Who Was Fred West?
Fred West became one of the most horrific serial killers known to the United Kingdom, with he and future wife Rose responsible for the dismemberment and murder of women and young girls, including two members of their own family. West was awaiting trial for twelve murders when he hung himself on January 1, 1995.
Early Life and Background
Frederick West was born to Walter and Daisy West on September 29, 1941, in Much Marcle, a Herefordshire village in England. Some say he seemed like any other young boy growing up, with his aunt eventually telling the press that he "has always been such a nice boy." One neighbor described him as "a bit cheeky, a bit mouthy, but that was the way these kids were."
One of six children, West was reportedly his mother's favorite child. There have been reports however that cast a dark shadow on the West family. Some have claimed that West was sexually abused by his mother. West himself later told authorities that his father had incestuous relations with young girls, although this was never substantiated.
West didn't do well in school and eventually dropped out to become a farm laborer. When he was 17, a motorcycle accident left him comatose for a week with serious head injuries. A metal plate was placed in his head that may have affected his behavior and impulse control according to some experts.
The young West incurred another head injury, and possibly permanent brain damage, upon falling off a fire escape at a local youth club.
West's subsequent behavior was erratic and he became known to the police for various petty crimes. Then in 1961, he was accused of impregnating a 13-year-old girl who was a friend of the Wests, causing his banishment from the family home. He became a construction worker, but was soon caught stealing from his employers and again having sex with minors. At his trial for the rape of the young family friend, he escaped a jail sentence as it was claimed that he was suffering fits as a result of his head trauma, but he was convicted of child molestation.
He became involved with Rena Costello, a Scottish girl who had a police record for burglary and prostitution. At the time, she was pregnant with another man's child. She and West were married in November 1962 and a child was born in March 1963, whom they called Charmaine. But trouble continued to brew, as West's new job as an ice cream van driver gave him steady access to young teenagers who fell prey to his interests.
In 1964, Rena bore West's child, daughter Anna Marie. It was also at this time that they met Anna McFall (with some sources listing her first name as Anne). McFall was a friend with whom they moved to Gloucester, where West found a job in a slaughterhouse. According to some researchers, this profession may have catalyzed his morbid obsession with death, mutilation and dismemberment.
While living in Gloucester, there were eight reported incidents of assault where the perpetrator's description fit West, but he was not immediately linked to these crimes. The West marriage became increasingly unstable and Rena returned to Scotland, leaving her children with West and McFall, but she returned some months later to find them living together in a caravan.
Early in 1967, McFall became pregnant with West's child, urging him to divorce Rena and marry her instead. West, unwilling to do so, killed the pregnant McFall that July and buried her near the caravan park, cutting off her fingers and toes, a signature mutilation that was to become a common feature in his future crimes. Rena moved into the caravan following McFall's disappearance.
Within six months of McFall's death, West was linked to another disappearance, that of 15-year-old Mary Bastholm, who was abducted from a bus stop in Gloucester in January 1968, although only circumstantial evidence has ever been produced to corroborate this. Then in November 1968 he became acquainted with Rose Letts, who was to become his next wife and life-long accomplice.
Rosemary "Rose" Letts was born in Devon on November 29, 1953, the result of a difficult pregnancy, with both of her parents suffering from mental illness. Electro-convulsive therapy, administered to her pregnant mother for deep depression, may have caused prenatal injury that contributed to Rose's poor school performance and bouts of aggression growing up. She also had a weight problem in adolescence and developed an interest in older men.
The marriage of Rose's parents was a turbulent one. Her father was a paranoid schizophrenic prone to violent behavior, serving as a terrifying, dictatorial presence. Her mother, Daisy, moved out of the family home, taking Rose with her. Rose, however, decided to move back in with her father again around the same time that she became intimate with West during her teens.
Her father objected strongly to their relationship, resorting to contacting social services and threatening West directly, but to no avail; Rose was soon pregnant with West's child and found herself looking after his two children by Rena Costello when West was sent to prison on various petty theft and fine evasion charges. Rose gave birth to daughter Heather in 1970.
It's thought that the pressure of caring for three children while still a child herself was a trigger for Rose's violent, erratic tendencies, and it's believed that she murdered 8-year-old Charmaine, West's eldest child, in 1971, during one of these outbursts.
Whatever the true circumstances, Charmaine suddenly disappeared. As West was in jail at the time, it is likely that her body was hidden by Rose until West's release. He was then thought to have moved the body, again removing the fingers and toes, as with his first victim, before burying her. This knowledge of Rose's murderous act undoubtedly gave West a significant hold over the young woman.
When West's first wife, Rena, came in search of her daughter, she was strangled, dismembered and also had her fingers and toes removed. She was buried in the same general area as West's first victim, Anna McFall.
Fred and Rose West were secretly married in Gloucester in January 1972, and their second daughter, Mae, was born in June of the same year. With a growing family, they moved to 25 Cromwell Street, which was large enough to enable them to take in lodgers to assist with the rent.
By this time, Rose earned extra money as a prostitute and West committed acts of bondage and violent sex acts on underage girls. He fitted out the cellar at No. 25 as a torture chamber, and his daughter, Anna Marie, became one of its first occupants, subjected to a horrifically brutal rape by her father while her stepmother held her down. This became a regular occurrence, and the child was threatened with beatings if she told anyone of her ordeal.
Their behavior extended beyond the family circle when, in late 1972, they engaged 17-year-old Caroline Owens as a nanny. She was incarcerated, stripped and raped. Despite threats that she would be killed and buried in the cellar, Owens was able to make an escape and reported the Wests to the police. Charges were brought against them. Incredibly, despite his existing criminal record, West was able to convince a 1973 court magistrate that Owens had consented to the activities. Owens was too deeply traumatized over what she had survived to give testimony. The Wests both escaped with fines. Rose was pregnant at the time with their first son, Stephen, who was born in August.
Over the next several years, Lynda Gough, Lucy Partington, Juanita Mott, Therese Siegenthaler, Alison Chambers, Shirley Robinson and 15-year-old schoolgirls Carol Ann Cooper and Shirley Hubbard all became victims of the Wests. After brutal sexual attacks, all were murdered, dismembered and buried in the cellar under 25 Cromwell Street.
Rose had several more children, and daughter Louise was born in 1978. (Not all Rose's children were believed to be fathered by West.) Barry joined the brood in 1980, with Rosemary Junior following in 1982 and Lucyanna in 1983. The children were aware to some extent of the activities in the house, but West and Rose exercised strict control over them.
West's sexual interest in his own daughters didn't wane either, and when Anna Marie moved out to live with her boyfriend, he switched his attentions to younger siblings, Heather and Mae. Heather resisted his attentions and, in 1987, told a friend about the goings on in the house. The Wests responded by murdering and dismembering her, and burying her in the back garden of No. 25, where son Stephen was forced to assist with digging the hole.
Given that the Wests' vicious sex acts did not result in murder every time, and the sheer number of attacks, it was inevitable that someone would expose their activities. Detective Constable Hazel Savage led a search at Cromwell Street in August 1992 that found pornography and clear evidence of child abuse. West was arrested for rape and sodomy of a minor, and Rose for assisting in the rape of a minor.
Arrest and Search
In the course of the investigation, Savage uncovered the abuse of Anna Marie as well as the disappearances of Charmaine and Heather, warranting further investigation. Rumors also arose about what might be buried under the patio. The younger West children were taken into care, and Rose attempted suicide at this time, although she was found by her son, Stephen, and revived.
The case against the Wests collapsed when two key witnesses decided not to testify against them. Savage continued to pursue her search for Heather, questioning the West children repeatedly, but they had been well trained by their parents and failed to cooperate.
In February 1994, a warrant was obtained to search the Cromwell Street house and garden. Police found the remains of two dismembered and decapitated young women, one of whom authorities suspected might be Shirley Robinson. West claimed sole responsibility for the murders and, when Rose heard of the confession, she denied all knowledge of Heather's death.
Then, inexplicably, West admitted the presence of the bodies in the cellar to the police, who discovered the remains of nine individuals. Establishing the identities of each victim was a mammoth task.
Continuing to cooperate, West revealed the whereabouts of the remains of first wife Rena, lover Anna McFall and daughter Charmaine, who were all buried away from the Cromwell Street house.
As the case against them developed, Rose tried increasingly to distance herself from West, claiming that she was also a victim, but police were not convinced of her innocence given the sheer number of murders which had occurred and her participation in the rapes.
Suicide and Trial
On December 13, 1994, West was charged on 12 counts of murder and taken into custody at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham, where, on January 1, 1995, he hung himself in his cell with knotted bed sheets.
Rose West went to trial on October 3, 1995, in the glare of media frenzy. Witnesses, including stepdaughter Anna Marie, testified to her participation in sexual assaults on young women. Her defense counsel tried to argue that evidence of assault was not evidence of murder but, when Rose testified on her own behalf, her violent nature and dishonesty became clear to the jury, and they unanimously found her guilty on 10 separate counts of murder on November 22, 1995. She received a life sentence, having to serve a minimum of 25 years in jail.
Rose West's sentence was later extended to a "whole life order" sentence by the home secretary, effectively removing any possibility of parole.
There remains a widespread belief that Fred and Rose West's victims numbered far more than the 12 with which they were charged.
Rose West refused to accept her fate and launched appeals in 1996 and 2000, claiming variously that new evidence clearing her had come to light, and then that huge media interest had prevented her from receiving a fair trial. The 1996 appeal was rejected, and she dropped the later one. She remains incarcerated.
The Wests' home at 25 Cromwell Street, or the "House of Horrors," as it was dubbed by the media, was razed to the ground in October 1996. In its place is a pathway that leads to the town center.
Rose was again the focus of media attention in January 2003, when it was claimed that she was to marry Dave Glover, the bass player of rock group Slade, following a courtship via letters. Glover disputed that there was an engagement and said the media attention over his letters to Rose had cost him his position with the band.
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