Our fascination with true crime doesn’t seem to be ebbing whatsoever. Indeed, a recent survey found that there had been a surge in popularity of podcasts such as My Favourite Murder – and that the majority of subscribers were women. (These findings were backed up by previous research from 2010, which showed women were far more likely to be fans of true crime than men.)
As Hanna Jameson previously theorised, our fascination for true crime dangles on “the promise of catharsis; a real sense that maybe justice will, or has been, served”. More importantly, though, the foundation “for our fascination with true crime is the idea that, with enough research, we could look dangerous people in the face and recognise them instantly for what they are”.
“It’s one of the best opportunities we get to know our enemy, to dive into their methods and their weaknesses,” she told Stylist.
With this in mind, we have a feeling that Unheard: The Fred & Rose West Tapes is going to prove exceedingly popular.
On the surface, Fred and Rose West seemed like any other couple: he was a local handyman, she was a stay-at-home mother to their eight children.
When the dismembered remains of teenager Heather West were found underneath the couple’s garden patio in sleepy Gloucester, however, it triggered the discovery of one of the grisliest murder scenes of the 20th century – so much so that Fred and Rose’s semi-detached home became known in the press as ‘The House of Horrors’.
As the murder investigation unfolded, police discovered that the Wests had killed at least 12 women and girls. The remains of several victims were found at 25 Cromwell Street – including 15-year-olds Shirley Hubbard and Carol Ann Cooper, Lynda Gough, Shirley Robinson, Juanita Mott, Therese Siegenthaler, Shirley Hubbard, Alison Chambers, Lucy Partington, and the couple’s own teenage daughter, Heather West.
It was later discovered that Rose had killed Charmaine West, Fred’s stepdaughter from another marriage, while her husband was in prison in June 1971. When Charmaine’s mother Catherine (Rena) Costello West later attempted to retrieve her daughters, Fred – then released from prison – killed her as well, and dumped her dismembered body in plastic bags at Letterbox Field.
As the case against them developed, Rose tried increasingly to distance herself from Fred, claiming that she was also a victim. However, police were not convinced of her innocence given the sheer number of murders which had occurred and her participation in the rapes (Fred had fitted out the cellar at No. 25 as a torture chamber, and his daughter, Anna Marie, became one of its first occupants, subjected to a brutal rape by her father while her stepmother held her down).
In 1995, Rose was jailed for life after being found guilty of the murders of 10 women. Fred hanged himself in jail on 1 January 1995 while awaiting trial for 12 murders. And, just last year, Mae – one of the couple’s children – informed the press that her parents may have killed up to another 30 women (a disturbing statement which mirrored Fred’s own confession to the police).
Asked how many women she believed her parents murdered she said “altogether maybe 30 more”.
Is it any wonder, then, that a new podcast series – focusing entirely on the Wests, their victims and their crimes – is due to be released this autumn?
Narrated by bestselling author Howard Sounes – one of the first newspaper journalists to break major stories about Fred and Rose West – the podcast looks back at his investigations, which he began shortly after the first body was uncovered in 1994.
During that time, Sounes painstakingly recorded his interviews and reflections on analogue cassette tape – and now, in this 12-part series, he takes us step-by-step through these never-heard-before recordings, all of which have been painstakingly restored and digitally enhanced for the first time.
“The recordings include interviews with close family members of Fred and Rose West, friends and lodgers at 25 Cromwell Street, those who knew their victims, and those lucky women who only just managed to escape,” reads a press release about the podcast.
“Howard’s tapes also give unprecedented insight into how a writer investigated and wrote the definitive account of one of the biggest crime stories of the twentieth century, the cold calls, the door-knocks, the breakthroughs and setbacks, and the moral dilemmas of getting an exclusive.”
Sounes has also vowed that his podcast will, unlike many other true crime podcasts, not just focus on the serial killers at the centre of the case: he will also speak in great detail about the “12 victims who are too often forgotten”.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.