Fred and Rose West
Did a head injury in youth set Fred West on his murderous path? And what demons drove his wife to join him?
Not only did this couple act as a 'team' in their sick and sordid fantasies, but they breached the most fundamental tenets of natural law and human morality to carry out their debased crimes even on their own children.
When the police had finally excavated the West's home, they tallied 10 murders, but before he hanged himself on remand at Winson Green, Fred claimed to have killed around 30, and it seems likely that the number they murdered will perhaps never be truly known.
Fred West was born into a poor family of farmworkers - the second of six siblings. By his account, the family was highly dysfunctional to say the least. He claimed that incest was commonplace within the family and that his father had regular sex with all his daughters, as well as engaging in bestiality. West said his father lived by the maxim: "do whatever you like, just don't get caught doing it." He would also claim that his mother began molesting him at the age of 12.
Whatever the truth of these claims, they certainly represent life as West would ultimately come to live it himself.
An alternative explanation for his behaviour relates to a near-fatal motorcycle accident he suffered when he was 17. In a coma for 8 days following multiple fractures to various limbs and his skull, he was said to have become susceptible to sudden fits of rage afterwards. Aged 19, he suffered a further injury when he was knocked unconscious for 24 hours following a fall down a fire escape.
At this point, he was also arrested for the first time. His crime was a terrible foreshadow for what was to come, and also hinted at the official incompetence that was to see him evade capture for many years. Convicted of molesting a 13 year old girl, he escaped imprisonment. His family effectively disowned him (curious, if his tales of their treatment of him were true) and he was sent to live with relatives.
By 21, he was married to Catherine Costello - known as "Rena", the name under which she plied her trade as a prostitute. They had one daughter, Anne Marie, and another child Charmaine with whom Costello was pregnant when she first met Fred. At this point, living in Lanarkshire, Fred was an ice cream van driver. Tragically (if one assumes an accident) he ran over and killed a 4 year old boy with his van in November 1965.
Afraid for his safety following this accident, the Wests moved - along with two friends, Anne McFall and Isa McNeill - to a caravan park in Gloucestershire.
By now Fred's behaviour was already deteriorating to such an extent that both Costello and McNeill fled back to Scotland to escape his violent sexuality. McFall, however, had become obsessed with West and soon fell pregnant. In August 1967, 8 months pregnant, she vanished.
She was never reported missing and her whereabouts remained unknown until her remains were dug up in 1994.
Sexually abused by her father when her mother left home when she was a teenager, it is little wonder that Rosemary Letts was considered to be 'moody' and failed to perform well at school. Her father suffered from schizophrenia and her mother was acutely depressive. The household was dominated by the shadow of her father's tempers and rigid discipline and was rarely financially stable as he drifted in and out of employment.
Her mother, in a cycle of deepening decline was admitted to hospital for her depression in 1953. Incredibly from today's perspective, she was subjected to electroshock therapy despite being pregnant with Rose.
Amongst the tense, menacing atmosphere generated by her parents' respective conditions, Rose became sexually precocious and developed a taste for older men - her father showing short shrift to any boys of Rose's own age who displayed in an interest in her. Her increasing awareness of her own sexuality delivered her into the ambit of Fred West and the even more twisted life he was already living.
Living in Bishop's Cleeve, where Fred West was still living in his caravan, the then 16 year old Rosemary Letts became involved with Fred and his dysfunctional family. Even her abusive father was concerned enough to threaten to call social services (and to threaten West himself) but Rose was soon living with West and helping to look after his children. By 1970, the pair were married and moved to a more permanent residence on Midland Road in Gloucester itself.
Soon, she would be a willing partner in murder.