A Match Made in... Hell
TWO OF A KIND
Rose Letts was waiting at a bus stop when she first met Fred West. It was November 1968 and Rose’s future soul mate was already a convicted child molester and unbeknownst to the authorities, a murderer. Fred was, Rose remembered, ‘smelly’ with ‘ganky green teeth’. Despite this, there was an attraction and they soon discovered the shared experience of a deeply, damaged childhood:
“When it came to meeting Fred, who came from an even more extreme background than Rose, it was just – it was a perfect storm, it was an accident waiting to happen.”-Jane Carter
Fred was not only 12 years older than Rose, he was far more experienced than the sheltered girl from Devon. Fred West had worked as far away as Scotland, in the slums of the Gorbals. He had married a Scottish woman, Rena Costello and had a daughter, Charmaine - although it appears Fred was not, in fact, Charmaine’s father. A year after Charmaine, a second daughter arrived – Anne Marie. The family moved to the South West but after a turbulent few years of marriage, Fred found himself bringing up the two girls on his own.
In March 1970, soon after meeting Fred, Rose moved in with him and his two daughters into their caravan. Fred soon initiated her into a world of pornography, prostitution and sadism. Because of her abused childhood, it was a world that was all too reassuringly familiar to Rose. A year later and with Rose pregnant, Fred and his growing family moved to their new home at 25 Midland Road. Rose gave birth to Heather. The 17-year-old Rose was now effectively mother to three girls. It was not a healthy household:
“Fred would want to spy on (Rose), to push her to have sex with friends...you’ve got a seventeen year old whose got a baby...and then two little girls to look after...what chance did she have?” - Jane Carter Woodrow
Fred supported his makeshift family partly by being an unsuccessful petty criminal. He stole everything from scrap metal to scaffolding. He was often caught. In November 1970, Fred West was sent to Leyhill Prison to serve a ten month sentence for theft.
CHARMAINE: ROSE’S FIRST VICTIM?
With Fred away, 17-year old-Rose was left in charge of Fred’s eldest daughter, 7-year-old Charmaine. Rose struggled to control her. Sometime in March 1971 Charmaine went missing. It’s probable that during a violent outburst, Rose had killed her and hidden the body. It is likely that when Fred was released Rose confessed to the killing. At that point, if not before, Fred could have confessed to having killed a pregnant former lover, Anne McFall. What is certain is that he dealt with the disposal of Charmaine and Anne’s body in the same manner. He removed the fingers and toes from the body before burial.
In August 1971, when West’s first wife, Rena, came for Charmaine, she shared her fate. The story Rose and Fred told was that his daughter had gone back to live with her mother.
MR AND MRS MURDER
In January 1972, Rose married Fred, even though no record’s been found of him ever divorcing his first wife. But theirs was always a very unconventional partnership. Fred prostituted Rose and sometimes liked to watch her with clients. The family moved to 25 Cromwell Street. The terraced property – with its three floors and cellar – though cramped and small, was still more than they could afford. So Fred started converting the property to accommodate lodgers. He placed multiple interior walls inside the rooms to create little cells where people could sleep. And one of those lodgers would bring both the West’s to the attention of the police.
“I met Fred and Rose when I was hitch-hiking back in 1972. This car pulled up with a couple in. And the girl opened the window and started asking me where I was going, and she seemed really friendly- not much older than me. And they said, ‘Oh, we’ll give you a lift as far as Gloucester.” - Caroline Roberts, Former Nanny for the West Family
That lift turned into an offer of a room and employment as the family nanny. Caroline, quite taken by Rose, accepted:
“I actually got on quite well with Rose straight from the start; I suppose it was because there was just a slight age difference. She was quite tactile as well, she’d like to play; you know she’d look at my hair and say ‘oh I love your hair and you’ve got lovely hair, lovely eyes.’ She was very tactile.”
But Fred’s behaviour soon made Caroline regret her decision to join the West household.
“...he was forever grabbing hold of (Rose). He would sometimes grope her...or put a hand up her skirt...But worst was his bragging. He seemed to brag about really strange things as well, like he told me ‘if you ever get pregnant don’t you worry because I can do abortions, I’ve done them before’. But it wasn’t until about a week before I left there that he mentioned Anne Marie, who was eight. He said that she wasn’t a virgin...Anne Marie was in the room at the time, and I saw her head go down. And then I thought ‘I think maybe there might be some kind of abuse going on’.
When Fred asked Caroline to take part in an orgy, she left. But Rose and Fred were far from finished with her.