Why I was dubbed the Black Widow
Serving prison time with true monsters, I finally vowed to change my ways Linda Calvey, 71, Chigwell
I wielded guns to threaten people in robberies
As the prison guard slammed the door shut with a bang, I shuddered.
‘This is it, now,’ I gulped, looking around my dark, dingy cell in Holloway prison.
With just the clothes I stood up in, a bed, small mirror and basin, this was going to be my new life.
A far cry from the exotic holidays, upmarket restaurants, fancy clothes and expensive jewellery that I’d taken for granted for the past 20 years.
After marrying my first husband Mickey Calvey in October 1970, I hadn’t wanted for anything.
He’d come home from work with beautiful gifts for me – a gold necklace, fancy furniture, a bone-china tea set…
Well, he’d call it work, but I knew full well his job wasn’t in
an office or a factory. He was a gangster in London’s tough East End. Mickey and his gang carried out armed raids on post offices, furniture stores, banks and shops.
And I lived a pampered life off the proceeds.
A beautiful home, holidays, a wardrobe full of designer clothes, and my fingers covered with diamond rings.
Young, swept away with the glamour of it all, I turned a blind eye. Told myself that they were victimless crimes.
Besides, all those places were covered by insurance.
They’d get the money back, wouldn’t they?
Anyway, organised crime had always seemed normal to me.
I’d grown up in the East End, mingling with the likes of the Kray twins and Freddie Foreman.
Reggie Kray and ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser had both even proposed to me at one point, before I’d met Mickey.
Only, in December 1978, things came to a head.
Mickey was shot dead by the police during a bungled supermarket raid.
My whole life crumbled. Left alone to raise our young kids – Melanie, then 8, and Neil, then 4 – I turned to crime myself.
I started out as a lookout, then a getaway driver – before wielding guns to threaten people during robberies.
It was around then that I dated gangster Ronnie Cook, but things turned sour.
Only, years later, in 1990, my ex Ronnie was found shot dead. The cops reckoned I’d done it.
They held a gun to my head as they arrested me.
‘Don’t shoot!’ I’d begged, hands trembling.
It shook me to the core.
Is that how scared those people had felt during my armed robberies?
I felt ashamed.
Police accused me of paying my boyfriend Daniel Reece £10,000 to kill Ronnie.
They said that Daniel had lost his nerve at the last minute and that I’d picked up the gun and then shot
Ronnie to death myself.
At my trial in November 1991, I’d denied it all – but the jury hadn’t believed me.
So here I was, aged 43, in Holloway Prison, in December 1991 – about to serve 18 years for murder.
Daniel had also been jailed for murder.
As the days, weeks and months went on, I struggled to adjust to my life behind bars.
I hated the bland prison food, the scruffy tracksuits we had as uniforms.
The only chance of fresh air was one hour a day in the prison yard.
I lived for weekly visits from my kids, who were being looked after by relatives.
Although I always put on a brave face, I was consumed with guilt.
They’d lost their dad, now they’d lost me, too.
‘I miss you,’ Neil, then 17, told me.
‘I’m sorry,’ I’d say, holding back the tears.
Despite both being in prison, me and Daniel decided to marry in December 1999, in the church in Durham prison.
By then, cops had dubbed me the Black Widow – because my men ended up either dead or in jail...
In prison, there was plenty of time to think.
I knew I only had myself to blame for all this.
Crime had robbed me of my freedom and my family.
I’d been naive and selfish. Had hurt so many people. Not just strangers, but the people I loved most.
‘I’ll never be involved in crime again,’ I vowed.
As the years went on, I ended up meeting some infamous inmates as I was transferred between different prisons.
Myra Hindley worked in the laundry room, and she used to come into the library, where I was working.
Rose West was in the same prison for a while, too. We didn’t speak.
While I knew what I’d done was bad, the crimes those monsters had committed were truly unforgivable.
Finally, on the day of Melanie’s birthday, in August 2008, aged 60, I was released.
But with no state pension and barely a penny of my own, I had to stay in a hostel until I found my feet.
It was tough, but I was determined to rebuild my life.
I’d met businessman George Ceasar in a pub on day-release the year before I got out, and we married in 2009.
‘You’re not into crime are you?’ I asked him.
‘I run a bleach factory,’ he laughed.
What a relief!
He knew about my past but accepted that I’d changed my criminal ways.
We lived together happily in the Essex countryside.
After he sadly died from cancer, aged 84, my old nickname, the Black Widow predictably resurfaced.
It’s true that I always outlive my men – but I guess that happens when you live your life in the criminal underworld.
These days I tend to spend my time writing, looking after the grandkids and looking after my garden.
I can’t change my past, but I’m not proud of it.
So I’m telling my story – as proof that crime never pays.
I grew up in the East End with the Krays
With my kids Neil and Melanie
Today: I’m not proud of my criminal past
My third hubby George, an ordinary businessman
The Black Widow by Linda Calvey (£18.99, Mirror Books) is on sale now.