The Truth About Serial Killer Rosemary West's Childhood

When the police knocked at the door of Fred and Rosemary West on February 25, 1994, it was so that they could question the couple on the disappearance of their daughter, Heather West. When a search of the property at 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester turned up a bone that was proved to be Heather's, it was the start to uncovering kidnappings, rapes, and murders of young women in the southwest England county of Gloucestershire over decades that began in the 1960s, according to DevonLive. An excavation of the West's home uncovered not only Heather's body but also several other teenagers and young women who were brutally tortured and killed before their bodies were dismembered and buried at what became known across the United Kingdom as the "house of horror." 

Throughout the course of their investigation, police learned that Rosemary was just a teenager herself when she first met Fred West. They also learned that those first 15 years of her life were filled with horrors of their own. Rosemary "Rose" Letts was born in Devon, England, in 1953 under difficult circumstances. While her mother, Daisy, was pregnant with Rosemary, she suffered from severe depression. Doctors tried to treat the depression with electroconvulsive therapy, which may have had an effect on Rosemary's permanent psychological well-being before she was even born, criminologist Jane Carter Woodrow chronicled in her book, Rose West: The Making of a Monster.

Rosemary West had a brutal childhood

From the time she was a small child, Rosemary witnessed and suffered physical and emotional abuse from her father, William Letts, a war veteran who suffered from mental illness. He frequently bullied and beat Daisy, as well as Rose and her six siblings. As a teenager, Rose became more sexually active, often displaying shocking signs of needing help, including walking around the house naked and fondling one of her younger brothers in bed, according to DevonLive. And because William forbade Rose from dating boys her own age, she became sexually promiscuous with much older men. Daisy eventually moved out of the family home and took Rose with her, but Rose shortly moved back in with her father, per Biography. That same year, she met Fred West and became pregnant with his child.

It was the beginning of the two engaging in violent sex with other young women that would lead to torture and murder of the victims — a killing spree that would last decades. Although police believed it to be many more, they could only prove 12 murders for Fred and 10 for Rosemary. On January 1, 1995, before he could stand trial, Fred West took his own life by hanging himself in his cell, per the Daily Mail. Later that year, Rose was found guilty of 10 murders and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole. She maintains her innocence, Gloucestershire Live reported, insisting Fred was responsible for the killings.