Between 1967 and 1987, he and his wife Rosemary tortured, raped and murdered at least 12 young women, many at the couple's homes. The majority of the murders occurred between May 1973 and September 1979 at the couple's home in Gloucester. Rosemary West also murdered West's daughter Charmaine while he was serving a prison sentence for theft.
It has been suggested that incest was an accepted part of the household, and that his father taught him bestiality from an early age. West recalled, in police interviews, that his father had said on many occasions "Do what you want, just don’t get caught doing it"..
At school, West showed an aptitude for woodwork and artwork but did not excel academically. He left school at the age of 15 in December 1956 and began work as a farm labourer. Two years later, in November 1958, he injured his head seriously in a motorcycle accident, which put him in a coma for eight days, having fractured his skull, and broken his arm and leg. His family said that after the accident he became prone to sudden fits of rage. Two years later, he was unconscious for 24 hours after hitting his head in a fall from a fire escape.
He was fined for theft in Hereford in April 1961, and again in Newent in October 1961. In the same year his family rejected him for sexually abusing a close family relative. Although a history of sexual abuse in Rosemary's family has been proven, this was not the case in Fred's, and he moved from the family home to live with an aunt a hundred yards away until he moved to Gloucester, where he took a job in a slaughterhouse.
During this period West worked as an ice cream van driver in Glasgow. On 4 November 1965, he accidentally ran over and killed a four-year-old boy with his ice cream van.
While still married to Rena, West met his next wife, Rosemary Letts, on 29 November 1968, which was her fifteenth birthday. On 17 October 1970, 17-year-old Rosemary gave birth to their daughter, Heather. Fred West was imprisoned for theft on 4 December 1970 until 24 June 1971.
It appears that Rosemary killed Charmaine shortly before West's release in June 1971. Fred West killed Rena Costello in August 1971. On 29 January 1972, Fred and Rosemary married in Gloucester, and on 1 June of that year, Rosemary gave birth to their daughter, Mae. Like Fred, Rosemary came from a family where incest was common; Rosemary's father, Bill Letts, with Fred's approval, would visit their home to have sex with Rosemary.
In December 1972 the Wests sexually assaulted 17-year-old Caroline Roberts. She withdrew her claim of rape, and the Wests were fined for indecent assault.
Their only known victim after 1979 was their daughter, Heather, who was killed in June 1987 at the age of 16, although the police believe the couple murdered many more. There were no recorded murders between 1975 and 1978, and 1979 and 1987 and then up to August 1992. During questioning after being arrested, Fred West had confessed to murdering up to 30 people, but the police believed the pair may have killed only 12.
In May 1992, West raped his 13-year-old daughter at Cromwell Street and filmed it, and then raped her twice afterwards. She discussed the incident with her brothers and sisters, who told friends at school. On 6 August 1992, the police decided to investigate, eventually leading to Fred West being charged with 12 counts of murder, with Rosemary as an accomplice. She was also charged with child cruelty, and the remaining children were placed in foster care. The rape case against the Wests collapsed when the two main witnesses declined to testify at the court case on 7 June 1993. Police continued investigating the disappearance of their daughter Heather, six years earlier, however. After taking statements from social workers, about the joke about "Heather being buried under the patio" and the children themselves, they obtained a further search warrant in February 1994, allowing them to excavate the garden in search of Heather. They started searching the house and excavating the garden on 24 February 1994.
After West's arrest the following day, the police uncovered human bones. He confessed, retracted and then re-confessed to the murder of his daughter, denying that Rosemary was involved. Rosemary was not arrested until April 1994, initially on sex offences but later charged with murder. Further bodies were found and, on 4 March 1994, West admitted that he had carried out nine more murders, including those of his first wife and Ann McFall.
Fred and Rosemary West were brought before a magistrates court in Gloucester on 30 June 1994; he was charged with 11 murders and she with 10. Immediately afterwards, Fred West was re-arrested on suspicion of murdering Ann McFall, whose body was found on 7 June 1994. On the evening of 3 July 1994, he was charged with her murder.
The evidence against Rosemary was circumstantial; unlike her husband, she did not confess. She was tried in October 1995 at Winchester Crown Court, found guilty of all 10 murders and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge recommended that she should never be released, and 18 months later Home Secretary Jack Straw agreed with this recommendation.
In October 1996, the Wests' house, along with the adjoining property, was demolished and the site made into a pathway. Every brick was crushed and every timber was burned to discourage souvenir hunters.