Dennis Andrew Nilsen
(born 23 November 1945, Fraserburgh, Scotland) also known as the
Muswell Hill Murderer and the Kindly Killer is a British
serial killer who lived in London.
Nilsen killed at least fifteen men and boys in
gruesome circumstances between 1978 and 1983, and was known to retain
corpses for sex acts. He was eventually caught after his disposal of
dismembered human entrails blocked his household drains: the drain
cleaning company found that the drains were congested with human flesh
and contacted the police.
Due to the similarities between their crimes,
sexuality and lifestyle, Nilsen has been referred to as the "British
Early life and leadup to murders
Nilsen was born in Strichen, Aberdeen shire to a Scottish
mother and a Norwegian father. His father was an alcoholic and his
parents divorced when he was four years old. His mother remarried and
sent her son to his grandparents, but after a couple of years, he was
sent back to his mother again.
Nilsen claimed the first traumatic event to shape his
life came about when he was a small child, when his beloved grandfather
died. His strict Catholic mother insisted that he view the body before
burial. Whether this incident, or his mother and stepfather's lectures
on the "impurities of the flesh" helped shape him into what he was to
become, no one really knows.
In 1961, Nilsen enlisted in the British Army and became a
cook in Aden, Cyprus and Berlin. He left the army in 1972 and served
briefly as a police officer. From the mid 1970s, Nilsen worked as a
civil servant in a jobcentre.
He was involved in a series of superficial, transitory
relationships with men, though they did not assuage his feelings of
profound isolation and loneliness. Like Jeffrey Dahmer, he sought
somebody "who wouldn't leave"; that is, a corpse.
Aspects of the murders and arrest
All his victims were students or homeless men whom he
picked up in bars and brought to his house either for sex or just for
company. Nilsen strangled and drowned his victims during the night,
waking up with little memory of what he had done. He used his butchering
skills, learned in the army, to help him dispose of the bodies. Nilsen
had access to a large garden and was able to burn many of the remains in
In 1981, however, Nilsen moved to an upstairs flat. As his
murders continued, he found it difficult to dispose of the remains and
had suitcases full of human organs stored in his wardrobe, and plastic
bags with human remains under the floorboards. Neighbours had begun to
notice the smell. When he tried to dispose of the bodies by flushing
them down the toilet, he blocked the sewerage of his house in Muswell
Hill (23 Cranley Gardens), north London. When a company was called to
unblock the sewer system, they first found the drain to be packed with a
flesh-like substance. The drain inspector then called his supervisor to
assess the situation; however, this was not to take place until the next
day, by which time the drain had been cleared. This aroused the
suspicions of the drain inspector and his supervisor, who immediately
called the police. Upon closer inspection, some small bones and what
looked like chicken flesh were found in a pipe leading off from the
drain; these were later discovered to be of human origin.
was arrested in 1983 on suspicion of multiple murders. He apologized to
the police for not being able to tell them the exact number of people he
had killed. When his house was searched, they found three heads in a
cupboard, and they found thirteen more bodies in Nilsen's former place
of residence at Crinkleroot at 195 Melrose Avenue.
During the trial at
Old Bailey, Nilsen was cold and distant, and seemed utterly unaffected
by the fact that he had murdered fifteen people. He was sentenced to
life in prison. Nilsen's minimum term was set at 25 years by the trial
judge, but the Home Secretary later imposed a whole life tariff, which
meant he would never be released. But after the Home Secretary was
stripped of his powers to set minimum terms in November 2002, Nilsen
could be freed on life licence in 2008 because of his original 25-year
minimum sentence. In 1993 he was given permission to give a televised
interview from prison.
The murders and attempted murders
Nilsen's first murder took place on December 30, 1978. Nilsen claimed to
have met his first victim in a gay bar. Nilsen strangled him with a
necktie until he was unconscious and then drowned him in a bucket of
water. On January 12, 2006, it was announced that the victim had been
identified as Stephen Dean Holmes, who was born on March 22, 1964
and was therefore only 14 at the time; Holmes had been on his way home
from a pop concert.
Between the first and second murders, Nilsen attempted to
murder a student from Hong Kong he had met in the West End. Although
questioned by police, the student decided not to prosecute, and Nilsen
was released without charge.
The second victim (on December 3, 1979) was Canadian student Kenneth
Ockendon. During their sexual intercourse, Nilsen strangled him.
Ockendon was one of the few murder victims who was reported as a missing
Martyn Duffey was a sixteen-year-old homeless boy from
Birkenhead. In May 1980, he accepted Nilsen's invitation to come over to
his place. He was strangled and subsequently drowned in the kitchen
Billy Sutherland was a male prostitute from Scotland. Nilsen
could not remember how he murdered Sutherland; however, it was later
revealed that the victim had been strangled by someone using their bare
The fifth victim was another male prostitute; however, this one was
never identified. All that is known is that he was probably from the
Philippines or Thailand.
Nilsen could recall very little about this and the following two
victims. All that he could remember about number 6 was that he was a
young Irish labourer that he had met in a bar.
The seventh victim was what Nilsen described as a starving "hippy-type"
he had found sleeping in a doorway in Charing Cross.
Nilsen could recall nothing at all about his eighth victim.
and Murder 10: Both were young Scottish men, picked up in pubs in
The eleventh victim was a skinhead Nilsen picked up at Piccadilly Circus
who had a tattoo around his neck saying "cut here". He had boasted to
Nilsen how tough he was and how he liked to fight; however, once he was
drunk, he proved no match for Nilsen, who hung his naked torso in his
bedroom for 24 hours before he was buried under the floorboards.
At some point between murders 6 and 11, on November 10,
1980, a potential victim of Nilsen's woke up while being strangled and
was able to fend off his attacker. Although he called the police almost
immediately after the attack, no action was taken by the officers who,
it is reported, considered the incident to be a domestic disagreement
between two homosexual lovers.
The twelfth victim (and the last before Nilsen moved home) was a man
called Malcolm Barlow. He was murdered on September 18, 1981.
Nilsen found him in a doorway not far from his own home, and took him in
and called an ambulance for him. When Barlow was released the next day,
he returned to Nilsen's home to thank him and was pleased to be invited
in for a meal and a few drinks. He was murdered later that night.
After moving to a new house in Muswell Hill in October
1981, Nilsen met a student in a bar in Soho and invited him back to his
new home. The student awoke the next morning with little recollection of
the previous evening's events, and later went to see his doctor because
of some bruising that had appeared on his neck. The doctor revealed that
it appeared as if the student had been strangled and advised him to go
to the police. However, afraid of his sexual orientation being
disclosed, the student decided not to.
Following this attempted murder, Nilsen met a drag queen
in a pub in Camden. After passing out from strangulation, he came to
while Nilsen was trying to drown him in a bath of cold water and managed
to fight off his attacker.
John Howlett was the first to be murdered in Nilsen's Muswell
Hill home, in December 1981. Howlett was one of the few who was able to
fight back; however, Nilsen had taken a disliking to him and was
determined that he should die. There was a tremendous struggle, in which
at one point Howlett even tried to strangle Nilsen back. Howlett was
eventually drowned, however, after having his head held under water for
five minutes. Howlett's was the first body to be dismembered, and the
various body parts were either hidden around the house or flushed down
Graham Allen was another homeless man who met Nilsen in
Shaftesbury Avenue. After murdering him, Nilsen left Allen's body in the
bath, unsure how to dispose of it. After three days, he was dismembered
like Nilsen's previous victim.
Nilsen's final victim was a drug addict called Stephen Sinclair.
They met in Oxford Street and Sinclair managed to scrounge a hamburger
off Nilsen, who then suggested that they go back to his place. After
dropping into an alcohol and heroin fuelled stupor, Sinclair was
strangled and his body dismembered. It was Sinclair's dismembered
remains in the drain outside Nilsen's home that first alerted the police
to Nilsen's murders.
Trial and sentence
Nilsen was brought to trial at the Old
Bailey on 24 October, 1983. He pleaded diminished responsibility as a
defense, in order to seek a verdict of guilty to manslaughter, but was
convicted of six murders and two attempted murders. He was sentenced to
life imprisonment on 4 November 1983. In 1993, he was given permission
to give a televised interview from prison.
Nilsen's minimum term was set at 25 years by the
trial judge, but the Home Secretary later imposed a whole life tariff,
which meant he would never be released. In 2006, he was denied any
further requests for parole.
Nilsen is currently held at HMP Full
Sutton maximum security prison in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
During his time in prison he has proved a thorn in
the side of prison authorities, bringing judicial review proceedings
over Whitemoor Prison's decision not to allow him access to gay
pornography. This application was refused by the single judge at the
permission stage. He did not establish that there was any arguable case
that a breach of his human rights had occurred, nor that the prisonís
rules were discriminatory. He also failed to receive any greater access
to such materials as a result.
In 2003, he brought a further Judicial Review over a
decision not to allow him to publish his autobiography, titled
The History of a Drowning Boy.
J.H.H. Gaute and Robin Odell, The New Murderer's Who's
Who, 1996, Harrap Books, London
Brian Masters, Killing for Company, 1985, London
John Lisners, House of Horrors, 1983, London
Brian McConell and Douglas Bence, The Nilsen File,
Macabre made a song about Nilsen called "You're Dying to
Be with Me". It appeared on their album Murder Metal, which
appeared in 2003.
Dennis Andrew Nilsen
October 18, 2002, Written by Paul Sutherland
Dennis Andrew Nilsen was born on
November 23 1945, the son of Norwegian soldier Olav Magnus Nilsen and
Betty Whyte, into a strict household in Fraserburgh, a small fishing
village in the heart of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Nilsen's father showed
little interest in his family, spending the majority of time away and
finally deserting them when Dennis was just 6 years-old old. By this
time, Nilsen's first five years were the happiest times of his life,
according to his own admittance, as he spent them with a figure who he
adored more than anyone else; his grandfather, Andrew Whyte.
Whyte was a strict man, sullen and
proud, and disapproved of such items as alcohol, the radio, and working
on the Sabbath. He seemed to find real contentment and joy in his
relationship with Nilsen, and the two would go off walking for hours on
end, Nilsen listening to his grandfather's tales of the sea. Inevitably,
as with the many relationships Nilsen formed in his life, this would
end, and did so on Halloween Day 1951, with Whyte being found dead in
his fishing boat.
He was 62 years-old. Nilsen, being
6 years-old at the time, was not told that his grandfather was dead,
just "sleeping". He was shown his grandfather lying in his coffin, and
Nilsen himself claims that this is his most vivid memory from his
childhood. It became apparent how significant the early exposure to a
dead body was to Nilsen in later years.
Nilsen was traumatised to finally
realise after waiting months that his grandfather was not returning. It
can be argued that this psychological bombshell hurled Nilsen into his
world of loneliness; he would never again love another person healthily
or wholeheartedly after his grandfather's death. It is unfair to say
that Nilsen did not have an ordinary childhood; indeed, he developed a
fondness for animals that he would carry throughout his life. Nilsen
kept pigeons, and was devastated when a vandal slaughtered them for no
reason. Nilsen had also inherited an obsession with the sea from his
grandfather, Andrew Whyte, and spent hours along the shore or writing
about it at home.
The young Nilsen remained sexually
uninitiated at school, although he felt urges at times. At one point he
had become infatuated with the son of a local minister; another fantasy
figure was a character in a French grammar book, Pierre Duvan. Nilsen's
schooling was unremarkable and led to him opting to join the army at age
Nilsen's first three years in the
army were spent undergoing training at the Depot, Aldershot Barracks, in
Southern England. This was an unusually happy time for Nilsen, who
thrived on the hard work, discipline and comradeship of army life. He
revelled in the feeling that he was no longer an outsider, yet, the
undercurrent that he was sexually attracted to some of his comrades
Nilsen fought his feelings of
guilt, taking comfort in the reassuring idea that he was probably
bisexual. Nilsen's chosen trade in the army was that of the catering
corps, and in this he learnt the art of butchery, a skill that he would
put to gruesome use in later years. Nilsen revelled in his comradeship,
he was popular with other soldiers, and was introduced to a pastime that
he would use throughout his life; the heavy use of alcohol.
At this time he had many sexual
encounters with men, as well as with a Bavarian prostitute, and a young
Arab boy. It was whilst he was serving in the middle east that Nilsen's
disturbing fascination with seeing himself as a corpse began to grow. He
would cover himself with talc, blue his lips, and masturbate whilst
staring at his own image. Love and death had begun to overlap in his
Towards the end of his army
career, Nilsen, who had attained the rank of Corporal, received a
posting to the Shetland Islands and fell in love with an 18 year-old
private. Feelings that were unrequited made Nilsen's guilt keep them to
himself. Nilsen was devastated that his love was not returned, and on
his last night in the Shetlands, he burned hundreds of movie films that
the pair had made together, a move that surprised many of his
colleagues. Nilsen's army career had lasted 11 years and 3 months, and
the offer of a rewarding career was his for the taking.
However, Nilsen became
disillusioned with the Army's participation in Northern Ireland, and
left the army bitter about the politics of the time. Nilsen returned to
Fraserburgh for about 5 weeks after he demobbed, and returned to the
household he grew up in. His mother Betty had now remarried and lived
with her second husband, Adam Scott. Whilst he was here Nilsen had a
furious row with his brother over the subject of homosexuality; it was
so severe that the brothers never spoke again.
In December 1972 Nilsen enrolled
in the Metropolitan Police, hoping to recapture the comradeship he had
felt within the army. He was given number Q287, but found police life a
poor substitute and was left in his own company for his off duty
periods. Around this time Nilsen had become a regular in London gay
bars, namely the King William IV, the Colerne (a bar that was exploited
for later use by serial killer Colin Ireland), The Golden Lion, The
Black Cap, The Salisbury and The Cricklewood Arms.
Nilsen once shone a torch into a
parked car and caught a gay couple in the act of intercourse. Nilsen
could not bring himself to arrest them, as was required by law at the
time, and resigned from the force in December 1973 after serving just a
year. Nilsen was living at 9 Manstone Road North London, living on the
verge of poverty immediately after leaving the police, even being forced
to sell his general service medal to live. Finally, he admitted defeat
and signed on for unemployment benefit, but during his interview, was
offered a job working for the English Civil Service. Nilsen was to
remain at this job until his arrest for murder in 1983. Nilsen's
instinctive radicalism put him at odds with his employers, and he formed
few friendships within his employment.
By 1974, Nilsen's life revolved
around cruising gay bars, although it was always conversation, not sex,
that he craved. One night he met a man called David Gallichan, who came
home with Nilsen and stayed. Gallichan then made what must have been one
of the most romantic breakthroughs Nilsen had ever encountered; he
suggested that they set up home together. Nilsen and Gallichan then went
flat hunting and came across what is still to this day known as one of
the most infamous addresses London has ever seen: 195 Melrose Avenue.
Nilsen and Gallichan were happy
for 2 years, buying a dog named Bleep and tending the garden together.
Nilsen even affectionately named Gallichan "Twinkle". However, due to
Gallichans waning interest in Nilsen, the relationship began to fizzle
out, and both began bringing home other men, even a woman once in
Nilsen's case, which amazed them both. When the relationship
disintegrated, Nilsen attempted to fill the void created by throwing
himself into work, renewing his rounds of London gay bars, or more often
than not staying in and finding solace in a bottle of rum.
As 1978 drew to a close, Nilsen
sank into a deep depression after spending the Christmas holidays alone
in his flat. The old death fantasy came back out to comfort Nilsen. By
December 30 Nilsen was desperate for company and went out to the
Cricklewood Arms, where he had met and returned home with an 18 yr old
Irish Labourer, whose name Nilsen could no longer remember. Nilsen and
the young man drank themselves into a stupor at Melrose Avenue, and when
Nilsen awoke, he became gripped with a desire to keep this youth with
him as a companion forever.
Nilsen strangled the youth with
his necktie, and finished the almost lifeless man off by drowning him in
a bucket of water. Nilsen then bathed and dried the corpse, but his fear
at being discovered made him lose all interest in keeping his companion
for the New Year, instead placing him under the floorboards, where it
would stay for the next 7 and a half months.
This experience had put the fear
of god into Nilsen, and he was wary for many months. Eventually, he
attempted to murder a young man named Andrew Ho, an attempt that was
foiled by the young man's resilience. Nearly a year since his first
murder had passed before Nilsen killed again, his victim being a
Canadian tourist named Kenneth Ockendon, whom Nilsen had accosted in a
gay bar. On December 3 1979 Ockendon was strangled whilst listening to
music through Nilsen's headphones, and was disposed of in the now
familiar way. Ockendon was the only one of Nilsen's victims who was
widely reported as missing, and his fingerprints were found on a London
street map during a search of Nilsen's house in 1983.
Victim number 3 was a troubled
Merseyside youngster, Martyn Duffey. He was strangled and drowned by
Nilsen , and was then used as a companion for Nilsen, as well as a sex
object. He was placed under the floorboards with the other remains. With
space running out, Nilsen removed all the bodies and dissected them in a
bath, using a large cooking pot to boil the skin from the severed heads,
and placed all parts in a pair of suitcases bought especially for this
Victim number 4 was a young
Scotsman, Billy Sutherland, who was dispatched in the same way because
he was a pest. Nilsen's recollections of the remainder of his next six
victims are cague in the least, although they include a long-haired
hippy, an emaciated young man, another Irishman, a heavily tattooed
skinhead, who had the words "CUT HERE" tattooed around his neck, on
offer which Nilsen obliged.
At this time Nilsen made a bonfire
and burnt the remains he had on his hands, as space was growing short.
Nilsen was to have 2 such bonfires before leaving Melrose Avenue. Nilsen
would actually forget on occasions where body parts lay, once being
knocked to the floor after being struck by a pair of legs whilst opening
a cupboard door, so disposal of remains had become necessary. The
internal organs would be deposited between his fence and a wall, being
eaten by rats and foxes. Other parts were burnt, buried, or kept in his
Victim number 11 was a mentally
retarded epileptic named Malcolm Barlow, who was befriended by Nilsen
and was murdered by Nilsen because he had lapsed into unconsciousness
after taking prescription drugs and alcohol, and the fact that Nilsen
"didn't want to deal with ambulance men asking silly questions." He
suffered the same fate as other victims, being placed under the
A long standing argument with the
landlord led to Nilsen moving house, as the landlord thought of Nilsen
as a troublesome tenant, and the opportunity to be rid of him arose when
Nilsen's flat was burgled and all of his possessions destroyed by
vandals. Nilsen was offered a new apartment at Cranley Gardens and £1000
to move, a reasonable offer that appealed to Nilsen for unimaginable
Six months after moving to 23
Cranley Gardens, Nilsen strangled a London petty criminal named John
Howlett, a victim who gave Nilsen the fight of his life and amazed him
by coming back to life over and over. Graham Allen, who was killed
whilst eating an omelette Nilsen had cooked for him, followed not long
after Howlett. The problem of Nilsen now living in an attic flat led to
him dissecting the bodies and flushing them down the toilet, a practice
that led to his arrest.
Stephen Sinclair, a petty criminal
and drug addict, was Nilsens final victim, and also the one that brought
about Nilsen'd downfall. Nilsen knew that his practice of flushing
boiled flesh down the toilet would attract attention, and on 05 February
1983, a Dyno-Rod engineer, Mike Cattran, was called out to deal with a
blocked drain outside of 23 Cranley Gardens. Cattran found what looked
suspiciously like human flesh, and reported this to his supervisor, who
suggested that they go back to look again at first light.
The next morning Cattran returned
but noticed that the drain cover was in a different position, and that
the apparent flesh was gone, all except a small portion and a few bones.
Cattran called in police, and at 3:30 pm, Detective Chief Inspector
Peter Jay had confirmation that the remains were human and returned to
23 Cranley Gardens. Nilsen met them at the door, and, when informed of
the discovery, expressed disbelief.
Jay looked him straight in the eye
and told him to stop messing about, and to tell them where the rest of
the body was. Nilsen said, "In two plastic bags in the wardrobe next
door. I'll show you". A brief glance confirmed he was not lying, and
Nilsen was arrested. On his way to the station, Nilsen was asked if it
was one body or two. His answer? "Fifteen or Sixteen, since 1978".
Nilsen talked almost obsessively
to police about his crimes, and the British press had a field day,
especially after learning Nilsen was a qualified butcher and an ex
policeman. Nilsen himself was nothing but cooperative with police,
detailing exactly what to look for and where to look for it. The
subsequent search led to one of the most painstaking archaeological
excavations for human remains ever recorded. As for Nilsens trial, his
confessions made it a straightforward affair, the only question being
whether to find him guilty of murder or manslaughter.
Several surviving victims of
Nilsen made chilling witnesses as they testified. Finally, Nilsen was
convicted of 6 murders and two charges of attempted murder. He was
sentenced to life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole for 25
years. He has subsequently been told that he will die in prison, as it
is not believed he can be reformed.
I visited 23 Cranley Gardens in
2001, and was struck by the sheer ordinariness of the place. Students of
the Nilsen case have built up the address into a bit of a shrine over
the years, also repeated with 195 Melrose Avenue. My own wife lived in
Muswell Hill, and walked past the address every day after school. As for
Nilsen himself, he remains in Whitemoor Prison maximum security. He has
been attacked several times in prison by angry criminals, and is known
for his rebelliousness, several times coming into fracas with the
Nilsen has also had several
homosexual relationships in prison, the most infamous being with David
Martin, the cross dressing armed robber famous for being a master of
escape. Martin has since committed suicide in prison. Nilsen is also a
near obsessive writer, penning poetry, letters and over 40 journals
about his favourite subject; himself. He is fascinated with the paradox
that splits the animal loving, shy, moralistic human being and the
cold-blooded killer apart in his personality. A certain amount of
introspect is productive, for Nilsen it was self-destructing. He remains
articulate, intelligent, and in a class of his own, a killer who killed
Brian Masters "Killing For
Company" remains THE definitive study of the Nilsen case. Readers
showing interest will not be disappointed, although the accounts penned
by Nilsen himself make truly disturbing reading. The book also features
prison sketches and different writings by Nilsen himself. The
name of Nilsen will never be forgotten.
33, met the young man in the pub, late in 1978, and invited him home, to
195 Melrose Avenue in London. They continued to drink and eventually
crawled into bed together to sleep. Nilsen woke up at dawn and realized
that his new friend was now going to leave. He ran his hand over his
bedmate's body, becoming aroused. His heart pounded and he began to
He watched the
young man sleep and looked over at the pile of clothing they had both
discarded. He spotted his tie, so he got out of bed to retrieve it.
"I raised myself
and slipped it on under his neck," Nilsen wrote four years later. "I
quickly straddled him and pulled tight for all I was worth. His body
came alive immediately. We struggled off the bed onto the floor."
his grip, not about to let go and lose this battle to the death. His
victim pushed himself with his feet, with Nilsen on top of him, along
the carpet. When he came up against the wall, he lay there and grew
limp, giving up. Nilsen relaxed, but realized the man was not yet dead,
only unconscious. He ran into the kitchen and filled a plastic bucket
full of water in order to drown the man. Nilsen lifted him onto some
chairs, draping his head back, and pushed it into the bucket. The man
did not struggle, although water splashed all over the carpet.
"After a few
minutes," Nilsen recalled, "the bubbles stopped coming. I lifted him up
and sat him on the armchair. The water was dripping from his short,
brown curly hair."
He had just
killed a man and did not even recall his name.
Nilsen sat there
shaking, barely cognizant of what he had done and what he now faced as a
result. He made himself a cup of coffee and smoked several cigarettes,
trying to think what to do. His black-and-white dog, Bleep, came in from
the garden and sniffed at the corpse in the chair. He ran the dog off
and then sat down in shock. He removed the tie from the dead man's neck
and just stared at him. Then he got up, put a towel over the window, and
hoisted the corpse onto his shoulders to carry it into the bathroom.
put him into the tub, ran water, and washed the man's hair. "He was very
limp and floppy." He struggled to get him out of the tub and dry him
off. Then he took him back into the other room and put him in the bed.
His new friend was not going to leave him now.
He ran his hand
over the still-warm flesh, noticing the slight discoloration of his lips
and face. He pulled the bedclothes over him and sat on the bed, trying
"It was the
beginning of the end of my life as I had known it," Nilsen wrote. "I had
started down the avenue of death and possession of a new kind of
being appalled by the sight of a corpse, he thought it quite beautiful.
He did not really know why he had killed the young man. He just had not
wanted him to leave. He had spent Christmas alone and did not want to do
the same for New Year's. Now he had someone to spend it with.
Later that day
he went to a hardware store to buy an electric knife and a large pot,
but he could not bring himself to cut the body up this way. Instead, he
opened some new underwear and dressed the body. Then Nilsen took a bath.
That's when he
decided to try to have sex with the corpse. He got into bed, but could
not sustain the arousal he had felt moments earlier, so he pulled the
body off the bed and laid it on the floor. He used a curtain to cover
it. He got into the bed and fell asleep.
Later he got up,
made dinner and watched television with the body still lying there on
the floor not far away.
Finally he knew
he needed to do something. He pried loose some floorboards and tried to
shove the body into the space, but rigor mortis had set in, preventing
him from maneuvering. He stood the body against the wall, deciding to
wait until the stiffness passed.
next day, he was still standing there against the wall, so Nilsen laid
him down and worked on his limbs to loosen them. Finally he was able to
get him into his grave under the floor. He covered the corpse with
After a week,
Nilsen grew curious, so he lifted the carpet and opened up the floor
once again. The corpse was dirty, so Nilsen carried it back into the
bathroom to wash it. Then Nilsen washed himself in the same water. When
he carried the body back to the living room, he was so aroused that he
knelt down and masturbated into the corpse's stomach. Rather than stuff
him beneath the floor again, he trussed him up by the ankles. Eventually
it went back under the floorboards. It remained there for seven and a
half months, until Nilsen took it out and burned the remains in a
bonfire. He added rubber to the fire to mask the smell of burning flesh.
He raked the ashes into the ground.
The young man
was never identified.
astonished that he was able to get away with this and believed it would
never happen again. He was wrong. It would happen fourteen more times.
In October 1979,
nearly a year after the first murder, a young Chinese student, Andrew
Ho, went home with Nilsen. The young man wanted to try some bondage
play. Nilsen was disinclined, but put a tie around his neck and told him
he was playing a dangerous game. Ho left and informed the police, but no
charges were brought.
By 1981, Nilsen
had killed twelve men in that apartment. Only four were identified:
Kenneth Ockendon, Martyn Duffey, Billy Sutherland, and Malcolm Barlow.
Many of them may have been unemployed or homeless young men looking for
a way to make money. Some were homosexual, and a few were male
prostitutes. Nilsen claimed he went into a "killing trance," and on
seven occasions, actually freed the men rather than complete the act,
because he was able to snap out of it.
victim was Kenneth Ockendon, a Canadian tourist.
He met Nilsen at
lunch at a pub on December 3rd, 1979. They drank together for several
hours, took a tour of London, and ended up in Nilsen's flat. They got
along very well, and the more Nilsen enjoyed Ockendon's company, the
more desperate he felt at the thought that the Canadian was flying home
the following day.
Ockendon with an electrical cord from some headphones, dragged him
across the floor, and then sat down to listen to several pieces of music
while the body lay there on the floor. Then he removed the clothing and
took him into the bathroom to clean him up. Once finished, he placed the
corpse in bed and slept with it the rest of the night, caressing it
frequently. In the morning, Nilsen stuffed the body in a cupboard,
tossed out the clothing, and went to work.
During the day,
the body rigidified in a doubled up position.
Nilsen took him
out a day later and cleaned him up again. Then he dressed the corpse and
sat him in a chair, taking photos of it in various positions. When he
was finished with that, he took the young man into his bed and
positioned it, spread-eagled, on top of him. He spoke to Ockendon as if
he could hear. Then he crossed his legs together and had sex between his
thighs. Finally, Nilsen relegated Ockendon to the space beneath the
floorboards. He took him back out several times so they could sit
together and watch television.
"I thought that
his body and skin were very beautiful," Nilsen said later. Then he would
dress him in something fresh, put him to "bed" and tell him good night.
Five months went
by before it happened again. On May 13th, 1980, Martyn Duffey, 16,
turned up missing. He was homeless and he accepted Nilsen's invitation
to spend the night. After two beers, he went to bed. Nilsen climbed on
top, trapping his arms under the covers, and strangled him. He went
limp, but was still alive, so Nilsen carried him into the kitchen and
drowned him by pushing his head into a sink full of water. Then he took
him to the bathroom and got into the tub with him. "I talked to him and
mentioned that his body was the youngest looking I had ever seen."
Nilsen brought him back to bed and kissed him all over, then sat on his
stomach and masturbated.
into the cupboard for two full weeks, and then was placed under the
The next one,
Billy Sutherland, 27, slept with men for money. Nilsen did not even want
to take him home, but he followed Nilsen after they went bar-hopping one
night. Nilsen barely recalls strangling him and finding a body in his
home the next morning.
24, was an orphan with mental problems. He was also a pathological liar.
Nilsen found Barlow loitering outside his home, complaining of weakness
from epilepsy, and he took him home and called an ambulance. When Barlow
was released, he came back and sat on Nilsen's doorstep to await his
return from work. Nilsen invited him in and they drank together before
Barlow fell into a deep sleep. Nilsen found his presence a nuisance, so
he strangled him. The next day, he stuffed Barlow in the cabinet under
the kitchen sink. He sat in the flat with a half dozen other bodies
awaiting disposal. Some of them Nilsen had kept in bed with him for
sexual purposes for as long as a week. Having control over these men
thrilled him and the mystery of a dead body that would not respond
fascinated him. It was his feeling that he appreciated them more deeply
than they had ever been appreciated before.
his rooms twice a day to be rid of flies that were hatched. Another
tenant mentioned the pervasive odor, but Nilsen assured her it was the
decay of the building. Once he contemplated suicide, but his dog came
in, wagging her tail, and he decided against it. Instead he spat on his
image in the mirror.
To get rid of
the corpses, he would put his dog and cat in the garden, strip down to
his underwear, and cut them up on the stone kitchen floor with a kitchen
knife. Sometimes he would boil flesh off the head in the pot he had
bought for the first victim. He had learned how to butcher, so he knew
how best to cut up a body, and he placed the organs in a plastic bag.
Then he would replace the whole package under the floor until the next
At one point,
there were two entire bodies beneath the boards and one dismembered. He
also put pieces into the garden shed or down a hole near a bush outside.
Internal organs he put into a gap between the double fencing in his
yard. A few severed torsos he stuffed into suitcases. When he could, he
dragged the bags and suitcases out to the yard and burned the bodies a
few feet from the garden fence.
It always amazed
him that no one queried him about his activities or tried to stop him.
(In fact, when his apartment was vandalized, he had detectives
investigate and they remained completely unaware that they stood over
the remains of two men.) Children came from the neighborhood to watch
the blazing fire, which burned all day, and Nilsen warned them to keep
some distance from it.
As the fire
burned down, he spotted a skull in the center and crushed it into ash.
Then he raked the remains of six men into the earth. Five more were
still to die in that apartment, their remains consumed in a third
When he prepared
to move to a new place, he checked around and nearly forgot that he had
placed the hands and arms of Martyn Barlow near a bush. He took care of
that final detail and then drove away, hoping to put this part of his
life behind him. Sixteen months later, after he was arrested, police
officers found over one thousand bone fragments in his former garden.
Nilsen had lost
the use of a garden and even of a space underneath floorboards. The
house where he moved had been divided into six apartments and his flat
at 23 Cranley Gardens was an attic. He was sure this would be a
deterrent for his compulsive homicides. However, three more murders took
place, and his quarters presented a complicated problem regarding
The first victim
was John Howlett, whom Nilsen called John the Guardsman. They had met
once in a pub and had engaged in a long conversation. Then Nilsen was
drinking alone one day when John walked in and recognized him. They
chatted and then decided to go to Nilsen's place, where after drinking
awhile, John got into Nilsen's bed. Nilsen tried to get him to leave,
but he refused to go. Nilsen then found a length of loose upholstery
strap on an armchair and used it to strangle the man. At one point he
feared he would be overpowered, so he tightened his grip as John fought
for control. Then he struck his head and soon went limp. Nilsen kept the
strap on him until he was sure he was dead, and then went shakily into
the other room. He soon became aware the John was still alive. He lopped
the strap around his neck again and held it for two or three minutes.
However, John's heart was still beating, so Nilsen dragged him into the
bathroom to drown him, leaving him there the rest of the night. Then he
put the body in a closet as he contemplated how to get rid of it.
He decided to
dissect it into small pieces and flush it down a toilet. He had to hurry
as he had a friend coming to visit. When the flushing process took
longer than expected, he boiled some of the flesh in his kitchen, along
with the head, hands, and feet. Then the bones were separated and put
into the trash. Some larger bones he hurled over the back garden fence
into a waste area, and placed others into a bag sprinkled inside with
salt and stored those in a tea chest. He covered that with a red
The second man
was Archibald Graham Allan. Nilsen made him an omelet, and what he
recalled of this death was rather odd. "I noticed he was sitting there
and suddenly he appeared to be asleep or unconscious with a large piece
of omelet hanging out of his mouth." At that point he thought he
strangled him, but does not recall. He thought the man might have choked
on the egg dish. "If the omelet killed him, I don't know." Since an
omelet does not leave red marks on someone's neck, Nilsen supposed that
he was the one responsible.
He placed Allan
into a bath and left him there for three days, then dissected him as he
had with John the Guardsman.
The third and
last victim was Steven Sinclair, age 20, who took drugs and loitered
about the Leicester Square. On January 23rd, 1983, some of his
acquaintances saw him go off with strange man. They went to Nilsen's
home where Nilsen sat and listened to music, while Sinclair shot up and
then fell asleep in a chair. Nilsen went into the kitchen and found some
thick string, thinking to himself, "Here we go again." The string was
too short so he attached it to a tie. He draped the ligature over the
sleeping man's knees and poured himself a drink. Then he sat and
contemplated all the pain in Stephen's life and decided to stop it for
him. He went over, made sure he was deep asleep, and then used the
string-and-tie ligature to strangle him. He struggled slightly and then
went unconscious. Nilsen told him, "Nothing can hurt you now." Then he
removed bandages on Stephen's arms and discovered that he recently had
tried to commit suicide with a razor.
bathed him and put him into the bed. He placed two mirrors by the bed
and removed his clothes so that he could look at the two of them naked
together. He experienced a feeling of oneness and thought that this
surely was the meaning of life and death. He talked with Stephen as if
he were still alive. The dog jumped into bed with them and sniffed at
Stephen. Nilsen turned the young man's head toward him and kissed it. He
had no idea that this corpse would betray him and finally be the cause
of his undoing.
his troubles can be pinpointed to the traumatizing sight of his
grandfather's corpse. He was born in Fraserburgh, Scotland, on November
23, 1945 the only child of Betty and Olav Nilsen. It was an unhappy
marriage, full of conflict from Olav's drunkenness and long absences.
lasted seven years until Betty divorced Olav. She and Dennis, along with
his two siblings, were already living in the home of her parents, since
her husband had never provided otherwise, so they just stayed where they
especially loved his grandfather, Andrew Whyte, but when Dennis was only
six, Andrew died. Without telling Dennis what had happened, his mother
took him in to see the corpse, which triggered a terrible awareness of
devastating loss. He says in retrospect that it caused a sort of
emotional death inside him.
When he was
eight, he nearly drowned in the sea, and was rescued by an older boy who
was playing on the beach. The boy must have been aroused by Nilsen's
prostrate body, for he removed his clothes and apparently masturbated
onto him. Nilsen awoke to find a sticky white substance on his stomach.
Then his mother
remarried two years later and he withdrew and became a loner. She had
four more children and little time for Dennis.
exhibited rage, cruelty to animals or other children, or any type of
aggressiveness typically associated with conduct-disordered boys who
become killers later in life. In fact, he was horrified by cruelties
that he witnessed by others.
Once he helped
to search for a man who had turned up missing, and he and a friend found
the man's corpse on the banks of a river. The man had wandered out in
the night and had drowned. The body reminded Nilsen of his grandfather,
whose death and permanent departure he had been unable to comprehend. He
felt oddly distant.
Having had no
sexual encounters as an adolescent, but having experienced attraction to
other boys, Nilsen remained fairly innocent. Once he had looked at his
brother's sleeping form, exploring his naked anatomy, but that had been
In 1961, he
enlisted in the army and became a cook, which is how he learned
He began to rely
on alcohol to stave off loneliness, although he kept his distance from
others. It was during these years, when he finally got a private room,
that he would lay down in front of a mirror in such a way as not to see
his head and pretend to be unconscious. The "other body" aroused him and
he would masturbate as he contemplated it.
During the last
few months of service, he met a man whom Brian Masters, in the
definitive book on Nilsen, called "Terry Finch," and they developed a
close friendship. Nilsen was clearly in love and he got the young man,
who was not gay, to pretend to be dead while he took home movies. Their
parting was a source of great pain for Nilsen. He destroyed the films he
had made and gave the projector to Terry.
In 1972, he
trained to become a policeman. One of the experiences he recalled was
seeing autopsied bodies in a morgue. He found himself fascinated.
Nevertheless, this job was not for him and after a year, he resigned. He
got employment as a job interviewer and remained with that until his
He met a young
man there, David Painter, who was looking for a job. Nilsen later
encountered him in the street and they went together to Nilsen's flat.
Painter crawled into bed and fell asleep. He awoke to find Nilsen taking
pictures of him, and he created such a row that he hurt himself and had
to be taken to a hospital. Nilsen was questioned by the police and
He fell into a
life of casual pick-ups, but was trouble with how transient and
superficial they were. He sought something more enduring. He was ready
to commit, if only someone would commit to him. His fantasies in the
mirror developed more bizarre qualities. Now he thought of the "other"
body as being dead-a state he perceived as emotional and physical
perfection. He even used make-up to achieve a better effect, including
mixing up some fake blood to make it appear that he had been murdered.
He imagined someone coming in to take him and bury him. Sometimes it
worried him to be so in love with his own dead body.
In 1975, he
moved into 195 Melrose Place in north London-a ground floor flat with a
garden--with a man named David Gallichan, who denied that their
friendship was homosexual. They bought a puppy, which they named Bleep,
and then added a cat.
Two years later,
with their diverse personalities causing considerable distress to both,
Nilsen ordered Gallichan to leave. Afterward, however, he felt very
afraid that he would end up alone. "Loneliness is a long unbearable
pain," he wrote. He threw himself into his work, became increasingly
more political, drank more, and watched a lot of television.
began a year and a half after Gallichan left.
The last body
Nilsen dissected-that of Stephen Sinclair--got the same treatment as the
two preceding it. He boiled the head, hands, and feet, and placed the
rest in plastic bags. He put one part in a cubbyhole in the bathroom and
others went into the tea chest. Some of the flesh and organs were
flushed down the toilet.
Nilsen may also
have dumped some large pieces, because a man found a bag ripped apart
near his garden, some distance away from Nilsen's, which contained what
looked like a rib cage and a spinal column. He did not report it and it
disappeared within a few days. It was never tied to Nilsen.
There were five
other tenants at 23 Cranley Gardens, but none of them knew Nilsen very
well. During the first week of February, one of them noticed that the
downstairs toilet was not flushing properly. He tried to clear the
blockage with acid, to no avail. Other toilets seemed to be functioning
as poorly, but Nilsen denied that he was having any problems. A plumber
arrived to investigate, but his tools did not work. He called in a
that his own activities might be at the heart of the problems
downstairs, so he stuffed the rest of Sinclair's body into plastic bags,
along with the partially boiled head. He locked the remains into the
closet. He stopped flushing the toilet.
Two days later,
in the evening, a company called Dyno-Rod arrived to examine the
blockage. Deciding it was underground, the technician, Michael Cattran,
went into a manhole by the side of the house.
He noticed a
peculiar smell. Cattran was convinced it was from something dead. He
spotted sludge about eight inches thick on the floor of the sewer and
found that it was composed of thirty to forty pieces of flesh. It had
come from the pipe leading from the house. He reported his find to his
superiors. The tenants gathered around him as he phoned, including
Nilsen, and he mentioned that they might have to call the police. First,
however, his company would do a better analysis by daylight. He then
took Nilsen and one of the other tenants back outside with him to see
the pile of rotting flesh.
at midnight to remove the particles of flesh and dumped them over the
fence. He thought about replacing them with pieces of chicken from the
store, and then pondered suicide. Instead he sat alone in his flat and
drank, surrounded by the body parts of three men.
downstairs tenants had noticed his movements. When Cattran returned and
found the sewer cleaned out, the tenants told him their suspicions. From
deep inside the sewer, he pulled out one piece of foul-smelling meat and
called the police.
At work on the
day of February 9, 1983, Nilsen told a co-worker, "If I'm not in
tomorrow, I'll either be ill, dead, or in jail." They both laughed.
sensed something coming. When he stepped into the dark hallway to go to
his flat, he saw three men waiting for him.
Inspector Jay told him they had come about his drains. He told Nilsen
that human remains blocked them.
in dismay, and then asked, "Where did it come from?"
They pointed out
that it could only have come from his own flat, and asked about the rest
of the body.
Nilsen gave up
and said he would come to the station. He knew his rights and admitted
that he wanted to talk, and talk he did, as he unburdened himself in
sickening detail. The more he talked, the more the police realized that
they had been given clues over the past four years and had they acted
differently, might have stopped the killing spree much sooner.
A search of
Nilsen's closet uncovered several bags of male remains in various stages
These were taken
to a mortuary for examination. Nilsen told them to look in the tea chest
and under a drawer in the bathroom. He also pointed them toward his
former apartment where he had killed "twelve or thirteen" men. He
admitted that there were seven others whom he had tried to kill and had
In the police
station, Nilsen said, "The victim is the dirty platter after the feast
and the washing up is an ordinary clinical task."
Nilsen began to
spill out the details of his murders at once, despite being cautioned.
His formal questioning began on February 11th. It lasted over thirty
hours, spread throughout the week. Nilsen talked about his techniques
and helped the police to identify parts of the victims. He did not
really require much prompting. The information flooded out, as if to
purge his conscience and get rid of every possible memory. He made no
digressions and did not plead for compassion. He also exhibited no
remorse. He claimed later that his professional training allowed him to
feign calmness so the officials could take down the information. He told
them what they would need for conviction, but nothing personal.
Privately, he was afraid and deeply disturbed by what he had done.
Thanks to Nilsen,
it was possible to find the various pieces of bodies and assemble them
into a person, as they did with Stephen Sinclair. His lower half was in
a bag in the bathroom. From there they could figure out which torso was
his, along with the rest. With a definite identity, they were able to
charge Nilsen and hold him pending further investigation.
accompanied police to 195 Melrose Avenue and pointed out where he had
buried things and made bonfires.
A lawyer was now
appointed to Nilsen named Ronald T. Moss, who listened with the police
to Nilsen's detailed confession. He was satisfied that Nilsen understood
what was happening.
When one police
officer insisted that Nilsen was a predator, with malicious intent,
Nilsen responded, "I seek company first, and hope everything will be all
Later he wrote
his gruesome memoir for a young writer, Brian Masters, who turned
Nilsen's ramblings into a book. As Master's says, "Nilsen is the first
murderer to present an exhaustive archive measuring his own
introspection. His prison journals are therefore a unique document in
the history of criminal homicide."
confession, Nilsen was removed to Brixton Prison to await his trial. He
was troubled by the reaction of the press that immediately followed his
arrest. "No one wants to believe ever that I am just an ordinary man,"
he mused, "come to an extraordinary and overwhelming conclusion."
The Ones Who
men-and even a woman-came home with Nilsen and left unharmed, but a few
just barely managed to escape, and some of those had made police
reports. A more thorough investigation may have saved some lives. Nilsen
claims that he made seven attempts in which he was either fought off or
later changed his mind. He recalls the names of only four, but three of
them testified against him at trial.
1979, Andrew Ho made a complaint. He said Nilsen had attacked him, but
he would not make a written statement or agree to attend court as a
witness, so there was no follow-up. Perhaps Ho did not want to admit to
his own solicitation of Nilsen.
Almost a year
later, Douglas Stewart said that Nilsen had attacked him. He had fallen
asleep in the armchair, waking to find his feet tied and Nilsen putting
a tie around his neck. He fought back, knocking Nilsen over, and Nilsen
told him to leave. He called the police to 195 Melrose Place on August
11, 1980, around 4:00 a.m., but they noticed that he had been drinking.
They knocked at the door and Nilsen seemed surprised by what they said.
They figured it to be a homosexual encounter, with both sides hiding
some of the truth. They made a report, but Stewart failed to follow-up
Nilsen lived in
his Cranley Gardens flat less than a year and a half, but killed three
men. He nearly killed several more.
23rd, 1981-Nilsen's 36th birthday--he took a nineteen-year-old gay
student named Paul Nobbs back home with him and they sat drinking
together. Then they went to bed and Nobbs woke up at 2:30 in the morning
with a terrible headache. He woke again at six and went into the
kitchen. In the mirror there, he saw a deep red mark across his throat.
The white of his eyes were bloodshot and his face looked bruised. Nilsen
commented that he looked awful and advised him to see a doctor. That
day, Nobbs visited the university infirmary and learned that bruises on
his throat indicated that someone had tried to strangle him. He declined
to report the incident.
The victim right
after him was John Howlett, who did not escape.
For New Year's
Eve that year, neighbors of Nilsen's were invited to his flat, but they
had plans. Besides, he appeared drunk, which disturbed them. They heard
him leave the house and return home with someone. Then they heard a
commotion upstairs. Someone came running down the steps, sobbing, and
ran out the front door. That man was Toshimitsu Ozawa. He told police
that he thought Nilsen had intended to kill him. He had approached Ozawa
with a tie stretched between his hands. There was no follow-up
In April, 1982,
Nilsen entertained a drag artist named Carl Stotter, 21. They drank
together and went to bed. He attempted to strangle Stotter, who woke up,
unable to breathe. He thought Nilsen was trying to help him, but that
was not the case. Nilsen carried him into the bathroom and placed him in
a tub of water, submerging him several times until Stotter begged for
him to stop. Stotter then went under and stopped struggling. Nilsen
thought he was dead and carried him to the couch. Bleep jumped up and
began to lick Stotter's face, aware that he was still alive. Nilsen then
took him to bed and wrapped himself around the young man until he
regained consciousness. Nilsen told Stotter that he had gotten his
throat caught in the zipper of the sleeping bag that had covered him.
Stotter attributed the experience to a bad nightmare, despite getting a
check-up and learning that his condition was consistent with severe
strangulation. He actually agreed to meet Nilsen again, but did not keep
the appointment. He also did not go to the police.
his trial, Nilsen decided to dispense with his legal aid, Ronald Moss,
but then reinstated him. Nearing the trial date, he fired him and hired
Ralph Haeems, the lawyer of a prisoner with whom he was in love, David
Martin. Haeems decided to go for a "diminished responsibility" defense,
citing a mental abnormality in Nilsen. His defense counsel was Ivan
Lawrence, asking for a charge of manslaughter.
the crime scene photos and felt ill over his atrocious acts against
others. He wondered if the victims' families could ever forgive him.
He wrote over
fifty notebooks of his memories to assist the prosecution, and also drew
a series of "Sad Sketches" showing what he had done to some of his
One of Nilsen's
On the eve of
his trial, he wrote, "I have judged myself more harshly than any court
charged with six counts of murder and two charges of attempted murder.
Alan Green was the prosecutor. He maintained that Nilsen had killed in
full awareness of what he was doing and should be found guilty of
murder. His principal evidence was from Nilsen's lengthy statement to
the police, while the defense relied on psychiatric analysis.
The trial began
on October 24, 1983. The charges were read and Nilsen pleaded "Not
Guilty" to each one.
the events of the morning of Nilsen's arrest, but did not force the jury
to look at photos of the grisly remains. He also mentioned that there
was another count of murder and of attempted murder, but these had been
determined too late to include in the original indictment.
testified against Nilsen were Paul Nobbs, Douglas Stewart, and Carl
Stotter. Nilsen attempted to undermine their credibility by helping his
lawyer to point out problems with some of their statements. He said that
Stewart had stayed for another drink after the alleged attack, which
Stewart could not explain, and the defense counsel managed to get him to
admit that he had sold his story to the media, with embellishments.
Nobbs admitted to a sexual encounter with Nilsen and said that he had
appeared to be quite friendly throughout the evening. Stotter, shy and
quite terrified by the proceedings, also said that Nilsen had been
solicitous and friendly. Nevertheless, his chilling account had a
damaging effect on the defense.
interviews with the police were read verbatim, taking four hours. The
evidence presented in court included the cooking pot, the cutting board
used to dissect one victim, and a set of knives that had belonged to
witness, Dr. James MacKeith, discussed the various aspects of
unspecified personality disorder from which he believed Nilsen suffered.
He then described how Nilsen had always had trouble expressing his
feelings, and he always fled from relationships that had gone wrong. His
maladaptive behaviors had been in place since childhood. He had the
ability to separate his mental and behavioral functions to an
extraordinary degree, which implied diminished responsibility for what
he was doing. The psychiatrist also described Nilsen's association
between unconscious bodies and sexual arousal. He was also narcissistic
and grandiose, with the added hindrance of blackouts from excessive
drinking. He had an impaired sense of identity and was able to
depersonalize others to the point where he did not feel much about what
he was doing to them.
cross-examination, MacKeith was forced to retract his judgment about
diminished responsibility in all of the cases. He said that was for the
court to decide.
psychiatrist, Dr. Patrick Gallwey, diagnosed Nilsen with a "Borderline
False Self As If Pseudo-Normal Narcissistic Personality Disorder." He
settled for a False Self Syndrome, which meant that Nilsen had
occasional outbreaks of schizoid disturbances that he managed most of
the time to keep at bay. Such a person is most likely to disintegrate
under circumstances of social isolation. In effect, Nilsen was not
guilty of "malice aforethought."
Even the judge
questioned Gallwey's obtuse medical jargon and his testimony had the
effect of being over the jury's heads.
psychiatrist was called, Dr. Paul Bowden, who had spent fourteen hours
with Nilsen-much more than those doctors for the defense. He found no
evidence for much of the testimony put forth by the other psychiatrists,
and thought that Nilsen was manipulative. He did see Nilsen as a unique
case, with a mental abnormality but not a mental disorder. His
explanation of the difference was not very clear.
summing up, in which the case was reduced to its basic elements, the
judge instructed the jury that a mind can be evil without being
abnormal, thereby dispensing with all of the psychiatric jargon.
The jury retired
on Thursday, November 3rd. The following day, at 11:25 a.m., the judge
said that he would accept a majority count, since there were two
dissenters on every issue, except the attempted murder of Nobbs. At
4:25, they delivered a verdict: Guilty on all counts.
sentenced Dennis Andrew Nilsen to life in prison, not eligible for
parole for 25 years. Nilsen was almost 38.
doubt, influenced many fiction writers to some degree, but one of the
most sustained portrayals of a killer based on him is in Poppy Z.
Brite's Exquisite Corpse. In that novel, she draws together two serial
killers-Jay Byne, who lives in her hometown of New Orleans, and Andrew
Compton from London.
murder is an art. Since he was thirteen, he would imagine himself dead,
using make-up to enhance the effect. He uses this talent to feign his
own death so he can escape from prison. He then goes to the United
States, where he meets Byrne, based in part on Jeffrey Dahmer. Together
they pick out the perfect victim.
This story is
filled with graphic descriptions of the dismemberment and decomposition
of bodies. Brite was clearly (and admittedly) inspired by Nilsen's long
and detailed account of his techniques. Her own killer, age 33, killed
twenty-three boys and young men between 1977 and 1988. (Nilsen himself
said that had he not been arrested, he would have continued what he was
doing and might have left thousands of corpses.)
Like Nilsen, his
victims were transients, and he would take care of them in such a way as
to make them pliable. Also like Nilsen, he enjoyed the act of murder
('though he chose the knife), but he did not much care for the necessary
dismemberment afterward. He kept them in his flat for as long as a week,
and he did not mind the odor of death. He wanted them with him so he
would not feel alone. "A corpse could never walk away," he says. As he
cut them up, he drank alcohol, just like Nilsen, and after he was
incarcerated, he filled numerous notebooks with his introspection and
recollections. Although Compton is much more of a predator than Nilsen,
his psychology owes its inspiration to his real life counterpart.
Company, by Brian Masters. New York: Dell, 1993. (Originally published
in Britain in a different form in 1985.)
Numbers: British Serial Sex Killers since 1950 by Anna Gekoski. London:
Andre Deutsch, 1998
Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Harold Schecter and David Everitt.
New York: Pocket, 1996.
Among Us, by Colin Wilson. New York: Warner, 1995.
by David Everitt. New York: Contemporary Books, 1993.
Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg.
Reign of terror: 30/12/78 -
Motive: This is unsure. It
was possibly for sex, but some say it was for company.
A nameless Irishman
Melrose Avenue, London
A Hong Kong student
Melrose Avenue, London
Melrose Avenue, London
Melrose Avenue, London
Melrose Avenue, London
Melrose Avenue, London
Melrose Avenue, London
Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill
Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill
Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill
Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill
Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill
Method: They were first
strangled with either a tie, a flex or his hands. If this didn't work,
they were then drowned to make sure they were dead. They were then given
a bath and put to bed. The first twelve were disposed of under the
floorboards. Every so often, Nilsen would take them out of their hiding
place and watch television with them, and sometimes he would sleep with
The last three were strangled and drowned as usual, but there were no
floorboards in his new house to hide them under. So using skills he had
learnt in the army, he chopped them up into small bits and flushed them
down the toilet. Some of the bones he threw out with the rubbish, and
the rest of them he kept in a tea chest in his house, and other
recepticles. He boiled the heads.
Sentence: In 1983 he was
charged with the murder of 6 of the 7 identified men and the attempted
murder of Stewart and Nobbs. He received life with a recommendation of a
minimum of 25 years.
Interesting facts: The
reason that Nilsen was found out was that the pieces of body he had
flushed down the toilet had blocked the drains of the flats he lived in,
and a workman was called out to fix them. He found all the remains and
became suspicious. But Nilsen had removed them by the time the police
arrived. However, he had missed a small bone with a bit of flesh
attached. When the police asked him about the drains, he at first
pretended to not know anything about it, but very quickly he gave in and
told them everything.
Nilsen's memories of the events varied considerably. Some he remembered
in minute detail. Others he could only just remember that they had
happened at all. He says that he attempted to kill 9 more men that are
not listed above. He also killed 7 more unidentified men in Melrose
Dennis Andrew Nilsen (born
November 23, 1945) is a Scottish serial killer who lived in London.
During a murderous spree lasting five years, he killed at least 15 men.
Nilsen did not fit the standard profile of a serial killer. As a child
he was repulsed by cruelty to animals. As an adult he worked to help the
downtrodden at his job with the Manpower Service Commission. Even in his
murders, Nilsen killed out of a grotesque form of love. He "killed for
company." Nilsen was a homosexual and experienced a series of failed
relationships. In 1978, he picked up a boy in a pub and brought him back
to his London apartment. Afraid the boy would leave him in the morning,
Nilsen killed him in his sleep. He kept the body around his apartment
for days, posing it bathing, eating dinner, watching T.V., sleeping in
bed, and in other activities as though it was his boyfriend. This
pattern continued, with Nilsen recruiting "companions" at local pubs,
until a plumber found bones and rotten flesh in the apartment's sewer
system. Nilsen was sentenced to life in prison in 1983 after confessing
to fifteen murders. The text and images for this page where provided by
one of our "Dark Artist's of the Month" ( Mark Stinson of Void Pulp
Press). For more information on Mark and his amazing serial killer
artwork, visit the Dark Artist of the Month Contest page in this
Early life and leadup to
Nilsen was born in Strichen,
Aberdeenshire to a Scottish mother and a Norwegian father. His father
was an alcoholic and his parents divorced when he was four years old.
His mother remarried and sent her son to his grandparents, but after a
couple of years he was sent back to his mother again.
Nilsen claimed the first traumatic
event to shape his life came about when he was a small child, when his
beloved grandfather died. His strict Catholic mother insisted that he
view the body before burial. Whether this incident, or his mother and
stepfather's lectures on the "impurities of the flesh" helped shape him
into what he was to become, no one really knows.
In 1961, Nilsen enlisted in the
British Army and became a cook in Aden, Cyprus and Berlin. He left the
army in 1972 and served briefly as a police officer. From the mid 1970s,
Nilsen worked as a civil servant in a jobcentre. He was also active in
the trade union movement, even going on other people's picket lines in
He was involved in a series of
superficial, transitory relationships with men, though they did not
assuage his feelings of profound isolation and loneliness. Like Jeffrey
Dahmer, he sought somebody "who wouldn't leave"; that is, a corpse.
Aspects of the murders and
All his victims were students or
homeless men whom he picked up in bars and brought to his house either
for sex or just for company. Nilsen strangled and drowned his victims
during the night, waking up with little memory of what he had done. He
used his butchering skills, learned in the army, to help him dispose of
the bodies. Nilsen had access to a large garden and was able to burn
many of the remains in a bonfire.
In 1981, however, Nilsen moved to
an upstairs flat. As his murders continued, he found it difficult to
dispose of the remains and had suitcases full of human organs stored in
his wardrobe, and plastic bags with human remains under the floorboards.
Neighbours had begun to notice the smell. When he tried to dispose of
the bodies by flushing them down the toilet, he blocked the sewerage of
his house, 23 Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, north London.
When a company was called to
unblock the sewer system, they first found the drain to be packed with a
flesh-like substance. The drain inspector then called his supervisor,
but no assessment was made until the next day, by which time the drain
had been cleared. This aroused the suspicions of the drain inspector and
his supervisor, who immediately called the police.
Upon closer inspection, some small
bones and what looked like chicken flesh were found in a pipe leading
off from the drain; these were later discovered to be of human origin.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay was called to the scene with two
colleagues and waited outside until Nilsen returned home from work. As
they entered the building DCI Jay introduced himself to Nilsen and
explained that he had come about his drains.
Nilsen asked why would the police
be interested in his drains and also if the two officers were health
inspectors. He was told they were police colleagues and given their
names. They then climbed the stairs together and as they entered the
flat DCI Jay immediately smelt rotting flesh. Nilsen queried why the
police would be interested in his drains, so the officer told him they
were filled with human remains. "Good grief, how awful!" exclaimed
Nilsen. "Don't mess about, where's the rest of the body" replied Jay.
Nilsen responded calmly by saying they were in two plastic bags in his
wardrobe. He was then arrested and cautioned on suspicion of murder and
taken to the police station. On the way back to the station, Nilsen was
asked how many bodies they were talking about..."15 or 16" was his
He later apologised to the police
for not being able to tell them the exact number of people he had
killed. When his house was searched, they found three heads in a
cupboard, and 13 more bodies in Nilsen's former home, 195 Melrose
Avenue, Cricklewood. During the trial at Old Bailey, Nilsen was cold and
distant, and seemed unaffected by the fact that he had murdered 15
The murders and attempted
murders of Dennis Nilsen
* Murder 1: Nilsen's first murder
took place on December 30, 1978. Nilsen claimed to have met his first
victim in a gay bar. Nilsen strangled him with a necktie until he was
unconscious and then drowned him in a bucket of water. On January 12,
2006, it was announced that the victim had been identified as Stephen
Dean Holmes, who was born on March 22, 1964 and was therefore only 14 at
the time; Holmes had been on his way home from a pop concert. On
November 9, 2006, Nilsen finally confessed to the murder of Holmes in a
letter sent from his prison cell to the Evening Standard, a London
* Between the first and second
murders, Nilsen attempted to murder Andrew Ho, a student from Hong Kong
he had met in The Salisbury public house in St. Martin's Lane. Although
questioned by police, the student decided not to prosecute, and Nilsen
was released without charge.
* Murder 2: The second victim (on
December 3, 1979) was 23 year old Canadian student Kenneth Ockendon.
During their sexual intercourse, Nilsen strangled him. Ockendon was one
of the few murder victims who was reported as a missing person.
* Murder 3: Martyn Duffey was a
16-year-old homeless boy from Birkenhead. In May 1980, he accepted
Nilsen's invitation to come over to his place. He was strangled and
subsequently drowned in the kitchen sink.
* Murder 4: Billy Sutherland was a
26 year old male prostitute from Scotland. Nilsen could not remember how
he murdered Sutherland; however, it was later revealed that the victim
had been strangled by bare hands.
* Murder 5: The fifth victim was
another male prostitute; however, this one was never identified. All
that is known is that he was probably from the Philippines or Thailand.
* Murder 6: Nilsen could recall
very little about this and the following two victims. All that he could
remember about number 6 was that he was a young Irish labourer that he
had met in a bar.
* Murder 7: The seventh victim was
what Nilsen described as a starving "hippy-type" he had found sleeping
in a doorway in Charing Cross.
* Murder 8: Nilsen could recall
nothing at all about his eighth victim except that he kept him under the
floorboards of his flat until he removed the corpse and cut it into 3
pieces then put it back again. He burned the corpse one year later.
* Murder 9 and Murder 10: Both
were young Scottish men, picked up in pubs in Soho.
* Murder 11: The 11th victim was a
skinhead Nilsen picked up in Piccadilly Circus who had a tattoo around
his neck saying "cut here". He had boasted to Nilsen how tough he was
and how he liked to fight; however, once he was drunk, he proved no
match for Nilsen, who hung his naked torso in his bedroom for 24 hours
before he was buried under the floorboards.
* At some point between murders 6
and 11, on November 10, 1980, a potential victim of Nilsen's, a Scottish
barman called Douglas Stewart, met at The Golden Lion in Dean Street,
woke up while being strangled and was able to fend off his attacker.
Although he called the police almost immediately after the attack, no
action was taken by the officers who, it is reported, considered the
incident to be a domestic disagreement.
* Murder 12: The 12th victim (and
the last before Nilsen moved home) was a man called Malcolm Barlow. He
was murdered on September 18, 1981. Nilsen found him in a doorway not
far from his own home, and took him in and called an ambulance for him.
When Barlow was released the next day, he returned to Nilsen's home to
thank him and was pleased to be invited in for a meal and a few drinks.
He was murdered that night.
* In November 1981, after moving
to a new house in Muswell Hill in October, (the removal company was
Archers of London from Tottenham), Nilsen met Paul Nobbs, a student, at
The Golden Lion in Soho and invited him back to his new home. The
student awoke the next morning with little recollection of the previous
evening's events, and later went to see his doctor because of some
bruising that had appeared on his neck. The doctor revealed that it
appeared as if the student had been strangled and advised him to go to
the police. However, afraid of his sexual orientation being disclosed,
the student decided not to.
* Following this attempted murder,
Nilsen met Carl Stotter, a drag queen known as Khara Le Fox at The Black
Cap in Camden. After passing out from strangulation, he came to while
Nilsen was trying to drown him in a bath of cold water and managed to
fight off his attacker.
* Murder 13: John Howlett was the
first to be murdered in Nilsen's Muswell Hill home, in December 1981.
Howlett was one of the few who was able to fight back; however, Nilsen
had taken a disliking to him and was determined that he should die.
There was a tremendous struggle, in which at one point Howlett even
tried to strangle Nilsen back. Howlett was eventually drowned, however,
after having his head held under water for five minutes. Howlett's was
the first body to be dismembered, and the various body parts were either
hidden around the house or flushed down the toilet.
* Murder 14: Graham Allen was
another homeless man who met Nilsen in Shaftesbury Avenue. After
murdering him, Nilsen left Allen's body in the bath, unsure how to
dispose of it. After three days, he was dismembered like Nilsen's
* Murder 15: Nilsen's final victim
was a drug addict called Stephen Sinclair. They met in Oxford Street and
Sinclair managed to scrounge a hamburger off Nilsen, who then suggested
that they go back to his place. After dropping into an alcohol and
heroin fuelled stupor, Sinclair was strangled and his body dismembered.
This was on the 1st February 1983, 7 days before he was arrested. It was
Sinclair's dismembered remains in the drain outside Nilsen's home that
first alerted the police to Nilsen's murders.
Trial and Sentence of Dennis
Nilsen was convicted of six
murders and two attempted murders, and was sentenced to life
imprisonment on 4 November 1983.
Nilsen's minimum term was set at
25 years by the trial judge, but the Home Secretary later imposed a
whole life tariff, which meant he would never be released. But after the
Home Secretary was stripped of his powers to set minimum terms in
November 2002, Nilsen could be freed on life licence as early as 2008
because of his original 25-year minimum sentence. His case could also be
helped if a European Court of Justice case - currently being held -
outlaws lifelong imprisonment as a violation of human rights. In 1993 he
was given permission to give a televised interview from prison.
Dennis Nilsen in Prison
Nilsen is currently held at HMP
Full Sutton maximum security prison near Pocklington in East Yorkshire.
During his time in prison he has
proved a thorn in the side of prison authorities, bringing Judicial
Review proceedings over Whitemoor prison's decision not to allow him
access to homosexual pornography. In 2003 he brought a further Judicial
Review over a decision not to allow him to publish his autobiography,
titled The History of a Drowning Boy.