Frankie Fraser

Mad Frankie

Frankie Fraser

"You're fucking bonkers!"

A member of the notorious Richardson Gang, a South London criminal firm who were rivals of the East End Kray Twins, Frankie Fraser was known for his violent tendencies and unpredictable nature. Working as an enforcer for the Richardson brother, Fraser was heavily involved in their criminal activities and committed violence against anyone who opposed the gang.

Known by his “Mad Frankie” nickname, Fraser was eventually arrested for the murder of a Kray associate and put on trial for a series of torture crimes the Richardson’s orchestrated against other criminals who they believed had betrayed the gang. Mad Frankie Fraser would go on to spend 42 years in prison for his crimes.

Frankie Fraser’s Early Life

Francis Davidson Fraser was born on December 12, 1923 as the youngest of five children to a partly American Indian seaman father and an Irish-Norwegian washerwoman mother. The Fraser family were a Roman Catholic household who lived on Cornwall Road in Waterloo, London. Owing to the economic difficulties at the time, the family experienced poverty, but never resorted to crime.

The young Frankie moved with his family at the age of five to a flat on Walworth Road, Elephant and Castle. From a young age, Frankie turned to crime at the age of ten, along with his sister Eva, to whom he was close. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the young Frankie joined the army, but soon deserted by escaping from his barracks on several occasions.

It was during this time that he became involved in more serious crimes. With the constant blackouts, coupled with many previously available commodities becoming rationed, there were many opportunities for men like Frankie Fraser to earned money on the black market. With few policemen due to conscription, he was able to enter the homes of people hiding in air-raid shelters to steal to occupants belongings.

In 1941, Fraser was caught breaking into a Waterloo hosiery store. He was sent to borstal and later given a 15-month prison sentence at HM Prison Wandsworth for shop-breaking. Fraser found the war lucrative to his criminal activities, and one joked in a television interview that he had never forgiven the Germans for surrendering.

While serving a sentence at HM Prison Chelmsford in 1942, Fraser was approached by recruiting officers of the British Army and conscripted. Although he was called-up, Fraser later claimed that he had never once wore the uniform, preferring to ignore the call-up papers, and desert when apprehended so he could continue his criminal acts.

Frankie Fraser’s Post-War Activities

By the time the war came to and end in 1945, Fraser was involved in more serious crimes. He was involved in a smash-and-grab raid on a jeweller, but was caught and sentenced to a two-year prison sentence, mostly served at HM Prison Pentonville. During this spell in prison, Fraser was, for the first time, certified insane by the prison doctors.

He was subsequently sent to Cane Hill Hospital before being released in 1949. After this he became involved with well-known West End gangster Billy Hill, who during the 1950’s ran protection rackets with fellow gangster Jack Spot. Fraser became a bodyguard to Hill, and took part in bank robberies on behalf of his boss, for which he was arrested and sent to HM Prison Durham.

There he was for the second time certified insane and this time was sent to Broadmoor Hospital. Worried that he would be heavily medicated, Fraser remained out of trouble during his stay, and was released in 1955. He immediately went back to work for Billy Hill, and was involved in the gang war that broke out between Hill and his former associate Jack Spot.

A photograph of a young Frankie Fraser.
A young Frankie Fraser.

In 1956, Fraser was involved in an attack on Spot and his wife Rita, who were ambushed about 100 yards outside their Paddington flat and set upon by up-to eight men, including Fraser and Bobby Warren, who were armed with clubs and knives. As a result of this attack, Spot retired from crime and Hill subsequently took over his West End interests.

For the attack on Jack Spot, Frankie Fraser and Bobby Warren were arrested and given seven years for the crime. By the time of Fraser’s release from prison, London’s criminal underworld had changed dramatically. The East End was now under the control of the Firm, run by the notorious Kray Twins, while the South End was overseen by the Richardson Gang.

Frankie Fraser and the Richardson Gang

It was during the early 1960’s that Frankie Fraser first met Charlie and Eddie Richardson, two scrap metal dealers who operated out of Camberwell, South London. The Richardson brothers held a tight grip over their territory, and were involved in many different criminal enterprises, including drugs, prostitution and pornography.

On August 8, 1963, several London gangsters orchestrated the Great Train Robbery, during which £2.61 million was stolen by members of the South West Gang, led by Bruce Reynolds, who had strong connections to the Richardson brothers. Fraser was invited to take part in the robbery, but declined because he was, at that time, on the run from police.

Despite not taking part, Fraser only narrowly avoided arrest as a suspect after the Richardson brothers bribed a policeman. This cemented their friendship, and Fraser joined the Richardson Gang and became one of their primary enforcers. It was said his speciality for dealing with turncoats was extracting teeth with pliers.

With Frasers help, the Richardsons set up the Atlantic Machines fruit-machine enterprise, which acted as a front for the criminal activities of the gang. Others members of the gang included George Cornell, Jimmy Moody and Albert Longman. Cornell was, like Fraser, one of the more unpredictable gangsters, who would almost cause a war with other East End villains.

The Richardson Gang had some dealings with the Kray Twins, having first met when Charlie Richardson and George Cornell were in Shepton Mallet Prison. The understanding and respect for one another’s criminal activities was tested by the mid-1960’s, when a series of feuds between the two gangs erupted into violence. the two sides often had sit-downs at pubs such as The Grave Maurice.

A photograph of Frankie Fraser, actor Stanley Baker and Eddie Richardson.
Frankie Fraser, actor Stanley Baker and Eddie Richardson.

George Cornell had previously worked for the Krays, but had switched sides by 1964, when he started working for the Richardson brothers. He soon developed a hatred for Ronnie Kray, and the two were involved in several altercations. One occurred at the Brown Bear public-house, where according jewel thief and safe breaker Lenny Hamilton, Cornell knocked Ronnie Kray unconscious.

One of the most commonly recounted stories regarding their feud was that Cornell had called the homosexual Ronnie a ‘fat poof’. However, this was later denied by Ronnie Kray, who said in a 1989 interview at Broadmoor that Cornell had simply threatened to kill him. This feud with between Ronnie and Cornell would soon come to a violent conclusion.

The Shootout at Mr Smith’s

On March 7, 1966, members of the Richardson Gang, including Frankie Fraser, Eddie Richardson and Jimmy Moody, were drinking at Mr Smith’s nightclub in Rushey Green, Catford, South East London. Also present that evening were Billy Hayward, Henry Botton and Peter Hennessey, who were members of another South London gang led by Hayward.

An associate of the Kray Firm was also there, Richard ‘Dickie’ Hart, who despite not being a member of Krays, was a good friend of the twins. The two gangs were sat at different tables and the atmosphere was at first convivial. However, when more Richardson gang members arrived, Hayward soon began to suspect that something might happen as retribution for having an affair with the wife of Roy Porritt, Frank and Eddie’s mechanic.

Hayward sent one of his members out to retrieve some weapons. By 3:30am, Eddie Richardson asked Hayward and his gang to “drink up and leave,” as the club was only licensed until 3:00am. One of the Hayward gang, Peter Hennessey took offence and called Eddie a “half-baked fucking ponce,” and and shouted that he could “take you any fucking time you like”.

Eddie Richardson and Hennessey began exchanging blows, and soon other fistfights had started. To the disbelief of everyone, Dickie Hart took out a gun and started shooting up the place, shouting, “Somebody’s going to die.” Hart then shot Harry Rawlings, and the Richardson gang member was bleeding profusely shoulder wound.

Jimmy Moody and Ronnie Jeffreys were trying to get him out of the club while Frankie Fraser was trying to calm down Dickie Hart. Fraser was then confronted by Hayward gang member Billy Gardner who asked him, “You tooled up, Frank?”, before shooting Fraser through the thigh with a .38 pistol.

Despite his wound, Fraser knocked the gun from Dickie Hart’s hand, and proceeded to beat him. It was believed Fraser became know by his “Mad Frankie” sobriquet from this incident, after Hayward associate Henry Botton saw him kicking Hart in the head and shouted, “You’re fucking mad, Frank. You’re fucking bonkers.” At some point, someone shot Dickie Hart dead as he was on or near the bottom of the stairs making his getaway.

The mugshot of Mad Frankie Fraser.

An unnamed gangster who was in the club at the time said that the shooting at Mr Smith’s was “like Dodge City”. The incident ended with both Eddie Richardson and Frankie Fraser shot and in Lewisham hospital. Questioned by police, the two denied all knowledge, stating, “Shooting, what shooting?.” Members of the Hayward gang sought help after the shooting from Freddie Foreman.

The fallout from the shooting of Dickie Hart was swift. Two days after his death, Richardson Gang member George Cornell was sat in the Blind Beggar pub drinking with friends when Ronnie Kray arrived with two associates. Cornell was heard to say “Well, look what the dog’s brought in,” before Kray shot him through the head killing him. This was first murder committed by Ronnie Kray.

Frankie Fraser and the Torture Trial

With Cornell dead and several of the most prominent Richardson Gang members either in hospital or arrested, associates of the gang who had fall foul of their methods of retribution came forward to testify against the gang. One victim had previously come forward in July 1965, who claim he had been found guilty of disloyalty and severely beaten and made to mop up his blood with his own underpants.

One member of the gang, Johnny Bradbury, turned Queen’s Evidence and offered to inform on the gang in exchange for a pardon and immunity. Bradbury went to testify how members of the Richardson gang used a variety of torture methods against anyone they considered a traitor, including pulling teeth out using pliers, using bolt cutters to cut off toes and nailing victims to floors using 6-inch nails.

The so-called “Torture Trial,” began at the Old Bailey at the beginning of April 1967, and the court heard how the gang had made use of an electric generator to torture victims. It was a hand-cranked generator that was originally used for sending out SOS signals from aircraft, that Charlie had taken it from a scrapped WWII bomber they’d cut up at his Camberwell yard in New Church Road.

A Richardson associate Roy Hall operated the generator, and would years later describe how those he tortured. “They can’t take it anymore. No one can. They turn into little kids and ask for ‘Mummy’. It’s something you have to see to know. But they can’t lie to you. Even months later if you go into a pub ‘cos you have to talk to them, they go back into it. They’re broken and it never mends.”

The gang members were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. Eddie Richardson had another 15 years added to his current sentence for affray, while his brother Charlie received 25 years. Frankie Fraser, who was present and participated in the torture, got 10 years, as did Roy Hall.

Frankie Fraser’s Later Life

During his time in prison, Fraser was involved in numerous instances of violence and disobedience against prison officials and other inmates. He frequently participated in riots, and fought against guards and fellow inmates. During the Parkhurst Prison riot in 1969, Fraser was one of the ringleaders, and spent the following six weeks in the prison hospital because of his injuries.

A constant troublemaker in prison, his sentences were almost always extended for attacking governors and warders over perceived injustices which inevitably resulted in floggings, bread and water and the loss of remission. When serving a sentence at Strangeways Prison, Manchester in 1980, Freaser was ‘excused boots’ and allowed to wear slippers, as he claimed to have problems with his feet after another prisoner had poured a bucket of boiling water on them after Fraser had hit him.

Released in 1985, he became something of a celebrity, appearing on many television shows and interviewed about his time and criminal activities with the Richardson Gang. He started giving gangland tours around London, taking people around various criminal locations such as the Blind Beggar where George Cornell was shot by Ronnie Kray.

An elderly Frankie Fraser.

In July 1991, the thn 68-year-old Frankie Fraser was shot in the head at close range in an apparent murder attempt outside the Turnmills Club in Clerkenwell, London. The hit was alleged to have been ordered by the Adams Family, a powerful Clerkenwell crime family. Fraser later stated this was not true, and that he had been targeted by rogue police officers.

The attack left his with permanent injuries after part of his mouth was shot away in the incident. In typical style, Fraser refused to talk with police about the attack stating that, “If you play by the sword you’ve got to expect the sword as well”. After his release, Fraser turned to writing his memoirs in 1994 titled “Mad Frank”.

His wife, by whom he had four sons, died in 1999. Three of his sons had followed in his footsteps into a life of crime, while the other son refused. Fraser referred to his fourth son jokingly as having “let me down.” In the last years of his life, Frankie Fraser was a resident at a sheltered accommodation home in Peckham.

According to Eddie Richardson, Fraser suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the last three years of his life. He hit the headlines again in June 2013, when the 89-year-old Fraser was served with an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) by police after a row with another resident. Throughout his life, Frankie Fraser had spent between 40-42 years behind bars, and even in his dotage, he was still on the wrong side of the law.

On November 21, 2014, he fell critically ill during leg surgery at King’s College Hospital, Denmark Hill, and was placed into an induced coma. On November 26th, Fraser died at the age of 90 after his family made the decision to turn off his life-support machine. His ashes were scattered near the grave of Charlie Richardson at Camberwell New Cemetery.

Written by Nucleus

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