Police are to excavate six “voids” in the basement of a Gloucester cafe where the serial killer Fred West may have laid a concrete floor, as part of a fresh investigation into the disappearance of a girl more than half a century ago.
Detectives said it was possible that some of the voids, the largest of which is a metre long and half a metre deep, could have been left when objects decomposed.
Officers are keeping the family of 15-year-old Mary Bastholm, who worked in the cafe before she vanished in 1968, informed of their searches.
Asked on Tuesday if it was possible multiple bodies could have been hidden in the basement, the senior investigating officer, DCI John Turner, said: “The investigation is solely focused on the disappearance of Mary. I can’t speculate on what I’m going to find in the cafe when we do excavate.
“Six voids clearly doesn’t mean six bodies. What is important is that when we leave there we have looked everywhere. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to find.”
The investigation began after a television company working on a documentary about Mary’s disappearance found two voids in the basement of the Clean Plate cafe on Southgate Street.
Their experts drilled into one of the voids and a cadaver dog seemed to indicate there could be something of interest in the hole. They put a camera into the void and spotted what appeared to be blue material.
When Mary went missing she was wearing a blue coat, blue and white dress and had a blue bag. The documentary team passed on their findings and police found four more voids.
Turner said it was not clear yet what caused the voids. “It could be something decomposing,” he said.
West was previously suspected of killing Mary. Along with his wife Rose, he tortured, raped and murdered an unknown number of women over a 20-year period.
West is said to have confessed to his son, Stephen, that he had killed Mary but did not admit it to police. The girl’s body was not found during the 1994 excavation of the Wests’ home on Cromwell Street in Gloucester.
West was charged with 12 murders, but took his own life in prison in 1995, aged 53, before his trial. Rose West was convicted of 10 murders in November 1995 and is serving a life sentence.
There are conflicting reports over whether West was a regular at the cafe, whether he did building work in the basement, or if he knew Mary.
Rumours have circulated for years about the cafe basement and in 2012 a petition was launched calling for it to be excavated but the then chief constable, Tony Melville, insisted there was not enough credible information to begin digging.
Detectives have spoken to Fred’s son, Stephen. “Just to go over what Fred told him,” said Turner. “Fred lied to a lot of people, sent police off on wild goose chases all around the country, which has been heartbreaking over the years for lots of family members including the Bastholms. Just because Fred said he did it, it doesn’t mean to say he did.
“Fred most definitely played with investigators, he wanted to control the investigation, he enjoyed being the centre of attention and he was toying with us at times.”
Turner accepted the the force would be criticised if remains were found. He said: “He [Melville] made the decision unless there was new and compelling evidence then nothing would be reinvestigated. But he left the door open.”
Asked if the team would speak to Rose West, Turner said: “We will assess what we have in the basement. When we know what we are dealing with we will make our assessment then.
“If we were to find anything significant in and around the basement of the cafe though it would make sense to everybody for somebody to go and speak to Rose West.”
Mary’s parents and brother are no longer alive. Her sister-in-law, Denise, lives in Gloucestershire and is being kept informed of developments. Turner said: “She does not want Mary forgotten. That’s important to her and it makes it really important to me that we find out the truth.
“I’ve told them [the family] I don’t know what we are going to find, I am not saying we are going to find Mary, but they want me to excavate that basement and once and for all we will know what is in that cafe.”
In a statement, Mary’s family said: “We are extremely happy Gloucestershire police is continuing to try and search for Mary and this gives us a chance to potentially put her at rest after all these years.”
The search will take at least two weeks. The plan is to excavate each void in turn and then backfill them and move on to the next.
Turner said the impact of the Wests and their crimes on Gloucester and the wider area was still being felt. “There’s this shadow, cloud that still hangs over this area. It will be good to shift that a bit.”