First published back in June of 1998, British author and true crime writer Colin Wilson’s book ‘The Corpse Garden’ offered-up another account of the life and crimes of the infamous serial killers – Fred and Rosemary West.

DLS Synopsis:
Born in Herefordshire in 1941, Fred West’s childhood was one which saw him constantly in and out of trouble.  From a scruffy looking young boy, as West grew older he began to smarten himself up as he gained interest in women.  And then at the age of seventeen West was injured in a motorcycle accident that saw him in a coma for a week, and a metal plate bolted to his skull.  Whilst recovering from the accident, West met sixteen-year-old Catherine Costello – better known as Rena.

Rena and Fred quickly became lovers, however their relationship was somewhat short-lived before Rena went back home to Scotland.  On the prowl for women again, it wasn’t long before West was pushed off a fire escape for his unwanted advances.  From the fall West received further injures to his head, resulting in some minor brain damage.  Something that may well have had a further effect on West’s already spiralling behaviour.

By now West was a twenty-one-year-old man, and had already been convicted of child molesting and theft.  However, Rena Costello still had a place for West in her life, and so she came back from Scotland and rekindled their relationship together.  But, Rena was now pregnant with an Asian bus driver’s child.  But West nevertheless accepted Rena with her unborn child into his life, and in March 1963 Charmaine was born.

However, West’s interest in other women had not dwindled despite his relationship with Rena.  Furthermore, driving an ice cream van gave West the chance to meet with young women all day long.  An opportunity that he took full advantage of as often as he could.

And then in 1964 West’s first child with Rena was born – Anna Marie.  However, it wasn’t an easy time for the small family unit.  West had been involved in an accident that had killed a young boy, and he was deeply concerned for his job.  At the same time the couple had also come to know a young girl named Anna McFall whose boyfriend had also been killed in an accident.

Together, they all moved to Gloucester where West took up a new job within a slaughterhouse.  A job that would see West dealing with butchery, copious amounts of blood and dismemberment on a daily basis.  And here, very possibly something was awoken in West.  A connection with mutilation and the butchery of dead meat that would take a hold of his life.  Something that would lodge itself deep into the man’s already damaged brain.

However Rena was far from happy about the card that life had dealt her.  And so Rena decided to pack up and leave Fred and return to Scotland once again.  However, her departure was only short-lived; and soon enough Rena was back in Gloucester, finding her husband and Anna McFall now cohabiting together.  Anna McFall soon became pregnant with West’s child.  And so McFall started to push West into divorcing Rena who seemed to be back on the scene again.  A move which would see the young mother-to-be brutally murdered and dismembered by West.

But Anna McFacll would prove to be just the first of many murder victims for West.  The arrogant badboy with an uncontrollable lust for the opposite sex had suddenly stepped into new territory.  Something that would consume his life.  And then in November of 1968, West met a girl named Rose Letts.  A young woman in her mid-teens with a rebellious nature.  A girl who had been searching for a man like West.  And with their union came a joint desire to push the moral boundaries.  To exist purely for their own pleasure.  Rose stuck by West during a prison sentence, problems with Social Services and her father’s objections to their relationship.  And in 1970, at the age of sixteen, Rose gave birth to their first child together – Heather West.

But life was proving far from easy for Rose.  Her temper was getting out of control; her duties towards West’s other children pushing her to the edge.  And then Charmaine went missing.  And with that, an important milestone in Rose’s own life was crossed.  One that would draw her closer to her lover.  One that, when he was finally out of prison, would become a catalyst for an endless streak of rape, perversion, sadism, murder and dismemberment.  Together, Fred and Rose West would become an insular unit which would breed a perverted lifestyle beyond comprehension.  Together the couple would perform a long line of heinous crimes which would span almost two decades.  Together, Fred and Rose West would become two of the most infamous serial killers to have ever lived…

DLS Review:
In the course of his book on the notoriously sadistic duo, prolific crime writer, Colin Wilson, takes the reader through the lives of both Fred and Rosemary West, their murderous union, and ultimately on to their arrest and incarceration.  And indeed what Wilson delivers is a reasonably well-researched and thorough overview of the couples’ lives.  

Wilson begins the book with the exhumation of bodies from their property at 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester and with that the first glimpses of what had taken place occurred in that house of horrors.

Following the uncovering of the bodies and in that the initial stages of West’s arrest and conviction, Wilson shifts the direction of the book on to the complex and painstaking process of identifying the bodies and piecing together the various bits of evidence.  Gradually a picture begins to emerge of the disturbing atrocities that were committed by Fred and Rose West to their own children and others who happened to fall into their pathway of deviance.

Throughout this section, Wilson references a variety of different sources, along with providing direct quotes from the likes of Anne Marie West, Stephen West and Mae West.  Indeed, in a nutshell what Colin Wilson has done is pull together information from a variety of different sources to produce a tightly-woven and reasonably complete picture of what went on; tying together facts and quotes to add weight to the almost unbelievable horrific story that is being detailed.

This carefully-constructed-jigsaw approach actually works incredibly well.  Admittedly, there is a general feeling of it being more of an ‘overview’ than anything particularly in-depth.  However, this is in no way detrimental to the book, even if read by someone who is particularly familiar with the crimes of Fred and Rose West.  What it instead offers is a well-researched surmising of many aspects of what took place, which in turn opens up new avenues for a string of potentially thought-provoking questions.

With the environment of 25 Cromwell Street established to quite a nauseatingly chilling degree, Wilson moves on to examine Fred West in far more detail.  Okay, so Wilson’s cross-examination of the man is hardly in the same league as the likes of Geoffrey Wansell’s in his book ‘An Evil Love’ (1996).  Indeed, Wilson’s chapter on ‘The Making Of A Monster’ is on the most part made up of details from Fred West’s life up to the point of the first murders, delivered in a reasonably linear timeline.  However, what Wilson does slip in throughout this, is his own views and ponderings on the man.  And it’s these aspects that add the real value to the book.

Following this the book moves on to the first ‘vanishings’ and the spiralling behaviour of Fred and Rose.  Again, Wilson speculates on the couple’s motives, their joint pursuit of sexual gratification and escalating degrees of depravation.  And it’s here that Wilson really starts to get his teeth into the horrendous actions that took place in the West’s household.  As such, Wilson comes in with a reasonably heavy hand in relation to a number of explicit details about the West’s sexual lives.  However, what Wilson describes is again not a patch on the hellish nightmare that Wansell graphically depicts in ‘An Evil Love’ (1996).

With many of the facts surrounding the West household now detailed, Wilson takes the book into a much broader area, loosely comparing the psychological profiles of the West’s and their base motivations to that of other serial killers.  Crammed to the rafters with assumptions, ponderings and speculations – although this section of the book is on very risky ground as far as solid evidence is concerned, it is however one of the most thought-provoking and engaging aspects.  Indeed, Wilson’s theory on Fred West’s damaged brain having a dominating part to play in how West turned out is incredibly believable, and is very possibly correct.  And all through this Wilson has a way of getting the reader on his side; laying down a pretty convincing argument for his way of thinking.  And it has to be said that this alone ultimately makes for a darn good read.

In the latter few chapters of the book, Wilson gets back on track with detailing the escalating sexual deviancy and murderous exploits; again slotting in his views wherever possible.  Quotes and references to other texts etc are continually incorporated into the passages – maintaining the ‘well-researched overview’ approach that Wilson has achieved to such good effect.

All in all Wilson’s book on the West’s is far from the most in-depth or revealing, but instead it does offer up a whole host of thought-provoking questions that may not have been recognised before.  It’s also written in a tight and easily digestible manner, sticking to a definite path throughout – which is not necessarily in a linear timeline way.  However, the end result is a book that has its own angle on the case – and it’s one that although not packed with the absolute graphic details of what went on, still has one hell of a shocking kick to it.

The book runs for a total of 256 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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