My life with serial killer parents
DESPITE sharing a name with a beautiful Hollywood siren, as the daughter of Britain's most twisted and sadistic serial killers, Mae West's life has been defined by tragedy, horror, abuse and a struggle for survival.
Growing up with her parents Fred and Rosemary West in 25 Cromwell St, Gloucester - one of the first homes to be dubbed a "house of horrors" by the media - Mae and her seven siblings were brutally bashed by their mother for the slightest infraction.
Aged five, Mae was raped by her uncle and later by her father Fred, a sadistic pervert and sexual predator who also relentlessly preyed on her older sister Heather, half-sister Anne-Marie and - after Mae left home aged 16 - one of her younger sisters, Louise.
In a poignant new book Love as Always, Mum xxx, Mae West details life inside 25 Cromwell St, her violent childhood and love-hate relationships with her mum and dad - sinister serial killers who have both repulsed and fascinated people across the world for almost 25 years.
Despite the pure evil that ran through Fred West's veins, Mae also paints a picture of a cheeky, flirty jokester with a "fairground charm" and a gift of the gab that enticed young women into the couple's monstrous secret world and dark sexual fantasies.
Growing up, his wife Rose worked as a prostitute and Mae was enlisted to take bookings from clients; the sexual requests middle-aged men had for her mother leaving her grossed out and embarrassed.
Sex toys and hardcore porn was often scattered throughout the family home.
After Mae's 13-year-old sister Louise told a friend she had been raped by Fred, she and the four youngest siblings were taken into care. Fred was accused of rape and Rose of child cruelty but the trial fell apart after the frightened teenager refused to testify.
The police's spotlight was now firmly fixed on the West family but it wasn't until two years later, in 1994, when the full extent of terror - sickening acts of violence, torture, sexual abuse and murder - that took place at 25 Cromwell St was revealed to the world.
It was then that Mae slowly started to come to the realisation that underneath her family home, where all her childhood memories had been made, was a graveyard of bodies; young women tortured and killed by her parents.
"When the police came in and began their search in the garden, I felt as if I was entering a dream," Mae, now 46, wrote in Love As Always, Mum xxx.
"In some ways it feels like a dream that's never ended. Up until that day - apart from the time I lived with (ex-boyfriend) Rob - I hadn't known what it was like to live a normal life. Afterwards it seemed to me that it would never happen again."
Mae's world eventually came crashing down and the true depravity of the "house of horrors" came to light in the weeks and months after February 24, 1994 when Gloucester Police executed a warrant to search for the remains of Mae's beloved older sister Heather who had disappeared in 1987.
Fred and Rose had always maintained she had moved out and was working at a holiday home in southern England, however, police suspected Heather had been killed and "buried under the patio", as Fred sickeningly joked on occasion.
Fred was arrested, and police moved Rose, Mae, and for a while her brother Stephen, into a safe house.
Meanwhile, 25 Cromwell St - and all its terrible secrets - became a crime scene.
At this point, Rose hadn't been named as a suspect in the grisly murders and she firmly laid the blame on her evil husband.
"That f***ing man, Mae, the trouble he's caused me over the years! And now this! Can you believe it?" Mae recalled her mother saying after Fred's arrest.
It wasn't until some time later that police gathered enough evidence to also charge Rose.
Mae described how Fred's solicitor Howard Ogden asked to see herself and Stephen. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but … I'm afraid your father has admitted to murdering Heather," she recalled him saying.
"You just can't prepare yourself for a sentence like that," Mae wrote. "It didn't seem remotely real. I had known Dad was capable of sexual abuse, and that he had a very dark side, but the idea of him committing murder was such a huge thing to take in."
Forensic police excavated the garden and located a femur bone belonging to 16-year-old Heather - and then two more. At this point, Fred confessed to further murders.
In total, nine young women and a child - including Fred's ex-wife Rena and the eight-year-old daughter he had with her, Charmaine - were found buried in the garden, under the cellar and beneath the ground floor bathroom.
Many of the women, who were mostly lodgers or hitchhikers picked up by Fred and Rose, had been tortured, raped and some, dismembered.
On January 1, 1995, Fred West - who was charged with torturing, sexually assaulting and murdering at least 12 women over a 20-year period between 1967 and 1987 - was found hanging in his cell while on remand at HM Prison Birmingham.
On the wall he had scratched: "Freddy, the mass murderer from Gloucester."
His wife Rosemary, a mum of eight, denied all involvement in his horrendous crimes and protested her innocence. However, after police bugged the safe house where she was staying with Mae, they gathered enough evidence to charge her.
While Mae steadfastly believed her mother's protestations of innocence, the police claimed that not only did Rose know what Fred had been up to, she had actively participated in his twisted sexual fantasies including torture, bondage and murder.
After a trial at Winchester Crown Court, on November 22, 1995, Rosemary West was convicted of 10 murders. Now aged 64, she is serving a life sentence for her horrific crimes and like the now deceased child killer Myra Hindley before her, her file is marked "never to be released".
Mae has said while she and her siblings directly experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of their parents, "none of us knew the worst they were capable of until the rest of the world found out".
As more came to light about the extent of their parents' depravity, unexplained fragments of childhood memories fell into place.
Like the time Mae and Heather were playing dress-ups with women's clothing they had found stashed away in the house. Whose clothes were they? It turned out they belonged to Fred and Rosemary's victims who were buried under the cellar and in the backyard.
But Mae's book also describes a tender side to life inside 25 Cromwell St.
"What may be very hard for people to get their head around is that, although nothing in our household was ever what other people might regard as 'normal', in many ways throughout my childhood we got on with our lives in the same way that other families do," she wrote.
"We did ordinary things. We ate meals and watched TV together, celebrated birthdays and Christmas, and went on family holidays.
"Yes, there was abuse, misery, violence and distress, but it wasn't consistent - and it certainly wasn't the whole picture. There was also laughter, tenderness and affection in the house. People may find that extraordinary, but it's true.
"I don't mean between my parents, although they did sometimes laugh and joke with one another and there were occasional flashes of what seemed like real affection towards us, their children. But the bonds between myself and my brothers and sisters were strong.
"We played and laughed, fell out and made up as siblings do in any normal family."
The couple's surviving children have since tried to rebuild their lives and move on from the horrors of their past.
In Love As Always, Mum xxx, which features Rosemary's handwritten letters sent from prison, Mae West, now married with two children Amy and Luke, tries to make sense of her relationship with her mother, her life as a daughter of notorious serial killers and a survivor of shocking child abuse.
"Despite a strange and deeply abusive upbringing, I'd known nothing of my dad's - and later, as I have come to accept, my mum's - murderous crimes," Mae wrote. "Nothing can prepare you for such an experience. I felt numb, as though this was all happening to someone else, and yet I knew it wasn't.
"I knew this was my life and nothing ever would be the same again."
Mae has cut off all contact with her mother, and through counselling, she says she now barely thinks about her father. She described how recently she unexpectedly heard a recording of his "confession tapes" played on TV.
"I was standing there, brushing my hair, and his voice came out of the speakers, clear as day," she said. "And the strangest thing was, I didn't recognise it.
"I knew it was him, but it just didn't sound like him to me any more. I wasn't transported back 20 years, as you might think I would be, at all.
"It was something from another world, a past life."
Despite having moved on, Mae - who detailed her battle with anxiety and a fear of rejection - said she still thinks about Heather often and was close to her younger siblings, feeling she was like a mother to them too.
"I would hate people to feel that such happiness I've found means I don't care about the crimes my parents committed. Or their victims," Mae wrote. "I will never stop caring. Heather is never far from my thoughts.
"I know I carry what people call survivor's guilt - a feeling that I did something wrong by surviving when she didn't.
"Sometimes I find myself asking why. Why was I helped to survive?"
In a touching end to the book, Mae describes a moment with her now nine-year-old son Luke, who has no knowledge of his terrifying ancestry.
"Once, when he was a toddler, we were in his bedroom and he told me he wanted to go downstairs to play but he was worried there might be monsters," Mae wrote.
"He asked me to go with him. 'Why do you want me with you?' I said.
"'Monsters would never hurt me when you're with me, Mummy,' he said.
"I know he feels safe and loved every day. That alone feels reason enough."
- Continue the conversation with Rebecca Franks on Twitter @MrsBecFranks
- 'Love As Always, Mum xxx' by Mae West (with Neil McKay), published by Hachette Australia, $32.99, out now.
- If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Beyond Blue for a list of support services. If affected by domestic violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). In an emergency always call triple-0.