Did Fred West murder Mary Bastholm - the detective's story part 1
THE disappearance in Gloucester of teenager Mary Bastholm in 1968 remains unsolved to this day.
Here, retired Detective Chief Superintendent John Bennett, who led the investigation into the Cromwell Street murders, asks whether Fred West was to blame:
I WAS off duty when I received a request from police headquarters control room to phone Winson Green Prison Deputy Governor Polkinghorn.
It was just after 1.30pm on New Year's Day 1995 and Frederick West was on remand there to await trial, with his wife Rosemary, for the murders of 12 young women – including his first wife and her daughter, and a daughter from his bigamous marriage to Rose.
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Rose was jointly charged with 10 of those murders.
I instinctively knew what was coming.
I had even cynically prepared a plan of action in the event of Frederick West's suicide or death and kept it in my briefcase.
Now my worst fears were realised.
I had visited that maximum security prison wing in October purely for the purpose of warning those responsible for his detention that it had come to our investigation's notice, from more than one source, that West's attitude had changed since he had left Gloucester police station and that he might be contemplating suicide.
On leaving the prison that day both Deputy Detective Chief Inspector Terry Moore and I were far from comfortable with what we had seen and heard.
It seemed, despite having expressed our reasoned concerns, our fears might be unheeded.
We were told of the previous high-profile prisoners that had been cared for on that wing without a problem and that Frederick West in comparison was a breeze.
We knew otherwise and had made clear how he was able to manipulate others and quickly and cunningly take advantage of situations.
We knew that he was not the simpleton he portrayed but an evil, conniving psychopath with no conscience whatsoever.
I went to my bedroom to ensure privacy and escape the noise of mine and my sister's family who were visiting for dinner and made the requested call to the deputy governor.
My worst fears were realised – West had somehow asphyxiated himself in his cell. West Midlands Police had been informed.
I did not ask for any more details or make comment, just said thank you for the call and ended it.
The how and when West met his death would be dealt with by the Birmingham Coroner in time, now I had to ensure those who needed to know were informed by the investigating team before the media got hold of it.
I knew how difficult it would be to win that race.
My plan placed first and foremost notification to the families of the victims, including the West family.
The family of Mary Bastholm was included as, while West had denied involvement in her disappearance, it was so similar to that of other known victims it had been strongly put to me on a number of occasions.
I had promised her family personally, like I had all the others, that I would keep them aware of any developments I could.
As I collected myself, I was momentarily overcome by feelings of frustration and anger.
West had played a winning and cheating card and taken with him the truth of how the victims had met their deaths as well if there were any further victims.
And also whether he was involved in Mary's disappearance, which took place before he had met Rose. That would now likely never be known.
As I began to make the calls to staff up in the incident room to put the plan into action, many thoughts and memories flashed through my mind.
Apart from what this meant to the investigation and now Rose West's lone trial, I knew the disappointment the investigating team would feel and that very much would relate to the unanswered questions of Mary Bastholm's disappearance.
Stroud Police Station and magistrates court, situated on the junction of Gloucester Street and Slad Road, looked cold and uninviting just after 8.30am that Sunday morning.
It was January 14, 1968, and I was a detective constable in the force.
I stamped my feet on the doormat, removing the ice and snow from my shoes at the entrance before opening the door to be greeted by the warmth of the front office.
PC Ted Jones, the general office duty clerk, greeted me as I went to the tier of filing baskets.
I first scooped up the pile of messages from the basket designated "CID" before casting my eyes over other messages that related more to my uniform colleagues.
As I brought myself up to date, before going upstairs to the CID General Office, Ted Jones commented: "I see they've called in the Yard for the girl missing from Gloucester then."
It had been bitterly cold over Christmas and especially the previous week when there had been more than one fall of snow.
Gloucester, Cheltenham and the Cotswolds were experiencing the same cold snap – the county's pavements were an obstacle to any able-bodied pedestrian while conditions, even on main roads, were exciting to say the least for the few drivers who dared to venture out.
I was then 22 years old and had less than three years service as a sworn police officer.
I had been a police cadet since I was 17 years old.
As a probationer PC, like all others, I been moved regularly.
Now I was a detective constable, having recently been appointed before having attended an initial detective training course at the Metropolitan Police Detective Training School – a course that had only ended some two weeks previously.
That morning, having fully briefed myself and listed what had to be done, I looked out over Merrywalks considering myself to be fortunate.
I enjoyed every aspect of my work as a police officer and especially "catching thieves".
Now investigating crime was my main responsibility, though when the need for underwater searches arose I retained another role.
I was a proud member of the Gloucestershire Constabulary Underwater Recovery Section, formed two years earlier.
Sitting at my desk while doing my "to do list", I was joined by my more experienced opposite number and neighbour – Detective Constable Brian Watkins.
We discussed the disappearance of Mary Jane Bastholm, the girl missing from Gloucester, and the investigation that was being carried out there.
It had been run initially by Gloucestershire's head of CID, Detective Chief Superintendent Dick Tilley, but now Scotland Yard had been called in.
The local newspapers were full of it and there had been a number of circulations by telex (the automated system used in those days by police and organisations to communicate typed text but not photographs).
These, and the TV reports and internal circulations, clearly indicated that it was not just because of the weather that there was highest concern for her wellbeing. It was also the circumstances of her disappearance – it was completely out of character.
The constabulary's internal paper circulation Daily Informations added weight to the telex circulations and included a photograph, as did the wider circulated South West Crime Information.
Later, if she was not found, she would appear in the country-wide circulated Police Gazette. Sadly, this was to become necessary.
The photograph that accompanied the circulation showed Mary apparently as a happy and smiling young bridesmaid.
The detail included: "She is 16 years of age, born on March 14, 1952, 5' 3" tall, very slim build with blonde coloured hair straight and of shoulder length, parted in the centre.
"She was wearing a navy blue knee-length coat with vertical pin stripes, buttons down the front, a navy jumper, navy blue cardigan, darker in colour, with buttons to the neck, a lime green mini skirt and navy blue shoes and handbag.
"She was carrying a Monopoly set in a white carrier bag and was last seen at 8.15pm on Saturday, January 6, 1968, at a bus stop in Bristol Road, Gloucester."
"Marchand Of the Yard" - Detective Chief Superintendent William Marchand of the Metropolitan Police Scotland Yard Murder Squad – was now heading the investigation.
MARY Bastholm disappeared at the age of 15 and was last seen at a Gloucester bus stop in January 1968.
She worked at the Pop In cafe, which was frequented by Fred West. His son Stephen said his father had confessed to murdering her before he killed himself. West, 53, hanged himself in Winson Green Prison on New Year’s Day 1995 as he awaited trial for 12 murders. Most victims were found at his home at 25 Cromwell Street but Mary’s body was never found.