The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) and all those who chose to accompany them into imprisonment—notably Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov, according to the conclusion of the investigator Sokolov, were shot and bayoneted to death in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16–17 July 1918. According to the official state version in the USSR, former Tsar Nicholas Romanov, along with members of his family and retinue, was executed by firing squad, by order of the Ural Regional Soviet, due to the threat of the city being occupied by Whites (Czechoslovak Legion). By the assumption of a number of researchers, this was done according to instructions by Lenin, Yakov Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky. Their bodies were then taken to the Koptyaki forest where they were stripped and mutilated. In 1919, White Army investigation (of Sokolov) failed to find the gravesite, concluding that the imperial family's remains had been cremated at the mineshaft called Ganina Yama, since evidence of fire was found.. In 1979 and 2007, the remains of the bodies were found in two unmarked graves in a field called Porosenkov Log.
Following the February Revolution, the Romanov family and their loyal servants were imprisoned in the Alexander Palace before being moved to Tobolsk and then Yekaterinburg, where they were killed, allegedly at the express command of Vladimir Lenin. Despite being informed that "the entire family suffered the same fate as its head", the Bolsheviks only announced Nicholas's death, with the official press release that "Nicholas Romanov's wife and son have been sent to a secure place."For over eight years, the Soviet leadership maintained a systematic web of disinformation as to the fate of the family, from claiming in September 1919 that they were murdered by left-wing revolutionaries to denying outright in April 1922 that they were dead. They acknowledged the murders in 1926 following the publication of an investigation by a White émigré, but maintained that the bodies were destroyed and that Lenin's Cabinet was not responsible. The Soviet cover-up of the murders fuelled rumours of survivors, leading to the emergence of Romanov impostors that drew media attention away from Soviet Russia. Discussion regarding the fate of the family was suppressed by Joseph Stalin from 1938.
The burial site was discovered in 1979 by an amateur sleuth, but the existence of the remains was not made public until 1989, during the glasnost period. The identity of the remains was confirmed by forensic and DNA investigation. They were reburied in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg in 1998, 80 years after they were killed, in a funeral that was not attended by key members of the Russian Orthodox Church, who disputed the authenticity of the remains. A second, smaller grave containing the remains of two Romanov children missing from the larger grave was discovered by amateur archaeologists in 2007. However, their remains are kept in a state repository pending further DNA tests. In 2008, after considerable and protracted legal wrangling, the Russian Prosecutor General's office rehabilitated the Romanov family as "victims of political repressions". A criminal case was opened by the post-Soviet government in 1993, but nobody was prosecuted on the basis that the perpetrators were dead.
Some historians attribute the order to the government in Moscow, specifically Sverdlov and Lenin who wished to prevent the rescue of the Imperial Family by the approaching Czechoslovak Legion (fighting with the White Army against the Bolsheviks) during the ongoing Russian Civil War. This is supported by a passage in Leon Trotsky's diary. An investigation led by Vladimir Solovyov concluded in 2011 that, despite the opening of state archives in the post-Soviet years, there is yet no written document found that indicates that either Lenin or Sverdlov instigated the orders; however, they did endorse the executions after they occurred. Lenin had close control over the Romanovs although he ensured his name was not associated with their fate in any official documents. President Boris Yeltsin described the killings as one of the most shameful pages in Russian history.
On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer a monarch and addressed by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government, surrounded by guards and confined to their quarters.
In August 1917, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former governor's mansion in considerable comfort. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. Nicholas was forbidden to wear epaulettes, and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with 10 devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee. As the Bolsheviks gathered strength, the government in April moved Nicholas, Alexandra, and their daughter Maria to Yekaterinburg under the direction of Vasily Yakovlev. Alexei, who had severe haemophilia, was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House, which was designated The House of Special Purpose (Russian: Дом Особого Назначения).
While the Romanovs were having dinner on 16 July 1918, Yurovsky entered the sitting room and informed them that the kitchen boy Leonid Sednev was leaving to meet his uncle Ivan Sednev, who had returned to the city asking to see him; Ivan had already been shot by the Cheka. The family was very upset as Leonid was Alexei's only playmate and he was the fifth member of the imperial entourage to be taken from them, but they were assured by Yurovsky that he would be back soon. Alexandra did not trust him, writing in her final diary entry just hours before her death, "whether its [sic] true & we shall see the boy back again!" Leonid was in fact kept in the Popov House that night. Yurovsky saw no reason to kill him and wanted him removed before the execution took place.
Around midnight on 17 July, Yakov Yurovsky, the commandant of The House of Special Purpose, ordered the Romanovs' physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin, to awaken the sleeping family and ask them to put on their clothes, under the pretext that the family would be moved to a safe location due to impending chaos in Yekaterinburg. The Romanovs were then ordered into a 6 m × 5 m (20 ft × 16 ft) semi-basement room. Nicholas asked if Yurovsky could bring two chairs, on which Tsarevich Alexei and Alexandra sat. Yurovsky's assistant Grigory Nikulin remarked to him that the "heir wanted to die in a chair. Very well then, let him have one." The prisoners were told to wait in the cellar room while the truck that would transport them was being brought to the House. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and Yurovsky read aloud the order given to him by the Ural Executive Committee:
Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.
Nicholas, facing his family, turned and said "What? What?" Yurovsky quickly repeated the order and the weapons were raised. The Empress and Grand Duchess Olga, according to a guard's reminiscence, had tried to bless themselves, but failed amid the shooting. Yurovsky reportedly raised his Colt gun at Nicholas's torso and fired; Nicholas fell dead, pierced with at least three bullets in his upper chest. The intoxicated Peter Ermakov, the military commissar for Verkh-Isetsk, shot and killed Alexandra with a bullet wound to the head. He then shot at Maria, who ran for the double doors, hitting her in the thigh. The remaining executioners shot chaotically and over each other's shoulders until the room was so filled with smoke and dust that no one could see anything at all in the darkness nor hear any commands amid the noise.
Alexey Kabanov, who ran out onto the street to check the noise levels, heard dogs barking from the Romanovs' quarters and the sound of gunshots loud and clear despite the noise from the Fiat's engine. Kabanov then hurried downstairs and told the men to stop firing and kill the family and their dogs with their gun butts and bayonets. Within minutes, Yurovsky was forced to stop the shooting because of the caustic smoke of burned gunpowder, dust from the plaster ceiling caused by the reverberation of bullets, and the deafening gunshots. When they stopped, the doors were then opened to scatter the smoke. While waiting for the smoke to abate, the killers could hear moans and whimpers inside the room. As it cleared, it became evident that although several of the family's retainers had been killed, all of the Imperial children were alive and furthermore, only Maria was even injured.
The basement where the Romanov family was killed. The wall had been torn apart in search of bullets and other evidence by investigators in 1919. The double doors leading to a storeroom were locked during the execution.
The noise of the guns had been heard by households all around, and had awakened many people. The executioners were ordered to proceed with their bayonets, a technique which proved ineffective and meant that the children had to be dispatched by still more gunshots, this time aimed more precisely at their heads. The Tsarevich was the first of the children to be executed. Yurovsky watched in disbelief as Nikulin spent an entire magazine from his Browning gun on Alexei, who was still seated transfixed in his chair; he also had jewels sewn into his undergarment and forage cap. Ermakov shot and stabbed him, and when he failed, Yurovsky shoved him aside and killed the boy with a gunshot to the head. The last to die were Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, who were carrying a few pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds sewn into their clothing, which had given them a degree of protection from the firing. However, they were speared with bayonets as well. Olga sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Maria and Anastasia were said to have crouched up against a wall covering their heads in terror until they were shot down. Yurovsky himself killed Tatiana and Alexei. Tatiana died from a single bullet through the back of her head. Alexei received two bullets to the head, right behind the ear. Anna Demidova, Alexandra's maid, survived the initial onslaught but was quickly stabbed to death against the back wall while trying to defend herself with a small pillow which she had carried that was filled with precious gems and jewels. While the bodies were being placed on stretchers, one of the girls cried out and covered her face with her arm. Ermakov grabbed Alexander Strekotin's rifle and bayoneted her in the chest, but when it failed to penetrate he pulled out his revolver and shot her in the head.
While Yurovsky was checking the victims for pulses, Ermakov went back and forth in the room, flailing the bodies with his bayonet. The execution lasted about 20 minutes, Yurovsky later admitting to Nikulin's "poor mastery of his weapon and inevitable nerves". Future investigations calculated that a possible 70 bullets were fired, roughly seven bullets per shooter, of which 57 were found in the basement and at all three subsequent gravesites. Some of Pavel Medvedev's stretcher bearers began frisking the bodies for valuables. Yurovsky saw this and demanded that they surrender any looted items or be shot. The attempted looting, coupled with Ermakov's incompetence and drunken state, convinced Yurovsky to oversee the disposal of the bodies himself. Only Alexei's spaniel, Joy, survived to be rescued by a British officer of the Allied Intervention Force, living out his final days in Windsor, Berkshire.
Alexandre Beloborodov sent a coded telegram to Lenin's secretary, Nikolai Gorbunov. It was found by White investigator Nikolai Sokolov and reads: Inform Sverdlov the whole family have shared the same fate as the head. Officially the family will die at the evacuation.
Aleksandr Lisitsyn of the Cheka, an essential witness on behalf of Moscow, was designated to promptly dispatch to Sverdlov soon after the executions of Nicholas and Alexandra's politically valuable diaries and letters, which would be published in Russia as soon as possible. Beloborodov and Nikulin oversaw the ransacking of the Romanov quarters, seizing all the family's personal items, the most valuable piled up in Yurovsky's office whilst things considered inconsequential and of no value were stuffed into the stoves and burned. Everything was packed into the Romanovs' own trunks for dispatch to Moscow under escort by commissars. On 19 July, the Bolsheviks nationalized all confiscated Romanov properties, the same day Sverdlov announced the tsar's execution to the Council of People's Commissars.
The bodies of the Romanovs and their servants were loaded onto a Fiat truck equipped with a 60-hp engine, with a cargo area 6 × 10 feet in size. Heavily laden, the vehicle struggled for nine miles on boggy road to reach the Koptyaki forest. Yurovsky was furious when he discovered that the drunken Ermakov had brought only one shovel for the burial. About half a mile further on, near crossing no. 185 on the line serving the Verkh-Isetsk works, 25 men working for Ermakov were waiting with horses and light carts. These men were all intoxicated and they were outraged that the prisoners were not brought to them alive. They expected to be part of the lynch mob and were hoping to abuse the women before killing them. Yurovsky maintained control of the situation with great difficulty, eventually getting Ermakov's men to shift some of the bodies from the truck onto the carts. A few of Ermakov's men pawed the female bodies for diamonds hidden in their undergarments, two of whom lifted up Alexandra's skirt and fingered her genitals. Yurovsky ordered them at gunpoint to back off, dismissing the two who had groped the tsarina's corpse and any others he had caught looting. One of the men sniggered that he could "die in peace", having touched the "royal cunt".
In the hasty disposal of the bodies, several belongings like these topazes were overlooked by Yurovsky's men and eventually recovered by Sokolov in 1919.
The truck was bogged down in an area of marshy ground near the Gorno-Uralsk railway line, during which all the bodies were unloaded onto carts and taken to the disposal site. The sun was up by the time the carts came within sight of the disused mine, which was a large clearing at a place called the 'Four Brothers'. Yurovsky's men first gobbled on hardboiled eggs supplied by the local nuns (food that was meant for the imperial family), while the remainder of Ermakov's men were ordered back to the city as Yurovsky did not trust them and was displeased with their drunkenness.
Yurovsky and five other men laid out the bodies on the grass and undressed them, the clothes piled up and burned while Yurovsky took inventory of their jewellery. Only Maria's undergarments contained no jewels, which to Yurovsky was proof that the family had ceased to trust her ever since she became too friendly with one of the guards back in May. Once the bodies were "completely naked" they were dumped into a mineshaft and sprinkled with sulphuric acid to disfigure them beyond recognition. Only then did Yurovsky discover that the pit was less than 3 metres (9 feet) deep and the muddy water below did not fully submerge the corpses as he had expected. He unsuccessfully tried to collapse the mine with hand grenades, after which his men covered it with loose earth and branches. Yurovsky left three men to guard the site while he returned to Yekaterinburg with a bag filled with 18 lb of looted diamonds, to report back to Beloborodov and Goloshchyokin. It was decided that the pit was too shallow.
Sergey Chutskaev of the local Soviet told Yurovsky of some deeper copper mines west of Yekaterinburg, the area remote and swampy and a grave there less likely to be discovered. He inspected the site on the evening of 17 July and reported back to the Cheka at the Amerikanskaya Hotel. He ordered additional trucks to be sent out to Koptyaki whilst assigning Pyotr Voykov to obtain barrels of petrol, kerosene and sulphuric acid, and plenty of dry firewood. Yurovsky also seized several horse-drawn carts to be used in the removal of the bodies to the new site. Yurovsky and Goloshchyokin, along with several Cheka agents, returned to the mineshaft at about 4:00am on the morning of 18 July. The sodden corpses were hauled out one by one using ropes tied to their mangled limbs and laid under a tarpaulin. Yurovsky, worried that he might not have enough time to take the bodies to the deeper mine, ordered his men to dig another burial pit then and there, but the ground was too hard. He returned to the Amerikanskaya Hotel to confer with the Cheka. He seized a truck which he had loaded with blocks of concrete for attaching to the bodies before submerging them in the new mineshaft. A second truck carried a detachment of Cheka agents to help move the bodies. Yurovsky returned to the forest at 10:00pm on 18 July. The bodies were again loaded onto the Fiat truck, which by then had been extricated from the mud.
During transportation to the deeper copper mines on the early morning of 19 July, the Fiat truck carrying the bodies got stuck again in mud near Porosenkov Log (Pig's Meadow). With the men exhausted, most refusing to obey orders and dawn approaching, Yurovsky decided to bury them under the road where the truck had stalled. They dug a grave that was 6 × 8 ft in size and barely 60 centimetres (2 ft) deep. Alexei Trupp's body was tossed in first, followed by the Tsar's and then the rest. Sulphuric acid was again used to dissolve the bodies, their faces smashed with rifle butts and covered with quicklime. Railroad ties were placed over the grave to disguise it, with the Fiat truck being driven back and forth over the ties to press them into the earth. The burial was completed at 6:00am on 19 July.
Yurovsky separated the Tsarevich Alexei and one of his sisters to be buried about 15 metres (50 ft) away, in an attempt to confuse anyone who might discover the mass grave with only nine bodies. Since the female body was badly disfigured, Yurovsky mistook her for Anna Demidova; in his report he wrote that he had actually wanted to destroy Alexandra's corpse. Alexei and his sister were burned in a bonfire and their remaining charred bones were thoroughly smashed with spades and tossed into a smaller pit. Only 44 partial bone fragments from both corpses remained, which were not found until August 2007.
Ivan Plotnikov, history professor at the Maksim Gorky Ural State University, has established that the executioners were Yakov Yurovsky, Grigory P. Nikulin, Mikhail A. Medvedev (Kudrin), Peter Ermakov, Stepan Vaganov, Alexey G. Kabanov (former soldier in the tsar's Life Guards and Chekist assigned to the attic machine gun), Pavel Medvedev, V. N. Netrebin, and Y. M. Tselms. Filipp Goloshchyokin, a close associate of Yakov Sverdlov, being a military commissar of the Uralispolkom in Yekaterinburg, however did not actually participate, and two or three guards refused to take part. Pyotr Voykov was given the specific task of arranging for the disposal of their remains, obtaining 570 litres (150 gal) of gasoline and 180 kilograms (400 lbs) of sulphuric acid, the latter from the Yekaterinburg pharmacy. He was a witness but later claimed to have taken part in the murders, looting belongings from a dead grand duchess. After the killings, he was to declare that "The world will never know what we did with them." Voykov served as Soviet ambassador to Poland in 1924, where he was assassinated by a Russian monarchist in July 1927.
The men who were directly complicit in the murder of the imperial family largely survived in the immediate months after the murders. Stepan Vaganov, Ermakov's close associate, was attacked and killed by peasants in late 1918 for his participation in local acts of brutal repression by the Cheka. Pavel Medvedev, head of the Ipatiev House guard and one of the key figures in the murders, was captured by the White Army in Perm in February 1919. He denied taking part in the murders during his interrogation, dying in prison of typhus. Alexandre Beloborodov and his deputy Boris Didkovsky were both killed in 1938 during the Great Purge. Filipp Goloshchyokin was shot in October 1941 in an NKVD prison and consigned to an unmarked grave.
Three days after the murders, Yurovsky personally reported to Lenin on the events of that night and was rewarded with an appointment to the Moscow City Cheka. He held a succession of key economic and party posts, dying in the Kremlin Hospital in 1938 aged 60. Prior to his death, he donated the guns he used in the murders to the Museum of the Revolution in Moscow, and left behind three valuable, though contradictory, accounts of the event. Yurovsky never expressed regret or remorse over the murders. Instead he reminisced, in a final letter to his children shortly before his death, on his revolutionary career and how "the storm of October" had "turned its brightest side" towards him, making him "the happiest of mortals". He and his assistant Nikulin, who died in 1964, are buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His son, Alexander Yurovsky, voluntarily handed over his father's memoirs to amateur investigators Avdonin and Ryabov in 1978.
Lenin saw the House of Romanov as "monarchist filth, a 300-year disgrace", and referred to Nicholas II in conversation and in his writings as "the most evil enemy of the Russian people, a bloody executioner, an Asiatic gendarme" and "a crowned robber." The written record taking the chain of command and the ultimate responsibility for the fate of the Romanovs back to Lenin was, from the beginning, either never made or carefully concealed. Lenin operated with extreme caution, his favoured method being to issue instructions in coded telegrams, insisting that the original and even the telegraph ribbon on which it was sent be destroyed. Uncovered documents in Archive No. 2 (Lenin), Archive No. 86 (Sverdlov) as well as the archives of the Council of People's Commissars and the Central Executive Committee reveal that a host of party 'errand boys' were regularly designated to relay his instructions, either by confidential notes or anonymous directives made in the collective name of the Council of People's Commissars. In all such decisions Lenin regularly insisted that no written evidence be preserved. The 55 volumes of Lenin's Collected Works as well as the memoirs of those who directly took part in the murders were scrupulously censored, emphasising the roles of Sverdlov and Goloshchyokin.
Lenin was, however, aware of Vasily Yakovlev's decision to take Nicholas, Alexandra and Maria further on to Omsk instead of Yekaterinburg in April 1918, having become worried about the extremely threatening behaviour of the Ural Soviets in Tobolsk and along the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Biographical Chronicle of Lenin's political life confirms that first Lenin (between 18:00 and 19:00) and then Lenin and Sverdlov together (between 21:30 and 23:50) had direct telegraph contact with the Ural Soviets about Yakovlev's change of route. Despite Yakovlev's request to take the family further away to the more remote Simsky Gorny District in Ufa province (where they could hide in the mountains), warning that "the baggage" would be destroyed if given to the Ural Soviets, Lenin and Sverdlov were adamant that they be brought to Yekaterinburg. Lenin also welcomed news of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth's death, who was murdered in Alapayevsk along with five other Romanovs on 18 July 1918, remarking that "virtue with the crown on it is a greater enemy to the world revolution than a hundred tyrant tsars".
Soviet historiography portrayed Nicholas as a weak and incompetent leader whose decisions led to military defeats and the deaths of millions of his subjects, while Lenin's reputation was protected at all costs, thus ensuring that no discredit was brought on him; responsibility for the 'liquidation' of the Romanov family was directed at the Ural Soviets and Yekaterinburg Cheka.
Early the next morning, when rumours spread in Yekaterinburg about the disposal site, Yurovsky removed the bodies and hid them elsewhere (56.942222°N 60.473333°E). When the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way to the next chosen site, Yurovsky made new arrangements, and buried most of the acid-covered bodies in a pit sealed and concealed with rubble, covered over with railroad ties and then earth (56.9113628°N 60.4954326°E) on Koptyaki Road, a cart track (subsequently abandoned) 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of Yekaterinburg.
On the afternoon of 19 July, Filipp Goloshchyokin announced at the Opera House on Glavny Prospekt that "Nicholas the bloody" had been shot and his family taken to another place. Sverdlov granted permission for the local paper in Yekaterinburg to publish the "Execution of Nicholas, the Bloody Crowned Murderer – Shot without Bourgeois Formalities but in Accordance with our new democratic principles", along with the coda that "the wife and son of Nicholas Romanov have been sent to a safe place". An official announcement appeared in the national press, two days later. It reported that the monarch had been executed on the order of Uralispolkom under pressure posed by the approach of the Czechoslovaks.
Over the course of 84 days after the Yekaterinburg murders, 27 more friends and relatives (14 Romanovs and 13 members of the imperial entourage and household) were murdered by the Bolsheviks: at Alapayevsk on 18 July, Perm on 4 September, and the Peter and Paul Fortress on 24 January 1919. Unlike the imperial family, the bodies at Alapayevsk and Perm were recovered by the White Army in October 1918 and May 1919 respectively. However, only the final resting places of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and her faithful companion Sister Varvara Yakovleva are known today, buried alongside each other in the Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem.
The remaining two bodies of Tsesarevich Alexei and one of his sisters were discovered in 2007.
On 15 August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the canonization of the family for their "humbleness, patience and meekness". However, reflecting the intense debate preceding the issue, the bishops did not proclaim the Romanovs as martyrs, but passion bearers instead (see Romanov sainthood).
Over the years 2000 to 2003, the Church of All Saints, Yekaterinburg was built on the site of Ipatiev House.
On 1 October 2008, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and rehabilitated them.
On Thursday, 26 August 2010, a Russian court ordered prosecutors to reopen an investigation into the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, although the Bolsheviks believed to have shot them in 1918 had died long before. The Russian Prosecutor General's main investigative unit said it had formally closed a criminal investigation into the killing of Nicholas because too much time had elapsed since the crime and because those responsible had died. However, Moscow's Basmanny Court ordered the re-opening of the case, saying that a Supreme Court ruling blaming the state for the killings made the deaths of the actual gunmen irrelevant, according to a lawyer for the Tsar's relatives and local news agencies.
In late 2015, at the insistence by the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian investigators exhumed the bodies of Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, for additional DNA testing, which confirmed that the bones were of the couple.
A survey conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center on 11 July 2018 revealed that 57% of Russians aged 35+ "believe that the execution of the Royal family is a heinous unjustified crime", 46% among those aged between 18 and 24 believe that Nicholas II had to be punished for his mistakes, and 3% "were certain that the Royal family's execution was the public's just retribution for the emperor's blunders". On the centenary of the murders, over 100,000 pilgrims took part in a procession led by Patriarch Kirill in Yekaterinburg, marching from the city center where the Romanovs were murdered to a monastery in Ganina Yama. However, the centenary was overlooked by the Russian government, which did not organize any official commemorations.
— Source: Wikipedia
Frederick Walter Stephen West (29 September 1941 – 1 January 1995) was an English serial killer who committed at least 12 murders between 1967 and 1987 in Gloucestershire, the majority with his second wife, Rosemary West.
All the victims were young women. At least eight of these murders involved the Wests' sexual gratification and included rape, bondage, torture and mutilation; the victims' dismembered bodies were typically buried in the cellar or garden of the Wests' Cromwell Street home in Gloucester, which became known as the "House of Horrors". Fred also committed at least two murders on his own, and Rose murdered Fred's stepdaughter, Charmaine. The couple were apprehended and charged in 1994.
Fred West fatally asphyxiated himself while on remand at HM Prison Birmingham on 1 January 1995, at which time he and Rose were jointly charged with nine murders, and he with three further murders. In November 1995, Rose was convicted of ten murders and sentenced to ten life terms with a whole life order.
Frederick Walter Stephen West was born on 29 September 1941 at Bickerton Cottage, Much Marcle, Herefordshire, the first surviving child born to Walter Stephen West (5 July 1914 – 28 March 1992) and Daisy Hannah Hill (20 May 1922 – 6 February 1968). His was a poor family of farm workers, close-knit and mutually protective; his father was a disciplinarian and his mother overprotective.
Moorcourt Farm, Much Marcle, where West lived, in Moorcourt Cottage, 1946–1961
In 1946, the family moved to Moorcourt Cottage at Moorcourt Farm, where Fred's father worked as a milking herdsman and harvest hand. The cottage had no electricity and was heated by a log fireplace. By 1951, Fred's mother had given birth to eight children, six of whom survived, but Fred was always his mother's favourite. He was seen as a mother's boy, and relied mostly on his siblings for companionship.
The West children were expected to perform assigned chores, and all six did seasonal work, the three girls picking hops and strawberries, the three boys harvesting wheat and hunting rabbits. The necessity of working to earn a living, or even just to survive, instilled a strong work ethic in Fred, who also developed a lifelong habit of petty theft.
Classmates recall Fred as scruffy, dim, lethargic, and regularly in trouble. Throughout his life, he remained scarcely literate, yet displayed an aptitude for woodwork and artwork. He left school in December 1956 at age 15, initially working as a labourer at Moorcourt Farm.
Fred claimed he was introduced to sex by his mother at 12, to have engaged in acts of bestiality with animals in his early teens, and that his belief in incest being normal stemmed from his father's incest with Fred's sisters. Fred's youngest brother, Doug, dismissed these claims as fantasy on Fred's part.
By 1957, Fred and his brother John frequently socialized at a youth club in nearby Ledbury, where his distinct and guttural Herefordshire accent marked him as a "country bumpkin". He aggressively pestered women and girls, whom he objectified as sources of pleasure to be used as he saw fit, and would abruptly approach and fondle them. When a girl acquiesced to his advances, she would find his sexual performance unsatisfying, as his primary objective was his own gratification.
Shortly after his 17th birthday, Fred bought a motorcycle, and two months later suffered a fractured skull, a broken arm, and a broken leg in an accident. He was unconscious for seven days and walked with braces for several months; because of this incident, he developed an extreme fear of hospitals and became prone to fits of rage. Two years later, he suffered a further head injury when a girl he groped on a fire escape outside the Ledbury Youth Club punched him, sending him falling two floors.
In June 1961, Fred's 13-year-old sister, Kitty, told her mother that Fred had been raping her since the previous December, and had impregnated her. Arrested the same month, Fred freely admitted to police he had been molesting young girls since his early teens and asked, "Doesn't everybody do it?" He was tried on 9 November at Herefordshire Assizes. Though disgusted by her son's actions, Daisy had been prepared to testify in his defense. Kitty refused to testify and the case collapsed. Much of Fred's family effectively disowned him, his mother banished him from the household, and he moved into the Much Marcle house of his aunt Violet. By mid-1962, he had reconciled with his parents, but his relationship with most of his family remained fraught.
Fred became re-acquainted with Catherine ("Rena") Bernadette Costello in September 1962, when he was 21. He had first met Costello—who came from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire—at a Much Marcle dance hall in 1960, and dated her for several months before she returned to Scotland. Costello was pregnant by a Pakistani bus driver at the time of her marriage to Fred, and she may have relocated from Glasgow to England due to the stigma of her baby's mixed ancestry. She married Fred in Ledbury on 17 November, the sole guest being Fred's younger brother John. The couple initially lived in Fred's aunt's home, then moved to Coatbridge, where Fred worked as an ice cream van driver. Rena's daughter, Charmaine, was born in March 1963; to explain the child's mixed ancestry, Rena and Fred claimed that she had suffered a miscarriage and that Charmaine was adopted. Shortly thereafter, the couple relocated to Savoy Street, in the Bridgeton district of Glasgow.
In July 1964, Rena bore Fred a daughter, Anna Marie. The child was born at the couple's Savoy Street home. The family nanny, Isa McNeill, and neighbours of the Wests, recall Rena as a considerate mother "struggling to bring up two children"; Fred treated the children harshly. He kept the girls in the bottom of a bunk bed with bars fitted to the space between the bunks, effectively caging them; they were allowed out only when he was at work. Via McNeill, the Wests became acquainted with 16-year-old Anne McFall, a friend of McNeill's, who was despondent over the death of her boyfriend in a workplace accident. McFall spent a great deal of time at the Wests' flat.
Fred later admitted to having engaged in numerous affairs in the early years of his marriage, and fathered one illegitimate child with a woman from the Gorbals. When Rena discovered her husband's infidelity, she began an affair with a man named John McLachlan. On one occasion, Fred discovered the pair in an embrace. He punched Rena, making her scream. In response, McLachlan punched Fred, who drew a knife and grazed McLachlan's stomach. When punched by McLachlan a second time, Fred stopped defending himself. Years later, McLachlan recollected this incident: "He couldn't tackle a man, but he wasn't so slow in attacking women." He and Rena continued their affair, and McLachlan became increasingly aghast at Rena's bruises and black eyes. On each occasion it became apparent Fred had beaten his wife, McLachlan extensively beat Fred. Another time, McLachlan witnessed Charmaine—little older than a toddler—ask Fred for an ice cream from his van; in response, Fred struck her across the head, triggering another beating from McLachlan.
On 4 November 1965, Fred accidentally ran over and killed a small boy in Glasgow with his van. Fred was cleared of any wrongdoing by police, but feared the hostile reaction and potential reprisals for the accident from the locals, whom he relied upon to make his living. In December, he returned to Gloucester with Charmaine and Anna Marie, renting a caravan at the Timberland Caravan Park in Bishop's Cleeve. Rena joined him in February 1966, accompanied by Isa McNeill and Anne McFall, who also moved into Fred's caravan. (McNeill and McFall both came from impoverished backgrounds; both hoped to find work in England.) Shortly after the move south, Fred found employment driving a lorry for a local abattoir.
By early 1966, Fred had begun to exhibit dominance and control over all three women. He was also prone to violent mood swings, and Rena and McNeill typically bore the brunt of his fury; Fred also physically attacked his stepdaughter more than once. He is also reported to have begun sexually abusing Charmaine, and to have encouraged Rena to turn to prostitution to supplement his meagre income.
To escape Fred's domestic abuse and increasingly sadistic sexual demands, Rena phoned McLachlan, begging him to rescue her, McNeill and her children. Together, McLachlan, Rena, and McNeill devised a plan; he and Isa's boyfriend, John Trotter, would secretly drive to Bishop's Cleeve in McLachlan's Mini and discreetly take Rena, her children and McNeill back to Scotland. McFall had by this stage become infatuated with Fred, who had promised to marry her. It is likely she informed Fred of the plan, as he arrived at the meeting time, and McFall was "oddly calm" as she informed McNeill she intended to remain with Fred to work as the children's nanny. An altercation ensued between Fred and McLachlan, resulting in Fred being struck several times as he clutched onto Charmaine and Anna Marie. Police were called and McLachlan, Trotter, McNeill, and Rena left, with Fred threatening to kill Rena should he ever see her again.
To ensure her daughters' well-being, Rena frequently travelled to England to visit Charmaine and Anna Marie while they lived with Fred at Bishop's Cleeve. Despite initially maintaining her friendship with McFall, Rena soon began to resent her matriarchal presence around her daughters. On 11 October, in an act of resentment, Rena stole some belongings from Fred's caravan and returned to Glasgow. She was arrested the following month and returned to Gloucester to face trial. On 29 November, Rena was sentenced to three years' probation. Fred testified at the hearing, admitting he and McFall were living together, but falsely claiming McFall intended to return to Scotland imminently.
After the trial, McFall moved into a caravan at the Timberland Caravan Park; Rena alternated between living with Fred and returning to Glasgow. Letters McFall posted to her family and McNeill in Glasgow between 1966 and 1967 indicate she believed a relationship with Fred could offer her a better life than that she had experienced in Scotland, and she tried to persuade Fred to divorce his wife in order that he could marry her.
In July 1967, McFall, aged 18 and eight months pregnant with Fred's child, vanished. She was never reported missing, but her dismembered remains were found buried at the edge of a cornfield between Much Marcle and Kempley in June 1994. Her limbs had been carefully disarticulated, and many phalange bones were missing from her body—likely to have been retained as keepsakes; her unborn child may also have been cut from her womb. Fred initially denied he had killed McFall, but confided to one visitor following his arrest that he had stabbed her to death following an argument. This explanation is inconsistent with the fact that her wrists were found with sections of dressing gown cord wrapped around them, suggesting she had been restrained prior to her murder.
The following month, Rena returned to live with Fred, and the couple relocated to the Lake House Caravan Park. Their relationship initially improved, but Rena left the following year, again leaving the children in his care. On these occasions when Fred had no woman to supervise and care for the girls, he temporarily placed them in the care of Gloucester social services.
Rena maintained sporadic contact with her children on each occasion she and Fred separated. She is also known to have visited Moorcourt Cottage to enquire as to her children's whereabouts and welfare in the latter half of August 1971. Fred's sister-in-law, Christine, later recollected Rena was depressed and extremely anxious about her children's welfare. Being provided with Fred's Midland Road address, Rena sought to confront him—likely to discuss or demand custody of her daughters. This was the final time Rena was seen alive. She is believed to have been murdered by strangulation, possibly in the back seat of Fred's Ford Popular and likely while intoxicated. When her body was discovered, a short length of metal tubing was found with her remains, leaving an equal possibility she had been restrained and subjected to a sexual assault prior to her murder. Rena's body was extensively dismembered, placed into plastic bags, and buried close to a cluster of trees known as Yewtree Coppice at Letterbox Field.
On 29 January 1972, Fred and Rosemary married. The ceremony took place at Gloucester Register Office, with Fred incorrectly describing himself as a bachelor upon the marriage certificate. No family or friends were invited. Several months later, with Rose pregnant with her second child, the couple moved from Midland Road to an address nearby: 25 Cromwell Street. Initially, the three-storey home was rented from the council; Fred later purchased the property from the council for £7,000. To facilitate the Wests' purchasing the property from the council, many of the upper floor rooms were initially converted into bedsits, to supplement the household income. To maintain a degree of privacy for his own family, Fred installed a cooker and a washbasin on the first-floor landing in order that their lodgers need not enter the ground floor where the West family lived, and only he and his family were permitted access to the garden of the property. On 1 June, Rose gave birth to a second daughter. The date of her birth led Fred and Rose to name the child Mae June.
In September 1972, the Wests led eight-year-old Anna Marie to the cellar at 25 Cromwell Street, where the child was ordered to undress, with Rose tearing her dress from her body upon noting the child's hesitation. She was then stripped naked, bound to a mattress and gagged before Fred raped her with Rose's active encouragement. After the rape, Rose explained to the child: "Everybody does it to every girl. It's a father's job. Don't worry, and don't say anything to anybody." Making clear these sexual assaults would continue, Fred and Rose then threatened the child with severe beatings if they ever received word she had divulged the sexual abuse she endured at their hands.
Rose occasionally sexually abused the girl herself, and later took extreme gratification in degrading her with acts such as binding Anna Marie to various items of furniture before encouraging Fred to rape her, and forcing her to perform household chores while wearing sexual devices and a mini-skirt. From the age of 13, Fred and Rose forced Anna Marie to prostitute herself within the household, with her clients being informed Anna Marie was 16. Rose was always present in the room when these acts occurred, to ensure the girl did not reveal her true age. On one occasion when Anna Marie was aged 13 or 14, Rose took her to a local pub, insisting she drink several glasses of barley wine. Several hours later, Fred arrived at the pub to collect Rose and Anna Marie. Once they had left the premises, Anna Marie was bundled into her father's van and beaten by Rose, who asked her: "Do you think you could be my friend?" before she was sexually abused by her father and stepmother.
Three months after the Wests' assault trial, the couple committed their first known murder. The victim was a 19-year-old named Lynda Gough, with whom Fred and Rose became acquainted through a male lodger in early 1973. Gough regularly visited Cromwell Street, and engaged in affairs with two male lodgers. On 19 April, she moved into their home on Cromwell Street. On or about 20 April, other tenants were told that she had been told to leave the household after she had hit one of their children. This story was repeated to Gough's mother when she contacted the Wests to enquire about her whereabouts (Rose had been wearing Lynda's clothing when she repeated this claim).
When Gough's dismembered body was found, the jaw was completely wrapped in adhesive and surgical tape to silence her screams, and two small tubes had likely been inserted into her nasal cavities to allow breathing. Long sections of string and sections of knotted fabric were also discovered with her remains. Gough had likely been suspended from holes carved into the wooden beams supporting the ceiling of the cellar Fred later admitted he had devised for the purpose of suspending his victims' bodies, and likely died of strangulation or suffocation. Her dismembered body, missing five cervical vertebrae, the patellae and numerous phalange bones, was buried in an inspection pit beneath the garage.
From their later investigations, police and forensic experts concluded all the victims found in the cellar at 25 Cromwell Street had been murdered in this location, and that, like Gough, each had been dismembered in this location. Five victims were murdered and buried in the cellar at Cromwell Street between November 1973 and April 1975. The first of these victims, 15-year-old Carol Ann Cooper, was abducted on 10 November 1973. Cooper lived in the Pines Children's Home in Worcester, and was abducted after spending the evening at a cinema with her boyfriend. She had been waiting for a bus in Warndon when she vanished, and was likely dragged into Fred's car, where her face was bound with surgical tape and her arms bound with braiding cloth before she was driven to Cromwell Street. At the Wests' address, Cooper was suspended from the wooden beams of the cellar ceiling before her abuse and murder. As had been the case with Lynda, Cooper died from strangulation or asphyxiation, before her body was dismembered and buried in a shallow, cubical grave in the cellar.
Over the following 17 months, four further victims between the ages of 15 and 21 suffered a similar fate to that endured by Gough and Cooper, although the disarticulation conducted upon each successive victim, plus the paraphernalia discovered in each shallow grave, suggests each victim was likely subjected to greater abuse and torture than those previously murdered.
Following the murder of 18-year-old Juanita Mott in April 1975, Fred concreted over the floor of the entire cellar. He later converted this section of the household into a bedroom for his oldest children, and he and his wife are not known to have committed any further murders until May 1978, when Fred—either with or without Rose's participation but certainly with her knowledge —murdered an 18-year-old lodger named Shirley Robinson. Robinson had taken lodgings with the Wests in April 1977, and was heavily pregnant at the time of her murder. Although Rose—herself pregnant at the time—initially boasted to neighbours the child Robinson was carrying was her husband's; she soon developed a deep resentment of Robinson, and the motive for her murder is likely to have been the removal of a threat to the stability of the Wests' relationship. Her body was buried in the garden of 25 Cromwell Street. It was extensively dismembered, but no restraining devices were found with these remains, making a sexual motive for this murder unlikely. The unborn baby had been removed and had several bones missing. Shortly thereafter, Rose unsuccessfully submitted a claim for maternity benefit in Shirley's name with Gloucester social services. As had earlier been the case with Charmaine and Lynda, Fred and Rose allayed the suspicions of anyone who asked about Robinson's whereabouts by claiming she had relocated to live with her father in West Germany.
The final murder Fred and Rose are known to have committed with a definite sexual motive occurred on 5 August 1979. The victim was a 16-year-old named Alison Chambers, who had run away from a local children's home to become the Wests' live-in nanny in the middle of 1979. Chambers is believed to have lived within their household for several weeks before her murder, and Rose promised Chambers she could live at a rural "peaceful farm" she claimed she and Fred owned. Her body was also buried in the garden of Cromwell Street, close to the bathroom wall, and although Chambers was likely dismembered, her skeleton was not marked by striations as the earlier victims' bodies had been. In an effort to allay any concerns from Chambers' family (with whom she maintained regular correspondence), Fred and Rose later posted a letter written by Chambers to her mother prior to her murder from a Northamptonshire post box.
In May 1992, Fred asked his 13-year-old daughter Louise to bring some bottles to a room on the first floor of their home. Rose was not present in the home at the time. Shortly thereafter, the girl's siblings heard her scream, "No, don't!" Later, Fred returned downstairs. The girl was found by her siblings writhing in pain, sobbing that her father had raped and sodomized her, at one stage partially strangling her. When Rose returned home, the girl confided in her mother that she had been raped by Fred; Rose replied, "Oh well. You were asking for it." Over the following weeks, the girl was raped on three further occasions, with Rose personally witnessing one of these rapes before following her distressed and bleeding daughter into the bathroom and asking the child, "Well, what did you expect?" Fred also filmed one of these rapes. Several weeks later, the girl garnered the courage to confide in a close friend what her father had done; this friend told her own mother what had happened on 4 August. In response, the friend's mother anonymously informed the police.
On 6 August 1992, the police searched the West household on the pretext of searching for stolen property. Although numerous objects of sexual paraphernalia—including 99 pornographic videos of both home-made and commercial nature—were discovered, police did not find the video depicting the rape of Fred's daughter. The 13-year-old made a full statement through a specially-trained solicitor, describing her father's actions, the fact the sexual abuse had begun when she was 11, and that her mother had been casually indifferent to her plight. All the children in the household were placed in foster care the following day. Medical examinations revealed evidence of physical and sexual abuse.
The West children also divulged their mother had inflicted most of the physical abuse and that their father frequently said that if they told anyone about the goings-on in the household they would be "buried under the patio" like their sister Heather.
Fred and Rose West are known to have committed at least 12 murders between 1967 and 1987; many of those connected to the case believe there are several other victims whose bodies have never been found. Prior to his suicide, police had recorded over 108 hours of tape-recorded interviews with Fred, both when he had claimed to have acted alone in the commission of the murders, and when he had attempted to portray Rose as being the more culpable participant. On several occasions, Fred made cryptic hints he had claimed several other victims, but refused to divulge any further information beyond that he had murdered 15-year-old Mary Bastholm in 1968 and buried the body on farmland near Bishop's Cleeve. He also claimed to have killed one victim while working on a construction project in Birmingham, and that other bodies had been buried in Scotland and Herefordshire.
"He said to me: 'Can you remember helping me dig those holes in the garden when you were a kid?' I said I couldn't remember, but he said, 'We did it together, you know.' Then he said: 'That's where the girls were found, in the exact holes'."
Stephen West, recounting an admission made while his father was on remand at Winson Green Prison, 1994.
To his appropriate adult, Fred claimed there were up to 20 further victims he and his wife had killed, "not in one place but spread around", and he intended to reveal the location of one body per year to investigators.
While on remand, Fred made several admissions as to the fate of the victims buried at Cromwell Street to his son Stephen. Much of this information was disjointed or told in a third party manner; Fred claimed that he had extensively tortured the victims prior to their murder, but had not raped them, instead engaging in acts of necrophilia with their bodies at or shortly after the point of death. He also claimed the reason many phalange bones had been missing from the victims' bodies was because the removal of their fingers and toes had been one of the forms of torture the victims had endured, with other torture methods including the extraction of their nails, acts of mutilation, and cigarettes being stubbed out on their bodies. Furthermore, the locations of almost all the burial sites of victims—both discovered and undiscovered—was symbolic to Fred, as each had been buried at or very close to the location he had lived in or worked at the time of the victim's murder.
— Source: Wikipedia
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