One of the most infamous serial killer couples in British history are Fred and Rose West from Gloucestershire, England. Over twenty years, they raped, tortured and murdered an unknown number of girls and women, including two of their own daughters. Their gruesome string of murders would shock the nation to its very core and even today, the investigation and intense interest in the case is still ongoing.
Fred West was born in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, on the 29th of September, 1941. He was born into a family of considerable poverty and incest. When he was just 12-years-old, his mother sexually abused him while his father committed incest with his three younger sisters and molested other young girls. When Fred was 20-years-old, he was charged with raping his 13-year-old sister, Kitty, and impregnating her. This charge, however, would collapse (The Daily Telegraph, 13 May 2021 – ‘Fred West: How Many Other Victims Could There Be?’).
The diabolical couple met in Cheltenham when Rose was just 15-years-old and Fred was 27-years-old. Much like Fred, Rose had been the victim of incest at the hands of her own father. They married in 1972 and Rose started to sell sex in the upstairs bedroom of the couple’s home. She would advertise her services through a local contact magazine and would entertain both men and women as well as engage in casual sex with lodgers at the couple’s home.
By 1983, Rose had given birth to eight children and they all very quickly became the target for the couple’s sadistic depravity. Over 20 years, their children were taken to hospital a total of 31 times for various injuries, including a severe puncture wound and a sexually transmitted infection (Rose West: The Making of a Monster by Jane Woodrow) Following in their parents’ footsteps, both Fred and Rose sexually abused their children. As Fred would state to them: ‘I made you. You are my flesh and blood. I am entitled to touch you’ (Fred & Rose: The Fully Story of Red and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors by Howard Sounes ). Eventually, sexual and physical abuse within the home escalated to murder.
Between 1967 and 1987, the Wests murdered at least 12 girls and women, two of whom were their own daughters. The motivation behind the brutal murders was sexual gratification; the victims would be sexually abused, tortured, strangled and then dismembered and buried.
The known victims of the Wests are: Anne McFall, 18, Charmaine West, 8, Rena West, 27, Linda Gough, 19, Carol Ann Cooper, 15, Lucy Katherine Partington, 21, Theresa Siegenthaler, 21, Shirly Hubbard, 15, Juanita Mott, 18, Shirley Robinson, 18, Alison Chambers, 16, Heather West, 16. Their bodies would be found buried at the couple’s home at 25 Cromwell Street as well as Fred’s previous home in Midland Road and two Fields located in Much Marcle (ITV News, 18 May 2021 – “Who Was Mary Bastholm?).
The home on 25 Cromwell Street would be dubbed the ‘house of horrors’ by the media after nine dismembered bodies were discovered buried in the garden, in the cellar and under the bathroom, alongside grim tools of torture. According to criminal profiler, Dr Paul Britton: ‘These aren’t people who looked like predatory psychopaths, they looked ordinary. Their activities were out of plain sight. They were able to take their victims, bind them, gag them, break their teeth. They were able to put tubes into them to keep them alive for days and suspend them from hooks because of the nature of the building. They were shielded and no one knew what was happening’ (Mirror, 12 May 2021 – ‘Fred and Rose West’s 12 known victims and sex dungeon where they raped and tortured them’).
While the majority of the victims were murdered by Fred and Rose together, it’s believed that Fred killed at least three victims on his own. 18-year-old Anne McFall had been hired by Fred and his first wife, Rena, as a nanny. However, Anne and Fred entered into an illicit affair and at the time of her disappearance in July of 1967, she was eight months pregnant with Fred’s baby. She was never reported missing but her dismembered remains would be found buried in Much Marcle in June of 1994 (Fred & Rose: The Fully Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors by Howard Sounes).
Just the year after Anne vanished, 15-year-old waitress, Mary Bastholm, disappeared from a bus stop on Bristol Road in Gloucester. She had worked at a café where Fred was a frequent visitor. Then in August of 1971, Fred murdered his first wife, Rena, when she travelled to the Wests home to enquire about custody of their two daughters, Charmaine and Anna Marie. Unbeknownst to Rena, however, Rose had murdered Charmaine earlier that same year while Fred was serving 10 months in jail for petty theft. Fred strangled Rena to death and buried her in Letterbox Field at Much Marcle.
It wouldn’t be until 1994 that the grisly crimes of the depraved couple finally came seeping to the surface. The fact that they avoided detection for so long only compounded the horror of their crimes.
In the end, their downfall would be brought on by one of their own daughters: 13-year-old Louise. She had been horrifically abused by both Fred and Rose and in 1993, she told her friend that her father had raped her. This combined with the disappearance of their daughter, Heather, set in motion an investigation into Fred and Rose. Ultimately, Fred would be charged with three counts of rape and one count of buggery while Rose was charged as an accomplice. The case against the couple would collapse when their children refused to testify against them out of fear.
Detective Constable Hazel Savage refused to give up on the case. She was extremely suspicious of the comment some of the children made: If they did not behave, they would end up under the patio like Heather. Her persistence in the investigation would lead to police finally obtaining a search warrant for the garden at 25 Cromwell Street on the 23rd of February, 1994. Buried in the garden, they found the remains of Heather West, Shirley Robinson and Allison Chambers. They then uncovered six more bodies in the basement of the home and underneath the bathroom floor.
On New Year’s Day of 1995, Fred hanged himself while awaiting trial for 12 murders. He had confessed to the murders in a bizarre amalgamation of truth and fiction and his priority in the confessions was seemingly to exculpate Rose. Police, however, would uncover she was just a willing participant in the murders as Fred, if not the driving force. Later that same year, Rose would be convicted of 10 murders at Winchester Crown Court after a seven-week trial and was sentenced to life in prison. She never accepted any guilt or knowledge of the role she played. During her trial, the nation would recoil in horror as the gruesome details of the murders were revealed for the very first time.
In May of 2021, Gloucestershire Police received potential evidence from a TV production company who were filming a follow-up series to a documentary about the Wests. Among the evidence found by the TV production company was a photograph that appeared to show some kind of blue material that was buried in a section of the cellar of Clean Plate Café in Southgate Street, Gloucester (Evening Standard, 18 May 2021 – ‘Police in Fred West Probe Removed Objects from Café Ahead of Excavation Work’). The café, which is a popular breakfast spot, is a Grade II-listed building that dates back to the mid-18th century.
In the 1960s, 15-year-old Mary Bastholm had worked in Clean Plate Café, which was then known as the Pop-In Cafe. On the 6th of January, 1968, the teenager vanished without a trace. Mary was last seen at a bus stop in Bristol Road, Gloucester, wearing a blue coat. She was long been suspected of being a victim of Fred West, who was a regular customer in the café and who often did jobs along the street where the café was located. There was also much speculation that Fred, who had worked as a builder, had done maintenance work in the café at some point in the past. Furthermore, Fred was reported to have confessed to Mary’s murder to his son, Stephen, but never spoke about the case with the police.
With the discovery of the blue material, the area was cordoned off for an examination to be conducted. Forensic archaeologists would confirm that there were several structural anomalies within the cellar of the café which was made up of six ‘voids’ in the ground which needed to be examined further. Detective Chief Inspector John Turner stated: ‘The analysis from our experts and the material provided by the production company means there is enough evidence to justify excavation work beginning’ (Shropshire Star, 18 May 2021 – ‘Police in Fred West Probe Remove Objects from Café Ahead of Excavation Work’).
Investigators, forensic anthropologists and excavators remained at the scene at Clean Plate Café for two weeks. It was hoped that if Mary’s remains were found then her grief-stricken family, who have been waiting decades to find out what happened to her, could finally find some semblance of closure. On the 27th of May, however, it was announced that no human remains were discovered during the excavation at the café. This update means that Mary will remain on the list of potential victims of this sadistic couple, still unfound.
The story of Fred and Rose West remains open-ended, even though Fred took his own life and Rose was convicted of 10 murders. Even today, almost 30 years on, there still remains that lingering sense of injustice that all of their victims have not been accounted for.