Murder Mile Podcast #11 - Christmas Special - Dennis Nilsen and the Sleeping Bag of Death Part One - TRANSCRIPT
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Full Transcript - Episode #11 - Christmas Special - Dennis Nilsen and the Sleeping Bag of Death Part One
INTRO: (Santa voice) Ho-ho-ho, Thank you for downloading episode eleven of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast. As this is our Christmas episode, myself and my fellow UK true-crime podcasters wanted to kick off this special episode with a little seasonal message just for you. (CLIPS)
And of course, from myself at the Murder Mile HQ, let me wish you all a murderously good Christmas, a decomposingly good holiday and a stabby new year. Ho-ho-ho. And that is my present to you, five exceptionally excellent true-crime podcasts, all of which are in my top ten weekly playlist. And no matter what kind of podcast you prefer, there really is something here for everyone:
They Walk Among Us, hosted by Ben and expertly written by Ben & Rosie is the epitome of fabulous storytelling, as not only is it a well-written, well-researched and well-presented, but it is also a chillingly delightful and often achingly poignant podcast to listen to.
Nothing Rhymes With Murder sees hosts Kate & Georgie take us on a truly terrifying world tour of every countries most hideous maniacs, monsters and mass-murderers, topped off with a generous dose of giggles, gossip, grisly details and (of course) great gulps of Prosecco.
True-Crime Enthusiast really does exactly what it says on the tin, as host Paul, a truly passionate true-crime buff deep-dives into murky waters of some shockingly gripping cases, and always with a keen eye for detail, a great ear for story and a hell of a lot of heart.
UK True-Crime Podcast host Adam rips open the lesser known true-crime cases, and injects them with a startling wealth of insight, analysis and personal testimony, whilst taking a much-needed sideways look at the case, which makes you rethink what you thought you knew.
And in Redhanded, hosts Hannah & Suruti claw at the darkest corners of your fear by delving into your soul to discuss what truly scares you, and whether that’s serial killers, hauntings, who-dunnits or possession, each episode is gritty yet giggly, dark yet delightful, and fascinating yet fun.
That’s just a little gift to you good folks, five fabulous true-crime podcasts that I highly recommend, and for your convenience I’ve placed links to their podcasts in the show-notes.
As this Sunday is Christmas Eve, and I plan to be dr-u-u-u-nk, I shall be hosting our weekly Murder Mile “listen live” event one day earlier on Saturday 23rd December. So if you fancy listening to this episode with other people from around the world, starting a conversation and asking me any questions, simply use the hashtag #MMPodLive on Twitter on Saturday 23rd December @ 9pm GMT. And now, it’s time for your main present. Are you ready? Then let’s unwrap this Christmas special. Enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End. Today’s episode is a little bit different. As it not about a murder. Today we delve into the deeply depraved and yet strangely sad life of one of Britain’s most infamous serial-killers, and three of his would-be victims who came within inches of death, and yet survived the clutches of Dennis Nilsen.
Murder Mile contains graphic depictions of death which won’t be suitable for tender ears, as well as realistic sounds, so no matter where you listening to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there. My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile. Episode 11: Dennis Nilsen and the sleeping bag of death.
Today, I’m in my natural setting, a pub, hooray. The Golden Lion at 51 Dean Street to be precise, barely thirty feet from Shaftsbury Avenue and fifty feet from Old Compton Street, as it’s here that I always end my weekly guided walk of Soho’s most infamous murder cases, and celebrate by supping a nice cold creamy pint of Green King IPA. Ah!
The Golden Lion is a quaint, cosy and often cramped little pub, dating back to 1769, which is perched on the corner of Dean Street and Romilly Street. And although the top four floors of this five-storey building are covered in startling white plaster with wood panelled and lead lined windows (a design feature which harks back to its 18th century roots – even though it was actually rebuilt in the 1920’s, but ssshhh, don’t tell anyone), the pub on the ground-floor is less easy to spot, as it’s drenched in black; with black walls, black window frames, black doors and all under a dark black awning, with its moody broody exterior only illuminated by a small former gas-light and ornate gold lettering above which openly proclaims that this is The Golden Lion.
But walk in through this dark wooden door, and you’ll find a sweet, petite and surprisingly friendly Soho pub, which seats fifty and stands about the same, serves traditional home-cooked British staples (like pie & chips, fish & chips, steak & chips, and if you ask nicely, just chips), and has a fully stocked bar serving a fabulous selection of beers, ales, wines, spirits and (to those who’ve been on my walk) yes they also serve “mulled wine”. And with it being Christmas, the decorations are up, the lights are twinkling, the carols are playing, and all the staff are in a jolly festival mood. It’s a warm, welcome and friendly place to be. And yet, back in the late 1970’s, one regular drinker at the Golden Lion public house was so friendly to any waif and stray who happened to be passing, that years later, the press would later dub him “The Kindly Killer”. (INTERSTITIAL).
Often dubbed the “dirty square mile”, Soho of the 1970’s wasn’t the gay safe-haven that it is today, where proud members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community can happily walk hand-in-hand during the daylight hours. As back then, the dark-lit streets of the West End were awash with porn parlours, jizz-joints, mucky book-shops and sweaty backstreet brothels, stained with the eye-watering stench of sick, piss and semen, and yet sadly, after the liberated sexual openness of the 1930’s, by the 1970’s, homosexuality (which was still illegal) had once again been forced underground. Meaning that (for those in the know), there were only a handful of gay bars in the West End, including The Salisbury, The Marquis of Granby, Madame JoJo’s, The Admiral Duncan and – of course – The Golden Lion, where our story begins.
The morning of Monday 23rd November 1981 was cold, fresh and crisp as the typical British winter set in, with the last of autumnal leaves being illuminated by a low glaring sun as they blew across the lightly frosted streets of Soho. It was lunchtime, and although Paul Nobbs, a 19 year old student from the nearby University of London had already skipped a morning lecture in his three year degree course in Slavonic & East European Studies, being cold, fed-up and nursing a slowly-all-consuming headache, he decided to delay his planned shopping trip to buy course materials at Foyle book shop on Charing Cross Road, and instead needed a quick pint to pacify his horrible hangover which lurked within.
As a gay man who’d happily drink in any bar but preferred the safety, warmth and camp camaraderie of a gay-friendly pub, he tottered round the corner to the nearest boozer, which was the Golden Lion.
But then again, you wouldn’t really know it was gay-pub, as the clientele’s secret sexuality obviously wasn’t plastered across the walls, instead it was gay with a nod and a wink; the kind of place where a staunchly heterosexual brickie could pop in for a pint, banter about sport with some big burly blokes, ogle today’s topless model on page three of trashy tabloid The Sun, and all without knowing they were gay. And although the bar was grimy, dingy and a bit rough, it was fun, local and – best of all – the beer was cheap.
So, as he entered the bar, being a slim teen with a slight frame, dark black hair and a broody yet handsome look, it wasn’t long before 19 year old Paul Nobbs was being chatted-up and brought a drink by a man, whose name was Dennis Nilsen. (INTERSTITITAL)
Known locally as “Des”, although Dennis Nilsen was a regular at the Golden Lion, who could often be found perched at a table, with a pint of beer, a rum and coke chaser, and casually smoking a Marlboro, Dennis was unlike the usual unemployed rabble who knocked back the booze and drank themselves into early grave on a Monday lunchtime. Dennis was different; being a little over six feet tall he should have cut quite an imposing figure, but being slim yet strong, respectable and bespectacled, with short black hair, soft blue eyes, clean shaven with a sweet smile and a lovely warm Aberdeen brogue to his voice, Dennis was friendly, eloquent, polite, educated, approachable and totally unthreatening.
As a single gay man, neatly dressed in ironed trousers and a well-pressed shirt, Dennis worked as a widely respected unionist and civil servant in the local Denmark Street job centre, although he was almost double Paul’s age, they instantly hit it off, as they sat, drank, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, as Dennis regaled Paul with a wealth of fascinating anecdotes about his Army service, his brief stint as a policeman, his love of poetry, his fondness for animals, and his penchant for playing the piano, as well as being an excellent cook having trained as a chef.
Yes, it’s fair to say that anyone who met Dennis Nilsen liked him. In fact, the only reason that Dennis was drinking in the Golden Lion on a Monday lunchtime was that he taken a day off work to celebrate his 36th birthday. And so, having found a new friend, with a fondness for literature, an intellectual bent and a love of self-betterment, they headed off to Foyles to shop for books. And with the cold winter night having drawn in, both men feeling a little peckish and needing something to soak up the booze, Dennis invited Paul back to his flat for a drink, some dinner, some sex, and a maybe (Dennis hoped) a new boyfriend?
Born in the remote coastal town of Fraserburgh in the north east of Scotland on the 23rd November 1945, Dennis Andrew Nilsen was the second of three children spawned by Elizabeth Whyte (a native of Fraserburgh) and Olav Magnus Moksheim (a soldier in the Norwegian Free Army, who served in Scotland during World War Two and adopted the surname Nilsen to blend in). But the early life of young Dennis was littered with loneliness, as with his father abandoning the family when Dennis was just three, his over-wrought and over-worked mother quickly remarried, burdening her shy and quiet son with four half-siblings and a strict disciplinarian step-father in an already unaffectionate family.
Feeling isolated on the barren shores of Scotland, having very few friends except the wildlife, and drenched with a sense that he was different; young Dennis spent much of his time pining for his beloved grandfather, a sea-fisherman, who would often be gone for days at a time. Later referring to him as “a great hero” and “the only man I ever loved”, little Dennis always felt that "my life would be empty until he returned". And then one day, when Dennis was just five, his hero didn’t return. His grandfather’s heart had failed, and as the life drained from his body, the love drained from Dennis’ life, and once again he was abandoned.
As a slightly tipsy Paul Nobbs and the boozy birthday-boy Dennis Nilsen exited High Gate tube station, they staggered the 15 minute walk up Muswell Hill Road – stopping off at Sainsbury’s to pick up some pork chops, Bacardi rum and a large bottle of Coca-Cola – and at 5:45pm, they entered the leafy North London street of Cranley Gardens. A rather respectable residential neighbourhood in a middle class part of town, full of three-storey semi-detached houses, and all with tidy little front gardens.
Number 23 Cranley Gardens was no different; it was neat, sweet and homely, and being built in an Old English style with white plastered walls and old oak beams, it had recently been converted into three small flats for working professionals. And as they stumbled up three flights of stairs to the top floor, drunkenly trying not to make too much noise and failing miserably, Dennis popped his key in the front door of flat 23C.
In contrast to the street, the house and even Dennis himself, this converted attic flat was dirty, dingy and squalid; with a small hallway serving as a makeshift kitchen complete with a grease covered oven; ahead was a small dirty bathroom with a tidemark-lined bath, a scum covered sink and a poo-speckled loo; with an unused lounge to the right, and beyond was his bedroom. And although it was almost winter, one window had been left wide open, giving the flat a distinctly chilly feel, and yet a strange smell still lurked. In fact, the only warmth in Dennis’ bedroom was from a three bar electric fire and the over-excited wagging and panting from Nilsen’s six year old mongrel collie-cross named ‘Bleep’.
Not that Paul Nobbs knew, but this was the flat of one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. And although it was messy and unkempt, there were no bodies buried under the floorboards, no limbs wrapped in bin-bags, no flesh flushed down the toilet and no decapitated heads slowly boiling in an oversized cooking pot. But then again, Dennis Nilsen had only moved in barely a seven weeks before… and he hoped, that this time, starting again in a new flat, that it would kerb his impulse to kill.
And to be honest, the night was pretty uneventful. They sat in opposing armchairs, eating pork chops, watching the news, getting sloshed on rum, until they both stumbled into Dennis’ floral pattern bed and drunkenly fumbled for a while with each other’s boy-bits, but realising that neither man could muster a much-needed boner, they gave up and fell into a soporific slumber, with Bleep asleep at their feet; Dennis wrapped in a thin duvet and Paul snuggled-up in a bright blue sleeping bag.
Since the death of his beloved grandfather, all Dennis ever wanted was to be loved, but for as long as he had known, he had always been rejected; by his father, his mother, his siblings and his friends; struggling with his burgeoning teenage sexuality in the rural isolation of the Scottish lowlands in the 1950’s, hiding his homosexual lusts as he served in the armed forces in the 1960’s, masking his illegal sexual status whilst training as a policeman in the 1970’s, until finally, Dennis Nilsen retrained as a civil servant and moved to the Denmark Street job centre, where finally he could be himself, barely one street away from the blossoming gay-scene of Soho.
Unlike many serial-killers, Dennis Nilsen was different; he wasn’t an arsonist, a bed-wetter, a drug-abuser, a defecator, a mummy’s boy or a peeping-tom, and neither was he cruel to any animals. And as much as some trashy tabloids may print this twaddle, it’s simply not true.
One morning, as Dennis walked up Denmark Street (passing the burnt-out remnants of the Denmark Place fire, the charred aftermath he’d witnessed just fifty feet from his office), he spotted an injured sparrow on the pavement, which most pedestrians would have passed thinking “oh well, that’s not my problem”. But Dennis didn’t. Dennis couldn’t. Loving animals and (ironically) being a big believer in the right to life, he scooped up the injured bird, took it into his office, make a makeshift nest for it in his drawer using shredded paper and cotton wool, and then over the next few days, to build-up its strength, he hand-fed it, using morsels of mashed-up fish, having first masticated it in his own mouth.
By 1981, Dennis had worked at the Denmark Street job centre for seven years, having been promoted to the senior position of acting Executive Officer and the branch’s union rep’; and although he was often serious, slightly short-tempered and a little lacking in humour especially when it came to worker’s rights, it was always said, if you ever had a problem, you’d want Dennis Nilsen on your side. And even though he wasn’t a natural people-pleaser, he’d often spoil his co-workers by bringing in a big pot of homemade Jamaican curry and (at Christmas) a very heady batch of mulled wine.
But being plagued with loneliness and an all-encompassing fear of rejection as he entered his mid-thirties as a single man, the sexual predilections of Dennis Nilsen had shifted from being a mildly curious gay man, to being obsessed with sex, death and sometimes both.
Dennis knew he was definitely a gay man in his late-teens, as whilst stationed in Berlin he had sex with a female prostitute, although he would later proclaim that sex with a woman was "over-rated" and "depressing". But being a private in the British Army, with a lust for slim, passive and vulnerable young men, he had to keep his sexuality hidden, so often spent many nights alone, masturbating... but not in a normal way.
Two other childhood incidents (after the tragic death of his beloved grandfather) had shaped his life; the first, as young Dennis was rescued from a near-fatal drowning by a boy who’s warm lips and gentle caress had brought him back to life; and the second, whilst sharing a bed with his older brother Olav Junior, as a curious Dennis started fondling the sleeping boy’s genitals, as he lay there, as silent, passive and still as a freshly murdered corpse. So, whilst in the Army, as Nilsen pretended to be a bit of a bloke, obsessed with beer and boobs amongst his hardcore gaggle of squaddies, secretly Dennis would lie alone, in his quarters, naked on the bed, his skin slathered in an ominously putrid green make-up, his eyes hollowed by dark eye-liner, his lips blue with a disturbing shade of lipstick, and slowly, looking as dead as he could possibly be, he’d masturbate, in front of the mirror.
And although, you could say, he was sexually depraved, deeply disturbed and a man with some serious issues, Dennis Nilsen (the promising civil servant) went about his everyday life; meeting gay men in local pubs, chatting, drinking and ushering them back to his flat for dinner, a drink, some sex and a sleep… many of whom would never wake-up. And yet, by the time he’d moved to London, Dennis Nilsen hadn’t killed anyone… ever… but all that would change the day he met “Twinkle”.
In November 1975, just a few days shy of his thirtieth birthday, Nilsen stopped off at his regular haunt - The Champion public house in Bayswater - for a much-needed rum and coke. Outside, he saw two drunkards roughing-up a slim twenty-year old man, with blonde hair, stud earrings, rouged cheeks and a hint of lipstick, and intervened (using his sternest look, his gruffest voice and his full six foot one inches of height). A few moments later, Nilsen was getting cosy in a corner snug at The Champion with the man he had saved. His name was David Gallichan and he was just Nilsen’s type, he was slim, slight, gay, fey, young, fragile, pretty and vulnerable. Nilsen would later nickname him “Twinkle”.
Within two days they’d moved in together to a rented ground-floor flat at 195 Melrose Avenue in Cricklewood (North London), and although it was a crummy, scummy and an unfurnished flat, in a cunning piece of foresight, Nilsen negotiated exclusive use of the large back garden, and whether he knew it or not, later on, it would come in very handy indeed.
Having stripped, decorated and even adopted a stray cat called ‘Dee-Dee’ and a mongrel puppy called ‘Bleep’, the two men settled down like an old married couple, living in domestic bliss; with Nilsen heading off to work to bring home the bacon and “Twinkle” staying at home to do the cooking and cleaning… but sadly, it was not to be. As Nilsen slipped into the easy comfort of “coupling” by staying in, snuggling down and generally being a bit of a homebody, Twinkle’s wayward ways – of drinking, flirting and sleeping around - were only exacerbated by Nilsen’s middle-aged traits, as the playful and flirtatious Twinkle moved on to his next meal-ticket; one who was less domineering, jealous or prone to outbursts of anger.
In May 1977, “Twinkle” walked out on Nilsen forever. Feeling bitter, angry and rejected, having been abandoned once again by someone he truly thought had loved him, Nilsen began to drink to the point where he’d black-out, hoping to erase his sadness with booze, his anger with sex and his loneliness by prowling the gay-bars of London to find a slim pretty boy to take Twinkle’s place. But after a further 18 months of failed relationships and affectionless rejection, Nilsen had reached rock bottom.
By December 1978, Nilsen was alone, angry, drunk and celebrating New Year’s Eve by himself in The Cricklewood Arms. But as he sunk back another pint, still seething over how Twinkle had dumped him, Dennis saw a vision of beauty; a slim, slight, gay, fey, sixteen year old boy, with smooth flawless skin, curly brown hair and soft brown eyes, and being both homeless and penniless, the boy was fragile, pretty and vulnerable, and – just like Twinkle - he was Nilsen’s type. His name was Stephen Holmes.
And although Dennis was more than double Stephen’s age, they sat, drank and laughed as Dennis drunkenly regaled Stephen with another anecdote about his Army service, Police stint, love of poetry, piano playing and his fondness for animals, as well as being an excellent chef. And so, being young, drunk, cold and hungry, on this bitter winter evening, 16 year old Stephen Holmes headed back to Nilsen’s flat at 195 Melrose Avenue, for more drink, a hot meal, a failed attempt at sex, and his first sleep in a long-while in a nice warm bed… wrapped-up in a bright blue sleeping bag.
During the night, Nilsen awoke, but for once he wasn’t alone. As beside him, fast asleep, Stephen was sleeping; his pretty face reflected in the moonlight, his brown hair forming tight baby-curls over his eyes, and as he lay there, as silent, passive and still as a freshly murdered corpse, Nilsen couldn’t resist but caress the soft skin of the boy’s arms, legs and genitals.
But with alcohol still coursing through his veins, his judgement clouded by paranoia, and his bitterness towards his father, his mother, his siblings, his friends, and everyone who had ever abandoned him or rejected him raging, after a slew of pretty young things had used and abused him, Nilsen knew that this new boy would do the same. Later Dennis would state: “I just wanted him to stay with me for New Year’s Day, and maybe even longer”… but deep down he knew that he wouldn’t.
On the floor, on top of his crumpled heap of clothes, Nilsen spotted his necktie; a garishly coloured length of tightly woven cotton, and stealthfully reached down, trying not to wake the snoring youth, slowly slid his tie under the sleeping boy’s soft thin neck and tying it in a knot at the bac, he pulled. Survival instincts kicking in as Stephen awoke with a start to see Nilsen on top of him, all sixteen stone of the man bearing down on him, his wild eyes glaring at him, the rage of rejection in his eyes, and in each clenched fist he held the taut end of necktie, as Stephen’s throat was throttled, his air stopped, his tongue swelled, and his panic raddled face all purple, as the blood vessels in his bulging eyes ruptured, until slowly, with legs and fists flailing, the desperate boy’s struggling ceased… but he wasn’t dead.
His breathing was slight, his legs were still twitching, and as a nothing moan uttered from his blue lips, it was clear he was still alive. Bending the limp body of the seemingly lifeless boy over an armchair, Nilsen hastily filled a bucket full of cold water, held back the boy’s frail little arms and sunk his still breathing head deep into the bucket, the excess water splashing over the sides, as the struggling youth panicked, his last gasps of breath being liquid, his last sight being the base of a bucket, and his last words being muffled, until a few minutes later, the bubbles from his mouth had stopped.
Shaking and trembling, Dennis sat on the sofa, the wet corpse of the sixteen year old boy propped upright beside him, as he drank a hot cup of coffee and smoked a cigarette to calm his nerves as his mind raced, knowing indeed that “it was the beginning of the end of my life as I had known it. I had started down the avenue of death and the possession of a new kind of flat mate”.
Three years later, Dennis Nilsen had brutally murdered twelve young men and had attempted to kill numerous others. On 23rd November 1981, the evening of his thirty-sixth birthday, Dennis had picked-up the latest in a long-line of young, slim and pretty boys in the Golden Lion pub. He had taken this young man home; brought him a drink, cooked him a meal, and now, as they lay in bed together, the boy’s slender sleeping frame wrapped in a bright blue sleeping bag, he hoped he would love him, he hoped he wouldn’t reject him, and he hoped he would stay forever. His name was Paul Nobbs. To be continued.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to Murder Mile. The second part of Dennis Nilsen and the sleeping bag of death continues next Thursday, and I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and researching it. Don’t forget to check out the fabulous podcasts mentioned at the start of this episode, who were They Walk Amongst Us, True-Crime Enthusiast, Nothing Rhymes With Murder, UK True Crime Podcast and Redhanded. They’re all excellent.
And join us for Murder Mile live on Saturday 23rd December @ 9pm GMT, by using the hashtag #MMPodLive, and as it’s Christmas, I’ll probably be drunk, but what the hell. Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Next week’s episode is… part two of Dennis Nilsen and the sleeping bag of death. Thank you and sleep well.
#1 - Killing for Company by Brian Masters- link
As well as National Newspapers Online, Westminster Coroner's Court and Ancestry.com.
With additional music used under a Creative Commons License 4.0 (Attribution) via Free Music Archive, with all additional tracks written & performed by Kai Engel, Chris Zabriski, Sergey Cherimisinov and E's Jammy Jams:
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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