S ROUGH GUIDE TO PRISONS Fraser spent 42 years in prison and claims to have spent at least a night in each prison in England. He did a number of hunger strikes and spent a lot of time in solitary as a result. He found Durham prison the toughest, had ‘fond’ memories of Gloucester, and quite liked Cane Hill Psychiatrist Prison:‘...after prison, it was like paradise.’It was there that he was certified insane. His time at Cane Hill mental hospital and Broadmoor earned him his nickname, ‘Mad Frankie Fraser’. It was in Leicester Security Wing that he first met Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of Great Train Robber, Tommy Wisbey. Aged just 11 at the time, she would meet Fraser again many years later and the two would become inseparable.In 1968 he was moved from Leicester to the top security wing in Brixton. In the same wing were the three Kray brothers. Fraser also mixed with IRA prisoners and perhaps because of his mother, or perhaps because of the way they deported themselves, Fraser developed an understanding for their cause.Fraser was behind the 1969 prison riots at top security HM Prison Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. In response to alleged beatings of prisoners in segregation, Fraser organised a sit down demonstration. This soon turned into a physical confrontation. Fraser managed to get his ‘share of violent retaliatory behaviour’ before being overwhelmed by the better trained and better equipped riot officers. Fraser received multiple injuries that required hospitalisation and he received another five years for his role as ringleader in the riots.Fraser’s propensity for ‘doing screws’ was one of the reasons he was one of the few prisoners to spend his last 20 years in prison without remission. In 1975, over the period of a week, Fraser assaulted three Bristol prison officers. Three IRA prisoners gave evidence on Fraser’s behalf. After the Parkhurst riots, Fraser claims they had made him an honorary member. In total, Fraser attacked four prison governors. One he tried to hang. Anyone connected with the prison authorities was considered fair game:“the best thing I ever done.” Fraser on beating up hangman Albert PierrepointAnd other prisoners weren’t exempt from his violence. He claimed that he once cut off a prisoner’s ear then he flushed it down the toilet so that they wouldn’t find it. But it wasn’t all beatings and riots. Fraser got to meet many infamous men including the assassin of Martin Luther King. Fraser later reported he didn’t trust him. And in Wormwood Scrubs, he met the silent cinema celebrity Ivor Novello. The star was in jail for petrol coupon fraud. Fraser’s mother commented that it was worth her son going to prison as he’d met such an important figure.Prison was an occupational hazard for Fraser. He liked to leave it in style. He was once met from prison by his son in a Rolls Royce.