The likes of Bundy, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy and more have gained high levels of notoriety for their crimes. Increasing widespread media coverage has helped serial killer interest overflow into households. Let’s take a look at Brittish serial killer, Dennis Nilsen.
Dennis Andrew Nilsen was born on the 23rd November 1945 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The second of three children born to Elizabeth Duthie Whyte, and Olav Magnus Moksheim (who had adopted the surname Nilsen), Nilsen was of Scottish and Norwegian heritage. Nilsen was a quiet, yet adventurous child and has described his childhood as being of contentment, and his grandfather, Andrew Whyte, being his “great hero and protector”. By 1951, Nilsen’s grandfather’s health was in decline and on 31st October 1951, while fishing in the North Sea, Andrew died of a heart attack. His body was brought ashore, subjected to an autopsy and returned to the Nilsen family home prior to burial.
In the years following the death of his grandfather, Nilsen became more quiet and reserved. Nilsen’s mother noted her son would actively repel any attempts by family members to demonstrate their affection towards him.
At the onset of puberty, Nilsen discovered he was homosexual, which initially both confused and ashamed him, not divulging this information to his family or few friends, keeping his sexuality a secret. He made no efforts to seek sexual contact with any of the peers to whom he was sexually attracted, although on one occasion, he did kiss and caress the body of his older brother as he slept.
After stints in the army and moving to London to serve as a police constable, Nilsen began to drink alone in the evenings. He become familiar with homosexual pubs and engaging in several casual liaisons with men throughout the summer and autumn of 1973. Following a failed attempt to form a lasting relationship with one man whom he had met in August, Nilsen became even more promiscuous in his sex life. He also came to the conclusion his personal lifestyle was at odds with his professional life. He resigned from the Metropolitan Police on 9th December, 1973, after eight months’ service.
In November 1975, Nilsen encountered a 20-year-old named David Gallichan being threatened outside a pub by two other men. Nilsen intervened in the altercation and took the youth to the room in which he then lodged at Teignmouth Road in the Cricklewood district of London. The two men spent the evening drinking and talking, with Nilsen learning that Gallichan had recently moved to London from Weston-super-Mare, was homosexual, unemployed and resided in a hostel. The following morning, both men agreed to reside together in a larger residence.
Within a year of both men moving to Melrose Avenue, the superficial relationship between Nilsen and Gallichan began to strain: both men slept in separate beds, and both began to bring home casual sexual partners. Although Gallichan insisted Nilsen had never been violent towards him, he was regularly berated by Nilsen, and by the spring of 1976, the pair began arguing with increasing frequency. Nilsen later stated that, following a heated argument in May 1977, he had demanded Gallichan leave the residence.
Throughout 1978, Nilsen spent most evenings would be spent consuming spirits and/or lager as he listened to music.
Between 1978 and 1983, Nilsen is known to have killed 15 men and boys, and to have attempted to kill seven others. The majority of Nilsen’s victims were homeless or homosexual men, although others were heterosexual individuals whom he would typically meet in bars, on public transport, or—on one occasion—outside his own home. All of Nilsen’s murders were committed inside the North London addresses where he alternately resided in the years he is known to have killed. His victims would be lured to these addresses through the offer of alcohol and/or shelter.
Inside Nilsen’s home, the victims were usually given food and alcohol, then strangled with a ligature either to death or until they had become unconscious. If the victim had been strangled into unconsciousness, Nilsen would then drown the victim in his bathtub, his sink, or a bucket of water. Observing a ritual in which he would bathe, clothe and retain the victims. All the bodies of the victims killed at Melrose Avenue would be dismembered after several weeks or months of internment beneath the floorboards. Nilsen recalled that the putrefaction of these victims’ bodies would make this task exceedingly vile; he recalled having to fortify his nerves with whisky, and his having to grab handfuls of salt with which to brush aside maggots from the remains. Often, he would vomit as he dissected the bodies, before wrapping the dismembered limbs inside plastic bags before carrying the remains to the bonfires.
Although Nilsen admitted to masturbating as he viewed the nude bodies of several of his victims, and to have engaged in sexual acts with six of his victims’ bodies, he was adamant he had never penetrated any of them.
Nilsen’s murders were finally discovered due to tenants’ complaints of blocked drains at 23 Cranley Gardens on 8th February, 1983. After investigation, three officers followed Nilsen into his flat where they immediately noted the odour of rotting flesh. As Nilsen queried further as to why the police would be interested in his drains, he was informed the blockage had been caused by human remains. Nilsen feigned shock and bewilderment, stating, “Good grief, how awful!” In response, one of the policeman replied: “Don’t mess about, where’s the rest of the body?” Nilsen responded calmly, admitting that the remainder of the body could be found in two plastic bags in a nearby wardrobe, from which DCI Jay and his colleagues noted the overpowering smell of decomposition emanated.
The officers did not open the cupboard, but asked Nilsen if there were any other body parts to be found, to which Nilsen 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.” He was then arrested and cautioned on suspicion of murder, before being taken to Hornsey Police Station.
Convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder at the Old Bailey, Nilsen was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 25 years’ imprisonment, on 4th November, 1983. He is currently incarcerated at the HMP Full Sutton maximum security prison in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England.