A dark cloud hanging over her home city after a schoolgirl went missing permeated over teenager Jennifer Ashcroft – but more than 40 years on it has led to an autobiography that has served to exorcise some of her demons.
Jenny, of Sawbridgeworth, told the Indie how her childhood turned sour at 15 when her mother died. It led to her wandering the streets of Worcester – and a close encounter with serial killer Rosemary West.
“I used to walk about the streets, and one day this pleasant lady came up to me and asked me if I liked make-up,” said Jenny, now 56.
“I got chatting with her and she asked if I wanted to sit in her car and do this make-up survey. Something about the questions she was asking just didn’t seem right so I made my excuses and got out.”
Years later, Jenny saw the story on the news of Rose West and husband Fred’s reign of terror that led to the murders of at least 12 young women in Gloucestershire between 1967 and 1987 – and, in shock, she realised what a lucky escape she had had.
It was all the more frightening for Jenny after missing Worcester girl Carol Ann Cooper – a student at Jenny’s sister Carol’s school – turned out to be one of the Wests’ victims.
Jenny’s world began to crumble when her father had an affair with a work colleague and had a new baby. Her parents split up and the family fell apart.
When her mum tragically died of cancer at the age of 38, Jenny went from pillar to post between her sister and her boyfriend and her dad and his new woman, who hated Jenny.
She began to drift and her childhood yearning to be a ballet dancer soon became a distant dream. She turned to inappropriate relationships with older men and almost fell prey to the Wests.
She lacked the support of extended family and as her dysfunctional situation became worse she discovered how easy it is to slip through the net.
Hence the title of her newly published book Slipping Through the Net, which tells the story of those early years – and she is proud to report it has been well received.
“In the beginning I was just writing stuff down – it was quite therapeutic,” said Jenny. “Then I thought ‘This can be turned into a book’.”
A ballet theme runs through the book – a little like Billy Elliot – and she believes many people can identify with the issues raised.
“My education was destroyed by a dysfunctional upbringing. At senior school my education collapsed,” said Jenny. “But I put all that negative into the positive of writing the book. I thought ‘There’s got to be something good to come out of it’.”
Now living in Sawbridgeworth, where she works as a cleaner at Leventhorpe School, divorcee Jenny feels she is living her dreams through her children, Adam, 25, and Layla, 21 – especially as Adam trained with the Royal Ballet and is now a professional dancer.
Jenny left Worcester for London at 17 – and she recounts those years in soon-to-be published Living on Empty.
When she is not writing in her spare time she is the lead singer in a school staff band. “It’s great fun,” says Jenny.
* Slipping Through the Net is available in paperback from Amazon, price £8.99.