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How infamous killers disposed of their victims

A photograph of a toilet

‘How would you get rid of a dead body…?’

As grim a subject as it is, it’s one that crops up surprisingly frequently in conversation, isn’t it? Especially when you’re a true crime buff with a particularly morbid curiosity about all things murder...

Which is pretty much all of us.

We all have our theories and suggestions on the topic which we casually fling into the mix, safe in the knowledge that the dilemma is entirely hypothetical. But for serial killers, getting shot of dead bodies is a very real concern. One that, down the years, has forced the more pathologically insane ones to get really rather creative indeed.

Many famous repeat murderers have been happy enough to merely dump their poor victims by the roadside or bury them in shallow graves. Others, though - as we’re about to discover - opted for far more imaginative methods of corpse disposal.

Brace yourselves.

Dennis Nilsen flushed remains down the toilet

On the morning of the 8th February 1983, Londoner Michael Cattran arrived at work and took a look at his schedule for the day. He worked for the emergency drainage and plumbing company Dyno-Rod and most of his jobs had him unblocking pipes and drains around the capital. His first job of the morning was a call-out to a place in Muswell Hill, North London.

The tenants of 23 Cranley Gardens had reported a strange smell coming from the drains and problems flushing the toilet. It was, Cattran quickly discovered, a blockage. A routine assignment. What was the blocking the drain? Well, there was nothing routine about that. It wasn’t food, cooking fat, mud or stones. It was bones. And rotting flesh.

Cattran discussed his findings with two of the tenants, Jim Allcock and Dennis Nilsen. Allcock was bamboozled but Nilsen very quickly offered up the explanation that it was 'probably someone flushing down their Kentucky Fried Chicken.'

Cattran was, by this point, highly suspicious. Not only by Nilsen’s insistence that the flesh was poultry but by the bones themselves. To his eye, they appeared to be from a human hand. His suspicions - on both fronts - proved to be correct.

Dennis Nilsen had been luring, strangling, drowning, shaving, having sex with, dissecting and burning/flushing local men down his toilet for years.

Robert Pickton fed his victims to pigs… and people

From 1983 to 2002, Robert ‘Willy’ Pickton killed 49 women in Vancouver, Canada. He would often drive out to the city’s red light district and pick up sex workers he knew to have substance abuse issues. He would then drive them the 17 miles east to his pig farm in Port Coquitlam where he would rape, torture and kill them.

Many of his victims would merely be buried or left to rot out in the corner of a field. But some he would feed to his pigs. It’s said that Pickton would particularly enjoy feeding his ‘600lb guard boar’ chunks of the women.

After a thorough investigation, one believed to have cost Canadian authorities in excess of $70m, something even more shocking was discovered. Not only were pigs being fed the women that Pickton had been murdering. People had too. Health authorities in Western Canada were forced to issue alerts warning that the pork produced on the farm had perhaps been contaminated with human flesh.

The official line hinted that this was merely a precaution and any ‘cross-contamination’ was merely that. But local rumours of Pickton mixing human flesh in with the sausage meat have never died down.

John Haigh dissolved corpses in acid

Playing his sick trade in the late 1940s, John George Haigh beat, bludgeoned and shot six people to death in London until his arrest and execution by hanging in 1949. Haigh would go on to become one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, but not for the manner in which he murdered his victims. It was the way he disposed of the half dozen bodies that caught the public’s imagination. After details of his crimes were exposed, the man would go on to be known - quite simply - as ‘The Acid Bath Murderer’.

Haigh would stuff the bodies of those people he killed into a 45-gallon drum and fill it with concentrated sulphuric acid until the body had effectively dissolved. The process would usually take less than thirty minutes.

On arrest, Haigh admitted that it was his (as it turned out mistaken) belief that without a body, there was no proof of any crime. Yet while the acid was capable of turning even human bone into a soup-y sludge that could be poured into the sewer, Haigh hadn’t taken into account items such as jewellery, dentures and gallstones. All of which were used as evidence to convict him.

HH Holmes sold bodies to medical schools

Herman Webster Mudgett, Dr Henry Howard Holmes or just plain ol' H. H. Holmes. Call him what you will. To many, he's The Original American Serial Killer. Active mostly in Chicago in the late 19th century, Holmes is now renowned for his infamous 'Murder Castle', a bizarre purpose-built three-floor construction packed full of sealed and locked-off rooms, chutes for throwing bodies down and all sorts of built-in torture devices and equipment.

Holmes is officially confirmed as having killed 9 people, though he admitted to 27. Police and crime experts have since put that estimate significantly higher, with some people connecting the New Hampshire-born con artist, bigamist and killer as having taken the lives of more than 200 people.

Happy to throw bodies into a chute and allow them to rot in the basement, after time, Holmes would visit the room and attend to the bodies. He would strip and clean them until they were mere skeletons. He would then sell these full skeletons to local medical schools and laboratories through his network of connections. He was even known to do the same with organs and even full cadavers, such was the demand for anatomical specimens (and lack of agreed-upon medical ethics) at the time.

Richard Chase drank the people he killed

As you can tell from that subheading, we’ve saved the craziest method of remains disposal until last… Richard Chase was not a well man. Plagued by a history of severe mental health issues, he suffered from acute paranoid schizophrenia for his entire adult life. He had hit the ‘MacDonald triad’ (bed wetting, animal torture and fire-setting) by the time he was ten and would go on to kill at least six people in the late 1970s.

Fixated on blood and drawn to both necrophilia and cannibalism, during the heights of Chase’s killing spree he became known as ‘The Vampire of Sacramento’, such was his fondness for drinking blood. Since a child he would whizz up small animals in a blender and drink them with Coca-Cola. Eventually, he began to do this with his human victims. Nice, eh?

Not only did these vile and deranged people take their unsuspecting and innocent victims’ lives and devastate their friends and families, they went one worse… They took away any last scrap of dignity the had left, robbing them of their right to a peaceful burial. These bizarre and disgusting stories may shock and entertain us in some ghoulish and macabre way, but let’s never forget that these victims were real, living people. Regardless of what happened to their vessels, here’s hoping their souls are now - and always will be - at peace.

Mark Brown incinerated his victims in an oil drum

Alexandra Morgan and Leah Ware, who vanished six months apart in 2021, were both killed by Mark Brown of St. Leonard’s in East Sussex. He was a killer who struck upon a truly disrespectful way to dispose of his victims’ bodies. The murderer killed Alexandra and burnt her remains in a converted oil drum. He never disclosed what happened to Leah.

He had used an escort website to meet both of his victims. He later claimed that Alexandra had slipped and fell, striking her head on a tool or piece of mechanical equipment at a workshop he was renting at Little Bridge Farm. He claims to have panicked and quickly modified an oil drum he owned, stuffed her into it and set her body alight.

He also said: ‘It's a very unpleasant thing to do - an old oil drum, five litres of diesel, and hey presto, there's not very much left. The things I have done weigh heavily on my heart, on my head and my soul. A psychopath with a conscience - it's a joke, really.’

Brown will serve two consecutive life terms and a minimum of 49 years in jail.

Fred West buried remains under his patio

There's a very good reason why 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester is no longer standing. The infamous 'House of Horrors’ was the Murder HQ of Fred West who, along with his equally evil wife, Rose, disposed of his victims' bodies beneath the patio of the property.

His modus operandi involved luring individuals to his house, where he and his wife subjected them to unimaginable torture before murdering them. After the killings, the callous couple buried the bodies under the patio, hiding the evidence of their atrocities in plain sight.

The Wests' choice of burial location served a dual purpose: it concealed the victims' remains from detection while also allowing them both to exert a perverse sense of control over the situation, as the burial site was within the confines of their own property.

This macabre method of disposal enabled the Wests to continue their murderous spree for years without arousing suspicion, until their crimes were finally uncovered, shocking the world with the depths of their depravity and the sheer number of victims left underneath concrete.

Joe Ball fed people to alligators

Joe ‘The Alligator Man’ Ball was given his nickname long before his gory secrets were revealed.

The former World War I soldier and bootlegger opened his own bar in Elmendorf, Texas, after prohibition ended. The hook? Cockfighting. And when the novelty of that wore off after a while, he went and built a giant pond and put five hungry alligators in there. He’d then charge his drunk customers to watch the alligators as he fed them stray cats and dogs.

Not long after, several women in the neighbourhood - including Ball's wife, ex-girlfriends and barmaids - were reported missing. Ball shot himself in the head in 1938 after grabbing a firearm from one of the deputies who'd arrived to interview him about the women. There was plenty for this man to conceal, it transpired. When police investigated the alligator pool, they discovered that the reptiles were surrounded by rotting flesh. They also found an axe nearby which was coated with hair and blood.

Joe Ball’s victim count is unknown, but Texas Police have estimated the number could be somewhere up to 20.

Ed Gein turned victims into homeware

One of the most notorious, not to mention disgusting, examples of a serial killer being creative with disposing of their victims’ bodies came from the infamous Edward Theodore Gein. ‘The Plainfield Ghoul’ lived up to his name in the frightful way he’d go about his crimes. His entire life and all of his murderous deeds are disturbing, but what he did with body parts is what Ed Gein will always be remembered for.

Gein would kill women - but also rob graves - and then use the body parts he had amassed to create various items, including clothing, furniture and household decorations. Some of the things he made from human remains included a lampshade, bowls and even a belt adorned with severed nipples.

Luis Garavito dumped bodies in a mass grave

25 children's bodies were discovered at a mass burial in a Columbia ravine in 1977. At first, it was assumed to be tied to some sort of a Satanic sect. It turns out that a single individual, Luis ‘La Bestia’ Garavito, was responsible for the gruesome find. He was found guilty of a further 118 child murders.

He confessed to a staggering 300, however. Meaning there could be many, many more mass graves that are undiscovered to this day. He received a life sentence in jail.

Zhang Yongming fed his victims to locals

Chinese serial murderer Zhang Yongming lured young boys in Yunnan province into his house to murder, mutilate and dismember them. He was eventually found guilty of having done this 11 times, though Chinese police believe that number is likely to be higher.

Zhang shocked the public when details leaked as to how he disposed of body parts. He burned or buried large sections but was known to sell some parts of the flesh at the local market as ostrich meat. Any unsold meat would go into his dogs' bowls.