Dennis Nilsen was born on November 23, 1945 in Fraserburgh, Scotland; the second of three children. His parent’s marriage was an unhappy one & they ended up divorcing in 1948 when Dennis was four.
At this point, Dennis, his mom & siblings began living with his grandparents. Nilsen adored his grandfather & considered him his “great hero & protector.” His grandfather was a fisherman & while in the North Sea, on October 31, 1951, his grandfather died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Dennis was five at the time of his death. His body had been brought back to the family home prior to burial. As Dennis’ mother wept, she asked if Dennis wanted to see his grandfather. He was taken into the room where his grandfather lay in an open coffin. His mother told him his grandfather was sleeping & had gone to a better place; he wondered why his grandfather hadn’t taken him to that better place with him. When he saw his grandfather’s body, his ideas of love & death fused. After the death, Dennis became more withdrawn & isolated, distancing himself from friends & family.
In 1954 or 1955, Dennis nearly drowned at the beach; he was saved by an older boy & considered this a near-death experience that was significant in his life & affected his thinking.
Dennis’ mother went on to remarry & have four more children.
At the onset of puberty, Dennis was aware that he was gay; this initially confused & shamed him & he claimed to have no sexual encounters as an adolescent. In 1961, at age 16, he enlisted in the Army; Nilsen became a cook & served as a butcher in the Army Catering Corps. These butchering skills served him well during his five year killing spree. During his time in the Army, he kept his sexual orientation private; showering alone to avoid having an erection with others around. Dennis had a room to himself; he would strip himself naked, cover himself with talcum powder & fantasize that he was looking at a dead body. During this time, his alcohol intake ramped up in hopes of easing his shyness.
After leaving the Army, Dennis lived with his family from October-December 1972. His mother voiced concern about his lack of female relationships & after an argument with is brother, his brother told his mother Dennis was gay. This was a turning point; he never spoke with his brother again & only maintained sporadic written contact with his mother, stepfather & younger siblings.
From here, he joined the Metropolitan Police in London in 1972 & began his training. During this time he became fascinated with morgue visits & autopsied bodies His training we completed in 1973; he performed several arrests though never had to physically subdue anyone. In August of 1973, Dennis resigned from the police department due to homophobia in the department & around this time, his father died.
December 1973-May 1974 Nilsen worked as a security guard & became a civil servant in May 1974, working at a job center, finding work for unskilled laborers. He was known as quiet & conscientious at work; his attendance record was mediocre but he often volunteered for overtime. In 1979, Dennis was appointed acting executive officer & continued this job until his arrest.
In November 1975, Dennis came across a 20-year-old man named David Gallichan who was being threatened outside a pub by two other men. Nilsen intervened & took Gallichan to his place & the two spent the evening drinking/talking & the next morning, the men agreed to live together in a larger place. Several days later they decided to move into 195 Melrose Ave. They worked out a deal for exclusive use of the garden at the back of the property. Nilsen later recollected he was sexually attracted to Gallichan though they rarely had intercourse. David found Nilsen to be short-tempered & verbally abusive; they broke up in 1977 & David moved out.
195 Melrose Avenue
Dennis’ first victim was 14 year old Stephen Holmes on December 30, 1978. The two met at a pub where Holmes was unsuccessful in purchasing alcohol. Dennis invited Holmes to his home to drink alcohol & listen to music. Holmes was 17 (Dennis was 33). Both drank heavily & fell asleep. Nilsen woke the next morning and found Holmes sleeping in his bed. He later confessed that he was “afraid to wake him in case he left me.” He wanted Holmes to stay with him over the New Year whether “he wanted to or not.” Dennis straddled Holmes & strangled him with a necktie to unconsciousness & drowned him in a bucket of water. He then washed the body in the bathtub, placed him in his bed & caressed his body, masturbating over the body. He waited for rigor mortis to pass & placed his body beneath the floorboards where he remained for 8 months. He later burned his body in a bonfire in his backyard on August 11, 1979.
On October 11, 1979, Dennis attempted to murder a student from Hong Kong, named Andrew Ho. The two met in St Martin’s Lane Pub & Dennis invited him to his flat with the promise of sex. Dennis attempted to strangle Ho who was able to escape & report this to police. Nilsen was questioned, but Ho did not press charges.
Dennis’ second murder was on December 3, 1979. He encountered 23-year-old Canadian student Kenneth Ockenden who was visiting relatives. The two drank together at the West End Pub. Nilsen volunteered to show Ockenden London landmarks/acting as a tour guide & then invited him to his flat for drinks & a meal. Later, Dennis could not recall the moment he strangled Ockenden with his own headphones as Ockenden listened to music. He dragged him across the floor with the wire, poured himself rum & continued to listen to music with that pair of headphones. The next day, Dennis purchased a Polaroid camera & photographed him in suggestive positions & later laid his body spread eagle on the bed while he watched TV for several hours. He then wrapped body in plastic bags & stowed him under the floorboards. On 4 occasions over 2 weeks Nilsen removed the body from the floorboards & placed it in the chair beside him as he watched TV and drank.
Dennis’ third victim was 16-year old Martyn Duffey on May 17, 1980. Martyn was a catering student from Berkenhead, Merseyside (county in NW England) who hitchhiked to London on May 13 without his parent’s knowledge. Initially, Martyn slept near the train station for 4 days before encountering Nilsen who was returning from a conference in Southport. Nilsen recalled Duffey was exhausted & hungry & happy to go to Nilsen’s flat for a meal and a warm bed. Duffey fell asleep in Nilsen’s bed & Nilsen placed a ligature around his neck, sat on his chest & tightened the ligature “with great force.” Unconscious, he was drowned in the sink & Nilsen then bathed body. He described him as “the youngest looking I had ever seen.” He placed him on the kitchen chair, kissed, complimented & caressed him before/after Nilsen masturbated while sitting on the stomach of the corpse. He then stored the body in the cupboard for 2 days, until he noted signs of bloating & from there he went “straight under the floorboards.”
Frequency of Nilsen’s killings increased thereafter. Before the end of 1980, he killed another 5 men & attempted to murder one other. Only one has ever been identified, 26-year-old Billy Sutherland who had gone to London from Scotland to find work & was said to visit the job center where Nilsen worked. Nilsen commented on his Scottish accent & suggested they go for a drink together. His family had filed a missing person’s report for him but didn’t discover he had been killed for another 3 years. He claimed to be extremely drunk during many of the murders so Nilsen was vague in recollections of unidentified victims but graphically recall how each was murdered, how long the body had been retained before dissection. During this time he also allegedly tried to kill 29-year-old Douglas Stewart who was able to escape & later testified at Nilsen’s trial.
Accumulating bodies in the floorboards attracted insects/odor, especially in summer. When he would occasionally dig up a corpse, he would note the large amount of maggots present. Nilsen placed deodorants beneath floorboards & sprayed insecticide 2 time a day but the smell/flies remained. He would keep 3-4 bodies at a time before dissecting them, wrapping in plastic & putting them back under floorboards. He said before dissecting the decaying bodies he would have to drink whiskey and get “blinding drunk” because of the smell/maggots.
In late 1980, Dennis removed/dissected each of his 6 victims that had been killed since 12/1979 & burned them in a communal bonfire on waste ground behind his flat. He placed an old tire in the fire to disguise the smell. 3 neighborhood boys stood around the fire while Dennis used a rake to search for bones & smashed an intact skull with his rake. He then spread the contents around the yard.
Three more victims: On/around January 4, 1981, Nilsen encountered an unidentified man, described as 18, with blond hair & blue-eyes at the Golden Lion Pub in Soho. He invited him to partake in a “drinking contest.” Nilsen strangled him with a tie and placed his body under the floorboards. Dennis called out sick on January 12 to dissect the body as well as another victim that was killed approximately one month earlier. By April, there were two additional unidentified victims; one described as an English skinhead which he met in Leicester Square, the other a “Belfast boy”, in his early 20s, approximately 5’9” who he murdered sometime in February, 1981. Nilsen casually reflected, “End of the day, end of the drink, end of a person.. Floorboards back, carpet replaced and back to work at Denmark Street.” The following month he removed the internal organs of several victims stowed under floorboards, discarded them in a waste ground behind his flat & household trash.
Nilsen’s final victim at Melrose Ave was 23-year-old Malcolm Barlow, an orphan with learning disabilities. Nilsen found Barlow slumped against a wall on September 17, 1981. Barlow said that his meds for epilepsy had caused his legs to weaken. Nilsen walked him to his residence to call an ambulance & the following day, Barlow was released & returned to Nilsen’s home to thank him. Nilsen invited him in, served him a meal washed down with rum & Coke. When Barlow fell asleep on the sofa, Nilsen manually strangled him as he slept, stowing his body beneath the kitchen sink the following morning.
In mid 1981, Nilsen’s landlord decided to renovate 195 Melrose Ave & asked Nilsen to vacate the property. He was resistant though accepted the $1k pounds to vacate. Nilsen ended up moving to an attic flat at 23D Cranley Gardens in the Muswell Hill district of North London on October 5, 1981. The day before he left, he had some “tidying up” to do; he dissected & burned the bodies of the last 5 victims. Again, he used a car tire to disguise the smell; by this time, he had already dissected the bodies of his 4 victims from January to August & only needed to complete the dissection of Barlow for this 3rd bonfire.
23 Cranley Gardens
This flat had no access to a garden, leaving Nilsen unable to store bodies beneath floorboards as his room was in the attic with other units below. For almost two months, any lured visitors were not assaulted in any manner though did attempt to strangle a 19-year-old student named Paul Nobbs on November 23, 1981 but he restrained himself from completing the act.
In March 1982, Nilsen met 23-year-old John Howlett in a pub near Leicester Square. He lured him with the offer of drinks & the two watched a movie. Howlet went to the front room & fell asleep in the bed. One hour later, Nilsen tried to wake him unsuccessfully. As he then sat on the edge of the bed drinking rum, he made the decision to kill him. It was not an easy feat; Howlett fought back, leaving marks around Nilsen’s own neck. Nilsen used an upholstery strap to strangle Howlet into unconsciousness; it took three attempts over ten minutes. After trying to strangle him to death, he changed his method & filled the bathtub & drowned him.
In May of 1982, Carl Stottor, a 21-year-old gay man, met Nilsen at the Black Cap Pub in Camden. Stottor was vulnerable following a failed relationship. Nilsen invited him to his flat for alcohol & the assurance of no plan for sexual activity. The two drank & Strattor fell asleep on an open sleeping bag until he later woke to Nilsen strangling him & loudly whispering, “stay still.”
Stottor initially thought Nilsen was trying to free him from the zip of the sleeping bag, believing he had become tangled, before returning to a state of unconsciousness. He vaguely recalled hearing water running before realizing Nilsen was trying to drown him. He briefly raised his head from the water, shouting, “no more, please! No more!” Nilsen was convinced he had killed Stottor so he placed him in an armchair. Realizing he was still alive, Nilsen rubbed his limbs & heart to increase circulation & covered him in blankets & put him in bed. When Stottor regained consciousness, Nilsen lied about the strangling, telling him he had gotten caught up in the zip of the sleeping bag. For two days he was in & out of consciousness. Eventually, Nilsen took Stotter to the train station & the two parted ways.
In October of 1982, Nilsen met 27-year-old Graham Allen who was hailing a taxi & invited him to his flat for a meal. Nilsen doesn’t recall the moment he strangled him but recalled approaching him as he sat eating an omelet with full intention of murdering him. Allen’s body was kept in the bathtub for three days before Nilsen dissected it on the kitchen floor. On October 9, 1982, Nilsen called in sick. Allen’s wife Lesley was interviewed in the Netflix documentary “Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes.” They had argued about drugs he had taken. Lesley said, “if you go back out & have another fix, don’t fucking ever come back & that’s exactly what happened, he didn’t ever come back.” The documentary also said Nilsen had sat Graham’s body in an armchair for two days while he went to work. He would come back from work & they would sit together, watching TV.
On January 26, 1983, Nilsen’s final victim was 20-year-old Stephen Sinclair who was last seen with Nilsen, walking in the direction of a tube station. Sinclair fell asleep in a drug & alcohol stupor in an armchair as Nilsen listened to rock opera. Nilsen approached Sinclair, knelt before him & said, “Oh Stephen, here I go again” before strangling him with a ligature constructed of a necktie & rope. Nilsen noticed bandages on Sinclair’s wrists; he removed them & found deep slash marks where he had tried to kill himself. He bathed the body, laid it upon the bed, applied talcum powder, arranged mirrors around the bed & laid naked alongside the body of Sinclair. Several hours later, he turned Sinclair’s head toward him, kissed him on the forehead & said, “goodnight Stephen.” The body was later dismembered, placed in plastic bags & stored in either a wardrobe or tea chest beneath the bathtub. The bags were sealed with the bandages he found on Sinclair’s wrists.
This is when Nilsen attempted to dispose of flesh, internal organs & small bones of his three victims by flushing them down the toilet. He boiled the head, hands & feet to remove the flesh
On February 4, 1983 Nilsen wrote a letter of complaint to the estate agency to complain that his drains were clogged, describing the situation as intolerable.
A Dyno-Rod employee, Michael Cattran, responded to the plumbing complaints made by Nilsen as well as other tenants on February 8, 1983. When the drain cover was opened at the side of the house, Cattran discovered that the drain was packed with flesh-like substance & numerous small bones of unknown origin. His suspicions were to his supervisor Gary Wheeler but further investigation was postponed until the following morning as it was getting dark outside. Nilsen & a fellow tenant, Jim Allcock, spoke with Michel as he was leaving; he spoke of his discovery of what appeared to be human flesh. Nilsen replied, “it looks to me like someone has been flushing down their KFC!”
At 7:30a.m the next day Cattran & Wheeler returned & found that the drain had been cleared which aroused suspicion of both men. Cattran had found some scraps of flesh & small bones in a pipe leading from the drain linked to the top flat of the house that appeared to be from a human hand so he called the police. On closer inspection, they discovered more small bones & scraps of what looked like human or animal flesh in the same pipe. The findings were taken to the mortuary where pathologist David Bowen found they were human & one piece of flesh had been from a neck, marked with ligature imprints.
Detective chief Inspector Peter Jay & two colleagues waited outside Nilsen’s flat for him to return from work & requested access to his flat to discuss the matter of what was found in the drains. On entering Nilsen’s flat, they were immediately accosted with the stench of decomposition. When they discussed what was found in the drains, Nilsen exclaimed, “good grief, how awful!” In response, Jay said, “don’t mess about, where’s the rest of the body?” Nilsen then calmly responded that the remainder could be found in two plastic bags in a nearby wardrobe. Here, they found a powerful smell of decomposition. When Nilsen was asked if there were any other body parts to be found, he replied, “it’s a long story, it goes back a long time. I’ll tell you everything, I want to get it off my chest. Not here, at the police station.” Detectives asked if the parts belonged to one person or two, Nilsen said while staring out the police car window, “15 or 16 since 1978.” In an interview he said the 15-16 was just a figure & not an exact number.
Later, the bags were removed from the wardrobe & taken to the mortuary; one contained two dissected torsos & a shopping bag of various organs. The second contained a human skull with little flesh, a severed head & a torso with arms attached but hands missing. Both heads were found to have been subjected to moist heat.
During an interview on February 10, Nilsen confessed to further remains in a tea chest in his living room & others in an upturned drawer in his bathroom. The parts were from three men: Stephen Sinclair, one he could not name, another he knew as “John the Guardsman.” All were killed by strangulation, usually a necktie. He admitted to attempting to murder approximately seven others who had escaped. Officers also accompanied him to his Melrose Ave residence where he showed them where the victims had been burned. Nilsen was very matter of fact during his confessions, saying, “I have no tears for my victims, I have no tears for myself nor those bereaved by my actions.”
At 5:40pm on February 11, Nilsen was charged for Sinclair’s murder. Nilsen couldn’t understand why he commited these murders, “I was hoping you will tell me that.” He said he had no motive & the decision was made only moments before the act. He said he would sometimes shave his victims or apply makeup after bathing, conforming them to his physical ideals. Nilsen stressed to police that he had not penetrated the victims, they were “too perfect & beautiful for the pathetic ritual of commonplace sex.” When questioned if he had remorse he said, “I wished I could stop, but I couldn’t & I had no other thrill or happiness.” He said he took no pleasure in the act of killing but “worshipped the art & act of death.”
On May 26, Nilsen was committed to stand trial on five counts of murder & two attempted murders; a sixth murder charge was later added. He was never charged with the attempted murder of Carl Stotter or the murder of Graham Allen.
Trial began October 24, 1983 & Nilsen was charged with six counts of murder & two attempted murders; he pleaded not guilty on all charges. There was no question that Nilsen had been the one to commit the murders; the question was, what was his state of mind before and during the killings? The prosecuting counsel argued that Nilsen was sane, in control of his actions and killed with premeditation, whereas the defense counsel argued that Nilsen suffered from diminished responsibility & should be convicted only of manslaughter. Two psychiatrists testified for the defense; they determined he possessed narcissistic traits & an impaired sense of identity & was able to depersonalize his victims. Nilsen displayed signs of maladaptive behavior, unspecified personality disorder with occasional outbursts of schizoid disturbances.
The first witness to testify was Douglas Stewart; he testified that in November of 1980, he had fallen asleep in a chair in Nilsen’s flat & woke to find his ankles bound & Nilsen strangling him with a tie while pressing his knee into Stewart’s chest. Thankfully, he was able to overpower Nilsen & said that Nilsen shouted, “take my money!” Stewart had reported this to police, Nilsen was questioned but it was dismissed as a lover’s quarrel.
Paul Nobbs also testified; he said he woke early with a terrible headache. When he went to wash his face in Nilsen’s bathroom, he found his eyes bloodshot & his face red. Nilsen exclaimed, “God! You look bloody awful!” & advised him to see a doctor. Nobbs did not report the incident as he didn’t want his sexuality revealed. Carl Stottor also took the stand & told his story.
The jury retired on November 3, 1983 & on the following day, Nilsen was found guilty & sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 25 years.In December of 1994, this was replaced by life imprisonment.
On May 10, 2018 Nilsen complained of stomach pains & was taken to York Hospital & found to have a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. It was repaired though he died on May 12th of a pulmonary embolism & retroperitoneal hemorrhage. He was cremated in June of 2018; no family members were present at the service & his ashes were later handed to his family.
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