A profile of one of the world's most notorious serial killers, looking for insights into his horrific behaviour. Why did the owner of 25 Cromwell Street turn to murder?

Fred West was born to Walter and Daisy West on 29 September 1941 in Much Marcle, a Herefordshire village. Unlike many individuals who go on to become serial killers, West actually enjoyed very good relationships with both his mother and father, although poor application and a troublesome nature led to him leaving school prematurely to become a farm labourer. He did claim later that his father had incestuous relations with his sisters, although this was never substantiated.

When he was seventeen, a motorcycle accident left him comatose with serious head injuries, and a metal plate in his head that may, according to some experts, have affected his impulse control. Another head injury incurred when falling off a fire escape at a local youth club caused additional injury, and possibly permanent brain damage to the young West.

His subsequent behaviour became erratic, and he became known to the police for various petty crimes, which escalated until, in 1961, he was accused of impregnating a 13-year-old girl who was a friend of the West family, causing his banishment from the family home. He became a construction worker, and was soon caught pilfering 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 of dubious reputation who had a police record for burglary and prostitution, who was at the time pregnant with another man’s child. They were married in November and a mixed race child was born in March 1963, whom they called Charmaine. Despite Rena’s sexual experience, she was not prepared for West’s unusual and voracious sexual appetite, and his new job as an ice cream van driver gave him steady access to young teenagers, who fell prey to his sincere manner and interest in them.

In 1964, Rena bore West's child, a daughter named Anne-Marie. It was also at this time that they met Ann McFall, a friend with whom they moved to Gloucester, where West found a job in a slaughterhouse. According to some researchers, this profession probably catalysed his morbid obsession with death, mutilation and dismemberment.