An undated photo of Fred and Rose
(likely taken between 1983 and 1989)
Rosemary Pauline Letts
29 November 1953
Northam, Devon, England
|Spouse(s)||Fred West (1972–1995; his death)|
|Conviction(s)||Sexual assault, murder|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment (whole life order)|
Span of crimes
|June 1971–May 1987|
Rosemary Pauline West (née Letts; born 29 November 1953) is a British serial killer. She is now an inmate at HM Prison New Hall, Flockton, West Yorkshire, England, after being convicted in 1995 of ten murders.
Rose was judged to have murdered her 8-year-old stepdaughter, Charmaine, in 1971. Her husband, Fred, who committed suicide in prison while awaiting trial in 1995, is believed to have collaborated with her in the torture and murder of at least nine young women between 1973 and 1987. The majority of these murders were committed at the couple's home in Gloucester.
Rosemary Letts was born in Northam, Devon to William Andrew "Bill" Letts (25 February 1921 – 24 May 1979) and Daisy Gwendoline Fuller (1919 –) after a difficult pregnancy. She was the fifth of seven children born into a poor family. Rose's mother suffered from depression and was given ECT while pregnant; some have argued that this treatment may have caused prenatal injuries to her daughter. Rose herself grew up into a moody and precocious teenager, prone to daydreaming and performing poorly at school.
Rose's parents separated when she was a teenager. She lived with her mother and attended Cleeve School for six months, later moving in with her father at the age of 16 in Bishop's Cleeve, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; her father, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was prone to extreme violence and repeatedly sexually abused her and her oldest sister Patricia.
At the onset of puberty, Rose, reportedly fascinated by her developing body, would deliberately parade naked or semi-naked around the house in the presence of her younger brother, Graham (born 1957). On numerous occasions, at the age of 13, she would also creep into 9-year-old Graham's bed at nightfall and molest him and her youngest brother Gordon. Rose also sexually assaulted Graham when he was 12 years old.
Meeting Fred West
Rose first encountered Fred West in early 1969, shortly after her 15th birthday; he was 27. The pair first met at Cheltenham bus station. Initially, Rose was repulsed by Fred's unkempt appearance, and deduced he was a tramp, but she quickly became flattered by the attention he continued to lavish on her over the following days as he invariably sat alongside her at the same bus stop. Rose twice refused to go on a date with Fred, but allowed him to accompany her home.
Having discovered Rose worked in a nearby bread shop, a few days after their first encounter, Fred persuaded an unknown woman to enter the premises and present her with a gift accompanied by the explanation that a "man outside" had asked her to present this gift to her. Minutes later, Fred entered the premises and asked Rose to accompany him on a date that evening, an offer she accepted. Shortly thereafter, Rose began a relationship with Fred, becoming a frequent visitor at the caravan park where he lived with the two children from his first marriage, daughter Anna Marie and stepdaughter Charmaine. Rose became a willing childminder to Fred's daughters, whom she noted were neglected and whom she initially treated with care and affection. On several occasions in the early days of their courtship, Rose insisted she and Fred take the girls on excursions to gather wild flowers.
Within weeks of her first meeting Fred, Rose left her job at the bread shop in order to become the full-time nanny to Charmaine and Anna Marie; this decision was made with the agreement that Fred would provide her with sufficient money to give to her parents on Fridays to convince them she was still obtaining a salary at the bread shop. Several months later, Rose introduced Fred to her family, who were aghast at their daughter's choice of partner. Rose's mother, Daisy Letts, was unimpressed with Fred's braggadocio, and correctly concluded he was a pathological liar; her father vehemently disapproved of the relationship, threatening Fred directly and promising to call social services if he continued to associate with his daughter.
Rose's parents forbade their daughter from continuing to date Fred, but she defied their wishes, prompting them to visit Gloucestershire social services to explain that their 15-year-old daughter had a sexual relationship with an older man, and that they had heard rumours that she had begun to engage in prostitution at Fred's caravan. In response, Rose was placed in a home for troubled teenagers in Cheltenham in August 1969, and only allowed to leave under controlled conditions. When allowed to return home to visit her parents at weekends, Rose almost invariably took the opportunity to visit Fred.
On her 16th birthday, Rose left the home for troubled teenagers to return to her parents while Fred was serving a 30-day sentence for theft and unpaid fines. Upon Fred's release, Rose left her parents' home to move into the Cheltenham flat Fred then lived in. Shortly thereafter, Fred collected Charmaine and Anna Marie from social services. Rose's father made one final effort to prevent his daughter from seeing Fred, and Rose was examined by a police surgeon in February 1970, who confirmed she was pregnant. In response, Rose was again placed into care, but was discharged on 6 March on the understanding she would terminate her pregnancy and return to her family. Instead, Rose opted to live with Fred, resulting in her father forbidding his daughter from ever again setting foot in his household.
Three months later, the couple vacated the Cheltenham flat and relocated to the ground floor flat of a two-storey house in Midland Road, Gloucester. On 17 October 1970, Rose gave birth to their first child: a daughter they named Heather Ann (speculation remains that Heather may have been sired by Rose's own father). Two months later, Fred was imprisoned for the theft of car tyres and a vehicle tax disc. He remained imprisoned until 24 June 1971. As he served this six-and-a-half-month sentence, Rose, having just turned 17, looked after the three girls, with Charmaine and Anna Marie being told to refer to Rose as their mother.
According to Anna Marie, she and Charmaine were frequently subjected to physical and emotional abuse throughout the time they lived under Rose's care at Midland Road, but although Anna Marie was generally submissive and prone to display emotion in response to the physical and mental hardships she and her sister endured, Charmaine repeatedly infuriated Rose by her stoic refusal to either cry or display any sign of grief or servitude no matter how severely she was treated. Despite the years of neglect and abuse, Charmaine's spirit had not been broken, and she talked wistfully to Anna Marie of the belief she held that her "mummy will come and save me". Anna Marie later recollected her sister repeatedly antagonised Rose by making statements such as: "My real mummy wouldn't swear or shout at us" in response to Rose's scathing language. A childhood friend of Charmaine's named Tracey Giles, who had lived in the upper flat of Midland Road, would later recollect an incident in which she had entered the Wests' flat, unannounced, only to see Charmaine, naked and standing upon a chair, gagged and with her hands bound behind her back with a belt, as Rose stood alongside the child with a large wooden spoon in her hand. According to Giles, Charmaine had been "calm and unconcerned", while Anna Marie had been standing by the door with a blank expression on her face.
Hospital records reveal Charmaine had received treatment for a severe puncture wound to her left ankle in the casualty unit of the Gloucester Royal Hospital on 28 March 1971. This incident was explained by Rose to have resulted from a household accident.
Murder of Charmaine West
Rose is believed to have killed Charmaine shortly before Fred's prison release date of 24 June 1971. She is known to have taken Charmaine, Anna Marie and Heather to visit Fred on 15 June. It is believed to be on or very shortly after this date that Charmaine was murdered. As well as forensic odontology confirmation that Charmaine had died while Fred was still incarcerated, further testimony from Giles' mother, Shirley, corroborated the fact that Charmaine had been murdered before Fred had been released on 24 June. In her later testimony at Rose's trial, Shirley stated she and her family had lived in the upper flat of 25 Midland Road in 1971, and that her two daughters had been playmates of Charmaine and Anna Marie. Shirley stated that after her family had vacated the upper flat of Midland Road in April 1971, on one day in June, she had brought Tracey to visit Charmaine, only for Tracey to be told by Rose: "She's gone to live with her mother, and bloody good riddance!" before Tracey began to weep.
As with the Giles family, Rose explained Charmaine's disappearance to others who enquired about her whereabouts by claiming that Fred's first wife, Catherine "Rena" West, had called and taken her eldest daughter to live with her in Bristol; she informed staff at Charmaine's primary school that the child had moved with her mother to London. When Fred was released from prison on 24 June, he allayed Anna Marie's concerns for her sister's whereabouts by claiming her mother Rena had collected Charmaine and returned to her native Scotland. In her autobiography, Out of the Shadows, Anna Marie – who was of full English ethnicity while Charmaine was of part-Asian ethnicity – recollects that when she asked why her mother had collected Charmaine but not her, Fred callously replied: "She wouldn't want you, love. You're the wrong colour."
Charmaine's body was initially stowed in the coal cellar of Midland Road until Fred was released from prison. He later buried her naked body in the yard close to the back door of the flat, and he remained adamant he had not dismembered her. A subsequent autopsy suggested the body had been severed at the hip; this damage may have been caused by building work Fred conducted at the property in 1976. Several bones—particularly patellae, finger, wrist, toe and ankle bones—were missing from her skeleton, leading to the speculation the missing parts had been retained as keepsakes (this proved to be a distinctive discovery in all the autopsies of the victims exhumed in 1994).
Murder of Catherine "Rena" West
Rena maintained sporadic contact with her children on each occasion she and Fred separated. She is also known to have visited Fred's family in Much Marcle, Herefordshire to enquire as to her children's whereabouts and welfare in the latter half of August 1971. Fred's sister-in-law, Christine, later recollected Rena was depressed and extremely anxious about her children's welfare. Being provided with Fred's Midland Road address, Rena sought to confront him—likely to discuss or demand custody of her daughters. This was the final time Rena was seen alive. She is believed to have been murdered by strangulation, possibly in the back seat of Fred's Ford Popular and likely while intoxicated. When Rena's body was discovered, a short length of metal tubing was found with her remains, leaving an equal possibility she had been restrained and subjected to a sexual assault prior to her murder. The body was extensively dismembered, placed into plastic bags, and buried close to a cluster of trees known as Yewtree Coppice at Letterbox Field.
On 29 January 1972, Fred and Rose married. The ceremony took place at Gloucester Register Office, with Fred incorrectly describing himself as a bachelor upon the marriage certificate. No family or friends were invited. Several months later, with Rose pregnant with her second child, the couple moved from Midland Road to an address nearby: 25 Cromwell Street. Initially, the three-storey home was rented from the council; Fred later purchased the property from the council for £7,000. To facilitate the Wests' purchasing the property from the council, many of the upper floor rooms were initially converted into bedsits, to supplement the household income. To maintain a degree of privacy for his own family, Fred installed a cooker and a washbasin on the first-floor landing in order that their lodgers need not enter the ground floor where the West family lived, and only he and his family were permitted access to the garden of the property. On 1 June, Rose gave birth to a second daughter. The date of her birth led Fred and Rose to name the child Mae June.
Shortly after giving birth to her second child, Rose began to work as a prostitute, operating from an upstairs room at their residence and advertising her services in a local contact magazine. Fred encouraged Rose to seek clients in Gloucester's West Indian community through these advertisements. In addition to her prostitution, Rose engaged in casual sex with both male and female lodgers within their household, and individuals Fred encountered via his work; she also bragged to several people that no man or woman could completely satisfy her. When engaging in sexual relations with women, Rose would gradually increase the level of brutality to which she subjected her partner with acts such as partially suffocating her partner, or inserting increasingly large dildos into her partner's body. If the woman resisted or expressed any pain or fear, this would greatly excite Rose, who would typically ask: "Aren't you woman enough to take it?"
To many of these women, it became apparent Rose and her husband (who regularly participated in threesomes with his wife and her lovers) took a particular pleasure from seeking to take women beyond their sexual limits—typically via sessions involving bondage, as the Wests openly admitted to taking a particular pleasure from any form of sex involving a strong measure of dominance, pain and violence. To cater to these fetishes, they amassed a large collection of bondage and restraining devices, magazines and photographs—later expanding this collection to include videos depicting bestiality and graphic child sexual abuse.
Rose controlled the West family finances, Fred giving her his pay packets. The room Rose used for prostitution was known throughout the West household as "Rose's Room", and had several hidden peepholes allowing Fred—a longtime voyeur—to watch her entertain her clients. Fred also installed a baby monitor in the room, allowing him to listen from elsewhere in the house. The room included a private bar, and a red light outside the door warned when Rose was not to be disturbed. Rose carried the sole key to this room around her neck, and Fred installed a separate doorbell to the household which Rose's clients were instructed to ring whenever they visited. Much of the money earned from Rose's prostitution was spent on home improvements.
By 1977, Rose's father Bill had come to tolerate his daughter's marriage, and to develop a grudging respect for Fred. Together, he and Fred opened a café they named The Green Lantern, which was soon insolvent. When Bill discovered Rose's prostitution, he would also visit to have sex with his daughter. By 1983, she had given birth to eight children, at least three of whom were conceived by clients. Fred willingly accepted these children as his own, and falsely informed them the reason their skin was darker than that of their siblings was because his great-grandmother was a black woman.
When each of the West children reached the age of 7, they were assigned numerous daily chores to perform in the house; they were seldom allowed to socialise outside the household perimeters unless either Fred or Rose were present, and had to follow strict guidelines imposed by their parents, with severe punishment—almost always physical—being the penalty for not conforming to the household rules. The children feared being the recipients of violence from their parents, the vast majority inflicted by Rose, occasionally by Fred. The violence was sometimes irrational, indiscreet or just inflicted for Rose's gratification; she always took great care not to mark the children's faces or hands in these assaults. Heather, then her younger brother Stephen (born 1973), both ran away from home; they returned to Cromwell Street after several weeks of alternately sleeping rough or staying with friends, and both were beaten upon their return. Between 1972 and 1992, the West children were admitted to the Accident and Emergency department of local hospitals 31 times; the injuries were explained as accidents and never reported to social services.
On one occasion, as Stephen was mopping the kitchen floor with a cloth, Rose accidentally stepped into the bowl of water he had been using. In response, Rose hit the boy over the head with the bowl, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and chest as she shouted: "You did that on purpose, you little swine!" On another occasion, Rose became furious about a missing kitchen utensil, then grabbed a knife she had been using to cut a slab of meat, repeatedly inflicting light scour marks to Mae June's chest until her rib cage was covered with light knife wounds. All the while, Mae screamed, "No, Mum! No, Mum!" as Stephen and Heather stood by, helplessly sobbing.
Even Fred occasionally became the recipient of Rose's violence. On one occasion in August 1974, Rose chased after Fred with a carving knife in her hand; Fred was able to slam shut the door of the room into which he had run as Rose lunged at him with the knife, resulting in the knife embedding itself in the door, and three of Rose's fingers sliding down the blade, almost severing them from her hand. In response, Rose calmly wrapped her hand in a towel and said: "Look what you done, fella. You've got to take me to the hospital now."
Initial sexual assaults
Anna Marie West
In September 1972, the Wests led eight-year-old Anna Marie to the cellar at 25 Cromwell Street, where the child was ordered to undress, with Rose tearing her dress from her body upon noting the child's hesitation. She was then stripped naked, bound to a mattress and gagged before Fred raped her with Rose's active encouragement. After the rape, Rose explained to the child: "Everybody does it to every girl. It's a father's job. Don't worry, and don't say anything to anybody." Making clear these sexual assaults would continue, Fred and Rose then threatened the child with severe beatings if they ever received word she had divulged the sexual abuse she endured at their hands.
Rose occasionally sexually abused the girl herself, and later took extreme gratification in degrading her with acts such as binding Anna Marie to various items of furniture before encouraging Fred to rape her, and forcing her to perform household chores while wearing sexual devices and a mini-skirt. From the age of 13, Fred and Rose forced Anna Marie to prostitute herself within the household, with her clients being informed Anna Marie was 16. Rose was always present in the room when these acts occurred, to ensure the girl did not reveal her true age. On one occasion when Anna Marie was aged 13 or 14, Rose took her to a local pub, insisting she drink several glasses of barley wine. Several hours later, Fred arrived at the pub to collect Rose and Anna Marie. Once they had left the premises, Anna Marie was bundled into her father's van and beaten by Rose, who asked her: "Do you think you could be my friend?" before she was sexually abused by her father and stepmother.
In October 1972, the Wests hired 17-year-old Caroline Owens as their children's nanny. They had picked her up one night on a secluded country road as she hitchhiked from Tewkesbury to her Cinderford home, having visited her boyfriend. Learning that Owens disliked her stepfather and was looking for a job, the Wests offered her part-time employment as a nanny to the three children then in their household, with a promise she would be driven home each Tuesday. Several days later, Owens moved into 25 Cromwell Street, sharing a room with Anna Marie, whom Owens noted was "very withdrawn".
Rose, who had begun to engage in prostitution by this time, explained to Owens that she worked as a masseuse when the younger woman enquired about the steady stream of men visiting her. When Owens herself became the recipient of the Wests' overt sexual advances, she announced her intentions to leave Cromwell Street and return home.
Knowing Owens' habits of hitchhiking along the A40 between Cinderford and Tewkesbury, the Wests formulated a plan to abduct her for their shared gratification. Fred later admitted that the specific intent of this abduction was the rape and likely murder of Owens, but that his initial incentive was to determine whether his wife would be willing to at least assist him in an abduction. On 6 December 1972, the couple lured Owens into their vehicle with an apology for their conduct and the offer of a lift home. Initially, Owens believed the Wests had been sincere in their apologies to her and obliged, believing she had simply mistaken their earlier intentions. Rose joined her in the back seat, with the explanation she wanted a "girls' chat" as Fred drove.
Shortly thereafter, Rose began to fondle her, as Fred questioned whether she had had sex with her boyfriend that evening. When Owens began to protest, Fred stopped the car, referred to Owens as a "bitch", and punched her into unconsciousness before he and Rose bound and gagged her with a scarf and duct tape. In her subsequent statement to police, Owens stated that, at Cromwell Street, she was given a drugged cup of tea to drink, then again gagged and subjected to a prolonged sexual assault from the Wests. When Owens screamed, Rose again smothered her with a pillow and further restrained her about the neck, and performed cunnilingus on her. Quickly realising the gravity of her situation, Owens ceased resisting their sexual assaults.
The following morning, having noted Owens' screaming when one of his children had knocked on the door of the room in which she was restrained, Fred threatened that he and his wife would keep her locked up in the cellar and allow his "black friends" to abuse her, and that when they had finished, he would bury her body beneath "the paving stones of Gloucester". Fred then claimed he had killed hundreds of young girls, adding that Owens had primarily been brought to the house for "Rose's pleasure". He and Rose then calmly asked Owens whether she would consider returning to work as their nanny. Seeing her escape avenue, Owens agreed, and vacuumed the house to indicate her belief in becoming an extended member of the family. Later that day, Owens escaped from a launderette she and Rose had entered and returned home. Although initially too ashamed to divulge to her mother what had happened, when her mother noted the welts, bruises and exposed subcutaneous tissues on her daughter's body, Owens burst into tears and confided what had happened.
Owens' mother immediately reported her daughter's ordeal to the police, and the Wests were arrested and charged with assault, indecent assault, actual bodily harm, and rape. The case was tried at Gloucester Magistrates Court on 12 January 1973, but by this date, Owens had decided she could not face the ordeal of testifying in court. All charges pertaining to her sexual abuse were dropped, and the Wests agreed to plead guilty to the reduced charges of indecent assault and causing actual bodily harm; each was fined £50, and the couple were allowed to walk free. When Owens heard this news, she attempted suicide.
After his arrest in February 1994, Fred confided to his appropriate adult, Janet Leach, that Rose murdered Shirley Robinson and had assisted in her dismemberment, personally removing Robinson's fetus from the womb in the process. Another body found at 25 Cromwell Street was that of the Wests' daughter, Heather, who was murdered in June 1987 at the age of 16, after being abused by her parents all her life. Her dismembered body was placed under their family's patio. It is said that Heather began to tell her friends about the abuse occurring in her home. Barry, her younger brother, would later describe watching, as a 7-year-old, his mother kick Heather repeatedly in the head until she was no longer moving. The Wests told friends and concerned parties that Heather had left home to work at a Devonshire holiday village and on one occasion, fabricated a phone call, supposedly from Heather, to allay her siblings' suspicions regarding their sister's disappearance. Fred would even taunt his children when they misbehaved by jokingly stating, "If you don't behave, you'll end up under the patio like Heather." This was the last known murder that the pair committed.
On 6 August 1992, Fred was arrested after being accused of raping his 13-year-old daughter three times, and Rose was arrested for child cruelty. This case against them collapsed on 7 June 1993 when their daughter refused to testify in court. All five of the Wests' younger children were removed from their custody to foster homes. This case brought to light the disappearance of Heather, who had not been seen since 1987 and triggered the major investigation that followed.
After police found human remains and apparent signs of torture in their home, Rosemary West, along with her husband, Fred West, was arrested in February 1994. During her trial, West denied murdering any of the victims. She proceeded to tell the jury how her husband committed these crimes himself, and she had nothing to do with it. She further claimed to have tried to stop one of the sexual assaults her husband committed.
Rosemary West continued to profess ignorance of her husband's murderous activities but the circumstantial evidence that mounted against them was considered sufficient to prosecute her for ten murders: those of the young women whose bodies were found at 25 Cromwell Street, and of Charmaine West. Fred West was charged with two further murders committed before his association with Rosemary.
The jury's verdict was unanimous. On 22 November 1995, West was found guilty of 10 murders. The judge, Mr Justice Mantell, sentenced her to life imprisonment, saying, "If attention is paid to what I think, you will never be released."
The Lord Chief Justice later decided that she should spend at least 25 years in prison, but in July 1997, Home Secretary Jack Straw subjected West to a whole life tariff. This was the second instance of a whole life tariff imposed on a woman in Britain in modern times. The first was serial killer Myra Hindley in 1990.
Almost immediately after being found guilty, Rosemary West lodged an appeal against her 10 murder convictions with the High Court, claiming that her husband (who had confessed to police during questioning that he had murdered up to 30 people) had committed the murders single-handedly, restating her claims that she has also been victimized by Fred and that she tried to prevent one of the sexual assaults. On 18 March 1996, however, the Court of Appeal refused to consider her application for an appeal to be heard.
In September 2001, Rosemary West announced her intention not to appeal against her convictions, while maintaining her innocence. The house at Cromwell Street (along with the adjoining property) was demolished in 1996. The site is now a public footpath.
According the recent TV documentary “Rose West & Myra Hindley: Their Untold Story with Trevor McDonald”, Rose and the other British serial murderer Myra Hindley “grew close in jail, bonding over their similar crimes, then had an affair, which cooled as they became rivals to be ‘prison royalty’.”
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