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15 June 2006
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Case Closed: Infamous Criminals

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Fred and Rose West

It came out of the blue.

24 February 1994 was a nondescript Thursday afternoon. In the newsroom of the local evening newspaper, the Gloucester Citizen, reporters were sitting around trying to come up with story ideas.

Someone from the paper's circulation department came up to the newsroom to pass on a tit-bit of information.

One of the newspaper boys had reported seeing policemen digging up the back garden of a house in a side street not far from the city centre. The journalists swung into action.

Fred and Rose West

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They discovered that the house in question was number 25 Cromwell Street and looking it up in the electoral register they found the householders recorded as Frederick and Rosemary West.

The names meant nothing.

But someone looked the names up in the paper's conscientiously well-kept cuttings library. In a small brown envelope a reporter found a single cutting from a copy of the Citizen dated the previous summer.

It referred to the delight of a Gloucester couple, Frederick and Rosemary West, who had been cleared of sexually assaulting a young girl after the key witness declined to give evidence. Alarm bells rang in the Citizen newsroom.

Asked why they were digging up the Wests' garden, Gloucestershire Police would only say they were investigating the disappearance of their 16-year-old daughter. A Citizen reporter dashed to the city's register office and found a birth certificate belonging to a Heather West, born in 1971.

Bingo.

Gloucestershire Police confirmed the name but at the time nobody realised the dig would trigger one of the biggest police inquiries Britain had ever seen. Heather had disappeared in May 1987, shortly after leaving school, but had not been reported missing by her parents. They claimed she had left home to go and work at a holiday camp in Devon. But an in-joke began to develop among the West children. They would mutter about Heather being "buried under the patio" at 25 Cromwell Street.

In the summer of 1993, when the allegations of sexual impropriety were made against the Wests, their six youngest children were taken into council care.

Under the patio?

Reports of Heather being "under the patio" reached the ears of Detective Constable Hazel Savage, a veteran Gloucester police officer who had dealings with Fred West going back to the late 1960s. She decided to follow it up.

Det Con Savage discovered that Heather's national insurance number had never been used, indicating that she had never worked or claimed benefit since her disappearance. She had simply vanished into thin air.

Other inquiries strengthened Det Con Savage's belief that foul play was involved and in February 1994 she finally persuaded her superiors to obtain a search warrant and dig up the Wests' back garden.


The Wests' eldest son, 20-year-old Stephen, was at home (it was his day off) when the police knocked on the door with the search warrant.

25 Cromwell Street

In his book, Stephen West (who had been convinced by his father that his older sister was living in the Midlands) recalls: "I told one of the detectives that they were going to end up making fools of themselves and he just replied 'That's up to us'. "I wanted to know the reasons why they thought Heather was buried there but they wouldn't tell me." Stephen and his mother tried frantically to contact his father, who was working on a building about 20 minutes' drive from Gloucester.

They finally got hold of him at 1.50pm and he said he was on his way home, but he did not arrive until 5.40pm.

It has never been explained what Fred West did during those four hours. He himself claimed he pulled over and passed out and blamed fumes from the painting he had been doing.

But several authors and criminologists have speculated that he may have spent the time disposing of incriminating evidence, including grisly souvenirs from the bodies of his victims, or even visiting an as-yet-undiscovered burial ground somewhere in south Gloucestershire.

We will never know.

A pact?

As police officers toiled in their back garden Fred and Rose West stayed up most of that night discussing what to do.

Geoffrey Wansell, whose book An Evil Love was written after he obtained exclusive access to 150 hours of Fred West's tapes and other documents, believes they cooked up a "pact". He says: "Frederick West would have told her that he would 'sort it out' with the police the following day, and that she 'had nothing to worry about' as he 'would take all the blame'."

Mr Wansell says of the pact: "Though he would renege on it during his bleakest hours in prison, it was to bind him to her for the rest of his life."

On 25 February Fred West was taken into Gloucester police station for questioning. He immediately admitted having killed Heather but told Det Con Savage: "The thing I'd like to stress is that Rose knew nothing at all."

Later that day the police diggers made a discovery which would catapult the inquiry from one of purely local interest, to one which would ultimately draw reporters and film crews from all over the world...

They unearthed human remains in the garden but Professor Bernard Knight, the eminent pathologist who had been called on to assist the police, pointed out there was a third leg bone. It was clear there was more than one body buried in the garden of 25 Cromwell Street.

Fred West

Fred West began a damage limitation exercise.

He agreed to go back to the garden and point out exactly where he had buried the two other girls, Shirley Robinson and Alison Chambers, who had vanished in the late 1970s. But he kept quiet about the six other bodies buried beneath the cellar and bathroom of 25 Cromwell Street.

It seems that his main motive for this silence, was not that he feared becoming tagged a serial killer, but the idea that his beloved house would be torn apart by the police. The key to unlocking the true horror of that house was a middle-aged Gloucestershire housewife who found herself pushed into the centre of a worldwide media circus.

Janet Leach was a volunteer "appropriate adult" whose job it was to befriend and assist people, usually juveniles, who were taken into police custody. But she soon found herself becoming a confidante to a serial killer. Mrs Leach said the police had not been able to get West to admit there were other bodies but she was able to get him to reveal the truth.

"Are there any more bodies?" she asked.

West admitted there were and he went on to sketch a map of the cellar and bathroom, showing six more bodies.

But he was unable to identify many of his victims.

Unknown victims

One he described as "Scar Hand", because she had a burn on her hand, another he referred to as "Tulip" because he thought she was Dutch, in fact she was Swiss. Later West admitted he had buried another victim, an eight-year-old girl born to his first wife but fathered by another man, at another house in Gloucester.

He also confessed to having dumped two other bodies in fields near his childhood home at Much Marcle, on the Herefordshire-Gloucestershire border. They were his first wife, Rena, and a former lover, Ann McFall, both of whom hailed from Scotland. West's victims were a mixture of hitch-hikers, lodgers and teenage runaways who had been either lured to 25 Cromwell Street or abducted.

One of these was Lucy Partington, a 21-year-old university student from a respectable middle-class family. Her cousin was the novelist Martin Amis. She was picked up as she waited for a bus on the outskirts of Cheltenham one night in December 1973. It is almost certain she would not have accepted a lift from Fred West on his own. She only accepted a lift because of the presence of his wife, Rose.

Rose West

Detectives were convinced from the start that Rose West was involved in the murders. But she denied everything and feigned shock at her husband's confessions.

She was bailed to a police safe house in Cheltenham, where she lived with Stephen and her eldest daughter Mae, but remained under suspicion. The house was bugged by police but she never said anything to implicate herself. On 18 April 1994 she was finally charged with a sex offence, the murder charges would come later and taken into custody.

House of Horrors

Throughout the spring and summer of 1994 the world's media flocked to Gloucester to feast on the revelations coming out daily from what became known as the "House of Horrors". Hugh Worsnip, a veteran journalist and columnist on the Gloucester Citizen, said: "It had a tremendous impact on the city.
"The world's attention was turned to an obscure street in Gloucester.
"American and Japanese film crews were in the city and I was doing interviews for TV and radio stations all over the world."
He said the revelations about what had been happening at 25 Cromwell Street came as a terrible blow to Gloucester's civic pride: "It was regarded by many people in Gloucester as a sleight on the town."

Mr Worsnip, who began working on the Citizen in the 1960s, said the fact that a serial killer had been operating in the city for 20 years came as a huge shock to everyone, journalists included. But he said that, with the exception of Lucy Partington, West had deliberately chosen people whose disappearance would not be unduly noticed.
"They were the type of people who were drifting in society and were not easily traceable," he said.

But the case was about to take a turn for the worse...

On New Year's Day 1995, just as the media hubbub was beginning to die down, Fred West hanged himself in Birmingham's Winson Green prison, where he was awaiting his trial on twelve murder charges. His death spawned a new raft of gruesome revelations, but the full truth could not be published until Rose West had faced justice.

High drama in court

In October 1995 she was tried at Winchester Crown Court for ten murders, those of Rena Costello and Ann McFall pre-dated her appearance on the scene and must have been committed by Fred alone. It was one of the most sensational trials of the 20th century.

Every day witnesses appeared in court with stories to tell which were shocking, gruesome and as far as Rose West was concerned, absolutely damning. There were to be many moments of high drama during the trial.

One of these moments of drama was when Fred West's eldest daughter, Anne-Marie, fixed her stepmother with a glare across the packed court before describing how her parents had together embarked on a campaign of sexual abuse when she was aged eight.

The second day of Anne-Marie's evidence was delayed for several hours after it became clear she had taken an overdose of pills during the night.

The trial was delayed for several days after Mrs Leach, under enormous stress, fell ill during her testimony.

Another witness, Caroline Raine, a former beauty queen, told the court of the night in 1972 when Fred and Rose abducted and sexually assaulted her as she hitch-hiked across Gloucestershire.

Her evidence was key. Prosecutor Brian Leveson, QC, suggested to the jury it was a blueprint for how the Wests were to pick up their victims. Caroline Raine was allowed to live and the Wests were later prosecuted and fined over the incident. Clearly they made up their minds that future victims would not be allowed to live to tell their tales.

Guilty

By the end of the trial the jurors had been convinced of Rose West's guilt.

She was found guilty on all ten counts by unanimous decision and was jailed for life. The home secretary has since told her that she will never be allowed out.

25 Cromwell Street

In October 1996, Gloucester City Council finally demolished 25 Cromwell Street.

There were calls for a memorial garden to be built on the spot but there were fears it would be turned into a ghoulish shrine. Today the spot where nine bodies were found is simply a landscaped footpath leading to the city centre.

But the legacy of the House of Horrors continues to take its toll.

Fred West's brother John hanged himself as he waited to find out if a jury would find him guilty of raping Anne-Marie. She herself has struggled to come to terms with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and stepmother.

In November 1999 she was rescued after throwing herself into the water from a bridge near Gloucester in an apparent suicide bid. In January 2002 Stephen West attempted suicide at his home in Bussage, near Stroud after his girlfriend left him.

In a chilling echo of the death of his father and uncle, Stephen tried to hang himself but he survived when the rope snapped.

Eight years after police found the first body there continues to be speculation that Fred West claimed more victims and buried them somewhere in Gloucestershire.

Mrs Leach said Fred had admitted killing Mary Bastholm, a 15-year-old who went missing in Gloucester in 1968. She said: "Fred said that there were two other bodies in shallow graves in the woods but there was no way they would ever be found.
"He said there were 20 other bodies spread around and he would give the police one a year."

If he was telling the truth, he has taken his secrets to the grave and Rose West is showing no signs of wanting to reveal any more about the murders as she serves her life sentences.


The victims

  • 1967 - Ann McFall (Scottish nanny and Fred's lover. Was eight months pregnant with his child). Body found in "letterbox field" near Much Marcle
  • 1970 - Rena Costello (Fred's first wife, also Scottish). Body found in "fingerpost field" near Much Marcle.
  • 1972 - Charmaine West, 8 (Rena's eldest child). Body found beneath 25 Midland Road, Gloucester
  • 1973 - Linda Gough, 21 (seamstress from Gloucester). Body found beneath 25 Cromwell Street
  • 1973 - Lucy Partington, 21 (university student, from Gotherington, near Cheltenham). Body found beneath 25 Cromwell Street.
  • 1974 - Carol Cooper,15 (schoolgirl from Worcester). Body found beneath 25 Cromwell Street
  • 1975 - Juanita Mott, 19 (from Newent, Glos) Body found beneath 25 Cromwell Street
  • 1975 - Shirley Hubbard, 15 (schoolgirl from Worcester). Body found beneath 25 Cromwell St
  • 1977 - Therese Siegenthaler, 21 (Swiss hitchhiker). Body found beneath 25 Cromwell St
  • 1977 - Alison Chambers, 17 (originally from Swansea). Body found in garden of 25 Cromwell St
  • 1978 - Shirley Robinson, 18 (lodger and Fred's lover. Heavily pregnant). Body found in garden of 25 Cromwell St.
  • 1987 - Heather West, 16 (Fred and Rose's eldest daughter). Body found in garden of 25 Cromwell St.

This profile of Fred and Rose West was written by BBC News Online's Chris Summers.



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