Warning: The Real Demons series is a collection of explicit stories about some of the most extreme crimes I’ve come across. They involve the most taboo subjects, and after much consideration, I’ve decided to keep details I initially felt were too severe to include. So, the stories are deeply disturbing and, of course, all true. You can’t take comfort in them being works of fiction. You may learn horrible things that you’ll really wish you hadn’t. If you’re not comfortable with all of this, avoid the whole series.
On 8th February 1983, plumber Michael Cattran was sent on a routine call to 23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill, north London after several residents complained about clogged toilets. While inspecting a manhole beside the property, Cattran discovered that it was stuffed with meat and several small bones. As it was late, he reported this strange discovery to a couple of the tenants and his supervisor, leaving further investigation to the next day.
Cattran and his supervisor returned early the next morning and became suspicious when they saw that the same drain had been cleared. However, they found more meat and bones when they further inspected one of the pipes connected to the drain. They phoned the police who also found more of the same, which was sent off for analysis. They turned out to be human remains. The meat, which had been boiled, was determined to be from the neck area, while the bones were from a hand.
The source of the blockage was traced to apartment 23D, the top-floor home of Dennis Andrew Nilsen, an executive officer at the Jobcentre in Kentish Town. When Nilsen returned home from work that evening, he found police waiting to escort him up to his apartment, where the overwhelming smell of rotting flesh was enough to confirm their suspicions and arrest him.
MURDER HOUSE #1
195 MELROSE AVENUE
On 30th December 1978, Dennis Nilsen came across Stephen Holmes, 14, at the Cricklewood Arms pub while he was trying to buy alcohol. Nilsen took the boy back to his place where they hung out and drank heavily before going to sleep. When Nilsen woke up, he caressed Stephen while he slept, then strangled and drowned him by holding his head in a bucket of water. Nilsen bathed his corpse and ‘spent time’ caressing and masturbating over it. He unsuccessfully attempted to rape Stephen before storing him beneath his floorboards.
A week later, Nilsen removed the decomposing boy for a time to sexually interact with him again, and then hung him upside down from the ankles all night. Stephen’s corpse ultimately remained beneath the floorboards until 11th August 1979, when Nilsen burned it on a bonfire he’d built in his garden.
According to Nilsen himself, he resolved to go on with his life as though nothing had happened, until an incident a few weeks later, in October 1979, with Chinese student Andrew Ho. At home, Nilsen had put a tie around Andrew’s neck and tightened it, and although Andrew had managed to escape, this act resurfaced Nilsen’s murderous tendencies. It didn’t take long for him to make a move.
Merely weeks later, on 3rd December 1979, Nilsen encountered Canadian tourist Kenneth Ockendon, 23, in a West End pub. After spending the day drinking, chatting, and sightseeing around London, Nilsen invited him home where they continued drinking and listened to music. At one point, Nilsen strangled Kenneth with the wire of his earphones. He then bathed and sexually interacted with his corpse, keeping it in bed with him overnight.
In the morning, Nilsen put Kenneth’s corpse in a cupboard before going to work, and didn’t remove him until a couple of days later, with a new polaroid camera at hand. Nilsen dressed Kenneth in underwear and photographed him in several poses, then laid him on top of himself in bed as he watched TV. He (non-penetratively) raped Kenneth, and would sometimes talk to and compliment him. Nilsen later wrapped up his corpse and placed it beneath the floorboards, removing it a few times over the next two weeks to sit with him while he drank and watched TV.
On 17th May 1980, while travelling home from work, Nilsen came across Martyn Duffey, 16, at Euston railway station. Martyn had been sleeping rough in the area, so he eagerly accepted Nilsen’s offer of dinner and a place to crash. After a couple of cans of beer, Martyn fell asleep in his bed, and Nilsen strangled and then drowned the boy in the kitchen sink. He bathed with Martyn’s corpse, and placed him on his bed where he talked to, kissed and masturbated over him. A couple of days later, Martyn joined Kenneth beneath the floorboards.
By now, Nilsen had become a bona fide serial killer. Between August and November 1980, the frequency of Nilsen’s killings increased substantially; another five men had met their end, though only one of them was ever identified – William ‘Billy’ Sutherland. This continued into early 1981, when Nilsen killed a further three men, none of which were ever identified either. We only know of all these murders from Nilsen’s own confession when he was caught in 1983.
The killings had increased but his modus operandi largely stayed the same, apart from some small variations. Nilsen would pick up men (mostly in bars) and lure them back to his place where he’d strangle and drown them. He’d then spend time sexually interacting with their corpses before storing them beneath his floorboards, or in suitcases in the garden shed. Other times he’d remove the corpses to spend time with them again, either sexually or casually (i.e. watching TV, listening to music, having conversations with them, etc.) as though his victims were still alive. The problem with Nilsen was that he had a confidence around dead men that he couldn’t replicate around the living. So, his solution was to kill men for company, all the while maintaining a façade of normalcy at work and outside the safe privacy of his own home.
Unsurprisingly, the collection of bodies gave off a terrible stench and attracted insects, especially during the warmer summer months. On the occasions when he removed them to spend time again, they were covered in pupae and infested with maggots. Nilsen’s foolish daily use of bug sprays and deodorisers to mask the smell didn’t work, so towards the end of 1980, he removed all the corpses he’d collected and cut them into pieces, before burning them on a bonfire.
One morning, on 17th September 1981, Nilsen left for work and came across Malcolm Barlow, 24, an epileptic, who was slumped against a garden wall a few houses down from his own. As Malcolm was temporarily unable to walk, Nilsen helped him inside his home and called him an ambulance. Malcolm was released from hospital the next day, and made the mistake of going back to Nilsen’s home to thank him for his help. He ended up staying for food and drinks, eventually falling asleep on the sofa. Nilsen strangled him to death and left his corpse there until morning, when he stored it beneath the kitchen sink.
Malcolm was the last person Nilsen killed at 195 Melrose Avenue. A little over two weeks later, on 4th October 1981, two days before he had to move into a new apartment, Nilsen built another bonfire and burned the remaining corpses, which he’d already cut into pieces previously.
MURDER HOUSE #2
23D CRANLEY GARDENS
Nilsen’s new apartment at 23 Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, wasn’t suited to his murderous lifestyle; it was an attic flat, so he couldn’t store corpses beneath the floorboards, and he had no access to a garden to burn them. Nilsen had to curb his impulse to kill, which is something he’d repeatedly proven he could do on the several occasions that he’d brought home men without killing them.
Over the next few months, most of the men he lured home were not attacked, except for Paul Nobbs, 19, and Carl Stotter, 21. While Paul managed to escape Nilsen’s clutches, Carl’s experience with him was unusual in its deviation from his consistent modus operandi; Nilsen had strangled and drowned Carl but then inexplicably revived him, and although Carl repeatedly lost and regained consciousness, he wasn’t killed. Nilsen later dropped him off at a train station and never saw him again.
Despite his housing situation, Nilsen returned to his old ways. Shortly after Carl’s attack, in March 1982, Nilsen encountered John Howlett, 23, at a pub in St. Martin’s Lane, whom he’d actually met a couple of months prior. They went back to Nilsen’s place where they ate and drank for some time, before John fell asleep in Nilsen’s bed. He was jerked awake by Nilsen trying to strangle him, and although John fought back, even trying to strangle Nilsen himself, he was dealing with a seasoned serial killer. Nilsen managed to overpower him and drown him in the bath tub. During his confession, Nilsen admitted he was very shaken by John’s counter-attack, which may be why he didn’t strike again – until six months later, that is.
In September 1982, Nilsen met Graham Allen, 27, in Shaftesbury Avenue and took him home for a meal. He made Graham an omelette, and while the man was eating it, he strangled him. Nilsen had already chosen a new method of body disposal to suit his new home. Just as he had done with John Howlett months before, he butchered Graham’s corpse into smaller pieces and boiled the flesh off the bones; he threw some of the bones in the trash, and flushed the pieces of meat and bones that he thought were small enough down the toilet, along with Graham’s internal organs. He wrapped other bone pieces, mostly the head and limbs, in plastic bags, and stored them in places around his apartment, including kitchen cabinets, wardrobes and a tea chest.
Nilsen’s brought home his final victim, Stephen Sinclair, 20, on 26th January 1983. After strangling Stephen to death and bathing him, Nilsen laid him on his bed beside him. Noticing his corpse was paler than his own body, Nilsen put talcum powder on himself. He then spoke to and complimented Stephen, before kissing him and going to sleep. Like those before him, Sinclair’s corpse was mutilated, boiled and stored around the apartment or flushed down the toilet.
Within days, the toilets at 23 Cranley Gardens became clogged with Nilsen’s victims’ remains, and so he was quickly discovered, finally putting an end to his five-year killing spree. Nilsen was sentenced to life imprisonment later that year and was never released. He died on 12 May 2018.