When the police approached the West household on the afternoon of February 24, 1994 with the intention of digging up the garden in the house in search of incriminating evidence, Fred and Rose West knew well that it was only a matter of time before the police got to what all they had been hiding for over a decade. The police was looking for the buried remains of Heather, Fred’s daughter, who the authorities believed had been murdered by her own father and buried. The officers certainly hadn’t thought that they were about to encounter a picture that was much bigger and a lot more gruesome than anything they had imagined, and the impact of coming across such evidence and facts could be psychologically so damaging as to require counseling to prevent mental breakdown. The police officers involved in this case were provided psychiatric counseling to ward off distress or any other threat to mental normalcy. Heather had disappeared without a trace in 1987 as a 16-year-old. But she was not the only one who had disappeared. There had been many others before her, and several others were to follow.
But Fred West did not seem all that worried when the police turned. His only worry was that the police were not going to clean the mess they were about to make in digging up the garden. He told the police that he and Rose did not know where Heather had disappeared, and further said that there was nothing unusual in it, as many girls of Heather’s kind went away and took to prostitution under a different name. He told that she was a lesbian and had drugs issues, too. A similar line was taken by Rose as well when she was questioned by the police.
The couple stayed up all night and talked, and the next morning he came to the police car and admitted to the murder of his daughter. “I killed her,” he admitted to Detective Constable Hazel Savage. He was taken to the police station where he not only admitted to the murder once again, but also disclosed how he dismembered Heather’s body into three pieces before burying it. Fred spoke about the heated argument he had with Heather and how she offended him to the extent that he caught her by the throat and ended up squeezing it hard enough for her to fall unconscious and stop breathing. He tried to bring her back, but failed. He dragged her to the bathroom and poured water, but she was already dead. So, he took her out, took off her clothes, dried her and then tried to put her into the garbage bin, which did not work because she was too big for it. So, Fred took her body back into the bathroom, where he beheaded her and cut her legs off, after which she fit well in the garbage bin. When all of his family was asleep that night he buried Heather in the garden.
Born to Walter and Daisy West in 1941 in the village of Much Marcle (120 miles from London), Fred West had six siblings despite oppressive poverty that the family lived under. Fred was close to his mother and also had a sufficiently good relationship with his father, who was his role model. Fred was not a good student, and when his teachers would try to discipline him, they would face his angry mother, displeased with the punishment handed down to her favourite son. Her mother’s intervention made other children make fun of him by calling him “mamma’s boy”. At the age of fifteen, Fred left school, and was nearly illiterate despite having spent sufficient time in school.
At the age of seventeen, Fred was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, and remained in coma for almost a week, and a metal plate had to be inserted in his head to ensure his survival. One of his legs was damaged, and was permanently shorter than the other leg. Some of the people who knew him felt that after the injury he did not have much control over his emotions and was prone to extreme anger.
After he recovered from the injuries, Fred came across a pretty 16-year-old girl by the name Catherine Bernadette Costello, who was also called Rena. Rena had been into police trouble right from her childhood and was already an experienced thief when she met Fred. The two took an instant liking for each other and became lovers almost immediately, but the affair ended quite abruptly when Rena had to go back home to Scotland a few months later. And Fred’s troubles had a new start.
At a youth club he put his hand up the skirt of a young woman standing by him, and she reacted by thumping him down the fire escape that they were standing by. Fred was hit in the head and fell unconscious. In 1961, he impregnated a 13-year-old, who was a family friend. When he was confronted, he was defiant and remarked, “Well, doesn’t every one do it?” Sexual exploitation of young girls was perfectly fine on Fred’s moral scale, if he had any at any point of time in his life. Such brazen attitude, in the light of what he had done, was absolutely unacceptable to his family, and he was asked to find some other place for himself.
Separated from the family, he had to earn his living, which he did by working on the construction projects, but he was soon caught stealing from the construction sites. He was arrested and tried for having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, but his physician told the court that Fred was suffering from epilepsy, which resulted in a reduced jail sentence. So, by the age of 20, Fred was a convicted thief and child molester.
Things looked up for Fred when in 1962 his family called him back to live with them, his girlfriend Rena returned from Scotland and immediately got in touch with him, and the two revived their relationship. But Rena was nearly every bit as different as Fred was, and was much in the same league. She was not only an expert thief, but also had a fine track record of prostitution. Not only that, she was pregnant by an Asian bus driver, which did bring up certain issues between Fred and Rena. Furthermore, Rena’s background made Fred’s family to strongly disapprove of Rena though they continued to think that the baby she was pregnant with was Fred’s. However, despite the disapproval of Fred’s family, the couple tied the knot secretly in November 1962, and chose to shift to Scotland right away.
Rena delivered the baby, and the couple wrote back to Fred’s family that the baby had died and they had adopted a mixed-race child. They named the Rena’s little girl Charmaine. Rena’s sex life with Fred was not satisfactory for Rena; not because she was getting less of it, but because Fred had a big sexual appetite and normal sex was not his thing. He wanted all kinds of deviant sex from oral to sodomy and bondage at nearly all times of day and night. Rena did not exactly enjoy being the sex-slave of her husband.
Since Fred drove an ice-cream truck at that time, he had easy access to a large number of young girls and women. Fred’s polite demeanour and his ability to tell interesting tales interestingly to young women made him a favourite with the women who came to his ice-cream truck. He made the best use of the opportunity by seducing young women.
Rena delivered Fred’s child in 1964, and was named Anna Marie. Soon after Fred was involved in an accident with his ice-cream truck in which a man was killed. Fred lost his job though the accident had not occurred due to his mistake or negligence. Around the same time the couple met Anna McFall, and the couple with Anna and the two kids decided to move to Gloucester, where Fred took up work at a slaughterhouse.
Some of the writers and experts who have studied Fred’s case believe that his job at the slaughterhouse fired up whatever latent potential he had to develop an obsession with corpses and dismemberment because prior to working at the slaughterhouse Fred had never displayed any such tendencies.
Rena’s marriage with Fred ran into rough weather when she wanted to take the kids back to Glasgow with her, but Fred put his foot down and refused. She left for Scotland alone, but did not like being away from her daughter. So, she came back only to find Anna McFall and Fred living in a trailer together with her daughters.
In 1967, Anna McFall conceived Fred’s child. She had been pressurizing Fred to marry her after divorcing Rena. Her persistent demand made Fred think of a permanent solution to the problem. He killed her, dismembered her body and buried her body parts together with the foetus near the trailer park in July 1967. But before burying her dismembered body he cut her fingers and toes off. This was to continue as an odd ritual in all of his future dismemberments. What he did with the body parts he cut off before disposing off the rest of the body remains unknown. There are several theories about it.
After the death – rather, murder – of Anna McFall, Fred was a bit nervous for sometime, but when Rena returned to live with him in the trailer, he was back to his normal self. He happily allowed Rena to go out and get some money by prostitution. By this time he had also started fondling Charmaine quite openly.
Mary Bastholm, an attractive 15-year-old, was abducted from a bus station in Gloucester. It is believed that Fred did it because he knew Mary and she had also been seen in a car with a woman that fit the description of Anna McFall in the past. Fred did abduct other young females much the same way later. However, there is no concrete proof to tie him to Bastholm’s disappearance.
When he was working as delivery driver for a bakery he came across Rose Letts on November 29, 1968. Rose was to become his wife in future and would continue to be his long-term partner in the gruesome crimes that the duo would commit together in the following years.
Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as a three-part ‘Crime File’ in July 2014.