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World Fred and Rose West, Britain's worst serial killers, haunt a city decades after their grisly crimes

08:10  04 june  2021
08:10  04 june  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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a close up of Lucy Partington et al. posing for the camera: Top row from left: Therese Siegenthaler, Carol Ann Cooper, Lucy Partington; Bottom row from left: Alison Chambers, Shirley Robinson, Ann McFall © Alamy/Shutterstock/PA/AP Top row from left: Therese Siegenthaler, Carol Ann Cooper, Lucy Partington; Bottom row from left: Alison Chambers, Shirley Robinson, Ann McFall

Police excavations at a cafe in the quiet English city of Gloucester revived a half-century-old puzzle: What happened to Mary Bastholm, a carefree 15-year-old girl who went missing in 1968.

The teenager has long been feared to be among the victims murdered by Fred West, but her body has never been found.

West and his wife Rosemary, who met the following year, would go on to become Britain's worst serial killer couple.

A week-long dig, at the Clean Plate cafe in the heart of the historic city, resulted in the discovery of "no human remains or items of significance" according to police; but the search has stirred up painful memories.

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More than 25 years have passed since the UK was shocked by the grim discovery of multiple sets of human remains in what had appeared to be a nondescript family home in Gloucester. But too many questions remain unanswered for the public's fascination with the case to end, or for the city to rest easy.

Fred West was charged with 12 counts of murder, though there have long been suspicions that other young women and girls were abducted, tortured, sexually abused and killed by the Wests. Fred killed himself age 53 before he could stand trial, taking many secrets to his grave.

Rosemary, known as Rose, was convicted on 10 counts of murder in November 1995; she will remain in prison until she dies. She has always protested her innocence and has revealed nothing about the case over the years.

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Adding to the horror is that those killed include family members: Charmaine West, Fred's eight-year-old stepdaughter from his first marriage to Catherine "Rena" Costello, and Heather West, 16, his eldest child with Rosemary.

It was Heather's death in 1987 -- believed to be the final murder carried out by the pair -- that was to lead police to uncovering the mutilated remains of victims at four different sites in the following decade.

The 'family joke'

What many still wonder is how the killers got away with it for so long.

Most of the couple's victims were killed in the 1970s. But it was only in August 1992, when the Wests' five remaining children were taken into local authority care because of child abuse allegations against their parents, that "the whole dreadful, murky business started to unravel," Leo Goatley, a Gloucester-based solicitor who represented Rose West from 1992 until 2004, told CNN.

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a view of a city with a mountain in the background: The historic city Gloucester and its cathedral, in southwest England. © omiksovsky/Shutterstock The historic city Gloucester and its cathedral, in southwest England.

It was a history "that went back over decades and involved the abduction, sado-masochistic torture and binding of innocent young women, who were then murdered and dismembered and their bodies buried," said Goatley, author of the book "Understanding Fred and Rose West: Noose, Lamella and the Gilded Cage."

"It had and continues to have an enormous impact on the people of Gloucester. It's a cloud over the ancient city."

Heather West had last been seen on June 19, 1987, but she was never reported missing to police. Over the course of months, social workers caring for her five siblings began to take note of their repeated -- though reportedly offhand -- mentions of the "family joke" that their sister was buried under the patio. In summer 1993, the police were told of these concerns.

a group of people looking at a man in a suit and tie: Leo Goatley, center, solicitor for Rosemary West, speaks to the media at the end of the trial in Winchester. © Stefan Rousseau/PA Images/Getty Images Leo Goatley, center, solicitor for Rosemary West, speaks to the media at the end of the trial in Winchester.

Six months later -- having found no trace of Heather alive -- officers from the Gloucestershire Constabulary obtained a warrant to search 25 Cromwell Street, the Wests' family home since 1972.

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Fred West at first claimed he had seen Heather recently. But a day later, on February 25, 1994, he admitted to killing her, according to a police timeline of events. He and Rose were arrested the same day.

As police questioning continued -- with Fred repeatedly changing his story and Rose denying any knowledge -- investigators uncovered a femur in the garden. When a pathologist then found two more femurs under the patio, later identified as belonging to Heather, police knew they could have multiple murders on their hands.

Fred confessed on February 26 to killing two more women, one named Shirley Robinson, 18, and another subsequently identified by police as Alison Chambers, 16. The remains of both were later found in the garden.

On March 4, West passed a handwritten note to his solicitor saying: "I wish to admit to a further (approx) nine killings expressly Charmaine, Rena, Lynda Gough and others to be identified."

Within hours, West had been taken back to 25 Cromwell Street by police, where he pointed out spots where more bodies had been concealed.

Remains later identified as those of Swiss student Therese Siegenthaler, 21, Shirley Hubbard, 15, Lucy Partington, 21, Juanita Mott, 18, and 15-year-old Carole Ann "Caz" Cooper were subsequently found in the basement of the house. The remains of Lynda Gough, 19, were uncovered in the bathroom area.

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Over the course of 11 fevered days, nine victims had been found in one drab end-of-terrace family home.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Police sift through soil as they search for clues in the Fred West murder cases in the garden of 25 Midland Road, Gloucester, on April 27, 1994. © Barry Batchelor/PA Images/Getty Images Police sift through soil as they search for clues in the Fred West murder cases in the garden of 25 Midland Road, Gloucester, on April 27, 1994.

And as investigators dug, newspaper reports and live TV broadcasts kept a repulsed but fascinated public abreast of every move.

a group of people sitting in front of a brick building: Human remains are carried from 25 Cromwell Street as media crews look on. © Barry Batchelor/PA Images/Getty Images Human remains are carried from 25 Cromwell Street as media crews look on.

'Just unbelievable'

Fred West et al. posing for the camera: Britain's worst serial killer couple, Fred and Rose West. Fred West was charged with 12 murders, but killed himself in prison before he could face trial. Rose West was convicted of 10 murders, including that of her own daughter. © Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images Britain's worst serial killer couple, Fred and Rose West. Fred West was charged with 12 murders, but killed himself in prison before he could face trial. Rose West was convicted of 10 murders, including that of her own daughter.

Journalist Chris Summers, who worked for the Gloucester Citizen newspaper at the time, recalls being tipped off as excavations at Cromwell Street began and poring through old cuttings and local records to find out who lived in the house. Events quickly snowballed.

"It was a massive, massive story," said Summers, who now runs the Totalcrime website from London. "The whole of Fleet Street came down, Sky and BBC TV trucks. Within a couple of weeks there were TV crews from Japan and America, all over the place. Fleet Street was waving their checkbooks around ... and getting a lot of people to talk. We were trying to compete as the local paper."

Fred West is seen working on the renovation of a home for autistic adults in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. © Shutterstock Fred West is seen working on the renovation of a home for autistic adults in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire.

Criminologist Jane Carter Woodrow, whose book "Rose West: The Making of a Monster" was published in 2012, recalls not wanting to watch on TV as black boxes containing human remains were carried out of the house. But for weeks the story dominated the headlines.

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"I think people have an awful fear, but a kind of a fascination, how could this happen? Who could do this kind of thing? It was just awful," said Carter Woodrow. "There were lots of missing girls and gradually, one by one, people's remains were coming out -- it was just unbelievable, really."

a person standing in front of a building: An officer is seen outside the Clean Plate cafe on Southgate Street on May 11 in Gloucester, as police search for remains of the missing girl Mary Bastholm. © Matthew Horwood/Getty Images An officer is seen outside the Clean Plate cafe on Southgate Street on May 11 in Gloucester, as police search for remains of the missing girl Mary Bastholm.

Details which emerged later revealed the couple were "sexually sadistic" killers, Carter Woodrow told CNN.

The bodies were found dismembered, stuffed into vertical holes in the ground and with "trophy" parts -- such as kneecaps and finger bones -- removed which have never been found.

Unlike the other victims, Heather was killed because she posed a threat, Carter Woodrow said. She'd started to talk to friends about Fred's sexual abuse of some of his children and had announced plans to run away.

a couple of men standing next to a building: A police investigator walks past a pair of uniformed officers as he carries a large plastic box of evidence from the home of Fred and Rose West at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, England, March 4, 1994. © Ian Cook/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images A police investigator walks past a pair of uniformed officers as he carries a large plastic box of evidence from the home of Fred and Rose West at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, England, March 4, 1994.

The search at 25 Cromwell Street was to last for 55 days; the property was subsequently demolished.

In late April of 1994, the focus shifted to nearby 25 Midland Road, where Fred and Rose had lived in the early 1970s with Charmaine and Anne Marie, Fred's daughter with Costello. Both children had been in and out of local authority care in the late 1960s before being returned to Fred.

a person posing for the camera: Mary Bastholm was 15 when she was reported missing on January 6, 1968, and has never been found. © PA/AP Mary Bastholm was 15 when she was reported missing on January 6, 1968, and has never been found.

On May 4, police found the remains of Charmaine beneath the kitchen. Rosemary had murdered the 8-year-old in June 1971 while Fred was in prison for theft; on his release, he helped her conceal the body. Charmaine was never reported missing.

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Fred had also led police 17 miles or so out of the city to a field in the village of Kempley -- near his birthplace of Much Marcle -- where Costello's remains were found in April. The remains of West's former nanny and pregnant mistress, Ann McFall, were recovered in June from a field nearby. Despite denying involvement in her death, Fred indicated the area where she was buried.

a car parked on the side of a building: The historic city Gloucester and its cathedral, in southwest England. © Barry Batchelor/PA Images/Getty Images The historic city Gloucester and its cathedral, in southwest England.

Since then, no remains have been found. But both Carter Woodrow and Goatley believe there are more bodies out there.

"The experts, the forensic psychologists, believe that the pair of them, Fred and Rose West, would have continued rather than to have big gaps between one (victim) and another," Goatley said.

Dramatic trial

When Fred was found dead in his remand cell on January 1, 1995, reaction in Gloucester was mixed, according to Summers. While some felt relief because "they wanted this shameful person wiped off the face of the earth," others -- particularly the victims' relatives -- felt they'd been cheated of justice, he said.

"It was felt that he did it in an attempt to get Rose off. He thought that if he could kill himself ... she could then pin it all on him. Obviously that didn't work," Summers said.

Ten months later, Rosemary stood trial at Winchester Crown Court on 10 counts of murder.

The trial was "pretty dramatic" the whole way through, in Summers' recollection. One woman who was a neighbor of the Wests and had been in a relationship with Rose told the court that she kept going back to 25 Cromwell Street because she was drawn "like a moth to a flame," Summers said.

An audio recording was played in court of the police interview in which Fred described how his daughter Heather was killed, dismembered and buried in the garden. "It was just bizarre," said Summers. "He was very, very matter-of-fact. He could have been talking about burying a dead hamster."

Rose gave no outward reaction as the guilty verdict was delivered, said Summers. "I think she probably knew what was coming."

She lost her appeal against the conviction in 1996 and, the following year, her life sentence was converted to a "whole-life" tariff.

Unanswered questions

Despite the trial, the public was left with many unanswered questions -- about both the Wests' victims and whether public bodies had missed opportunities to halt the appalling cycle of abuse, incest and murder years earlier.

A report commissioned by Gloucestershire County Council into how its agencies served the West children, published in 1995, highlighted the need for teachers, doctors, social workers and police "not to dismiss lightly the comments of children (however apparently bizarre)," and for different bodies to communicate. But at least one newspaper described it as raising more questions than it answered.

The murders also highlighted how many young women and girls had gone missing in previous decades. Overall, 110 missing people were found to be safe and well as a result of the West inquiry, according to Gloucestershire Constabulary.

Some of those killed by the Wests came from vulnerable backgrounds. The couple targeted local children's homes in search of girls to entice to 25 Cromwell Street, according to Carter Woodrow. Others are believed to have been abducted while waiting at bus stops or as they hitchhiked between towns.

Even when they were reported missing, inquiries soon ran out of steam.

"A lot of the victims were in care or had absconded or run away from home, and they were victims that disappeared. They were anonymous and no one knew they were missing," said Goatley.

"It's one of the horrible things about the case that there are so many question marks, so much unknown," he added.

"Even in the West case, in the trial, where identities were established, it was never entirely clear what fate befell those women and those young girls. It's known that they were abducted, it's known that the quality of their lives in their last days would have been appalling ... It's a nightmare trying to speculate about precisely what did happen to those girls."

Police would have carried on investigating after the West inquiry formally concluded in 1996 but for a lack of resources, said Goatley. "There hadn't been any fresh evidence, so they had to draw a line somewhere."

Rose's 'vile anger'

Carter Woodrow believes the Wests' actions went undetected for so long in part because "they looked like a very ordinary couple" -- but that their depraved actions had roots in their childhoods.

"They'd both been subjected to incest and they both had abused as well, so when they both met it was the worst possible combination," she said.

"There's no doubt Fred West was a sadist and a voyeur, and a serial killer, a psychopath with a very warped sexual mind. And Rose West was his willing apprentice," said Goatley.

"She had this Jekyll and Hyde personality. She could vent a fury that was absolutely appalling, I mean her children can vouch for that. Her vile anger may have even surpassed the level of sadistic action by Fred West in relation to these victims. So it was a really toxic, horrible cocktail."

As her legal representative, Goatley spent hundreds of hours with Rose between 1992 and 2004, including on prison visits.

Rose "presents [as] and in many ways is just very ordinary," he said. "She would chat away about sewing or whatever, talk about the kids and it's all very mundane and twee and having a laugh." But Goatley said he saw flashes of anger if the conversation strayed into more difficult territory.

He still hopes Rose, now 67, might one day break her silence. "I'm sure that, one way or another, she knows an awful lot more than she's letting on. You just hope that she might reach some state of mind where she might give an explanation or an admission, or provide some information," he said.

Emotional pull

Meanwhile, the case has cast a long shadow over Gloucester and its roughly 120,000 residents.

Before the West story broke in 1994, it was a "bit of a forgotten town," said Summers, ignored by tourists in favor of nearby well-heeled Cheltenham. "Obviously it became part of this kind of morbid tourist trail when the murders happened."

Even today, it sometimes seems the West case has left hardly anyone in the city untouched, said Goatley. "There's always somebody who has some story or link or knowledge about the West case ... The way it kind of radiates out is extraordinary. It's almost as though the case envelops a sizable percentage of the population of Gloucester in some way -- and emotionally it does, emotionally I think it grabs everyone."

The unresolved questions over Mary Bastholm's disappearance mean there is still no peace for her family and those who knew her.

Her parents and more recently her brother, Peter, went to their grave without knowing her fate. The teenager's wider family are still without closure now police are certain she wasn't buried beneath the cafe where she once worked.

"Everyone working on this is disappointed that we didn't find Mary," said Assistant Chief Constable Craig Holden on Thursday. "Allowing her family to finally lay Mary to rest after over 50 years was always the most important reason for our excavation."

"I hope that eliminating this location will bring some comfort, however small, to her family."

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