‘Black Widow’ East End gangster Linda Calvey can’t believe the crimes she did
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She was one of the most notorious gangsters in London’s East End – and nicknamed the Black Widow because every man she was involved with ended up dead.
And after Linda Calvey was found guilty of killing her lover Ronnie Cook, she was sent down for 18 years and became the UK’s longest-serving female prisoner.
Now a 72-year-old great-grandmother living a quiet life, Linda, who started off as a getaway driver before taking part in armed robberies, admits looking back on her former existence is “surreal”.
“I look back and think, ‘Was that really me?’” she says.
“It’s surreal. It’s like looking back on the life of somebody else, because I can’t imagine how I did do the things I did.
“These days, I wouldn’t even walk into a shop and pinch a sweet, but I used to rob banks and security vans.
“I was scared about going to prison, but I still did it. We saw getting caught as being part of the job.”
Linda was drawn into crime after her first husband, Mickey Calvey, was shot in the back by a policeman during a botched robbery in 1978.
And she says taking over his role in the gang was easy. “I always got on more with the men than the women,” says Linda.
“After Mickey died, it was a natural progression that I stepped up and took his place, and I was treated with respect.”
In 1985, Linda was sentenced to seven years in prison for armed robbery, serving three and a half.
Then, in December 1990, 18 months after she had left jail, Cook was fatally shot.
The jury found Linda guilty on the basis that she had paid hitman Danny Reece £10,000 to kill Cook, then fired the final shot when he lost his nerve.
But Linda says she was simply a witness to Cook’s murder by Reece, and says serving 18 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit was “very hard”.
She adds: “I didn’t commit that crime. I was the second case in British legal history where a judge referred me straight to the Court of Appeal.
“His recommendation was seven years, but I ended up doing nearly 18 because I wouldn’t say I committed the murder. Being in prison for such a long time, not only did I lose so much, but my children lost so much too. I wasn’t there for big events such as my daughter’s wedding and my grandchildren being born.”
Linda was inside with notorious lag Myra Hindley, who she said “oozed evil”.
“The very first time I came face to face with Myra I walked up to her and gave her a slap,” recalls Linda.
“I got worried about what I’d done, but I was glad I did it. She was a really horrible person.”
Linda was always respected by the other inmates. “My reputation as the Black Widow stood me in good stead,” she says.
“In some weird way I was looked up to, like a mother figure. The women in jail wanted me to be their friend.
“I never experienced bullying personally, and I would step in and stop people doing it to others.”
One of the things that shocked Linda in prison was the number of suicides and incidents of self-harm.
She says: “I once had to look after an inmate who had sliced her cheek off with a dinner plate until the nurse arrived. It was awful.
“Some of the women’s stories were so horrendous. They shouldn’t have done their crimes but they were victims as well.
“I was in the minority of women who hadn’t come from broken homes.”
While in jail, Linda was romanced from afar by gangland boss Reggie Kray, who proposed twice over the phone, and Charles Bronson, who said he didn’t like Linda’s Black Widow nickname and called her “my black rose”.
She also married – and then divorced – Reece while in HMP Durham.
In 2008 Linda left prison, moved to the outskirts of east London and found love again with her third husband, retired businessman George Caeser.
And she “regrets” getting involved in the criminal underworld. She says: “I’ve always really regretted it. I would say to anybody, ‘Don’t go for a life of crime.’
“Rarely does it pay, and there’s a lot of heartache with it.”
Linda published her memoirs in 2019, and has now turned her hand to fiction.
First novel The Locksmith is out this week, and has won rave reviews from crime writing legends such as Martina Cole. The book tells the story of East End crime matriarch Ruby Murphy. But while there are parallels between Ruby and Linda, most of the book is fictional.
Linda was inspired to write after George told her to “tell her stories” as he was dying from cancer in 2015.
“Writing has become a legitimate career and it’s given me a new lease of life,” she says.
“At this point in my life I’ve been able to do something that’s honest, and that my family can be proud of.
“My story shows that it’s never too late to turn your life around.”
●The Locksmith is out on Thursday from Welbeck Publishing, £12.99.
- Charles Bronson
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