Remains of sixth body found in basement: Eleven-day police search expected to take in second Gloucester house and former caravan site

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The Independent Online
THE MACABRE story emerging from the charnel house at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, unfolded further yesterday when the suspected remains of a sixth body were found in the cellar.

Detectives, who have been digging for 11 days, resume their search today uncertain how many more corpses remain to be unearthed. Detective Superintendent John Bennett, head of what is now one of Britain's biggest mass murder hunts, said: 'We have no figure in mind.'

The owner of the house, Frederick West, 52, was charged with three murders last week and is due to appear in court again today.

The builder is accused of murdering his daughter, Heather, 16, who vanished seven years ago; an 18-year-old pregnant lodger from Leicestershire, Shirley Ann Robinson; and an unidentified woman in her early 20s. The first three bodies were unearthed in the back garden of the three-storey house, the first on 26 February and the other two last Monday.

Two more bodies were discovered on Saturday night after searchers broke through the basement's concrete floor. Supt Bennett said yesterday he believed those three were also women.

Detectives are expected to widen their search, focusing on the father-of-ten's former home in the city. A police guard was posted outside a semi-detached house at 25 Midland Road where he lived more than 20 years ago.

Inquiries have also been made at a former caravan site at Bishop's Cleeve, near Cheltenham, where he once had a home.

Supt Bennett, leading a 30-strong inquiry team, confirmed that police might dig at two locations in Gloucestershire. He emphasised that yesterday's find had still to be confirmed by a Home Office pathologist, Professor Bernard Knight, of Cardiff University.

Supt Bennett said: 'We will continue our examination of number 25 until we are completely satisfied that everything that is there has been discovered.'

The police have been helped by ground-probing radar developed to detect mines in the Falklands. Engineers yesterday 'fine-tuned' images obtained within the house.

Mike Withers, managing director of the Surrey-based firm ERA Technology, said: 'We have been able to show police the most promising areas for digging. The original images - the bodies - came up bright red against a green background. Enhancing processes can detect wood and clothing.'

The latest find has added to the fears of families with missing relatives. Roger Partington, the father of a student who vanished 20 years ago, said yesterday that it was distinctly possible her body was one of those dug up.

Lucy Partington, 21 and studying at Exeter University, was last seen on Boxing Day 1973. She had left a friend's home in Cheltenham to go to her mother's home in nearby Gretton and was waiting for a bus near the village of Bishop's Cleeve.

Mr Partington, 69, has spoken to police almost daily since the first gruesome discovery. A retired industrial chemist and schoolteacher, he said that though recent events were difficult and painful, it would also be a relief if Lucy's body was found.

'We have had 20 years to imagine all sorts of possible ways in which she might have met her death,' he said. 'The grief is still there, it's something one never forgets, but uncertainty is worse than certainty in this situation.'

Police are also re-examining the case of Mary Bastholm, 15, a cafe waitress from Gloucester who vanished in January 1968. She planned to travel by bus to spend the evening playing Monopoly with her boyfriend. The only clue to her disappearance was the discovery of Monopoly pieces near the bus stop.

May Lappin, 56, sister of Mr West's missing first wife, Catherine 'Reno' Costello, admitted she had feared the 'worst for years'. She told detectives at her home in Corby, Northamptonshire, that she last saw Catherine at a family get-together in 1968.

In 1969 she was told Catherine was leaving her husband and moving abroad. Mrs Lappin said: 'I've been trying to contact her ever since. With the story being on the national news, we hope someone might recognise her and it might even bring her back.'

The investigation has swamped the Missing Persons Helpline with thousands of calls from worried friends and relatives. Chris Day, a co-founder, said: 'Many are from worried friends and families thinking their loved ones are involved. Many more know their loved ones can't be involved because they only went missing days ago but fear something similar may have happened.

'Long-term callers have been through a lot over the years. When something like this comes up in the news they need constant support.'

(Photograph omitted)