Dennis Andrew NILSEN
A.K.A.: "The Muswell Hill Murderer" - "The Kindly Killer"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Homosexual - Necrophilia - Dismemberment
Number of victims: 16
Date of murders: 1978 - 1983
Date of arrest: February 9, 1983
Date of birth: November 23, 1945
Victims profile: Students or homeless men whom he picked up in bars
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment on 4 November 1983
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 Jeffrey Dahmer.
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 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 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.
Dennis Nilsen 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
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.
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.
Murder 2: 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 person.
Murder 3: 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 sink.
Murder 4: 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 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.
Murder 9 and Murder 10: Both were young Scottish men, picked up in pubs in Sotho.
Murder 11: 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.
Murder 12: 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.
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 previous victim.
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. 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 prison’s 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, 1983, London
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 15.
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 flowed always.
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 mind.
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 task.
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 shed.
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 floorboards.
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 reasons.
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 guards.
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 for companionship.
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.
by Katherine Ramsland
The Dangerous Stranger
Dennis Nilsen, 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 sweat.
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."
Nilsen tightened 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.
Gently, Nilsen 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 to think.
"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 flat-mate."
Rather than 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.
However, the 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 boards.
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.
Nilsen was 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.
The second 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.
He strangled 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.
Duffrey went into the cupboard for two full weeks, and then was placed under the floorboards.
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.
Malcolm Barlow, 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.
Nilsen sprayed 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 step.
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 bonfire.
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 disposal.
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 curtain.
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.
Nilsen then 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.
Growing Up Alone
Nilsen believes 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.
The marriage 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 were.
Young Dennis 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.
He never 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 quickly aborted.
In 1961, he enlisted in the army and became a cook, which is how he learned butchery.
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 arrest.
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 released.
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.
The killings 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 specialist.
Nilsen feared 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.
Nilsen returned 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.
However, the 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.
But Nilsen sensed something coming. When he stepped into the dark hallway to go to his flat, he saw three men waiting for him.
Detective Chief Inspector Jay told him they had come about his drains. He told Nilsen that human remains blocked them.
Nilsen exclaimed 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 of decomposition.
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 failed.
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.
Nilsen also 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 right."
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."
After the 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 Lived
Many young 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.
In October, 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 as required.
Nilsen lived in his Cranley Gardens flat less than a year and a half, but killed three men. He nearly killed several more.
On November 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 investigation.
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.
While awaiting 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.
Nilsen examined 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 victims.
One of Nilsen's "Sad Sketches"
On the eve of his trial, he wrote, "I have judged myself more harshly than any court ever could."
Nilsen was 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.
Green described 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.
Those who 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.
Nilsen's 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 Martyn Duffey.
The defense 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.
On strenuous 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.
The second 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.
A rebuttal 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.
During the 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.
The judge sentenced Dennis Andrew Nilsen to life in prison, not eligible for parole for 25 years. Nilsen was almost 38.
A Featured Character
Nilsen, no 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.
To Compton, 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.
Killing for Company, by Brian Masters. New York: Dell, 1993. (Originally published in Britain in a different form in 1985.)
Murder by Numbers: British Serial Sex Killers since 1950 by Anna Gekoski. London: Andre Deutsch, 1998
The A-Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Harold Schecter and David Everitt. New York: Pocket, 1996.
The Killers Among Us, by Colin Wilson. New York: Warner, 1995.
Human Monsters, by David Everitt. New York: Contemporary Books, 1993.
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg.
New York: Berkley, 1992.