Psychology

Women Who Kill: Gloucester House of Horror

Hello Spooky Season

For twenty-five years, Rosemary West appeared as an unassuming British mother. Until a search of the inside of her home revealed a woman involved in brutal incest, beatings, sexual torture and the murder and dismemberment of numerous young women – including her own daughter. Her horrendous doing backed by her husband, established the couple as two of the most horrific serial killers known to the United Kingdom. 

Rosemary “Rose” West’s behavior was a direct reflection of a terrible childhood. Born as Rosemary Letts, on November 29, 1953 in Devon, England, her life was doomed from the start – when her mother Daisy was given electric shock therapy, while pregnant, to treat her depression. Some experts argue that this may have caused a prenatal injury; damaging West’s own psyche in utero, predisposing her to violence before she was even born. 

But, of course, nurture also had a large role in establishing cruelty in Rosemary West.  

Her father, William (Bill) Letts, is remembered as a superficially charming former-Naval officer who obsessed over cleanliness and regularly beat his wife and children. It was speculated that he may have had schizophrenia, as he was prone to violence, and may have been sexually abusing Rose throughout her childhood. This abuse led to a young Rose deciding to experiment with her sexuality by molesting her brothers, raping one when he was 12, and harassing the local boys in her neighborhood. A neighbor remembered the future murderess as “a strange girl, but you wouldn’t have expected her to go on and do that…I do remember the family, I thought they seemed quite normal, but you never know what happens behind closed doors.”

When Fred met Rose

Rose’s early exposure to the intersection of sex and violence reached a fever pitch when she met Fred West, one night, at a bus stop. 27-year-old Fred was looking for his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Charmaine, when he ran into 15-year-old Rosemary. The couple quickly got married and moved in together, against the will of Rose’s father. Shortly after, Rose found herself alone, pregnant (with Heather Ann) and responsible for Fred’s daughter, Anne Marie, and stepdaughter, Charmaine, while Fred was in prison for theft and other charges. 

According to sources, it was around this time when Rose began to have regular outbursts of anger, potentially associated with the pressure of not being able to handle three kids while still being a child herself. Due to this, she starts to hate Charmaine, Fred’s stepchild, particularly because of her rebelliousness. Consequently, Charmaine ‘goes missing’ in the summer of 1971. When asked about the girl, Rose would say she, “gone to live with her mother and bloody good riddance.” However, later, Charmaine’s mother, Rena West, came to town looking for her… but quickly went missing as well. 

This would become a recurring theme in the West household…  

Fred West returns home from prison and Rose confesses to what she did in his absence – resulting in a revelation of a shared interest: violence. Rosemary starts performing sex work inside their modest semi-detached house on 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, England; often while Fred watched. She then becomes pregnant with their second daughter, Mae, shortly after. Soon, the couple begin committing acts of torture on young women in the cellar of their house. Their first prey was Fred’s daughter Anne Marie, whom he raped and tortured while Rose held her down. They then extended outside the family and performed the same ritual on 17-year-old Caroline Owens, who was employed as their nanny, in late 1972. 

Despite threats that she would be killed and buried in the cellar, Owens was able to make an escape and report the Wests to the police. Charges were brought against them, but incredibly, despite his existing criminal record, Fred was able to convince a 1973 court magistrate that Owens had consented to the activities. Owens, too traumatized to give testimony, wasn’t present in court to defend herself, enabling the Wests to escape with only fines. During this time, Rose was pregnant with their first son, Stephen. 

The incident provided an example of what would become the couple’s pattern of picking up young girls from bus stops in and around Gloucester and offering them a ride; often proposing to let them stay in their home as renters.

Some of the Wests’ victims

They would then imprison them in the cellar for several days before killing them. Over the next several years, Lynda Gough, Lucy Partington, Juanita Mott, Therese Siegenthaler, Alison Chambers, Shirley Robinson and 15-year-old schoolgirls, Carol Ann Cooper and Shirley Hubbard, will all become victims of the Wests. After brutal sexual attacks, all were murdered, dismembered and buried in the cellar under 25 Cromwell Street. 

Life as one of Rosemary’s children

Rose becomes the mother of eight children – five of which were fathered by Fred West, while three were fathered by clients she met through prostitution. It is reported that, even after the birth of her fourth child, Rose’s father would still visit her for sex, and would then rape Fred’s daughter, Anne Marie.   Even in the midst of a sadistic killing spree, Fred’s sexual interest in his own daughters never wavered. So, when Anne Marie decided to move out to live with her boyfriend, Fred switched his attention from her to her younger siblings, Heather, and Mae. 

Heather (16 at the time) resisted his attentions and, in 1987, told a friend about what was happening in the house. The Wests responded by murdering and dismembering her, and burying her body in the back garden, where son Stephen was forced to assist with digging the hole. Fred claimed that he had not meant to kill her but that she had been sneering at him and he “had to take the smirk off her face”. Rose told an inquiring neighbor the following day that she and Heather had a “hell of a row”, suggesting that Rosemary may have initiated Heather’s death.

They told their children that Heather left for a job in Devon but later changed the story to her having ran off with a lesbian lover when she failed to contact or visit them. “[She] made a conscious decision to leave… Heather was a lesbian and she wanted a life of her own.”

However, a dark joke from Fred about misbehaving children winding up underneath the patio like Heather revealed the truth to their children; and in 1992, the Wests’ youngest daughter confessed to a friend what their father was doing to them and social services were alerted. Fred was arrested after being accused of raping his 13-year-old daughter three times and Rose was arrested for child cruelty. Unfortunately, the case collapsed in June 1993 when their daughter was too frightened to testify in court. 

Social workers investigating the potential abuse alerted the police to the children’s mentions of fears of “ending up like Heather.” This brought to light the disappearance of Heather West, which had before gone unnoticed by authorities. Now aware that no one has seen or heard from Heather since 1987, the police launch a major investigation into the Wests. In 1994, the police searched the cellar, garden, patio and beneath the floor in the bathroom, and found the remains of Heather, the bodies of Charmaine and her mother Rena, and eight other females. 

The victims still had restraints and gags attached to them. One was mummified with duct tape, with a straw poked into a nostril, suggesting that the Wests gave her enough oxygen to keep her alive while they unleashed their sadism. Most had been decapitated or dismembered, and one had been scalped.

At first, Fred took the blame for all the murders while Rose claimed her innocence, stating that she had no idea of what Fred was doing. However, Rose’s equal culpability was soon uncovered as the circumstantial evidence against her became overwhelming.

One of the first houses to be dubbed a ‘House of Horror’

In prosecution’s opening statement, prosecutor Brian Leveson portrayed Fred and Rose as sadistic-sex obsessed murders, terming the bodies discovered at Cromwell Street “secrets more terrible than words can express…” He pointed out that Fred was incarcerated when Charmaine was killed; claimed that Fred and Rose had each learned from their mistake in allowing Caroline Owens to live (they “would never be so trusting again”); and said that the gag (a scarf tied with a bow) on victim Therese Siegenthaler showed a “feminine” touch‍. Prosecution witnesses included Cromwell Street lodgers; victims’ relatives; Rose’s mother Daisy and sister Glenys; and surviving victims including Anne Marie West, Kathryn Halliday (a former lover of Fred and Rose), Caroline Owens, and a “Miss A” (who had been sexually assaulted at age 14 by Fred and Rose in 1977, and who described Rose as the more aggressive perpetrator of the two).

Defense contended that Rose was unaware of the extent of Fred’s sadism and urged the jury to not be prejudiced by her promiscuity and domineering manner. Against the advice of her counsel, Rose herself testified. Her affect was sometimes morose and tearful, then it would become upbeat and humorous. She wept while describing herself as a victim of child abuse and rape who naively married a violent and domineering man, but joked about issues such as her “always being pregnant”, and laughed while describing one victim’s “grandfather glasses”. 

She claimed never to have met six of the victims buried at Cromwell Street, and to recall very little of her assault on Owens. When shown photographs of the victims buried in the cellar and of victim Alison Chambers, and asked by her attorney whether she recognized any of their faces, Rose’s face turned bright red and she repeatedly stuttered as she replied, “No, sir.” When questioned as to life at Cromwell Street, Rose claimed she and Fred had lived separate lives, which was inconsistent with the earlier testimony of witnesses who had visited or lodged at their address. To further paint Fred as the sole person in control, who was capable of abducting and assaulting women without Rose, Defense called a succession of women who claimed to have been attacked or assaulted by a lone man whose physical description matched that of Fred between 1966 and 1975. Each of these seven women recognized Fred as their attacker when his photograph appeared in the media in 1994 – confirming that he was indeed a serial rapist and molester. Yet it was prosecution’s final witness, Janet Leach, that provided the most accurate depiction of Fred and Rose’s roles within their sadistic world.

Janet Leach, Fred’s court-appointed social worker (who works to safeguard the welfares, rights and effective participation of children and vulnerable adults detained or interviewed as suspects), was called to testify in rebuttable to the tape recordings of Fred’s confession in which he stressed that Rose had “known nothing at all” about the murders. Leach testified that through her role, Fred had gradually begun to view her as a confidante; and confided in her that on the evening prior to their arrest, he and Rose formed a pact that he would take full responsibility of the murders – many of which he privately described to her as being “some of Rose’s mistakes”.

Fred had further divulged that Rose had indeed murdered Charmaine while he had been incarcerated, and had also murdered Shirley Robinson. Fred also confided that he had dismembered the victims, and Rose had participated in the mutilation and dismemberment of Robinson, having personally removed her child from her womb after her death. In reference to the remaining eight murders for which Rose was charged, Leach testified that Fred had confided that Rose “played a major part” in those murders, as well.

At the age of 65, Rose was convicted of 10 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1995. Fred escaped a similar fate by killing himself in jail, after scribbling “Freddy, the mass murderer from Gloucester” on the wall. 


Sources:

  • Milne, Andrew. Molested, Murdered, And Mummified: The Crimes Of Serial Killer Rosemary West. All That’s Interesting. 2019.
  • Evans, Rebecca. Fred and Rose West’s daughter Mae reveals terror of being raped when she was five. The Sun. 2019 
  • Newton, Michael. Murderpedia: An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers. The Gloucester House of Horrors. Rosemary Pauline West.
  • Charlton, Corey. WOMEN WHO KILL History’s most notorious female serial killers revealed… the chilling reasons why they turned to murder. The Sun. 2017.
  • Biography.com. Rosemary West. Original: 2014. Updated: 2020.
  • Sillem, Tanya; Wandless, Paul (26 November 1995). “More Questions than Answers”The Independent. UK.
  • Sounes, Howard (1995). Fred and Rose: The Full Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors. Warner Books (London).

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