Dennis Nilsen was born on 23 November 1945 in Scotland to an alcoholic, Norwegian father and a strict Catholic mother. His parents divorced when he was four years old and he was sent to live with his grandparents. It was at this time that the first traumatic event occurred which shaped Dennis’ life. Due to his strict Catholic upbringing he was forced to view his grandfather’s body when he died.
A lot of children are forced to look at their dead relatives, and not all of them turn out to be necrophiliac murderers, but obviously this triggered something in Dennis Nilsen’s head, because that is exactly what he became.
As a teenager Dennis joined the Army Catering Corp and became a cook in the British Army. He served in the army for 11 years before becoming a police officer, and then a civil servant. During his time in the army he developed a fascination with seeing himself as a corpse. He would cover himself in talcum powder, paint his lips blue and masturbate over his image in a mirror.
It is not his background that is the reason for this article though…
Dennis Nilsen murdered and had sex with at least 15 boys and men between the years 1978 and 1983. Yes, he did it in that order. One of the ‘nicknames’ he was given was the “Kindly Killer” due to the (and this is his word) ‘humane’ way in which he murdered, raped, butchered, burned and discarded the men he decided needed to die.
Twelve of the murders occurred while Dennis was living at 195 Melrose Avenue North London with three more happening when he moved to 23 Cranley Gardens, North London.
The first person he killed was 14-year-old Stephen Dean Holmes. Dennis claims he met Stephen at a gay bar on 29 December 1978 and invited him back to his house. The following morning Dennis strangled Stephen with a necktie and then when he was unconscious, drowned him. He did not dispose of his remains until 11 August 1979, when he burned them and buried them in his garden.
Next he murdered one of the few victims who were actually reported as missing, 23-year-old Canadian student Kenneth Ockendon. After meeting in a pub, Dennis took him for a tour of Central London, and then invited him back to his apartment. He then strangled him with the cord of some headphones and drowned him.
Martyn Duffey was the third victim he murdered, a runaway. At only 16 years of age Martyn accepted an invitation to go to Dennis’ house, were he was strangled and drowned.
Billy Sutherland was a 26 year old male prostitute. Unlike the previous three victims Billy was strangled with Dennis’ hands.
And so on the list goes… many of his victims are still, to this day, unidentified. A few of them were male prostitutes, others were labourers, and Dennis only remembers small pieces of information about them.
What is very sad is that due to the era these attacks occurred, there were victims who got away and did not go to the police. The reason they didn’t report the attack was their concern about what would happen if their sexual predilections came to the attention of the public.
Once Dennis had killed his victims, he would generally bath and dress them before dismembering them. Using his training as a cook to butcher the bodies, he would store the dismembered parts around his apartment, under the floorboards etc. Eventually he would retrieve the remains and generally burn them or flush them down the toilet.
Dennis Nilsen’s murders were discovered two weeks after the last murder was committed, when a company specialising in cleaning drains were called out to his unit block to look at a blocked drain. The company found that the drain was blocked by a flesh-like substance. Suspicious, they reported it to the police. A more thorough search was conducted and small bones and “what looked like chicken flesh” was discovered in a pipe leading from the drain. Pathologist Professor David Bowen confirmed the remains were human.
When the police first confronted Dennis he showed disbelief, asking where the remains came from. The police explained that they could only have come from his apartment, at which point he agreed to go with them to the police station. Once there, he started talking. His confession was shocking! He explained in sickening detail all that he had done. A search of his closet turned up several bags which contained the remains of men, in varying stages of decomposition. Dennis told the police where to look, in the tea chest, under a drawer in the bathroom, etc. While confessing, he also told of the seven men he had attacked and tried to kill, but wasn’t able to. In a statement Dennis told the police that “the victim is the dirty platter after the feat, and the washing up is an ordinary, clinical task.”
His questioning with the police lasted over 30 hours all up, over a week long interview. Although being cautioned about what he said, he spilled the beans as though he had wanted to tell his story for a long time. During his questioning he answered clearly and concisely, as his army training would have taught him to, and showed absolutely no remorse for his actions.
Three of the seven attempted victims testified against Dennis at his court case in which he was charged with six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. He pleaded “Not Guilty” to all the charges and cited ‘diminished responsibility due to mental defect’.
The jury could not unanimously come to a decision, so the Judge agreed to accept a majority verdict, and therefore the jury delivered a verdict of “Guilty” to all charges. Dennis Nilsen was sentenced to life in prison and is incarcerated at HM Prison Full Sutton. He is named on a list of prisoners who are never to be released.