Mae West grew up in 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester — a home that in 1994 became known as the House of Horrors.
Her father Fred West, helped by wife Rose, murdered at least ten young women — including one of their daughters — many entombed in the cellar.
In an interview in the Mail on Saturday, Mae revealed how she managed to escape her past. But, in this first extract from a new memoir, she reveals the savage world of cruelty that lurked within those four walls...
The letter was headed HM Prison Durham. "I want you to feel that you can talk to me about anything," wrote my mother.
"You must feel awful sometimes and I know you feel very isolated at times. I know I miss you so much sometimes that I feel angry.
"It must be really rotten for you when you need a family member to talk to or you need mum to sound off to . . . I love you and I want to do anything I can do to help you get over things and to be as happy as possible!!!
"Love as always, Mum."
She'd sent this in November 1995 — just two months after being jailed for life for helping my father Fred West murder nine women and a child, including Heather, my own sister.
She was widely considered to be one of the most evil women on the planet — but back then I still believed her vehement protestations of innocence. So I was touched to receive such an affectionate letter, particularly as I'd always longed for her love and support.
At the same time, I was painfully aware that my mother had never said those kind of things when I was growing up. Nor had she once hugged me since I'd grown out of nappies.
On the contrary, she used to beat my siblings and me so badly that we frequently had injuries.
The local hospital had a record of us ending up in A&E over 30 times in all, and never spotted any kind of pattern.
No, even before the world learned about the so-called House of Horrors, no one in their right mind would have called Rose West a good mother. She'd even deliberately ignored my father's incestuous advances towards me.
I may have been naive, but deep down, I think I always knew my mother didn't love me. But that didn't stop me getting caught up in her manipulative web . . .
For my siblings and me, 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, was our home — one that now has terrible memories and associations, but nevertheless was the focal point of our lives.
Although nothing in our household was ever what other people might regard as 'normal', we did ordinary things. We ate meals and watched TV together, celebrated birthdays, and went on holidays.
Mum used to bake superb cakes. We'd always have a fantastic iced sponge for our birthdays and a lovely fruit cake laced with booze at Christmas. In fact, Christmas was the one day we really did feel like any other family.
Dad, taking a rare day off from his manual labour work, would insist that we all gather round to watch the Queen's speech. Like Mum, he was a royalist.
"Remarkable woman, the Queen!" Dad would say from the sofa. Mum would agree: "I like Queenie, too. Proper class she's got."
"And she talks a lot of sense," Dad would add.
He seemed obsessed with current affairs, particularly News At Ten. We all had to keep quiet and watch it with him.
And he'd be especially scathing about EastEnders, which he refused to have on, saying it contained too much violence and he found it depressing.
His favourite film was Bambi. "Breaks my heart, it does," he used to say. "Specially the bit where Bambi's mother dies."
Don't misunderstand me: there was also abuse, misery, violence and distress in our home — but it wasn't constant, and it certainly wasn't the whole picture.
Astonishing as it may seem, our family mattered deeply to us, as much as it does to any child.
I was the second of the eight children my parents had together, though at least two were almost certainly fathered by Mum's clients. For much of my childhood, she worked as a prostitute.
She'd tell my older sister Heather and me to babysit the younger kids for hours while she was servicing her clients, most of them old white men, at the top of the house in a boudoir specially designed by Dad.
By the time I'd reached my early teens, I had to answer the phone, taking calls from men wanting to book appointments with 'Mandy', the name she worked under. It was almost like being her secretary.
I found it very difficult and embarrassing, especially when some of them went into detail about what they wanted. "Sorry, you'll have to speak to her about that," I'd tell them, cringing.
Dad wired up a baby-listening device so that he could eavesdrop on Mum's encounters from elsewhere in the house. He found our disgust and discomfort funny.
Although Mum later protested that he'd forced her into prostitution, it seemed much more like a joint enterprise at the time. There was even a cushion saying 'Mum and Dad' on the sofa where the men sat waiting their turn.
It's amazing to me now, looking back on it from an adult perspective, how easily we came to terms with this extraordinary aspect of my parents' lives.
Of course, we knew other families weren't like that — but we did our best to help conceal what was going on from the outside world because, apart from anything else, it was deeply embarrassing.
Another reason was that the family was our only source of security, and we feared doing anything to break it up. I think Mum deliberately kept the outside world at bay. We weren't allowed to bring any friends home, not that I was remotely popular anyway.
She made Heather and me wear second-hand clothes and boys' shoes to school, and kept our hair brutally short. As a result, we were mercilessly bullied.
When we were older and even more vulnerable to peer pressure, Mum made us wash our hair with washing-up liquid, and never let us shave our legs or use deodorant. Kids can be cruel — they sang an advert jingle as they passed me: "Arms up if you use Rightguard."
At home, Mum would beat us for the smallest things. Some of these beatings were sadistic: she'd go to the special cupboard where she kept her canes and belts, and line us all up to take our punishment.
If we cried as she hit us, she'd yell at us to stop — "or you'll get another one". So we learned to fight back the tears, at least until we were alone.
Because of that, I've always found it hard to cry. I sometimes think that's why, when all my parents' crimes came to light in 1994, I couldn't give way to self-pity or tears. I'd had years of learning how to numb my feelings.
After her fourth child, Tara, was born in 1977, Mum became more and more violent, lashing out at the slightest provocation, throwing pots and pans at our heads. She once knocked my brother Steve out cold by breaking a Pyrex dish over his head.
One day, she even scooped the baby out of her high chair, hit her and then threw her back into it — all because Tara had thrown her food on the floor.
The last time Mum was truly violent with me was in my early teens. I must have said something to annoy her because she suddenly picked up a carving knife and rushed at me, yelling: 'Do you think I wouldn't use this on you?'
Then she began to slash at my chest, cutting through my vest and nicking the skin. I was whimpering in fright. Fearing for my life, I ran down into the basement.
One of the worst occasions was when I saw her strangle Steve to the point where I really thought he was going to die. He was only little, about six or seven.
He'd been sitting on the kitchen counter and Mum told him to get down. When he didn't, she grabbed him by his neck and held him off the ground. It was beyond terrifying: his face was going purple and his eyes were all bloodshot.
Eventually, she dropped him. When he went to school the next day, his face all covered in red blotches, she told us to say he'd caught his neck on a tree branch.
Sometimes I'd sit there in class, hoping a teacher might ask me what was wrong, but they never did. And the truth is that even if they'd asked questions, I probably wouldn't have said anything.
I knew Mum and Dad didn't want outsiders poking into their business. There was always a threat, sometimes quite explicit, that if any of us complained about any aspect of our home life to anyone — by reporting a beating, for example — we might be taken into care.
However bad things were at home, we didn't want that.
Yet it still beggars belief that the authorities never questioned what went on in our house, especially as we now know there were anonymous tip-offs given to the police. [The children were interviewed but it went no further as they had been sworn to silence by Fred and Rose.]
I once had a conversation with Heather about my dad, after he'd started sexually pestering us and trying to grope our teenage bodies. It would have made little sense to anyone listening in.
We agreed that, in many ways, he'd been the parent we liked best — the one we'd all have chosen to go with if our parents had ever decided to divorce. Extraordinary as it may sound, aside from abusing us sexually, he'd been quite kind, even funny.
And, despite the savage nature of his murders, he'd never hit us. He'd actually intervene sometimes when Mum punished us, saying: "Ease off, Rose!"
She was the one who terrified us, and as far as we could see, wore the trousers in their marriage.
Of course, no child should ever have to choose between being viciously beaten or sexually abused, but that was life as we knew it in Cromwell Street. And I can't deny Heather and I were terrified of what our father might do.
We were still little girls when he started telling us that he'd one day be 'breaking us in', as he put it.
At first, his frequent comments about a father's 'right' to take his daughter's virginity seemed like a joke, but as we approached puberty they seemed more like a threat. "Only right and proper, it is. My old man did the same to my sisters," he'd say.
He started lunging at us at the slightest opportunity, especially if we were wearing our school uniform. And he'd sneak into our room before we woke up, pull the bedclothes off and try to grope us. Eventually, we took to sleeping fully clothed.
We'd also stand guard for each other when we used the bathroom, as there was no lock on the door. I could never relax. Even now, all these years later, I always have one eye on the door when I'm taking a shower.
Mum made no attempt to stop Dad groping us, though he sometimes did it in front of her. She saw it as normal Fred behaviour, and seemed to expect me to see it in the same way.
Nor did she object when he tried to make us watch hard-core porn with him, including films he'd made of my mother with her clients. I used to find them completely repulsive and find excuses to leave the room.
Did I have even an inkling that my parents had killed a succession of young women, some of them our lodgers? Of course not. In any case, Dad had made a separate entrance for the lodgers, so we seldom saw them.
One day, when I was about eight, we discovered a cupboard full of women's clothes and shoes. Heather and I used to dress up in them, and Mum didn't seem to mind.
Only much later did I realise that they were the clothes of young women who'd been murdered in the house.
Looking back, the one positive thing to have come out of my childhood was my friendship with Heather. We consoled each other when we were beaten — and because we had very few toys, we invented our own games
In the basement, we'd jump from one cushion to another, imagining that the floor was a sea full of sharks. It's so chilling to think about that now, given that there really were horrors under that floor.
In the garden, we made perfume from rose petals and tried to make pots from the clay-rich soil. We little knew that we were digging the earth that was soon to be Heather's grave.
As Heather and I reached our mid-teens, our older sister Anne Marie — Dad's daughter by his first wife — came to visit. One day, I told her how we had to keep dodging Dad's sexual advances. "You might not be able to do it for ever," she said. And she went on to tell me that Dad had raped and sexually abused her with Mum's help.
I simply couldn't believe my mother would do such a thing. It was all too horrible. In any case, I knew Anne Marie disliked Rose, so I tried to convince myself she was saying these things out of spite.
As for Dad, his harassment of Heather and me grew steadily worse. Mum would just laugh and call him a filthy pig.
Both Heather and I had decided to leave home at 16. But as her birthday approached, Dad began to focus his horrible attentions on her — and if she showed any sign of distress, he'd become nasty and threatening.
Heather retreated into herself. She hardly ever laughed or smiled and often used to sit silently in a chair, just rocking back and forth.
In the summer of 1987, when she finally turned 16, she lined up a job as a cleaner at a holiday camp in Torquay. She brightened up then, knowing she'd be leaving home.
Then, the day before she was meant to set off, the job fell through. I went to find her. She was in bed, very upset, and didn't want to talk.
The next day, I went to school as usual, but when I got home there was no sign of her.
"Your sister's gone," Dad told us casually.
"Gone where?" we asked.
"The job at the holiday camp. She had a call to say it was back on. So she went."
"Well, that's great, isn't it?" I said, looking at Mum. But she didn't answer. It was obvious she didn't want to talk about it.
I was sorry I hadn't had chance to say goodbye, but I was pleased for her that everything had worked out; I had no reason to think I'd never see her again.
In the weeks that followed, I expected Heather to write to me, but no letter came. I spoke to Dad about it. "She's probably a bit busy, what with starting a new job and all. I expect she'll be in touch before long."
A few days later, the phone rang at around 10pm. There was a drunken female voice at the other end of the line and I couldn't understand what she was saying.
It didn't sound like Heather to me, but Mum grabbed the phone and said: "Hello. Who's this? . . . Heather . . . how are you?"
There was a pause and then Mum seemed to get angry: "Don't speak to me like that!"
Dad grabbed the receiver. "Come on, Heather. Don't speak to your mother like that. Show a bit of respect. She brought you up, didn't she? She don't deserve that." When he put the phone down, he turned to us and said: "Well, at least we know she's all right now, don't we?"
Weeks and months passed. Still no letter. Something began to feel very wrong. Had Heather actually rowed with Mum and Dad and run away?
Without telling them, Steve and I went out looking for her in the streets of Gloucester. We even called at the Salvation Army office to report her as missing. Dad continued to claim that Heather was occasionally in touch with him, but I grew increasingly worried.
I couldn't believe Heather would simply abandon us.
So Steve and I wrote to Cilla Black, who was doing a show which reunited family members. We heard nothing back. We contacted another show called Missing, which tried to locate people, but had no reply from them either. Eventually, we told Dad that we were going to the police to report her as missing.
A dark look crossed his face. "You better not do that. You could get her into real trouble. You definitely don't want to go bringing the police into this." So we left it. And as time passed, my sister's name was mentioned less and less.
The irony of Heather's disappearance was that it drew Mum and me closer. I felt sorry for her: all I could see was a mother who was very upset at the way her daughter had left home.
Mum's behaviour changed: she never hit me again. As for Dad, he still occasionally tried to grope me, but he was nothing like as persistent as before. Then I turned 16, and it was my turn to get a job, at a local property firm, and move out of Cromwell Street. Before leaving, I warned my younger sister Louise to watch out for Dad.
She was a quiet, thoughtful, rather shy girl, not yet in her teens, and said she knew what I meant. Sadly, we'd both underestimated the danger.
One day in August 1992 when I was 20, Mum rang to tell me that the police had just raided our home. She seemed very upset. She said Dad had been taken to the police station and was being questioned about raping and sexually abusing Louise. I was shocked and horrified. Louise was still only 13 so I'd imagined she'd be safe, at least for a little while longer.
What upset Mum most was that all the other younger children had been taken into care. "They think I'm involved, too, Mae! They're saying I helped him to do it!" she wailed.
I couldn't bring myself to imagine that she'd helped him rape her own daughter. So I sat with my mother as she poured her heart out, trying to console her. "Thank God I've still got you, Mae," she kept saying.
Dad was on remand in Birmingham, but he was allowed to make phone calls. One night, before I passed the phone to Mum, he told me: "She's got no one else now, Mae. I'm trusting you to take care of her."
He was giving me the responsibility to hold the family together. And so I moved back into Cromwell Street.
In June 1993, my parents were tried at Gloucester Crown Court. Dad was charged with three counts of rape, and one of buggery and cruelty to a child. Mum was charged with cruelty and inciting him to have sex with a 13-year-old.
They pleaded not guilty. The trial collapsed when Louise refused to testify, but the authorities insisted on taking her and four of the other children into care. She was the only person who could have told me the truth, but I wasn't allowed to have any contact with her.
All I heard was my parents' side of the story, which was that the charges had been trumped up, based on children's gossip and the fact that the two of them had a large collection of pornography and sex toys.
"I told you there was nothing in it," said Mum.
"Yeah, we can all get back to normal now," said Dad.
At first, they were furious at losing the kids. But after a while, Dad said: "We'll just have to forget we ever had them and that's that!" To my surprise, Mum said she felt the same, that if she couldn't be in control of her children she didn't want them. They immediately set about clearing out the children's rooms and threw their clothes and belongings away.
I was amazed at how quickly they were prepared to write off five of their own children.
With their marriage now rekindled, Mum and Dad took the bizarre decision to set about creating a new family. Mum had opted to be sterilised after the birth of her last baby but now decided to have an operation to reverse it.
Before long she was pregnant, but a few weeks later she was rushed into hospital with severe abdominal pain. She was treated, but it turned out there was no baby after all.
Mum came home, subdued and depressed. I tried to tell her that it was for the best but that only made her angry.
I got the strong impression that, once she was feeling better, she and Dad were going to try for more babies. In the event they didn't get the chance.
Eight months later, on February 24, 1994, I opened the door to find two policemen standing there. "Is Rosemary West at home? Can we come in?"
When Mum came down in her dressing gown, they told us they had a warrant to search our garden for Heather's body. I was expecting Mum to go mad, but she just sat down, stared at her feet and said nothing.
Soon afterwards, my brother Steve arrived. Like me, he was in total sickening shock — especially as we'd once joked about Heather being under the patio after seeing a soap episode with a similar plot.
Without being entirely serious about it, we'd decided to set a trap for Mum and Dad. We played them videos of episodes from Prime Suspect and Brookside that featured bodies buried under a patio. Then we watched for their reactions, but nothing about their behaviour suggested they were uncomfortable.
But this was real life. And we were convinced the police would find nothing. So, apparently, was Mum, who cursed them for "wasting everyone's time".
Both she and Dad were taken in for questioning. Not long afterwards, the police took Steve and me into Gloucester police station to meet Dad's solicitor, Howard Ogden.
He looked very grave. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," he said, "but I'm afraid your father has admitted murdering Heather.
"He said he strangled her and buried her in the back garden. He has agreed to go back to the house to show them where she's buried."