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Britain unearths "House of Horror'

No one remembered seeing Heather West since the summer of 1987, when she was 16 years old.

Police didn't start looking for her in earnest until last month. They found her body in the back yard of her home. Then they found six more bodies, and they are still looking.

It looms as Britain's worst case of serial murder in more than a decade. Police said the search may spread to other parts of Gloucestershire in western England, and they don't know how many victims they may find.

Heather's father, Frederick West, was charged with killing her and two other women _ one of them a pregnant lodger in the house, 18-year-old Shirley Ann Robinson. Six of the victims were women. The sex of the seventh has not been determined.

Police have not said how the victims died.

Gloucester Chief Inspector Colin Handy said there had been rumors and local gossip for years about the shabby, end-of-row house at 25 Cromwell St. No one investigated until a local constable decided to take a harder look, Handy said.

But some neighbors saw nothing amiss at the house. One told the Independent newspaper that West "would do anything for you."

"Fred's a happy-go-lucky man, thought the world of his kids," said Charlie Keen, a retired gardener who has lived on Cromwell Street for 32 years.

Handy said when police have finished searching the house, including demolishing an addition built by West, they would search some other sites around Gloucester, 85 miles northwest of London.

Since the first body was found, police have notified relatives of missing people in the Gloucester area, including the family of Lucy Partington, a 21-year-old Exeter University student. She vanished after leaving a friend's house in Cheltenham, eight miles east of Gloucester, the day after Christmas 1973.

Miss Partington's mother, Margaret Wrighton, is too upset to talk about the serial killings, but her stepfather, David, said there were "terrible fears" that one of the bodies could be his wife's daughter.

Police are looking for West's first wife, Catherine, and their daughter, Charmaine. Another daughter, Anna, has been located.

Catherine West's relatives said they have not seen her or Charmaine for years, police said. The Wests split up some time before 1972, when West married his second wife, Rosemary.

British tabloids reported the latest discovery under lurid headlines. The Daily Mirror called it "The House of Horror."

The Guinness Book of Records lists Britain's worst convicted serial killer this century as Dennis Nilsen. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1983 after admitting he murdered 15 men from 1978 to 1983.

Chronology

Nov. 7, 1962: Frederick West marries Catherine Costello. They have two daughters, Anna and Charmaine.

1970: Catherine West is said to have run off to Scotland.

October 1970: Wife-to-be Rosemary Letts gives birth to Heather.

Jan. 29, 1972: West marries Rosemary. She has two children from earlier relationship.

1973: They move to Cromwell Street.

1975: Charmaine, then 12, disappears.

June 1987: Heather West, 16, is last seen alive. By now, the Wests have five more children: May, Stephen, Barry, Leanne and Louise.

Feb. 24, 1994: Police make initial search of West's home.

Feb. 25: Police arrest Frederick and Rosemary West.

Feb. 26: Police find remains of body, later found to be Heather's, buried in garden.

Feb. 27: West is charged with Heather's murder. Rosemary West is released on bail.

Feb. 28: Police find two more bodies in garden.

March 2: Body is identified as lodger Shirley Ann Robinson, 18, who was pregnant.

March 5: Police discover two more sets of human remains under the floor.

March 6: Sixth body found in basement.

March 7: Seventh body found in basement.

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