First published back in December of 1995, Stephen and Mae West’s book ‘Inside 25 Cromwell St’ provided a unique first-person account of their upbringing as two of the surviving children from Fred and Rosemary West’s family. The book is written in Stephen and Mae West’s own words which were taken from detailed interviews with the News Of The World newspaper.
Mae West knew that her father, Fred West, had had a hard life. After his mother had died they didn’t have any electricity or heating. Nevertheless they were a close family unit. But the kids were expected to pull their own weight around the farm at Much Marcle in Herefordshire where they lived.
But it wasn’t a normal family unit. Fred had told Mae that it was his father who had taught him that it was a father’s duty to ‘break in’ his daughters. A piece of advice that instigated Fred into trying it on with one of his own sisters, and subsequently finding himself answering to the police and getting kicked out of the family home.
Following that, in 1962 Fred met sixteen-year-old Catherine Costello – better known as Rena. Mae had been told that Rena had become mixed up with a motorcycle gang called ‘The Skulls’ and her life had subsequently gone down a bad track. During that time Rena had become pregnant with Charmaine by a student in Glasgow. However, Fred and Rose married despite the baby having a different father, and in turn had their first child together – Annie Marie. But their relationship together struggled, with Fred never really taking the marriage seriously despite Rena’s best efforts. And then Annie McFall came along.
Together, they all moved back to Gloucester. However Rena wasn’t happy about their family life and so moved back up to Scotland. But when she returned, she found that West and McFall were now lovers, living together with a baby of their own on the way. But McFall wasn’t in the picture for long. West saw to that.
However it wasn’t until West met with a young fifteen-year-old girl named Rose Letts that he finally settled down with someone he would say he truly loved. And it’s here, in Gloucester that West would finally make his family home with Rose.
Moving into 25 Cromwell Street, West continued with a behaviour of petty theft on an almost daily basis. During this time, in their family home, Rose would have men come to visit her in the bedroom upstairs, whilst the children were left to play in the rooms downstairs. Indeed, when a man came to visit ‘Mandy’, the children would know that they would have to occupy themselves for a number of hours whilst their mother looked after the visitor.
But it wasn’t just the visitors which Rose received that made life in 25 Cromwell St far from a normal, happy family life. Rose also had a temper that saw her flipping out at the slightest of things. But it’s when Fred lost his temper, then the kids would really have to watch out. Together the two parents showed absolutely no self-control, but dominated the household through fear and severe punishment.
However, it was Fred West’s obsession with sex that would be the real catalyst for the hell that was forming within the walls of 25 Cromwell St. West saw sex in everything. And in their home he would seek out sex wherever he could. And so as his own children grew that little bit older, so his sights moved on to them.
And as it did, so the nightmarish hell that had been allowed to breed behind closed doors crossed those final barriers. Fred and Rose West truly felt that they could do whatever they wanted in their home, away from prying eyes. It was their family and so it was theirs to do as they wished. And that’s exactly what they did…
The book begins with a three-page Editor’s Preface in which the two editors (referenced as TG and PG) detail the reasons for putting together the book, how the source material (i.e. Stephen and Mae West’s words) were obtained, the book’s structure, and ultimately identifies the book as part of Stephen and Mae’s ‘rehabilitation process’.
Okay, so there’s very much a ‘News Of The World’ spin on the whole thing. Without wanting to appear overly sceptical, one can’t help but feel that the two editors (no doubt fellow reporters for said newspaper) are more concerned with milking the story for all its worth than the actual rehabilitative welfare of Stephen and Mae. Perhaps I’m being overly cynical here, but it’s an easy assumption to make, and possibly holds a certain amount of truth to it. However the end result, no matter what the real motivation behind the publication of the book was, is the publication of a truly unique insight into exactly what it was like behind the walls of 25 Cromwell Street. And it’s one hell of a terrifying and emotionally-disturbing read.
The book in principally divided into three definite sections, which (quite purposefully) reflect the three most important phases of Stephen and Mae’s lives. The first of these seconds is by far and away the largest one, dealing with life at 25 Cromwell Street before the body of Heather West was found buried in the backgarden. Here you the book details the early life of Fred and Rose as had been told to Stephen and Mae by their parents. It takes the reader through the early stages of Fred’s obsession with sex, how his perversions developed and inevitably turned towards his own offspring. Indeed, reading about how Fred and Rose’s behaviour gradually worsened, all from the perspective of two of the children who were in their direct line of fire of their horrifying sexual games, is one of the hardest and most terrifying aspects of the book.
By the time the reader has gone through these painful memories of escalating torment, it’s around the halfway mark of the book, and from the bitterness of the latter chapters in the first section, the second section of the book commences; detailing the time after discovering Heather’s body, during Fred West’s arrest and his subsequent suicide.
Very much built around the uncovering of bodies and lengthy investigation into what went on, this second section reveals a vast amount of confusion and emotional conflict between Stephen and Mae. Although the section includes nowhere near as many of the gritty details surrounding Fred and Rose’s crimes, it still delivers one heck of a shocking punch – exposing the real emotional trauma to what happened and how Stephen and Mae tried to come to terms with what was now being uncovered in their own home. But ultimately it’s the reaction of Fred West to his arrest and subsequent trial that leaves the coldest impression on the reader.
The third and final section in the book is the shortest and deals specifically with Rosemary West’s trial. Delivered in a chronological week-by-week account of the court case, the section once again provides a particularly interesting perspective on the highly-publicised trial; delivered again from the point-of-view of both Stephen and Mae West. It’s an emotionally-devastating section, with both kids feeling torn by their love for their mother and their deep-knowledge that she must be punished for what she did. Again, there’s much confusion and anger at what is happening, their joint struggle at accepting what is being said in court causing a vast amount of pain for Stephen and Mae.
The book ends with an appendix providing a twelve page chronology of the most notable events of the whole case. The book then concludes with a second Appendix publishing many of the letters that Fred and Rosemary West sent Stephen and Mae from prison (which makes for some surreal reading to say the least).
All in all ‘Inside 25 Cromwell St’ offers up a very personal and unique insight into one of the most horrific and disturbing true crime stories to have ever taken place. Providing the reader with such a first-person-insight into what life was like within the West’s family home, with chapter after chapter detailing what happened to the children, delivered in such an emotionally impactful manner; the book is not only unique in what it offers but much more of a tough read for it.
The book also includes eight pages of full colour photographs showing the West family at various times during their lives as well as snippets from inside 25 Cromwell St.
The book runs for a total of 214 pages.
© DLS Reviews