Seventh body in cellar and police expect more

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The Independent Online
DETECTIVES involved in one of Britain's biggest mass murder investigations yesterday admitted publicly for the first time that the death toll could rise as high as 13 after finding a seventh body entombed beneath the cellar of 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester.

The house belongs to Frederick West, 52, a builder, who yesterday appeared at Gloucester City magistrates' court charged with three murders.

In the two-minute hearing - where reporting restrictions were not lifted - he was said to have killed his daughter, Heather, 16, who vanished seven years ago. The other victims were said to be a pregnant lodger at his home, Shirley Ann Robinson, 18, and an unidentified woman in her early 20s. Mr West, the father of 10 children, did not speak and was remanded in custody until Friday.

After the court appearance, Gloucestershire police announced that they had earlier found the suspected remains of a seventh body. It was exhumed from the cellar of the three-storey house where police uncovered three other sets of remains over the weekend after breaking through the concrete floor. Forensic scientists are still trying to establish when and how the victims died.

Local newspaper reports, citing police sources, said the final body count could rise as high as 20. Police would not confirm that figure but indicated there could be 13 bodies.

If the death toll were to rise above 15 it could surpass the highest recorded number of victims of a mass murderer in Britain.

Dennis Nilsen, a London civil servant, was jailed for life in 1983 for the murder of 15 young men. Nilsen told detectives he was uncertain about the exact number as he 'didn't keep a body count'.

Peter Sutcliffe, the 'Yorkshire Ripper', murdered 13 women in Yorkshire and Lancashire over a five-year period before he was caught in 1980.

Digging continued yesterday at Cromwell Street, where Professor Bernard Knight, a Home Office pathologist, examined the latest finds. Police believe the four corpses found in the cellar are all women. Police said they have 'positive leads' about the identity of the four and have contacted local families with missing persons about their suspicions.

Those include Lucy Partington, aged 21, an Exeter University student who vanished after leaving a friend's house on Boxing Day 1978.

A second possible victim may be Mary Bastholm, a 15-year-old waitress who disappeared on her way to her boyfriend in 1968. Relatives of both have been warned to prepare themselves for positive identifications.

The murder inquiry will switch to other sites throughout Gloucestershire when police finish at Cromwell Street. Hilary Allison, a police spokeswoman, said one possible site had been pinpointed at an open field at Kempley on the county border with Hereford and Worcester.

Police patrols were guarding several sites yesterday including Mr West's former home in Midland Road, Gloucester, where he lived with his first wife, Catherine Costello, after their wedding in 1962. Mrs Costello, also known as Rena, and their daughter, Charmaine, have not be seen for several years.

Other places where Mr West has lived were also cordoned off including a caravan site at Bishop's Cleeve, near Cheltenham, and his birthplace in Much Marcle, near Ledbury, Hereford and Worcester.

(Photograph omitted)