THE MAKING OF A MONSTER
Heartless Rose West was found guilty of 10 murders in 1995
Sunday June 26,2011
By Jane Carter Woodrow
Rose West is notorious as one of the UK’s most violent and sadistic serial killers..
IN FEBRUARY 1994 police began excavating the garden and patio at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, Rose and Fred West’s home. Nine of their victims were found, revealing macabre and horrific indicators of what had happened to the victims before their deaths. The remains still had fetters and gags in place; duct tape mummifying one victim’s head had a straw poked through the mask into a nostril, to allow just enough air to keep her alive during torture. Another had a wide leather belt strapped around her head and fastened beneath her chin. Most victims had been decapitated and one young woman had been scalped.
In some cases, victims were suspended from a hook in the ceiling to increase their pain before death and at least one young woman had been kept alive for several days during the torture. All the bodies had been dissected and trophies kept of fingers, toes, kneecaps and other body parts, which to this day have never been found. Rose was a fully-fledged serial killer while still in her teens and early 20s. She would kill again and again. Her last known murder was in 1987 when she was 33. Horrifically, her victim was her daughter Heather.
How did an ordinary young woman sink to such depths of depravity? Was she never ordinary in the first place? To find out what made Rose West a mass murderer we must start with her early life. She was one of seven children born into a hard-up family living in the village of Northam, north Devon, in 1953. Her father Bill Letts had served on aircraft carriers during the war. Her mother Daisy, from Chadwell Heath near Romford, Essex, was petite, dark-haired, timid and regarded as a beauty by locals. They appeared to be a happy couple with an immaculately turned out family. Bill was polite and charming and Daisy was shy, but this contented appearance concealed a hideous reality. The family moved into a new local authority house in Northam in 1950. Daisy already had three children and Bill was away a lot of the time as he had stayed in the Navy after his war service.
Despite her pregnancy the psychiatrist continued her treatment. This meant that as Rose lay in her mother’s womb Daisy had more shocks blasted to her brain, sending convulsions through her body, the last one just days before Rose was born. When she came home everyone commented on how beautiful the new baby was but noticed her strange behaviour. She rocked her head for hours on end and the older children complained as she rhythmically bashed her head against the cot at night. As she got older she continued to swing her head in front of her for long periods of time inducing a trance-like state.
At other times her eyes were said to look vacant and lost in her own world. The kind of behaviour Rose exhibited can be indicative of learning difficulties. They might even be linked to the ECT treatment, but no one knows for sure. Conditions at home deteriorated. Despite how it looked to neighbours, Bill was the one fixated by cleanliness. He insisted on the girls’ hands and hair being inspected regularly, and soaked the carpets in bleach to kill germs. He had developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) so just a speck of dust on the picture rail could prompt a terrifying rage. Daisy didn’t speak to the neighbours during her husband’s absences because Bill feared his beautiful wife was going to have an affair.
He told her who she could speak to and who she couldn’t. He had returned home early from work one day to find Daisy innocently talking to some other women outside the house. Flying into a rage he punched Daisy in the face and dragged her back into the house where he continued beating her. On other occasions he’d accuse his wife of being “oversexed” and beat her into submission with his fists and a slipper behind closed doors. The children also lived in fear of their father. as well as abiding by strict rules they had to do housework before and after school each day. If they didn’t wake up on time Bill threw a bucket of icy water over them.
Fearing his wrath, Daisy constantly scrubbed the house and the children so as not to provoke him but if he had a mind to, nothing would stop him beating them. In the end she appears to have become so worn down by Bill that she took on board his OCD and other irrational behaviours as if they were her own. She hit the children and constantly cleaned. Bill the affable former Navy man was really a cruel, sadistic bully who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, a fact he kept secret. Untreated he suffered severe psychotic episodes most of his adult life which had devastating effects on his family.
Rose and her siblings had two mentally ill parents whose behaviour shaped their childhood and development. Sex was also a problem. When Rose’s 15-year-old sister Patsy got out of the bath one day her father pushed her on to the bed and tried to remove her bathrobe. She screamed and pushed him away but Bill caught her on the landing and threw the young girl down the stairs, injuring her so badly that she had to go to hospital. Later he made attempts to molest her again and beat her because she resisted. Soon after she left home to join the Wrens which meant that Bill’s deviant sexual attention shifted. Rose in her formative years would have grown up believing her father’s behaviour was normal but she was being coached by Bill to share secrets with him that no child should.
Sex was secretly and illegally practised regularly within the Letts household. Rose began practising her sexuality on her brothers where she would parade around the house naked after a bath and indulged in sexual activity with both. Once, she had stripped and stood naked in front of her father despite Bill’s hypocritical rule that mention of sex was taboo in the Letts home. When she became bored with her sexual explorations of her brothers and possibly even Bill, she began testing her powers further afield with boys from the village and subsequently workmen at a tea hut she was supposed to look after.
Clearly, this was not the behaviour of a normal 13-year-old girl; this was a girl who had been highly sexualized and was sexually precocious as a result. With this background perhaps it isn’t surprising that two years later when Rose met Fred West at a bus stop in Cheltenham there was an instant attraction. Rose was naïve but sexually uninhibited and saw nothing odd in West’s bizarre appearance and constant references to sex. They believed they were made for one another…
Adapted by Graham Ball, from Rose West: The Making of a Monster by Jane Carter Woodrow, to be published by Hodder & Stoughton on July 7. © Jane Carter Woodrow
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