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A.K.A.: "The Black Widow"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Murder for hire
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 19, 1990
Date of birth: April 8, 1948
Victim profile: Ronald Cook (her lover)
Method of murder: Shooting (shotgun)
Location: East London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on November 12, 1991. Released in 2008
photo gallery

Linda Calvey is a female murderer and armed robber jailed for killing her lover Ronnie Cook in 1990. She was known as the "Black Widow" because all of her lovers ended up either dead or in prison.

Calvey began her criminal career as a lookout, later becoming a getaway driver and eventually wielding guns herself during robberies.

Murder of Cook

She paid a hitman Daniel Reece £10,000 to kill Cook. However he lost his nerve at the last minute and Calvey picked up the gun herself shooting the victim at point blank range whilst he kneeled in front of her.

At the time of her release Calvey was Britain's longest serving female prisoner. She spent 18 and a half years in prison for the murder of Cook and had also previously served three and a half years for an earlier robbery.

In 2002 a book by Kate Kray detailing Calvey's life and crimes was published.


Regina v. Linda Calvey

1. On 12 November 1991 at the Central Criminal Court, after a trial before Mr Justice Hidden and a jury, Linda Calvey and Daniel Reece were convicted of murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment.  They were subsequently notified by the Home Secretary that the minimum period which should be served by each before their release on licence was 15 years.  Linda Calvey has now applied under paragraph 3 of schedule 22 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for the court to determine her minimum term.  These are the reasons for my decision on that application.

2. The circumstances of the offence, as set out in the trial judge’s report to the Home Secretary, were as follows.

  "A contract killing by shotgun in East London of a prisoner then serving a long sentence in Maidstone Prison, but unofficially ‘out’ for the day.  The killer was Reece, also a serving prisoner, but out of prison on weekend leave.  Linda Calvey was the deceased’s long term lover and also a friend (platonic) of Reece.  She had picked Reece up from prison at Portland on a Friday, and picked the deceased up from Maidstone Prison on the Monday morning.  She took him back to her house in London E.16, where, a minute after arrival, he was shot dead by Reece, who then made off ….
  Linda Calvey was clearly from the evidence a woman who had lived with and around armed robbers for most of her adult life, and had served a sentence for robbery herself.  She regularly visited her lover, the deceased, in prison:  he was approaching the end of his sentence and was shortly due for release.  The prosecution case was that she had arranged for another prisoner friend, Reece, to kill her lover.
  Daniel Reece was serving a very long sentence for a number of serious offences (13½ years).  The facts behind the conviction showed that he was a dangerous man ….  The killing was a totally cold-blooded affair …."

3. Although the judge described it as a contract killing, the Lord Chief Justice subsequently commented that it was not clear why Calvey wished the victim to be killed or what the inducement was for Reece to kill him.  That remains unclear, despite a very helpful summary of the case which has been produced by Calvey’s solicitors as part of their submissions on her behalf (see below).

4. The issues at trial included the identity of the killer, joint enterprise and intention.  The jury must have decided all those issues against both defendants.  Calvey continues to claim her innocence but accepts that the court must proceed on the basis of the jury’s verdict. 

5. In determining the minimum period to be served by the applicant, I have directed myself by reference to the provisions of schedule 22 to the 2003 Act, in particular paragraphs 2-4.  In assessing the seriousness of the offence I am required to have regard to the general principles set out in schedule 21 and to the recommendations made to the Secretary of State by the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice as to the minimum term to be served. 

6. I have taken into account the Home Office’s file, including the report of the trial judge and previous representations made on the applicant’s behalf.  I have also considered the detailed submissions made on the applicant’s behalf in her solicitor’s letters dated 19 April 2004 and 10 November 2004, together with the enclosures to those letters.  In addition I have considered the applicant’s own letter dated 17 November 2004.  There has been no request for an oral hearing in this matter (see R (Hammond) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] EWHC 2753 (Admin)) and in my judgment there is nothing in the circumstances of the case to justify a hearing. 

7. The trial judge recommended a minimum period of 7-8 years.  The Lord Chief Justice commented on the lack of clarity about the applicant’s motivation and Reece’s inducement, but continued:

  “If this was simply a cold blooded killing for money or money’s worth, as appears likely, then I would suggest that 15 years would be a proper minimum in each case.  There is, however, a shortage of detail, and my assessment is accordingly provisional.”

8. The Secretary of State notified a tariff of 15 years in line with that provisional recommendation.

9. The contrast between the recommendation of the trial judge (who, it is said, had heard all the evidence at trial and was best placed to make an assessment) and the tariff of 15 years notified by the Secretary of State lies at the heart of the submission on the applicant’s behalf. 

10. In terms of schedule 21, this offence is one to which the 30 year starting point (paragraph 5 of the schedule) would apply, since it was a murder involving the use of a firearm.  The fact that it was a contract killing would be a further reason for adopting that starting point, even though the nature of the inducement is not known.  The applicant’s criminal record, which included a 5 year custodial sentence for a robbery offence, was an aggravating factor but would not justify any increase over the 30 year starting point.

11. The trial judge evidently considered that the applicant’s culpability was much lower than that of Reece, even though she had only limited personal mitigation.  Making all due allowance for that view, however, it seems to me that the general principles in schedule 21 would lead to a minimum term substantially in excess of 15 years.  This is very different from the recommendation of the trial judge, and even in excess of the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice, but it seems to me to be the inevitable result of applying the approach that the court is required to apply in its review of minimum terms under schedule 22.

12. However, paragraph 3(1)(a) of schedule 22 requires that the minimum term specified by me must not be greater than the minimum term notified by the Secretary of State.  It follows that I must come down to the notified minimum term of 15 years.

13. One further consideration is the time that the applicant spent in custody on remand prior to sentence.  I am required to take that into account by virtue of paragraph 4(1)(b) of schedule 22.  In my view there is no reason why it should not count towards the minimum period to be served.  In order to produce that result, it is necessary to deduct it from the otherwise appropriate minimum term.

14. Accordingly, the specified period is one of 15 years less the 11 months 5 days spent in custody on remand.


Would you marry the black widow? Ex-gangster Linda Calvey finds a new fiance

By Jenny Johnston -

December 18, 2008

She's a notorious gangster's moll and every man who's fallen for her has ended up dead or in jail. Now she's finished a 28-year stretch for murder - and found a rich fiance. Has he got more money than sense?

Potentially lethal things, cars. Linda Calvey had a close call with an exploding spark plug the other day. It left her a little shaken.

‘Afterwards, the guy in the garage told me that I was very lucky the engine did not go up, because I’d have been a gonner,’ she explains, breezy as you like.

‘I was telling my friend and she said: “Oh goodness, Linda. It could have been even worse. What if George had been driving and he’d been blown to pieces? You’d have been back inside in no time.” She was right, too. I can see the headlines now: The Black Widow Strikes Again.’

For some reason she seems to find this funny. Even more curiously, George, the man she will marry next year, is rocking with laughter too, tears collecting in his eyes.

Why the hilarity? Surely no sane person — or, at the very least, no lawabiding person — would regard it as funny to be so closely associated with Linda Calvey, behind the wheel or not.

Linda is the stuff of legends

For Linda is the stuff of legends — East End gangster legends, mostly.

In notoriety terms, she is up there with the Krays (indeed, Reggie Kray once proposed to her, which kind of says it all). So did ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser. In glamour terms, she is in a league of her own.

For most of her adult life she has gone by the name of the Black Widow, dubbed so ever since one police officer with whom she’d had dealings pondered the fact that ‘every man she has ever been involved with is either in prison or dead’.

When Myra Hindley died a few years back, Linda — her prison hairdresser, oddly enough — assumed the title of the longest-serving female prisoner in the country.

That 18-year stint was for blasting a former lover to death with a shotgun. Another lover was her co-defendant in the case, and was sent down, too.

They later married behind bars, although — as is so often the way with Linda — it didn’t last.

Her first husband Micky (the one who taught her to be a career criminal — armed robbery to be precise) met a violent end, too, although this was at the hands of the police, who confronted him mid hold-up. That is quite some history to be trailing up the aisle with poor George, who seems like ever such a nice man.

George's past is squeaky clean

They will marry in the spring with seven — count them! — bridesmaids in tow. Isn’t that a tad excessive for a 60-year-old grandmother getting hitched for the third time? Perhaps.

But then nothing about Linda Calvey was ever understated.

Four months ago, she was released from prison and into the arms of her new love, whom she met while she was on day release.

George Ceasar is a businessman and a part-time ski instructor, and ‘the farthest thing in the world from a gangster’, according to his future wife, who seems almost surprised by this. He drives a red Rolls-Royce (‘bought rather than nicked,’ she grins). His past is squeaky clean, literally. He used to run a successful bleach factory.

‘We were the first people to put bleach in bottles,’ he tells me, proudly.

He should really be the sort of man who would run a mile from Linda Calvey and the criminal underworld she epitomises.

So why, then, is he gazing adoringly at her and bemoaning the peculiarities of the British parole system, in the way that most men of his background would tut-tut at how you can never find a Post Office when you need one.

'Can't you poison someone in daylight hours?'

George simply cannot believe that his bride-to-be is still subject to ‘barmy’ parole conditions, which mean she cannot spend the night at his — or their, as it is now — home.

‘They have this mad idea that I am in some danger because of her,’ he says, appalled.

‘The prison officers took me aside when I went to visit her, saying: “Be careful.”

‘They implied she might try to kill me, which is nonsense. Even if it were true, do the authorities really think that they are protecting me by allowing her to be here with me only during the day. Can’t you poison someone in daylight hours?

‘It’s just ludicrous, from all angles. Does she seem dangerous to you?’

Erm, well, no. But then, didn’t Harold Shipman’s patients think he was a darling? I pitch up at George’s sprawling 13-room period house in the Kent countryside, hoping to talk to Britain’s most notorious female gangster, and am taken aback by what I find.

Her demeanour — warm, sparky, surprisingly vulnerable, endlessly entertaining — sets the tone for what will be a truly surreal interview.

‘It is the first time I’ve had a Christmas tree in 18 years. Every year I had Christmas inside, all I could think of was: “I want my own tree.” George wanted to get an artificial one. I said: “No, George — it has to be real. That’s what I’ve dreamed of.” He said: “Well, whatever you want, my dear, you will have.”’

George was smitten from the start

While I try to get the interview under way — remember that the subject matter is murder, armed robbery and organised crime — they bicker about who will make the tea and whether they are going to see Barry Manilow that evening. She wants to go, but he doesn’t.

I feel as though I have stepped into a rather uneasy cross between a Guy Ritchie film and an Ealing comedy. So, how clever is the woman who has been billed as Britain’s most notorious female gangster? On this evidence, extremely. The other inmates called her Ma in prison, and you can see why.

She is attractive. A little brassy, yes — the lead character in Lynda La Plante’s Widows was apparently based on her — but not overly so. She is tactile, engaging and endearing.

George was smitten from the very start. They met in a Medway town when she was on day release from prison two years ago.

‘I was in a restaurant and it was very busy, so she and her friend shared the table with me. We got chatting, and I thought to myself: “Well, this is a lovely lady here”,’ says George.

‘She said she was on a day out. I said: “Oh, an outing?”

‘She said: “No, a day out from prison.”

‘I said: “Blimey. What did you do? It obviously wasn’t something that bad if you’re in an open prison.”

‘She said: “The thing I went down for was bad, but the point is I didn’t do it. I am innocent.”’

'She said she didn't do it, and I believe her'

George — in his mid-Seventies — has had troubles of his own. He tells me that he, too, has been married twice and that his second wife ‘robbed him blind’.

‘You don’t have to be murdered by a woman to be done over by her,’ he says at one point. He has grown-up children who he never sees. It sounds as though he was lonely when this captivating creature came into his life. Despite the horrific charge list, he brushes over the gangster stuff — even the bits Linda has admitted to.

‘Yes, she was a naughty girl, but haven’t you done anything wrong?’ he asks disingenuously.

He also claims she is the kindest person he has ever met. They decide between themselves that she’s a much nicer person than he is on the grounds that she once gave a cold stranger her own gloves, while such a thing would never occur to George.

It almost seems churlish to bring up more bloody matters and he sighs when I do so.

‘We’ve talked about it all,’ says George. ‘She’s told me what she did do and what she didn’t do. Yes, she did make mistakes, but she told me that on the big one — killing Ron — she didn’t do it, and I believe her. She was stitched up.

‘She has been completely honest with me. After we’d been out on our first date, I sat her down in the living room and said: “I want the truth. I don’t care whether you did it or not, but I want to know the truth.” She swore she didn’t, and I believe her.’

Linda has always maintained that she did not kill Ronald Cook. She points out that had she professed some guilt she would have been out of jail years ago.

‘They kept me in because I refused to say I did it. But I’ve always held my hands up to what I’ve done. Armed robbery, yes. I’ve done terrible things, things so bad I can hardly believe it myself. But I did not kill Ron, and I will go to my grave saying it.’

'Men close to me end up dead or in prison... it's not my fault'

However, in November 1991, a jury decided that she did, and the evidence presented in court was as chilling as Linda’s current set-up is cosy.

Ron had been her lover for several years, but when he went to prison, she turned to several of his friends — also gangsters — for comfort.

Things got complicated, in the sexual and financial sense.

The court heard that, on Ron’s release, Linda was terrified that he would discover she had been unfaithful and had spent the heist money he had stashed away. She allegedly asked another lover, Daniel Reece, to kill him.

An agreement was put in place. Linda collected Ron from prison and drove him to the home they shared. Reece was waiting, but lost his nerve at the crucial moment, leaving Linda to take the shotgun off him and finish the task herself.

Surreally enough, we find ourselves in George’s kitchen when this horrific chapter is broached.

Both are standing as Linda tells her version, effectively re-enacting aspects of that day as she describes how she cowered in a corner as a gunman — the real killer, she says — fired at pointblank range.

The pair of them talk, quite matter-of-factly, about it as Linda puts the kettle on, saying that the Black Widow tag is quite unfair.

‘OK, men close to me came a cropper, but that’s because I associated with gangsters. They end up dead or in prison. That’s life. It’s not my fault.’

'I liked the lifestyle'

What she fails to do, however, is convey any real sense of remorse — even for the fact that a man she professed to love died in such a manner. Cold-blooded? Barking mad? Or has she just been removed from law-abiding society for so long that she finds such complete moral detachment easy?

What’s interesting is that the only man she talks about with genuine affection is her first husband, Micky — shot dead by armed officers in a botched robbery.

‘I was from a respectable family, no hint of trouble there,’ she says of their meeting.

‘Micky was trouble, but oh so charming with it. Even my mother said: “I can see why you have fallen for him.” He worshipped me, my Micky. He gave me the world. I didn’t know — honest I didn’t — that most of it was nicked.’

Micky robbed at gunpoint. His team’s jobs were mostly planned in their kitchen, with her making tea and sandwiches, listening in. Learning. She maintains that she got involved in the hard stuff only when Micky died.

‘I kind of just slid in. I started doing some of the driving, then getting more involved. I had children to feed. I liked the lifestyle. Yes. I wasn’t evil, though. I wasn’t.’

She even insists, after a moment’s hesitation, that the guns she carried weren’t even loaded.

Tougher than the rest

She clearly hates the police and blames The Establishment, whatever that is, for the death of Micky. But she isn’t nearly as bitter as you might expect about her time in prison.

Again she talks dispassionately about how she survived: it seems to have boiled down to being tougher than all the rest, but never appearing to be tough. Black humour stalks every sentence.

‘When I went to Durham, I said I wouldn’t talk to anyone who had killed a child. The wardens said: “Well, you’ll not be talking to many people here then. They are all murderers.” ’

She struck up a bizarre relationship with Myra Hindley. She says they weren’t friends, but they were close enough that Linda dyed Hindley’s hair regularly. She clearly doesn’t put herself in the same criminal, morally deficient class, though.

‘Myra never regretted what she had done. I was often shocked by her. I remember when I was working in the prison library she came in and asked to order a book, but she wanted me to put it in the name of another girl, who never came into the library. I asked what book. It was The Devil And His Works. She got it, too.

George looks on — fascinated rather than horrified — as she chats away about somehow finding herself in the same prison wing as one of the most notorious female killers of our time.

'I missed seeing my grandchildren grow up'

Is there remorse on her part? Yes, undoubtedly so — although mostly for herself and her loved ones.

‘I did not kill Ron and should not have done that sentence, but I know full well that it was my lifestyle that put me in prison for that murder, and that is a terrible thing to live with.

‘All my grandchildren were born when I was inside. I haven’t seen any of them grow up, and they never had a granny.

‘One day, one of them had to write in school about what they did at the weekend. My granddaughter wrote: “We went to see Granny and I got tickled by the policeman and then we went swimming.” She meant she’d been frisked coming to the prison to see me. That floors you, you know.’

'Mate, she saw you coming'

She seems close to tears. George pats her arm and talks about how they could put another Christmas tree in the hallway, if she wants.

I wonder if her realizes that most people will look at him and conclude that George, with his red Rolls-Royce, his big empty house and his ability to see the best in people and conclude: ‘Mate, she saw you coming.’

Have they considered a prenuptial agreement?

‘I’ve said I would sign one,’ Linda says sharply, but George shakes his head in distaste.

‘You can’t go into a marriage thinking like that. You have to trust people. Life’s a gamble, but if you lose trust, what have you got? So, she might kill me. Well, hell, I’ll
take the chance.’

Next spring — “If I last that long,” quips George — those wedding bells will ring. Linda is already thinking about flowers and cakes.

As I leave, she skips off to fetch me some of the cake decorations she learned to make in prison.

They are truly remarkable: tiny flowers, berries and leaves, made out of icing, but impossible to tell from the real thing, even up close.

The woman has a rare, impressive — and deeply disturbing — talent for leaving you wondering what is real and what is fake.

Let’s just hope, for George’s sake, that he can tell the difference.


Black Widow in freedom bid

October 7, 2003

A woman known as the Black Widow who was jailed for life for shooting dead her lover at point-blank range launched a new High Court bid for freedom today.

Lawyers for Linda Calvey asked a judge for permission to challenge Home Secretary David Blunkett's failure to refer her case to the Parole Board.

Her counsel Alan Newman QC accused Mr Blunkett of acting unlawfully and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Calvey, 53, who was in court to hear her case argued, has served 12 years of her life sentence and is currently held at Highpoint Prison, Suffolk.

She was convicted in November 1991 of the murder of Ronald Cook.

At her Old Bailey trial the jury was told that Calvey originally hired a hit man, Daniel Reece, for £10,000 to carry out the murder in November 1990.

But he had lost his nerve at the last minute, and she forced Cook to kneel in front of her before carrying out the killing.

Both Calvey and Reece, who was also jailed for life, denied murdering Cook at Calvey's home in Plaistow, east London, in November 1990.

The trial jury was told Calvey was nicknamed the Black Widow because of her habit of dressing in black after her husband Mickey was shot dead by police in 1978 as he was carrying out an armed robbery.

Today Mr Newman told the court that the trial judge set the minimum period she must serve for retribution and deterrence at seven years - but the then Home Secretary more than doubled the tariff to 15 years in 1993. The tariff was reviewed and reset in 1998.

In November last year, the House of Lords ruled in the case of Anderson that it was incompatible with human rights laws for the Home Secretary to set tariffs for mandatory lifers.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights required minimum periods in custody to be set by "an independent and impartial tribunal".

Following that ruling Ms Calvey asked the Home Office to refer her case to the Parole Board as a matter of urgency, but her request was turned down.

Mr Newman told Mr Justice Jackson, sitting in London, that the Home Secretary's failure to do so was unreasonable and breached Article 5 of the convention, which guaranteed a prisoner's right to have their case reassessed if the basis for his or her detention changed.

He said it was "irrelevant" that the Lord Chief Justice had also concluded that the tariff should be 15 years.

Mr Blunkett had taken the view that Ms Calvey would have to wait until she could take advantage of new legislation passing through Parliament dealing with the position of lifers' tariffs.

But by then she would probably have served the full 15-year tariff, and this would amount to a "cruel punishment" contrary to the 1688 Bill of Rights, said Mr Newman.

He told the judge that the case could affect many other murderers serving life sentences.

Seeking leave to apply for judicial review, he said: "The present application raises important and difficult points of law. Whatever may be the eventual outcome, even if at the end of the day the Secretary of State's view prevails, this case clearly should be allowed to proceed to a full hearing."



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