The inhabitants of the house, Fred and Rosemary West - at first little more than suspects in the disappearance of their daughter Heather, whom had vanished seven years earlier at the age of 16 - would etch themselves into the ghastly record books as two of the most vicious and appalling serial killers in criminal history.
For not only were the remains of Heather soon discovered under the concrete patio in the backyard of 25 Cromwell Street, but the bodies of eight other young girls would eventually be recovered from what the UK press would soon dub the 'House of Horrors' - two of the victims were discovered in the garden alongside Heather, while the remaining six were found buried in the dank, dark and foreboding cellar of the house itself (which had, ironically and chillingly, by this time been transformed into a childrens' play room).
Within a short time, Fred and Rose West were implicated in a further three deaths - including that of Fred's first wife Rena and his stepdaughter Charmaine. While Fred West would eventually confess to the murders (a confession he was later to retract), his bespectacled, stony-faced wife has steadfastly maintained her innocence (all to no avail, as the damning evidence produced at her trial was enough to convince anyone of her guilt).
The vile crimes of Fred and Rose West made garish headlines around the world. How did they manage to get away with it for so long? The unfortunate girls buried at Cromwell Street had lain in their narrow, makeshift graves for nearly 20 years. The horrific picture that began to emerge was one of Fred and Rose West enticing vulnerable young girls into their cellar, where they would be subsequently trussed up, gagged and subjected to all manner of gruesome torture and degrading sexual abuse - often being kept alive for up to a week - before being viciously killed, dismembered (with Fred West keeping a number of the smaller bones as his own sick trophies), then unceremoniously buried in a small hole in the cellar dirt.
Apart from their abuse of the girls themselves, one of the most disturbing and mysterious facets of Fred and Rose West's murderous career was their rumoured involvement in snuff filmmaking. In An Evil Love (1996 Headline Books/UK), Geoffrey Wansell's riveting account of the crimes (by far the best and most comprehensive book written on the subject), the author frequently raises the likelihood of Fred West having filmed the torture, sexual abuse and murder of some of his victims.
The Wests had a love affair with violent pornography, and according to Wansell, they kept 'for their own amusement a videotape of a young woman, drugged and bound, whose captors inserted a clear plastic tube into her vagina, through which they encouraged two live mice to enter her one after the other*. Every videotape they kept reflected in some way their own depraved behaviour'. West also accumulated an extensive collection of pornographic videotapes featuring women being abused by animals, including both an Alsatian Dog and a boar pig, and suggested repeatedly that he wanted his wife Rosemary to make love "to a bull".
Of course, video cameras were not a common household item in the early-1970s, when most of the Wests' victims were claimed. But Fred West did acquire an 8mm movie camera around this time, and bragged to his workmates that he had made pornographic films of his wife, which he kept "hidden under the floorboards".
Given his compulsive passion for both producing and watching pornography, Wansell reasons in his book that 'there must be a suspicion that he (Fred West) filmed the torture of some of the young women who died at Cromwell Street, hiding the film under the floorboards, and taking it out to watch with his wife after his children had gone to bed. Whether he actually filmed the death of his victims can now be no more than a matter for speculation, but there must be every possibility that he created what were later to become known as snuff movies - films of the deaths of his victims'.
When describing the brutal death of Alison Chambers, who was murdered and buried at Cromwell Street in 1979, Wansell reports that 'This time the Wests may have pushed the boundaries of their humiliation still further: Frederick West may have filmed her death. West was well aware of the commercial potential of snuff movies. Only a few years after Alison Chambers' death, West even bragged to a young woman that he was "interested in them". There must be at least the possibility that one of his victims provided him with the chance to exploit what he would have seen as an opportunity to profit from this form of pornography'.
As the 1980s progressed, Fred West at one stage had 'seven video recorders, all of which he had stolen, and was duplicating pornographic videos for sale. At the outset, he simply offered them to his friends and workmates, but he then gradually extended his range, possibly to the extent of supplying them to local video stores for sale under the counter. West certainly suggested to a woman friend that he had made a profit from selling some that he had made himself, telling her that he had been paid 150 pounds a time for recordings which involved the humiliation and beating of women, adding that he "didn't understand how some of the women survived the beatings"'. Wansell also provides strong indication that West videotaped himself raping one of his own daughters around this time.
Fred West's younger brother John may have also featured in some of the home videotapes: 'Among the collection of pornographic videotapes which Frederick West took such pains to collect over the years, was one which boasted a sequence called F*ck My Uncle. It specifically featured an older man with a beard - the type of beard John sported. The extract even included the line: "I always thought I'd have it off with my niece one day - I didn't think you were ready for it yet."'When John West was arrested on May 24, 1994 (in connection with the sexual abuse of his niece, Anna-Marie), his house was found to contain a large number of bondage and humiliation videotapes and magazines, which John West claimed to have picked up on his rounds as a dustman. In Wansell's words, 'The echoes of the pornographic discoveries in the top floor of Cromwell Street in the first days of the 1992 child abuse case are uncanny. They also lead to the suspicions that one person who would have been able to dispose of any incriminating videos taken by Frederick West would have been his brother John. Pornographic videos, perhaps even tapes of Frederick West's victims themselves, could have found their way into the assorted black bags that John was asked to collect (from Cromwell Street) from time to time' (to dispose of on his garbage route).
Whatever debauched acts Fred and Rose West committed to either film or videotape may now never be known. Amid strong speculation that he may have been responsible for an untold number of other deaths, and having been spurned by his wife Rose in the courtroom docks, Fred West hung himself in his cell on January 1, 1995. His brother John followed suit a year later. 25 Cromwell Street was torn completely to the ground. Many of the pornographic videotapes seized from both Fred and John West were destroyed by police without having been watched all the way through.
The only person left who's capable of coming clean is Rosemary West, destined to spend the rest of her days languishing in a British prison - and so far, she isn't talking.
*The video which Wansell refers to is Kilroy Was Here, a very grotty and brutal 17 minute short made in Europe in the mid-1970s by H.O.M Productions. The film, shot without dialogue, has a young woman tied and gagged in a low-rent, dirty room, where she is subsequently raped by two lecherous men who let mice crawl all over her body before making them run up a plastic tube that has been inserted into her. The men also have sex with each other, before leaving the girl tied up with a lit cigarette inserted into her vagina. Although disturbing and violent, the film was legitimately available from European mail-order sources, both as an 8mm short in the 1970s, and as part of a compilation video released by Videorama in the 1980s.
(Above: Another of the several books written on Fred and Rose West. I will be adding reviews of many of them on this page soon, along with some more background and essays on snuff movies and their mythos).
Copyright John Harrison 2007