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History is Queer is a series of entries highlighting LGBTQ individuals in the contemporary world and throughout history.
Who: Rosemary West
Where: Gloucester, England
Why you should care: Rosemary West, along with her husband Fred, captured, imprisoned, tortured, and killed ten young women between 1973 and 1978. While Fred killed himself by hanging shortly before facing trial, West maintained her innocence and is currently serving life in prison.
West’s parents split when she was a teenager, and she moved in with her father when she was sixteen. Her father sometimes flew into violent rages and often sexually assaulted her. Before her twentieth birthday, West, nee Letts, met Fred West and entered a relationship with him, helping him care for his daughter Anne-Marie and stepdaughter Charmaine.
In 1973, the couple was found guilty of sexual assault and fined. This marked a beginning of an increase in the intensity of their crimes; typically, the Wests would pick up young women from bus stops and keep them prisoner in their home for several days before killing them.
To make ends meet, West worked as a prostitute. Sometimes, her husband Fred watched while she was with clients. One of her most frequent clients was her own father, who had begun sexually abusing her early on and continued to have sex with her through at least her first four pregnancies.
West gave birth to eight children. Five of the children were fathered by Fred and the other three were the result of unprotected sex between West and her clients. One of their daughters, Heather, was one of the victims, killed only after Fred had raped her.West also murdered Charmaine.
In 1992, Fred was arrested under suspicion of raping his thirteen-year old daughter three times. West was also arrested for child cruelty. When their daughter refused to testify, the case fell apart. However, the case did make investigators question the disappearance of Heather West, which led to the major case.
Fred West hung himself in January 1995 while awaiting trial. Rosemary West went on trial nine months later and was found guilty a month later. The jury was unanimous. The presiding judge sentenced her to life in prison, a decision altered later to twenty-five years in prison by the Lord Chief Justice. The famous British politician Jack Straw, then serving as Home Secretary, later backed up the original sentence.