‘I’m convinced Fred West killed my best friend and her body is at the cafe with others’
Born months apart on either side of the same Gloucester Street, Christine Ford and Mary Bastholm grew up together, becoming best friends as they jumped and played hopscotch on the road between their terraced houses. .
The girls would spend hours at the local reservoir catching tadpoles, and as their teens went to the Friday night disco, laughing together while waiting for the boys to ask them to dance.
So when Mary suddenly disappeared from a bus stop at the age of 15 in January 1968, Chris was devastated – and certain her best friend would never have run away.
And when, more than 24 years later, the crimes of serial killer Fred West came to light, Chris was convinced that he had murdered Mary as well, remembering how his friend spoke about the local builder.
Chris, 69, recalls: âI knew full well she knew Fred West.
âShe told me about him, that he was a client of the Pop In cafÃ© where she was a waitress.
âI remember she said he was still in there and was going to work in the cafe.
“He was friends with her at the cafe, so I knew she wouldn’t have any qualms about getting in a car with him, because she knew him, it wouldn’t have crossed her mind.”
Last week, Gloucester Police began searching the cafe’s basement, now called the Clean Plate, after a TV production crew found a piece of blue cloth, the color Mary was wearing when she disappeared .
Using specialized technology, they located holes in the concrete floor where Mary feared she would be buried.
Chris, a mother of three who lives in Coleford with her husband Bill, is confident Mary will be found.
And if it does, it won’t change the fond memories Chris has of his childhood friend.
She said, âMary and I have been together since day one. We were playing together on the streets and we were always in each other’s houses, reading magazines, doing feminine stuff.
âShe had two brothers, Peter and Martin, but they were six or seven years older than her.
âWe both went to Calton Elementary School and each day we went to and from school together, sometimes stopping at Denley’s bakery to buy dripping cakes.
âShe was a great friend. She had a charming nature, she was calm and gentle, and never mean to anyone.
“But she was stubborn, what she wanted to do, she was going to do. That’s how I will always remember her.”
As young people, the girls each had a pet turtle, which they hibernated in the winter and woke up in the spring.
Chris says, âThey were best friends too. One year, around 10, we went to wake up Mary and she was dead.
âShe was really cut off about it. It was the only time I saw her upset. My turtle, Buster, lasted another 15 years. We were both tomboys when we were younger. We would go to Robinswood Hill or the reservoir to catch tadpoles and sticklebacks.
âMary could be a bit of a rebel, even though she’s always been a good girl. She wasn’t too worried about staying outside beyond the time she was supposed to. She knew her parents wouldn’t tell her anything.
Chris remembers Mary’s parents Christian and Doreen as “really lovely people” who had Mary quite late in life and “weren’t strict with her.”
She said, “But when Mary and I were leaving, they would say to her, be careful who you talk to, don’t get in the cars, all that stuff.”
The girls were 11 when their school made headlines in 1963 after a Vickers Varsity plane crashed a few feet from the playground, killing both pilots.
The two friends went to different high schools after Chris turned 11 and went to local grammar. Chris says, âMary failed and went to Linden High School, but she was very happy.
âWe still met twice a week or so. We would walk around the Danny Dykes chip shop or the unlicensed store and hang out together, or we would just go to Lannett Park and sit on the swings and chat.
âShe talked a lot about hairdressing, she liked it. I remember she said that was what she wanted to do for a living.
At 14, Friday had become their favorite night of the week.
Chris says, âThere was a nightclub at the Tuffley Community Center. They would play the Beatles, the Walker Brothers, Motown, and the boys would sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other.
“We would sit and wait for a boy to come and ask us to dance.”
Soon after, Mary found a job at Pop In Cafe, while Chris started working at Tesco in the city center.
Chris remembers her friend’s excitement when she told him she had a boyfriend.
Mary was on her way to see this boyfriend, Tim Merrett, when she disappeared. Chris remembers that night well.
She said, âMary’s mother came and talked to my mother. She said Mary had not come home and asked if she was with me. But I was out with a friend and had just walked in, hadn’t seen Mary that day.
âA few days have passed. People thought, it’s Mary, maybe she just left. But I didn’t agree, and neither did her mother, because she only had the clothes she was wearing and a purse with her bus ticket in it. She wouldn’t have just disappeared like that.
âSometime later, I remember her mother coming back and talking to us, saying that she was always going to leave the light on and the front door open so Mary could come home.
âIt was the most poignant thing in my life. And she did.
âFor years, every time I came home from work at night, the light was always on in their house. This is what Mary’s parents did every night for the rest of their lives.
âThey always believed she was still alive. They thought she might have been kidnapped, but they never thought she would run away – never. They died believing she was alive.
Mary’s brothers also died without knowing what happened to their little sister.
Fred West had confessed to killing up to 30 victims before committing suicide in 1995 while in pre-trial detention.
He also reportedly confessed to killing Mary to his son Stephen, but never admitted her to the police.
Fred’s wife Rose was convicted of 10 murders and sentenced to 10 life sentences in 1995.
The excavation of the cafe could finally reveal the truth about Mary’s fate.
Chris says, âI think they’ll find her. I know it sounds horrible, but I would like to think she will be found.
âI think there’s more than one there too. A policeman told me a long time ago that he thought there were bodies under the coffee.
âMary never leaves my mind. It has always been in my life. I think there are a lot of people like me who would like to finally find a solution. “