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Episode Twelve: Dennis Nilsen and the Sleeping Bag of Death Part Two is the concluding part of the story of Paul Nobbs, a 19 year old student who miraculously would survive a night in the company of serial killer Dennis Nilsen. But why? Why did he survive, when so many other young men didn't.
Don't forget, this is part two of a two-part episode, so if you haven't listened to episode eleven (Dennis Nilsen and the Sleeping Bag of Death Part One) first, please do so by clicking this link.
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Full Transcript - New Years Special - Dennis Nilsen and the Sleeping Bag of Death Part Two
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode twelve of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast. A special thank you goes out to our listeners who are working over the festive period and keeping our countries safe, well and running, especially those in armed forces, emergency services, public transport, utilities, construction crews, carers, retailers, stackers and truckers (a big shout-out to any hauliers as my grandad “Bob” was a lorry-driver), so from all of us, we thank you.
I hope you enjoyed last week’s episode and that you are ripped, gripped and pipped for the concluding part of Dennis Nilsen and the sleeping bag of death, and that you’ve pigged out on all the lovely podcasts I flagged up last week, which were They Walk Among Us, Nothing Rhymes With Murder, True Crime Enthusiast, UK True-Crime Podcast and Redhanded. And as a New Year’s treat, this week, I’ve got two fabulous podcasts for you; one established, and one brand new.
Launching this week is a new podcast called I Got The Hell Out; it tells the true-story of a woman who spent ten years trapped in an Old Testament polygamous doomsday cult. It sounds truly terrifying and fascinating. Check out their social media accounts in my show notes. And also, there’s True-Crime Story-Time… (insert promo)…in True-Crime Story-Time, Casey and Samantha tackle the difficult, disturbing and often heart-wrenchingly emotive cases which the average true-crime podcast would avoid. If you’re looking for a new true-crime podcast with bags of passion, which always educates, illuminates, and asks the tough questions which make you rethink everything, True-Crime Story-Time is for you.
As this Sunday is New Year’s Eve, I shall be hosting our weekly Murder Mile “listen live” event on Saturday 30th December, and then we’ll be back to our usual Sunday schedule. 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. But if you can’t wait a second longer? 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 the concluding part of the true-story of Paul Nobbs, a 19 year old student who was befriended and seduced by one of Britain’s most infamous serial-killers - Dennis Nilsen.
Murder Mile contains deathly depictions which won’t be suitable for tender ears, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen 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 12: Dennis Nilsen and the sleeping bag of death – part two.
At 6am, on the morning of the 24th November 1981, Paul Nobbs… woke with a start, (deep gasp) his throat was raw, his eyes were bleary and his head was pounding - a nonstop thumping as fresh blood coursed through his veins and up to his brain – as around him was the detritus of last night’s drunken merriment; discarded beer cans, an empty Bacardi bottle and a pile of cast-off clothes topped off with a garishly coloured tie.
As the small flat was chilly, with the skylight window wide open on this bitter winter morning, Paul Nobbs lay there for a little while longer, suffering possibly the worst hangover ever, and feeling sick, dizzy and sore. Needing a glass of water to quench the raging pain in his throat, he slowly undid the zip of the bright blue sleeping bag, trying not to wake Dennis who slept beside him, and crept out of bed. Dodging even more dispensed booze bottles at his feet, the bedroom seemed even messier than he had remembered, as Paul quietly slipped into the kitchen. At the foot of the bed, ‘Bleep’, Nilsen’s forever faithful but eternally timid dog, watched with curious eyes as Paul unsteadily tottered.
Filling a glass full of water, Paul raised it to his lips, it should have been cold and refreshing, but instead every mouthful was sore and every gulp was painful, as if he had swallowed razors. Struggling to hold himself upright against the sink; his balance off, his feet unsteady and his legs weak, Paul had been drunk before, but never this drunk, never this dizzy and never this ill.
Everything hurt; his brain was throbbing, his heart was pumping, his ears were muffled and every time he rubbed his eyes they stung. Oddly, even his tongue felt thicker. This was like no hangover that Paul had ever had before. A filament bulb flickered into life as he switched on a small light above the kitchen sink, its sickly yellow glow, although dull was instantly blinding, as it bathed his face with light.
“God, you look awful” Dennis uttered from behind him; the soft lilting brogue of his voice as calm as always, and although his concern was honest, it was etched with the jokey playfulness of two men who’d boozed heavily the night before. Looking in the mirror, Nilsen was right, Paul truly looked awful as if he’d aged twenty years in one night. His youthful face was all puffy and bruised as if he’d gone ten rounds with a boxer. His once twinkly eyes were dark, sunken and sallow, their brilliant whites all bloodshot and cracked. And across his throat, was an odd red mark, the skin around it was stretched, raw and sore.
“Yes, you don’t look well at all. You should definitely see a doctor” Dennis added, as he popped a kettle on the hob to make them both a cup of coffee. But Paul wouldn’t drink it, he couldn’t drink it, instead he unsteadily stumbled back to the bed, his foot accidentally kicking a plastic bucket, and scooping up his jeans, t-shirt and jacket, he dressed quickly yet calmly, as Bleep gently nuzzled his leg, her ears down, her tail between her legs, and her eyes etched with sadness.
And there, the brief relationship of the two men ended, as amicably as it had begun; Nilsen guided Paul to the door, pecked him on the cheek, thanked him for a lovely night and gave him his name and number in the hope that – when Paul felt better – they would see each other again. And just like that, Nilsen waved him goodbye, shut the door, and he was gone.
Somehow, Paul Nobbs survived a night with one of Britain’s most infamous serial killers - who had already murdered twelve men and would still go on to kill three others - but how, and why?
Having hopped on the tube at Highgate and caught the Northern Line train to Goodge Street, as the deafening rumble and screech of the underground train rang in his ears, Paul awkwardly tottered up Tottenham Court Road, his feet tripping over each other, as he headed to University for his first lecture of the day. But sitting there, bruised, disorientated and drifting in and out of consciousness, he clearly wasn’t well, and thinking that he must have been mugged, his tutor insisted he go to the clinic at the University College Hospital on Gower Street, aided by a friend.
Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, Paul shook so badly that he spilled his coffee, and was hardly able to light (let alone hold) his cigarette. And as he was given ointment for his bloodied eyes and tranquilisers to settle his shattered nerves, it was then that he was given the news that he’d been dreading, as based on his injuries, the doctor concluded that Paul had been strangled. (INTERSTITIAL)
Paul knew that the only man who could have done this was Dennis. But it didn’t make any sense. Not only did Paul have no memory of being strangled, but Dennis seemed like such a nice man; he was polite, neat, sweet, kind, loving and generous, he wasn’t violent, he wasn’t strange and he wasn’t threatening in any way, he just seemed like a lovely bloke. Maybe he had been mugged he thought? As being strangled by Dennis Nilsen was simply too unbelievable.
But as we know, there were two sides to Dennis Nilsen; the intelligent, erudite and softly spoken, grandfather-loving civil servant who adopted stray cats, fed the homeless and nursed injured sparrows back to health, who loved poetry, playing the piano and cooking… and then there was the drunken, jealous, bitter, hate-filled monster, with a penchant for young, slim and often vulnerable boys, who – having been abandoned and rejected for the very last time - just three years earlier, on New Year’s Even 1978 – he had murdered his first victim whose name was Stephen Holmes.
Nilsen sat on the sofa, staring at the dead youth beside him, Nilsen’s hands shook as he sparked up a ciggie, knowing what he’d done but not really believing it. So many mixed emotions were coursing through his brain; as back when he was five and he’d seen the lifeless body of his beloved grandfather, once again he was gripped with a deep sense of loss but also a strange sense of love for a corpse. An yet, unlike everyone else who had abandoned him now he had, what he’d later describe as “a new kind of flat-mate”; someone who would never leave him, would never rejected him and would stay forever; a young, slim and attractive boy, who was silent, still and – best of all – passive.
Nilsen quickly tidied up the dishevelled bedroom; binning the beer and Bacardi bottles, packing away the bright blue sleeping bag, emptying the water from the plastic bucket and returning his garishly coloured tie back on its hanger, ready to wear to work. Having ran a bath, Nilsen hoisted the slowly-cooling youth over his shoulder, carried it into the bathroom and laid the limp, floppy and lifeless boy into the tub, and slowly began to wash corpse’s hair, face and body, with a dab of washing-up liquid and his bare hands.
Oddly, even though he was a murder virgin, many of Dennis Nilsen’s post-mortem rituals stemmed from this night, with the bathing of the corpse becoming a vital ritual, whether to wash away his sin, or to erase its old self and make way for the new, as the corpse and the killer became a couple.
Having slid the slippery skinned cadaver out of the tub, Nilsen propped him on the toilet seat to towel the body dry and then laid him flat on the bed. As dead as Stephen Holmes was – with a pinkish face, blueish lips and a deep red ligature mark across his neck - Nilsen couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful he was, which left him with a quandary; not having a car, Nilsen couldn’t dispose of the body elsewhere, but being so beautiful, he couldn’t cut it up either... even though in a brief moment of clarity, Nilsen had popped into an iron mongers to buy a large cooking pot and a carving knife.
So, dressing it in a fresh pair of his own underwear (some socks, a pair of white y-fronts and a vest, purchased from Woolies), Nilsen climbed into bed and snuggled up next to the still slightly warm corpse, who was silent, still and passive, just the way he liked it. But this time, being slightly more sober and spooning a beautiful (but slowly decomposing) boy who wouldn’t say no, and (even better) couldn’t say no, Nilsen now had no problem getting an erection, and slowly he began to explore the dead youth’s body with his hands.
For Nilsen, this didn’t feel strange, it was exciting, and the only reason his hands were now shaking was the thrill of having so much control over another person. Stephen Holmes was his new boyfriend; someone to come home to, to have meals with, to watch telly with, to snuggle up on the sofa with, and even have sex with, this corpse would be subservient to him, and however he wanted it dressed, shaved or bathed, that’s how it would be. And although he’d later claim he was over the relationship, when dressed, Stephen Holmes and most of Nilsen’s corpse-brides all resembled ‘Twinkle’.
But this romance – like so many in Nilsen’s love life - was short-lived, as although a corpse could be the perfect partner (being both loyal and passive, but – best of all – quiet), sadly Nilsen knew that soon enough his lifeless lover would start to rot and begin to stink. So having pulled up a few floorboards in his ground-floor flat, he propped the strangely stiff youth against the wall as he waited a day till the rigour mortis had ceased and the once rigid muscles had begun to liquefy, so he could finally bend the limbs and the rest of the body into the twelve-inch crawlspace below. And then, he went to work.
Occasionally, Nilsen would disinter the corpse from its chilly grave, to bathe it, chat to it, cuddle it, kiss it, or have sex with it (his erection always seeming to subside before he could enter it anally, so instead, he would fold over the thighs and would have sex with those), and seeing how beautiful the boy still looked, he couldn’t help but masturbate over the body. In total, the corpse of Stephen Holmes stayed underneath the floorboards for over seven months, but by 11th August 1979, after a long hot summer, during which time it had begun to liquefy, bubble and attract flies, Nilsen finally decided that air-fresheners, joss-sticks and an open window, simply wasn’t enough to get rid of the stench and so – wrapped in bin-bags – he burned the body of Stephen Holmes on a bonfire in his back garden; a large rubber tyre placed on top to disguise the smell of scorching flesh. And being a homeless boy from an uncaring family, Stephen Holmes was never reported missing.
Over the next three years, in a series of drunken jealous rages, Nilsen would strangle twelve men; he’d bathe them, abuse them and dispose of them; sometimes killing one a year, sometimes one a month. But why, after so many murders, did he let Paul Nobbs survive?
In April 1982, five months after the attempted murder of Paul Nobbs, 21 year old Carl Stotter; a drag-artist of slim build, with light brown hair, soft pale skin and a pretty face, entered the Black Cap, a gay-friendly pub on Camden High Road. Being a pretty young thing, it wasn’t long before he was being chatted-up, but being in a vulnerable state (having broken up with his boyfriend), Carl got talking to a tall bespectacled man known locally as “Des”, who was unlike the other regulars, and regaled him with tales of his army career, Police stint, his love of poetry, animals and cooking, in his soft Aberdeen brogue, And being friendly, eloquent and totally unthreatening, he invited Carl back to his flat for a drink, some dinner, some sex, and a maybe (Dennis hoped) a new boyfriend?
As they entered the top floor flat of 23 Cranley Gardens, the first thing that greeted Carl Stotter (before the enthusiastic wagging of Bleep the dog, and the intense icy chill of the flat) was the over-powering odour of joss-sticks, air-freshener and bleach, which disguised the meaty smell which he thought was emanating from the big pot on the hob, as if for the last few weeks, Nilsen had been cooking stews.
Nilsen had lived in the Cranley Gardens flat for six months, and still it was squalid, as although he’d hoped that this new flat would curb his impulse to kill, it hadn’t, and now it posed a bigger problem.
At Melrose Gardens, where Stephen Holmes met his death was a ground-floor flat with sole access to a private garden surrounded by an eight foot fence; the perfect pad for a serial killer with twelve bodies to dispose of. But here at Cranley Gardens; it had no garden, no storage space, and being an attic flat, was not suitable for burying bodies underneath the floorboards.
So, when his landlord decided to renovate the Melrose Avenue flat in the late summer of 1982, Nilsen needed to dispose of every piece of evidence of his heinous crimes, and on a big back-garden bonfire with a large rubber tyre on top, he burned every bone, limb, face and torso, racking the hot coals and stamping on the cooling ash, until his victims were just dust. For Nilsen, moving into Cranley Gardens was a fresh start, he knew he was lucky, and if he controlled his urge to kill, he may get away with it.
So as Paul Nobbs, enter Nilsen’s new flat, just a few short weeks after Nilsen had moved in, he was lucky as Nilsen’s priorities had changed. In fact, in the weeks prior to Paul’s near death experience, many men had come to 23 Cranley Gardens; had drank, dined and “did the dirty” with Dennis, and so far, all had survived… but that changed in March 1982, one month before his date with Carl Stotter, as Nilsen drank and dined in his flat with John Howlett, a man who Nilsen neither liked, loved nor loathed, and in a fit of drunken anger, his overwhelming impulse to kill got the better of him.
Finding the man not particularly pleasant, polite or even pleasing on the eye, Nilsen drank and dined with John Howlett, but never had sex with him, regardless of whether he was alive or dead. The disposal of Howlett’s body was entirely out of necessity; a soon-to-be rotting corpse who’s putrid stench would alert the neighbours, so having strangled him and drowned him, Nilsen set about dismembering his corpse on the kitchen floor, popping his limbs in black bin-bags, flushing his flesh down the toilet, cutting his torso up into chunks to be chucked out with the rubbish, and the soft skin, eyes and any identifiable features of his head boiled off in a large cooking pot. And although the body was mostly thrown, dumped or flushed away, weeks later, the stench in the flat still remained.
For Carl and Dennis, the night was uneventful; they drank, they ate, they watched the telly, and then stumbled into bed in a drunken stupor, Dennis in a light duvet, Carl in a bright blue sleeping-bag, with neither man making any attempt at sex, as Carl had said “no” and Dennis couldn’t muster a boner, so they both went to sleep.
But during the night, just as Paul Nobbs had, Carl Stotter… woke with a start (deep gasp); his throat was raw, his eyes were bleary and his head was pounding, but with his limbs tightly bound by the bright blue sleeping bag, his face firmly pressed down into the suffocating pillow, Carl felt an over-powering tightness across his throat as the sleeping bag’s zip dug deep into his bleeding neck, a heavy pressure baring down on his back, crushing his lungs and stopping his air. Moments before he lost consciousness he could clearly hear behind him, Nilsen loudly whispering “stay still, stay still”.
As the limp, silent and seemingly lifeless youth lay on his bed, Nilsen knew that strangulation wasn’t enough to kill Carl (as it hadn’t with so many victims before), so needing to finish the job properly, Nilsen ran a bath. Unzipping the sleeping-bag, Dennis dragged the semi-comatose Carl to the bathroom, propped the slim naked man on the lip of the tub, and slowly lowered him in, submerging his head under the water.
Shocked awake by the water’s icy coldness, Carl started to panic, his weakening arms flailing as Nilsen dunked his head again and again and again, Carl pleading “Please! No more! Please stop!” as he swallowed great gulps of water, his lungs choking, his lips turning blue, and until having held his head down until the bubbles from his nose and mouth had ceased, Nilsen knew that Carl was dead.
Having towelled his wet limp torso off, Nilsen propped Carl up in an armchair, made himself a cup of coffee and sparked up a cigarette, as he sat there looking at this beautiful fresh corpse and wondering what he wanted to do with it, whether to stow it, slice it or shag it. But it was during this odd little moment of calm, when the life and death struggle was over, and
Nilsen was now contemplating another sordid descent into necrophilia, that both of their lives changed forever. Sensing that all was not as it seemed, Nilsen’s six year old dog, known as Bleep, who was as timid as she was she was scruffy, started nuzzling the corpse’s leg, and realising that it still clung to the tiniest morsel of life, she started to lick Carl’s face, causing his eyes to flutter. Carl wasn’t dead...
Having already killed Carl twice before, Nilsen knew that he needed to finish the job, but with the bath still full and the garish necktie within his reach, Nilsen didn’t kill Carl. And nobody knows why; even Nilsen has no idea what stopped him. Whether he was wracked with a deep sense of guilt, was slowly sobering-up or was so overcome by the compassion at seeing this wounded animal before him? And although Carl wasn’t a stray cat, a starving sparrow, or his beloved grandfather, Nilsen saw what Bleep was sensing and acted on it.
Although she’d been bought as a puppy for a fifty pence in a Kilburn Park pet-store, Bleep was with Nilsen throughout his break-up with Twinkle, all fifteen murders, and yet never rejecting him, she was (as Nilsen would later state) “my most loyal companion, the one person I loved without question” who on many occasions, such as now, would save her master’s life, barking whenever he fell asleep with a lit cigarette, and bringing him back to reality.
Over the next day, Nilsen strived to return Carl Stotter back the land of the living, by covering him with warm blankets, putting both bars of the electric fire on, rubbing his frozen limbs and spoon feeding him hot soup, until slowly his colour returned.
Although groggy, weak and barely able to stand, Carl Stotter stood in the kitchen, staring into the small mirror over the sink, the sickly yellow tungsten light illuminating his puffy bruised face, his sunken bloodshot eyes and his fat swollen tongue, as across his neck he saw a deep red mark, the imprint of a zip clearly visible, to which Nilsen muttered “God, you look awful”.
Although struggling to talk as the pain of swallowing even saliva was simply too intense, lapsing in an out of consciousness, and suffering from a series of horrifying flashbacks, Carl asked Nilsen what had happened, as very little was making sense.
In an almost matter-of-fact way, with a smug hint of the heroics, Nilsen implied that in the midst of a fitful sleep with Carl tossing, turning and babbling incoherently, that he’d had a nightmare, and had contorted his body so badly, that he’d suffocated himself on the zip of the bright blue sleeping bag. Seeing his new pal suffocating, a sleepy Nilsen had dived on top of Carl’s back to wrestle the zip open, but with his lips turning blue, his face pale and his body shaking, the deadly zip had done its worst, so going into acute shock, Nilsen placed Carl in a bath of cold water - the shock of the cool bath water reviving Carl from the horror of being strangled by the sleeping bag of death.
As soon as Carl Stotter was well enough, Nilsen walked him to Highgate tube station, he hoped they’d meet again, he wished him “farewell”, waved him goodbye and Nilsen was gone.
Carl Stotter never truly believed the sleeping bag story, as it seemed too unbelievable, but having spent the night in a sleepy, drunk and barely unconscious state, neither could he tell which of the vivid images which haunted his dreams were real, or a nightmare. And as fantastic as the story was, the alternative was simply too implausible, that Dennis Nilsen; a sweet, kind, polite, loving, caring and generous man, who wasn’t strange or threatening in any way, with a soft lilting brogue, a love of animals, and a passion for poetry, had suddenly, for no reason at all, tried to strangle him.
Both Carl Stotter and Paul Nobbs testified at Nilsen’s trial at the Old Bailey in November 1983. It was as they sat there, giving evidence, that the full horror of their near-death experiences and miraculous survival became fully apparent. And although Carl and Paul are alive and well today, they rarely discuss what happened, and both suffer from nightmares, flashbacks and PTSD. Dennis Nilsen was found guilty of six counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and was later sentenced to a whole life tariff, meaning he will never be released. Now aged 72 years old, he resides at HMP Full Sutton.
Carl Stotter once wrote to Dennis Nilsen to ask him why he’d attacked him; In his reply Nilsen cryptically wrote, 'What passed between us was a thin strand of love and humanity'. Still to this day, Carl Stotter states "I've turned over what he meant until I'm blue in the face, but I can't find an answer."
Between 1978 and 1983, Dennis Andrew Nilsen murdered fifteen men and had attempted to kill at least three others, and although an unknown number of men escaped the clutches of one of Britain’s most infamous serial killers, as none of them were the last victim. Three days after his arrest, fearing that no-one would want her, ‘Bleep’, Dennis Nilsen’s six year old sweet-natured dog, who’d been brought for fifty pence in a Kilburn pet-shop and had saved the life of Carl Stotter, was put to sleep by the Police vet. Her only crime? Being the loyal, loving and faithful pet of serial killer Dennis Nilsen.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to Murder Mile. Although this was the concluding part of Dennis Nilsen and the sleeping bag of death, I shall return with an even more stories about the life, loves and deaths of Dennis Nilsen soon. Don’t forget to check out the fabulous podcasts mentioned at the start of this episode, who were True-Crime Story-Time and I Got The Hell Out. And join us for Murder Mile live on Saturday 30th December @ 9pm GMT, by using the hashtag #MMPodLive.
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… Margaret Cooke and the Long Confession.
Thank you and sleep well.
DOWNLOAD Murder Mile Ep #12 - Dennis Nilsen and the Sleeping Bag of Death Part Two
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Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible). The main musical themes was written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
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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