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Who was Fred West? From farm labourer to notorious murderer

Police to excavate cafe toilet in search for missing girl

Police searching a cafe in Gloucestershire for the body of a suspected victim of serial killer Fred West have found six “anomalies” that will now be investigated further.

Mary Bastholm went missing in 1986 at the age of 15 and police have been searching the cellar of the premises where she previously worked. Six parts of a toilet area in the cafe are to be excavated in the next step of the search, Gloucestershire police said.

Suspicion was raised after police were “contacted on 7 May by a TV production company who were filming at The Clean Plate cafe in the city”, the BBC reports. Initial searches of the cellar then “revealed what looked like blue material” similar to the blue coat and blue and white dress worn by Bastholm when she disappeared. 

The deepest of the “anomalies” found by police is thought to be half a metre below the ground. Detective Chief Inspector John Turner said the excavations would reveal “once and for all” if the teenager was buried there, adding that they would be carried out “carefully and painstakingly” by archaeologists and anthropologists.

“My job as an investigator is to search for the truth and that’s why we’re here now, on behalf of Mary’s family, to look in the basement and find out what is in there,” he said. “I’m not saying that Mary is in there, what I am saying is, there was sufficient evidence from the production team to justify the search.”

Who was Fred West?

West was born in the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle on 29 September 1941, the eldest of seven children in a close-knit family of farm workers and labourers. 

His former schoolmates recall him being “scruffy, dim, lethargic and regularly in trouble”, according to biographer Howard Sounes. West was “scarcely literate” but had a good aptitude for woodwork and art, writes Sounes in Fred and Rose: The Full Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors

The future killer left school at 15 to work as a labourer at a nearby farm, and was known to aggressively pester young women and girls at the local youth club. 

At 17, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that left him “lying in a coma for a week” reports the BBC. Two years later, he suffered a further head injury after a girl he groped on a fire escape at the youth club punched him and sent him tumbling down two flights of stairs. 

In 1961, West was arrested for raping and impregnating his 13-year-old sister, Kitty. He freely admitted to police that he regularly molested young girls, reportedly asking: “Doesn’t everybody do it?”

He was tried at Herefordshire Assizes on 9 November, but the trial collapsed when Kitty refused to testify against him. He was banished from his family home but moved in with other relatives who lived nearby. 

Meeting Rose West 

West first met Rosemary Letts, as she was then called, at Cheltenham bus station in 1969, when she was aged 15 and he was 28. 

Rose was initially repulsed after the older man approached her at the bus stop, but became flattered by the attention he would lavish on her over the coming days.  Despite threats from her father -  a “paranoid schizophrenic who repeatedly sexually abused Rose”, according to The Sun - West asked the teenager to become a nanny to his two children from his first wife, Rena West. 

Investigators now know that by this time, West had already committed several violent crimes, including the murder of his pregnant mistress Anna McFall in 1967. 

He is also believed to have strangled to death his first wife in 1971, after she visited him at his home to discuss custody of their children.  

But his first killing may have been six years earlier. West ran over and killed a three-year-old boy while working as an ice-cream van driver in 1965.

The death was dismissed by police as an accident but locals suspected it was a “deliberate act”, at a time “when the trial of Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley dominated the news”, reports The Times

House of Horrors 

West secretly married Rose in 1972, two years after she gave birth to his daughter Heather Ann. When Fred was subsequently jailed for ten months for petty thefts, Rose was also left in charge of her two stepdaughters, Charmaine and Anna Marie.

The children were subjected to severe physical abuse, with one former friend recalling having found Charmaine naked and standing upon a chair, gagged and with her hands bound behind her back with a belt. 

Still only a teenager at the time, Rose is believed to have murdered Charmaine while West was imprisoned. The act is said to have “excited” Fred, reports The Mirror, who confessed to Rose that he had already carried out a double murder. 

Following his release from prison, and with a second child on the way, the couple moved to 25 Cromwell Road. The house would come to be known as the “House of Horrors”, after the nine girls and young women were found buried in the basement or garden decades later. 

The house was “just minutes” from a busy shopping centre, but the layout of the property, with a side entrance and little street lighting, meant the Wests could “get their victims in almost undetected”, the newspaper continues. They would then “lure” victims down the the basement, where the couple would “carry out extreme acts of sexual violence and torture”.

Discovery of bodies

Fred and Rose West were arrested in 1994 after being accused of sexually abusing a teenager who worked as their nanny. The charges were dropped, but the allegations triggered the reopening of an investigation into the disappearance of their daughter Heather Ann. 

A police search of the family home then uncovered the mutilated bodies of many of their victims.

West committed suicide on 1 January 1995 while awaiting trial. Rose was convicted of ten murders and sentenced to life in prison.

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