From the outside, 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, England, looked as commonplace as the married couple who lived there. But in 1994, Fred and Rose West’s home would become infamous as a “house of horrors” when the remains of nine young women—many of them decapitated, dismembered, and showing evidence of sexual torture—were found interred under its cellar, bathroom floor, and garden. And this wasn’t the only burial ground: Fred’s first wife and nanny were unearthed miles away in a field, while his eight-year-old stepdaughter was found entombed under the Wests’ former residence.
Yet, for more than twenty years, the twosome maintained a façade of normalcy while abusing and murdering female boarders, hitchhikers, and members of their own family. Howard Sounes, who first broke the story about the Wests as a journalist and covered the murder trial, has written a comprehensive account of the case. Beginning with Fred and Rose’s bizarre childhoods, Sounes charts their lives and crimes in forensic detail, constructing a fascinating and frightening tale of a marriage soaked in blood. Indeed, the total number of the Wests’ victims may never be known.
A case reminiscent of the “Moors Murders” committed in the 1960s in Manchester by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady—as if Hindley and Brady had married and kept on killing for decades—Fred & Rose “is a story of obsessive love as well as obsessive murder” (The Times, London).
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About the Author
Shortly after Fred & Rose was published, Sounes resigned from the Daily Mirror to pursue a career as a full-time author. His subsequent books have included a biography of American writer Charles Bukowski (Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life); biographies of musicians Bob Dylan (Down the Highway), Paul McCartney (Fab), and Lou Reed (Notes from the Velvet Underground); a book about Amy Winehouse and other musicians who died at the age of twenty-seven (Amy, 27); a history of the arts in the 1970s (Seventies); and Heist: The True Story of the World’s Biggest Cash Robbery.
For more information visit www.howardsounes.com.
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Fred & Rose
The Full Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors
By Howard Sounes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Howard Sounes
All rights reserved.
THE BLUE-EYED BOY
The village of Much Marcle lies just off the A449 road, halfway between the market towns of Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye, in rich Herefordshire countryside one hundred and twenty miles west of London. The Malvern Hills are to the north, the Wye Valley is to the west and the Forest of Dean to the south. Gloucester, the nearest major city, is fourteen miles away across the River Severn.
At the beginning of the Second World War, Much Marcle was a village of approximately seven hundred people, most of whom were employed on the land. An ancient settlement dating back to the Iron Age, the unusual name of the village derives from Old English, meaning 'boundary wood'; the prefix 'Much' sets it apart from the neighbouring hamlet of Little Marcle. The local accent is distinctive: Gloucester is pronounced 'Glaaster' and sentences are often concluded with the word 'mind', pronounced 'minde'.
There are several grand residences in the village, including a Queen Anne rectory and Homme House, the setting for a wedding scene in the Victorian book Kilvert's Diary. Much Marcle's other notable buildings are the half-timbered cottages, the redbrick school house, the Memorial Hall and cider factory. Standing on opposite sides of the main road are Weston's Garage and the Wallwyn Arms public house, and along the lane from the Wallwyn Arms is the thirteenth-century sandstone parish church, St Bartholomew's, distinguished by its higgledy-piggledy graveyard and imposing, gargoyled tower.
The surrounding countryside is a pleasing sweep of green pasture and golden corn, with orchards of heavy cider apples and venerable perry pear trees left over from the last century, geometric hop fields and ploughed acres of plain red soil.
In fact it is such an uneventful place that a landslide during the reign of Elizabeth I long remained the most fantastical event in Much Marcle's history. For three days in 1575 there was much fear and excitement in the parish when 'Marclay Hill ... roused itself out of a dead sleep and with a roaring noise removed from the place where it stood', destroying all in its path, including hedgerows, two highways and a chapel. A wall of earth and stone fifteen feet high was the result of the mysterious upheaval, and it is marked to this day on Ordnance Survey maps as 'The Wonder'.
The Marcle and Yatton Flower Show and Sports Fair has been held in a field on the edge of the village on the last Saturday in August since the 1890s. It is the main summer event in the area, a descendant of the more ancient Marcle Fayres. Stallholders sell food, fancy goods and clothing; there are also fairground rides, exhibitions and sports, including a five-and-a-half-mile road race between Ledbury and the village.
It was during the August of 1939 when the man who would become Fred West's father sauntered down the lane from the nearby hamlet of Preston, heading for the Marcle Fair. Walter West, a powerfully built young farm hand, was born in 1914 and had been raised near the town of Ross-on-Wye. He was intimidated as a child by his army sergeant father, a forbidding character who was decorated for his service in the Great War of 1914–18. Walter complained that even when the old man came out of the army, he did not leave its disciplinarian ways behind.
With little education, barely able to read or write, Walter had left school at the age of eleven to work on the land. His maternal grandfather was a wagoner, employed to tend farm horses and their tackle; Walter became the wagoner's boy.
He had married for the first time when he was twenty-three, to a nurse almost exactly twice his age. One of twin sisters, Gertrude Maddocks was a 45-year-old spinster with a long, kindly face. She married Walter in 1937, and they set up home together in Preston. Walter went to work at Thomas' Farm nearby.
Gertrude was unable to have children, so the couple decided to foster a one-year-old boy named Bruce from an orphanage. Two years into the marriage, Gertrude met a bizarre death when, on a hot June day, she was stung by a bee, collapsed and died as young Bruce stood helplessly by. Walter found her body sprawled on the garden path when he returned home. After the funeral, he realised that he was unable to care for his adopted son on his own and handed the boy back to the orphanage.
Walter always spoke fondly of his first wife, despite the considerable age gap between them and the brevity of their marriage. He kept her photograph and the brass-bound Maddocks family bible among his most valued possessions for the rest of his life.
It was two and a half months after Gertrude's funeral when Walter attended the 1939 Marcle Fair. He was loafing along between the attractions when he came to a needlework stall, where a wavy-haired girl was displaying her work. The girl was shy and unforthcoming, but Walter eventually discovered that her name was Daisy Hill and that she was in service in Ledbury. Her parents lived in a tied cottage called Cowleas, on a sloping track known as Cow Lane near Weston's cider factory in the village. Her father, William Hill, was a familiar figure in the area: a tall, skinny man with a large black moustache who tended a milking herd of Hereford cattle. His family had been in Much Marcle, mostly working the land, for as long as anyone could remember, and were sometimes mocked in the village as being simple-minded. Because they were named Hill, and their home was built on a slight rise, the family were known as 'The Hillbillies'.
One of four children, Daisy Hannah Hill was only sixteen years old when she met Walter. She was an unworldly young girl, short and squat of figure with a plain face and a gap between her two front teeth. Daisy was flattered and surprised by the attentions of this mature man, and accepted Walter's invitation to take a turn with him on the swing-boats. They whooped excitedly as they rode through the air above the green countryside, marvelling at how far they could see.
They courted for a while as Walter continued to live at Preston, a half-hour walk from the home of Daisy's parents. He then took a job as a cow-man, like Daisy's father.
Walter married Daisy at St Bartholomew's on 27 January 1940. Before the service, friends and family gathered under the ancient yew tree outside the church porch, making sure their ties were straight and their shoes clean. Where Walter's first wife had been so much older than himself, there was comment among the guests that the second Mrs Walter West was a girl of only seventeen. Daisy wore a white dress with a veil, gloves, and little silver slippers; she carried tulips and a lucky horseshoe. The groom was a burly man who looked older than his twenty-six years. He was dressed in his good dark suit, draping his pocket-watch and chain across his waistcoat, and wore a carnation in his buttonhole. When it came to signing the parish register, Walter betrayed his lack of education by printing his name in large childish letters.
He had found living in Preston upsetting after Gertrude's death, so the newly-married couple set up home at Veldt House Cottages, just off the A449 main road. Daisy fell pregnant with their first child almost immediately.
She was eight months into her term, and alone in the house, when there was a knock at the door one evening. Daisy did not like opening up when Walter was out milking, but the visitor would not go away, so she had little choice. Confronting her was a stern-looking policeman in full uniform. Daisy was such a nervous and unsophisticated young girl that she found the sight of the policeman deeply unsettling, even though there was nothing for her to worry about. He explained that there had been a road accident outside the cottage: a man had been knocked off his bicycle and the policeman wanted to know whether she had witnessed anything. Daisy gabbled that she had not, and quickly said goodbye. But the visit had so excited her that, by the time Walter returned home, his wife had gone into labour. A tiny baby daughter was born prematurely later that night and given the name Violet. She died in the cradle a few days later.
Walter and Daisy then moved into a red-brick tied cottage at a lonely but pretty junction in the village known as Saycells' Corner. The surrounding fields were covered with wild flowers, and a footpath known as the 'Daffodil Way' cut across a nearby meadow.
Bickerton Cottage was almost one hundred years old, and very primitive. It had neither electricity nor gas, and its water was drawn from a well in the garden by hand pump. To the left of the front door was a living room with an antiquated iron cooking range; both this room and the scullery had stone floors and low ceilings. A small flight of narrow stairs led up to two box-like bedrooms. The windows of the little house were four tiny squares that looked out over an orchard of apple trees and, on the other side of the lane, a large willow. The Wests kept chickens and a pig in an outhouse behind the cottage; this was also where they emptied the bucket that was their only toilet.
Once settled in, Daisy became pregnant again. She took to her bed in late 1941 to give birth for the second time, groaning with pain throughout a bleak autumn night. A fire was built in her bedroom and water was set to boil on the range downstairs. Daisy could hear the barking of foxes and the hoot of owls as the clock ticked away the hours of darkness. At last, as the sky lightened with the dawn, a healthy baby boy was born, gulping his first breath at 8:30 A.M. on 29 September 1941.
Four weeks later the proud parents carried their son down the lane, through the gate of St Bartholomew's and into the chill of the nave. The Reverend Alexander Spittall bent to his work over the Norman tub font. He murmured the baptism, as the water trickled through his hands, naming the screaming infant Frederick Walter Stephen West. It would soon be abbreviated to Freddie West and, later on, to Fred West.
The joy and pride that Daisy felt were obvious for all to see. She took little Freddie to her bed each night, where she cuddled and petted the boy, often to the exclusion of her own husband. Hers was a beautiful baby: the curly hair that would later grow so dark was straw-yellow at first, and everybody marvelled at his astonishing blue eyes, shining like two huge sapphires. Daisy displayed Freddie's christening card in a prominent position in the cottage. Illuminated in gold, red and blue like a page from a sacred book, the card read: 'He that Believeth and is Baptised shall be Saved.'
Daisy gave birth to six more children over the following decade, in conditions of considerable poverty. For several years it seemed as if she had hardly given birth to one child before falling pregnant with the next.
The Second World War brought the additional hardship of rationing to the village. Walter earned only £6 per week, and the family quite literally had to live off the land. Windfall cooking apples and other fruit could be collected free from the orchard behind the cottage; chickens were kept for eggs and to provide a bird at Christmas. Walter brought pails of unpasteurised milk home from the farm each day, and in the evening and at weekends, tended his vegetable garden. Daisy baked her own bread and worked at her laundry in an iron tub behind the cottage. As she washed, Daisy cooed and fussed over Freddie, who stared back at her from his cradle with his big blue eyes.
The next baby, John Charles Edward, arrived in November 1942, just thirteen months after Fred. The relationship between the two boys would be the closest and most complex of any of the children. Walter and Daisy seldom left their sons alone, and seemed to care for them very much. John Cox, who has lived next door to Bickerton Cottage since 1927, remembers: 'They thought a lot of the children. If ever they went off, they took the kiddies with them on their bicycles.'
Daisy gave birth to her third son within eleven months of having John. David Henry George was born on 24 October 1943, when Fred was two, but suffered from a heart defect and died a month later. It was partly because of his death that Daisy wanted to move on from Bickerton Cottage.
They went to live at a house named Hill's Barn in the village. Daisy again fell pregnant. Her first daughter, Daisy Elizabeth Mary, was born in September 1944, and came to look most like her mother: they would be known to the family as 'Little Daisy' and 'Big Daisy'.
In July 1946 the family moved for the last time, to the house where Fred grew up. Moorcourt Cottage was tied to Moorcourt Farm, owned by Frank Brookes, where Walter found work tending to the milking herd and helping with the harvest. Despite being called a 'cottage', it is actually quite a large building, semidetached with two chimney stacks and a dormer window set in the tiled roof. It stands on the outskirts of Much Marcle at a bend in the Dymock road, surrounded by open country. Looking out of the front windows there are uninterrupted views of the fields stretching away to May Hill in the distance. Cows low in the meadows, and the spire of St Bartholomew's, within an embrace of yew trees, is just visible over to the right of the panorama.
In the autumn after they moved into Moorcourt Cottage, Daisy gave birth to her final son, Douglas. At first he shared his mother's bed, as the other babies had, but was then put in with Fred and John. Kathleen – known as Kitty, and the prettiest of the girls – was born fourteen months later; Gwen's birth in 1951 completed the family. Daisy, having borne eight children in ten years, was now a heavy-set 28-year-old woman, hardened by life and quite different in looks and character to the timid teenager Walter had married.
Conditions at Moorcourt Cottage were basic. Eight slept in three cramped bedrooms: one for Mr and Mrs West, one for the three girls, and one for the boys, where Doug took the single bed and Fred and John shared the double. A tin bath was set in front of the parlour fire on wash nights, the children bathing under the watch of a pair of crude ornamental Alsatian dogs Walter had won at the Hereford Fair. Toilet facilities consisted of a simple bucket which had to be emptied each morning into a sewage pit, and rats were a constant pest. When Daisy saw one crossing the yard, she would blast at it with Walter's shotgun – one of Fred's abiding memories of his mother was of her shooting at 'varmints'.
Of the six surviving children, Fred was his mother's favourite. Coming after the tragedy of Violet's death he was particularly precious; the son that Walter had wanted and the answer to Daisy's prayers. As the baby grew up he could do no wrong; younger brother Doug described Fred as 'mammy's blue-eyed boy'. Daisy believed whatever Fred told her and took his side in squabbles between the children. For his part, Fred adored his mother and did exactly as she said.
The bond between them was perhaps unnaturally close. 'Fred came first with Daisy, even in front of Walter. She thought the world of Fred,' says her sister-in-law, Edna Hill. Partly as a result of this mollycoddling, Fred was a spoilt, dull and introverted child.
He was also scruffy. Daisy did her best to dress him nicely, in baggy shorts held up with braces, cotton shirts and sleeveless Fair Isle sweaters, but Fred always managed to look unkempt. Thick, curly brown hair grew up in a little bush on top of his head – just like his mother, whose looks he had inherited. Doug and John looked more like their father, and also got along with him, which Fred never did. There had been an awkwardness between father and son from the day Daisy brought Freddie into her bed.
Walter was well-liked in the village. He was a regular at the Wallwyn Arms on Saturday nights, and was sociable enough to organise the once- or twice-yearly village outings to the seaside, usually to Barry Island in South Wales. The day trips were the only holiday most of the villagers ever had, and they would pose for group photographs upon arrival to mark the occasion. Fred tends to look happy when he is photographed with his family, as long as his father is not in the frame. One snapshot shows Fred laughing uproariously with brother Doug as his mother clowns about with a neighbour. But when Walter's stern face was in the picture, as it is in the surviving photograph of the Barry Island trips, Fred looks distinctly uncomfortable.
At the age of five, Fred was enrolled in the village school – the only one he ever attended, serving for both his junior and senior education. The backwaters of Herefordshire were slow in improving education standards after the war, and there was no secondary school in the area until 1961. The West brothers walked the two miles there and back every day, joining up with groups of other local children along the way.
Discipline was strict. Classmates remember Fred as being dim, dirty and 'always in trouble' because of his slovenly performance. He was regularly given the slipper. After the age of eight, he was old enough to be caned along with the rest of the children. Daisy was outraged by the regular punishments which Fred tearfully reported back to her. His class squealed in delight at the sight of Mrs West, dressed in one of her big floral frocks with her hands on her hips, haranguing their teacher after Fred had been hit. Fred became known as a mummy's boy partly because of these scenes, and was repeatedly mocked and bullied.
Excerpted from Fred & Rose by Howard Sounes. Copyright © 1995 Howard Sounes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 THE BLUE-EYED BOY,
2 BRAIN DAMAGE,
3 THE HELLER,
4 DOZY ROSIE,
5 THE SCOTTISH CONNECTION,
6 THE MURDER OF ANNA McFALL,
7 ROSE LOVES FRED,
8 THE TRAGEDY OF MIDLAND ROAD,
9 CROMWELL STREET,
10 THE SPIDERS' WEB,
11 THE CHARNEL-HOUSE,
12 BETRAYAL OF TRUST,
13 FLESH AND BLOOD,
15 BEHIND THE MASK,
16 DETECTIVE SAVAGE,
17 UNDER THE PATIO,
18 THE HOUSE OF HORRORS,
19 THE TOOTH FAIRY,
21 BLUEBEARD'S WIFE,
THE WEST FAMILY TREE,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
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