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  • February 8, 1983, a plumbing company has been  called out to 23 Cranley Gardens, a large house  

  • in a respectable leafy suburb of North LondonThe occupants of the flats in the property  

  • have been complaining to the landlord about  blockages. Some of them at times have noticed  

  • a strange malodor wafting into their nostrilssomething akin to the smell of a dead animal

  • Michael Cattran, the guy tasked with the  job of finding the cause of the blockages,  

  • opens a drain cover. He's immediately repulsed  by the stench, but determined, he digs his hands  

  • into the drain and pulls out the sludgeTo his disgust, he extracts what looks like  

  • flesh and small pieces of bone. Two of the house's  occupants come outside and talk to Cattran. One  

  • of them remarks, “It looks to me like someone has  been flushing down their Kentucky Fried Chicken.” 

  • The person that says this is Dennis Nilsenthe occupant of flat 23D. He's amiable and  

  • seemingly intelligent, a bespectacled man with the  appearance of the cliched accountant. In truth,  

  • he's a seriously deranged serial killer, a former  soldier and ex-cop whose crimes are so appalling,  

  • so hideous, they would make any person ponder the  deformities of this thing we call human nature

  • Dennis Nilsen was born on November 25, 1945, in  a small, rugged fishing town in Aberdeenshire,  

  • Scotland. His father, a Norwegian, arrived in  Scotland after the German occupation of Norway,  

  • and that's where he met Dennis's mother. As is often the case with future killers,  

  • the vast map of childhood for young Dennis  was marked with many periods of sadness.  

  • The three children of the marriage were all  conceived only when the itinerant soldier decided  

  • to visit now and again. There was no love, just  carnal instinct driven by a soldier's loneliness.  

  • Not surprisingly, the marriage didn't last long. Still, the one person that young Nilsen adored was  

  • his grandfather, a man that took him on walks  through the sand dunes as the waves of the  

  • foreboding North Sea smacked the shore. He loved  this grandfather dearly and then aged 62 while out  

  • fishing, the grandfather died of a heart attack. Even as a young kid, Nilsen was plagued by  

  • melancholy, often saying that until his  grandfather returned from those fishing trips  

  • his life was just empty. And then he was gone for  good. This constant needing for someone there,  

  • someone to love who'd never leave, could  have been the making of the monster to come

  • That's something you budding  psychologists can tell us at the end

  • In his early teens, Nilsen realized he was  homosexual, but this was something he kept  

  • quiet. He felt confused, ashamed. More so  because he was attracted to boys that looked  

  • similar to his own sister and brother. At  one point he touched his brother while he  

  • slept as if exploring his feelings. The brother  woke up, and from then on, he belittled Dennis,  

  • at every opportunity calling him a sissy. In  public, the brother called himhen” a Scottish  

  • term for a girl. It was excruciatingly  embarrassing, as well as saddening

  • Dennis felt he had no choice but to  leave that small minded, windswept town

  • At age 16 he did just that, moving to England to  train with the Army Catering Corps. He loved it,  

  • every minute of it, except for the fact he had  to keep his attraction to his fellow soldiers  

  • a secret. Deployed in West Germany, these  mixed feelings of his coalesced and churned.  

  • His antidote to his agony was hitting  the bottle. A habit, it would turn out,  

  • that was very useful for a serial killer. He wanted a man, but he knew what would  

  • happen if he came out in the army. Let's  not forget, this was early 1960s England,  

  • a time of pervasive homophobia. Nilsen was  stuck with his fantasies, ones that consisted  

  • of a passive lover, a man completely subdued  to his will. Better still, an unconscious man

  • He was then stationed in the Middle East, where  for the first time soldiers in his regiment died.  

  • He was even kidnapped by an Arab taxi driver at  one point and almost died himself. He got away,  

  • but the darkness that had always enveloped him  grew more intense. He'd seen death; he'd almost  

  • died, and now his fantasies were driven by deathThey often included intimacy with dead soldiers

  • It was only a matter of time until  fantasy would manifest as fact

  • In the early 70s, he moved to London and joined  the police force, and it was then that for the  

  • first time he started going to gay pubs and  had short-term relationships with other men.  

  • You'd have thought this fruition of his sexuality  would have been a good thing, finally being able  

  • to be intimate with another man. But now we're  reminded of the loss of his grandfather again.  

  • He detested casual dating. He wanted the  men to stay with him, perhaps for eternity

  • He later became a civil servant and eventually  rose to the position of executive officer.  

  • He was affable, hardworking, a nice guy  who folks liked having around the office.  

  • But somewhere during all his success, he'd started  murdering the men he never wanted to leave him

  • November 1975. There's a scene outside a pub, such  an ordinary sight in the rough streets of England.  

  • Nilsen helps a guy out, a 20-year old who he later  discovers after a drink or two is gay like him

  • Soon, a relationship blossomed. Things  were looking up. They both moved into a  

  • house on Melrose Avenue. Number 195, the first  place that would become a house of horrors

  • Like a scene from a Hollywood rom-com, the two  loved-up men spent months cleaning the place,  

  • planting flowers in the garden, painting  the walls, giggling as they threw soap  

  • suds at each other while doing the  dishes. It seemed like domestic bliss,  

  • although as time went on, that pall of  darkness soon hung over Nilsen's head again

  • Just a year into their relationships the  soap suds turned into plates and glasses.  

  • They hurled abuse at each other. They slept  in separate beds and brought other men home.  

  • By 1977, the two had gone their  separate ways. This would be the  

  • last living love of Nilsen's life. He  met men, but like others before them,  

  • they had no intention of staying with Nilsen. This  was problematic for our killer, to say the least

  • 1978 arrived. Lonely and distraught, Nilsen put  all his efforts into working hard through the day  

  • and drinking heavily at night. That was when he  met his first victim, a teenager who'd been trying  

  • to buy booze without much success. Nilsen was out  that night, on the prowl, and as luck would have  

  • it, the boy found someone to buy him the boozeAfter a heavy session on their acquisition,  

  • Nilsen woke up to find the sleeping boy next to  him. He didn't want him to leave, he couldn't  

  • leave. In his mind he said, you will stay with  me over the New Year whether you like it or not

  • Nilsen took out a tie from the drawer and  walked calmly over to the sleeping boy.  

  • He strangled him and then drowned him in a bathtub  full of water. After that, he bathed and caressed  

  • the body. Now the boy was his, and he could  do what he wanted. The body stayed under the  

  • floorboards for months, until Nilsen burned  it in that garden he'd once made so pretty

  • Just a few months later and the hardworking civil  servant felt he was in need of another long-term  

  • partner. This time he met a young man in London  from Hong Kong. Again, after the victim was plied  

  • with strong alcohol, Nilsen brought out his tieThis time it didn't work, and the man escaped.  

  • The victim told the cops of course, but then  decided he didn't want to take things any further

  • Did the cops investigate the matter? What  they saw was a well-spoken man who'd had  

  • a tryst with a stranger and things had  gotten out of hand. Maybe that's just  

  • what they do in that community, they thought. If only they'd have watched Nilsen for a while,  

  • because soon after he met a young Canadian  who was visiting England. Nilsen offered  

  • to show him the sights, but first, what about  some hard drinks? Why not, said the Canadian.  

  • After ample shots of rum and whisky, Nilsen  was in one corner of the room listening to  

  • music on his headphones. The Canadian, feeling  rather wasted, had his back turned to him.  

  • Nilsen crept across the room and strangled the  man with the headphones cord, whereafter he sat  

  • back down and carried on listening to music. For the next week, during his boozy nights,  

  • he sat next to the dead body. He'd placed it  upright in an armchair to make it seem like the  

  • body was still alive. Together they watched TVNilsen laughed out loud at the comedies he liked,  

  • occasionally turning to his partner, the  corpse, and remaking how funny the show was.  

  • The relationship ended when bloating  and putrefaction started. The body  

  • went under the floorboards, but now Nilsen was  single again, the great problem of his life

  • There were more victims, more housemates, more  lovers, call them what you want. Each of them  

  • watched TV with Nilsen, listened to music, shared  his bed. He bathed them and talked sweetly with  

  • them. He chatted to them while he was cooking  and he asked their opinion about the bad weather,  

  • but all of them would decompose and so  essentially leave him. Even though Nilsen  

  • committed these obscene acts, some part of him  knew it was wrong. Sometimes he'd spit at his  

  • own reflection after a murder, sometimes he'd  break down in tears, but it didn't stop him

  • The bodies he hadn't burned piled up under the  floorboards, but never mind how much deodorant  

  • or whatever other odorant he sprayed down therehe couldn't mask the smell of decaying flesh.  

  • One by one he pulled them up, each of them riddled  with maggots, oozing the liquids of decomposition,  

  • no longer boyfriends he wanted to have. He chopped them all into pieces and then took them  

  • out to the garden where he burned the evidenceTo hide the smell of burning flesh he added to  

  • his great fire, tires from cars. Kids from the  neighborhood came around, excited that some man  

  • had made a bonfire. In Nilsen's mind, they were  dancing around a great pyre of his former lovers.  

  • When the fire turned to ashes he raked out the  bone fragments and smashed the bits of skull

  • He stopped killing for a while, but he  couldn't fight back those fantasies of his

  • A year later he was at it again. Why? Why  would he do this? Maybe the answer to this is  

  • something he later said: “I could only relate  to a dead image of the person I could love.  

  • The image of my dead grandfather would be the  model of him at his most striking in my mind.” 

  • The next victim was a young Scottish man who'd  made the mistake of not just talking to Nilsen but  

  • agreeing to have a drinking competition with himIn another life, Nilsen could have drank booze for  

  • Scotland in the non-existent boozing Olympics. He killed again, and again, and again,  

  • even a young man who he'd helped and taken to  hospital after seeing the guy slumped over after  

  • taking too much epilepsy medication. When the guy  returned from the hospital to thank Nilsen that  

  • was the end of him, after a few drinks of course. This was his life. He even admitted it later,  

  • saying at times his days consisted  ofEnd of the day, end of the drink,  

  • end of a person ... floorboards back, carpet  replaced, and back to work.” He had to take a  

  • lot of sick days by way. Dissecting bodies and  burning them was time-consuming, and anyway,  

  • when the bodies were still fresh, he wanted  to spend as much time with them as he could

  • Then the shock came. Nilsen's landlord asked  him to move out. He wanted to renovate the  

  • house. There were five more bodies under the  floorboards, most of them already dissected,  

  • one whole. It was looking like he'd have to  call in sick again, this time for a few days.  

  • He burned the bodies and collected a thousand  pounds from the landlord in compensation

  • And so now we come to 23 Cranley Gardens, a  1930s Semi-detached with Tudor-style exposed  

  • wood on the facade. A dream house for some,  a nightmare for others. It was also quite  

  • inconvenient for a serial killer, given it was  divided into flats andand didn't have a garden!

  • Nilsen still invited young men up to his attic  flat, but knowing the disposal of bodies would  

  • be hard or impossible he stopped himself from  killing them, even when they were blind drunk.  

  • Then in March 1982, one young man got so drunk  Nilsen couldn't awaken him. He tried numerous  

  • times, but the man was out cold. Nilsen  just stared at the body, like a famished  

  • dog that's been ordered to wait before eating. He then snapped, wound a strap around the man's  

  • neck, and pulled it tight. The sleeping man was  thrust out of his slumber and he attacked back,  

  • wrapping his hands around Nilsen's  throat, almost killing the killer.  

  • He passed out and Nilsen emitted a sigh of  relief, only for the guy to breathe and moan.  

  • It took Nilsen three attempts to finish him offWhen he went back to work the next day he had to  

  • make up a story about the bruises around his neckHis colleagues weren't suspicious, of course, Mr.  

  • Nilsen was the salt of the Earth, a lovely bloke. The next victim changed everything

  • It was only two months after the last one. Nilsen  met the 21-year old in a drag cabaret bar in the  

  • famous Camden Town. They drank together while  the guy told him about how lost he felt after  

  • being dumped by another man. Nilsen's answer  to that grief was a few drinks at his house

  • Sometime later, the man awoke partly stuffed  into a sleeping bag. He looked up at Nilsen,  

  • whose hands were around his neck. Only  partly conscious with the image blurring,  

  • the last thing he heard in a faint whisper  was, “Stay still.” The next thing he knew he  

  • was inside a bathtub and Nilsen was holding his  head underwater. Everything then turned to black

  • Nilsen, thinking he was done with the manplaced him in the armchair next to him so  

  • they could watch some television togetherNilsen's dog, Bleep, joined in the fun. It  

  • got up on the armchair and started licking the  man's face. To Nilsen's surprise, he thought he  

  • noticed some vestige of life in the body. Rather than finish him off, Nilsen rubbed  

  • him all over and tried to shake  him awake. The man did wake up,  

  • after which Nilsen told him he'd almost strangled  himself while trying to zip up that sleeping bag.  

  • He said he'd placed him in the bathtub of cold  water to bring him around. Nilsen, the hero, had  

  • resuscitated him and saved his life. Over the next  48 hours, the man didn't know what was going on,  

  • only ever being partly conscious. When he  finally came to, Nilsen just let him leave  

  • and he went off to the nearest hospital. Before  they parted, Nilsen told him that he hoped  

  • they'd cross paths another day in the future. They would, but not quite as Nilsen imagined

  • On October 9, 1982, Nilsen called in sick. He'd  killed again and dissection needed to be done.  

  • Only this time, there weren't many places to hide  the body parts. A few months later he met 20-year  

  • old Stephen. Together they larked around, drank  copious amounts of booze and listened to The Who.  

  • Moments later, Nilsen leaned beside the man  and said, “Oh Stephen, here I go again.”  

  • It seems he almost felt sorry for this  victim since while he was killing him,  

  • he noticed the boy had bandages over his wrists. Now he had three dissected bodies in his small  

  • flat. He decided to dump the organs  and smaller bits of flesh and bone  

  • in the toilet and flush them, but he was still  stuck with some heads, arms, legs, and torsos.  

  • Some of that he boiled to separate the flesh. Believe it or not, sometime later he had the  

  • audacity to call the landlord and complain  the drains were blocked. Maybe he just  

  • wanted to be caught. The neighbors were also  complaining, so time was running out for him

  • And so, we come to those two words we so often  read in media: “gruesome discovery.” That plumber  

  • had an inkling that what he'd discovered was  not the remnants of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  

  • When he returned to the house the next  day with his boss they were both pretty  

  • darn sure they were looking at the remains  of a human being. They were sure that one  

  • thing they found in the drain was a human eye. Suffice to say, they didn't just unblock the  

  • drains and collect their cash. It was discovered  by a pathologist that the flesh was human or  

  • various humans. The next day the cops waited at  the house for Nilsen to return home from work.  

  • They didn't tell him he was under investigation  for murder, but they were just interested  

  • in what looked like a health hazard. They  asked if they could look inside his flat

  • He didn't say no. It took about three  

  • seconds after entering the flat to notice the  awful stench of human decomposition. That's a  

  • smell you never forget. When the cops told him  that they'd found human flesh in the drains,  

  • Nilsen pretended to be shocked, acting like  someone else had put the flesh there. This lasted  

  • about two minutes because he knew he was finished. When the cops asked where the rest of the bodies  

  • were, he pointed them to a wardrobe. Before  they even opened itthey didn't really  

  • need to due to the stenchthey asked him  if there was more. Nilsen replied, “It's a  

  • long story; it goes back a long time. I'll tell  you everything. I want to get it off my chest.” 

  • In handcuffs, he was put into the back seat  of a police car. One of the officers asked  

  • him if the remains belonged to one or two peopleSeemingly unperturbed, even glad he'd been caught,  

  • Nilsen answered, “Fifteen or sixteen, since  1978.” Sometime later, investigators found  

  • in his flat hands, a skull, a severed head,  a torso, arms, organs, and other body parts

  • During the many hours of interrogations  he told them a lot, but not everything.  

  • They asked him why he did it, at which point he  said, “I'm hoping you will tell me that.” He said  

  • at another point, “I wished I could stop, butcouldn't. I had no other thrill or happiness.” 

  • He eventually told them most of what you  have heard today, from the TV watching  

  • to the loss of his grandfather to how  much he worshipped those bodies and how  

  • much he enjoyed the ritual of killing people. During the trial he tried to claim diminished  

  • responsibility, his argument being that when  killing people he thought he was doing the  

  • right thing. But then the ones who'd got away  came forward as witnesses, proving that Nilsen  

  • was in control all the time and knew exactly  what he was doing. The young man he'd let go  

  • could barely speak he was so traumatized. The jurors seemed in a state of utter shock  

  • as they heard about how he made the  bodies his lovers as if they were alive.  

  • They almost threw up as they listened to how  he dissected the bodies. Nilsen stood in the  

  • dock looking like he didn't have a care in the  world, and when he spoke about his crimes he did  

  • so as if he'd done nothing wrong in the slightest. On November 3, 1983, he was sentenced to life with  

  • a minimum of 25 years. In 1994, the British Home  Secretary ruled that he would never get out of  

  • prison as long as he lived. He had to be kept away  from other prisoners as he was attacked on a few  

  • occasions. He spent the rest of his life reading  and writing, including his memoirs, which were  

  • put together from over 6,000 confessional notes. In those memoirs he explains why he'd committed  

  • those crimes, one time writing, “I caused  dreams which caused death... this is my crime.” 

  • In 2018, aged 72, he died of a pulmonary  embolism and internal bleeding. No family  

  • members were present during the cremation. Several years later, his renovated flat was  

  • up for