There are always cases that are so horrible that one almost edges sideways and crab like towards them, if one does at all. Which is the appropriate way to approach this podcast in which journalist Howard Sounes lays bare his experiences in reporting on the horror of 25 Cromwell Street, which is accompanied by recordings of interviews he made at the time.
The recordings of real people, with real accents, speaking as they do in real life brings an immediacy to the podcast, which no dramatic reconstruction, or actor read transcript could give. The way Sounes uses this to anchor the podcast, gives it a truly human centre, rather than the academic analysis we often get with such cases. Neither approach is wrong, as both give us a specific type of understanding, but we create a stronger outcome when understandings can work together.
Academic analysis is an important part of understand why crimes like those of the West’s happen, and what we can do as a collective society to make sure they cannot happen again. The human centre Sounes gives us is much needed to provide depth, tone and heart. If we take only one approach, analysis without heart, or heart without analysis, we risk losing something important, the je ne sais quo, of what was happening in Gloucester and the terrible chemistry between Fred and Rose.
Indeed, there is a central moment, where Sounes recordings in one word, sums up the whole and simple truth at the heart of the case, beyond intellectual parsing. Years after the trials have finished Sounes tracks down Rose’s mother, Daisy, living quietly and anonymously in a small village. Given the hallowed pedestal we put mothers on in the place of perpetrators psychology, it would be easy to see this as the phycological climax of the podcast, where we will have something revealed, some anecdote or early childhood diagnosis, which may shine a light on and explain the whole case in a way that will give us the superior satisfaction of understanding. We do learn much through Daisy about Rose’s father, mental health in the family, and it’s treatment, which may all be rolled into an explanation for what she did, but at the same time never really gives a satisfactory or full answer.
It is clear that Daisy herself is struggling to come to terms with her daughters actions, let alone understand it. In the crackling and hiss of the audio in her quiet and ordinary voice she asks Sounes if he thinks Rose was caught up in it too frightened of Fred to do anything. When Sounes, who covered the whole story, from first discovery up to court case and the aftermath, tells her he think they enjoyed it, and confirms her suspicion that it was partly a “sex thing,” Daisy in her small voice whispers one word,