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Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen mug shot
Background information
Birth name: Dennis Andrew Nilsen
Also known as: The Muswell Hill Murderer
The Kindly Killer
Born: 23 November 1945 (1945-11-23) (age 64)
Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Conviction: Attempted murder
Sentence: Life imprisonment
Number of victims: 15
Span of killings: 30 December 1978 – 26 January 1983
Country: England
Date apprehended: 8 February, 1983
For the similarly named American politician, see Dennis Nielsen

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."[1]


Early life

Nilsen was born at 10 High Street, Strichen, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire to a Scottish mother, Betty White, and a Norwegian father, Olav Magnus Moksheim, who adopted the surname Nilsen. 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.[citation needed]

Nilsen claimed the first traumatic event to shape his life came about when he was a small child, when his beloved grandfather died of a heart attack in October, 1951.[2] His strict Roman Catholic mother[citation needed] insisted that he should view the body before burial. During Nilsen's childhood, his mother and stepfather frequently lectured him about the "impurities of the flesh".[citation needed]

Army service and move to London

In 1961, Nilsen left school and enlisted in the British Army where he became a cook in South Yemen, Cyprus, Berlin, Germany and the Shetland Islands. He served in the army for 11 years, earning a General Service Medal before being discharged, at his own request, in November,1972.[3]

In December, 1972, Nilsen joined the Metropolitan Police, and was posted to Willesden, London in 1973. Nilsen served eight months as a police officer before resigning.

From 1974[4], Nilsen worked as a civil servant in a jobcentre in London's Kentish Town. He was also active in the trade union movement, even going on other people's picket lines in solidarity. In November, 1975, Nilsen moved into Melrose Avenue in the Cricklewood district of London.

Murders and arrest

Nilsen is known to have killed 15 men and boys. Most of his victims were students or homeless men. He picked them up in bars or on the streets and brought them to his house. He strangled and drowned his victims during the night. He used his butchering skills, which he gained from his time as a cook in the army, to help him dispose of the bodies. The bodies were not immediately dismembered, but were kept, sometimes for several months, in different locations in his home, usually under the floorboards. Nilsen was known to engage in sex acts with the corpses.[5][6]

Nilsen had access to a large garden when living at 195 Melrose Avenue, Cricklewood, North West London. He was able to burn many of the remains in a bonfire. Entrails were dumped over the garden fence to be eaten by wildlife.

In October, 1981,[7] Nilsen moved several miles eastwards to an attic flat at 23 Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill. As his murders continued, he found it difficult to dispose of the remains and had bin bags full of human organs stored in his wardrobe. Neighbours had begun to notice the smell. Three people were murdered at this address, and all were stored in cupboards and chests. Nilsen attempted to dispose of the bodies by boiling the heads, hands and feet to remove the flesh and by chopping the entrails into small pieces and flushing them down the toilet. When he tried to dispose of the bodies by flushing them down the toilet, he blocked the sewers of the flats.

Nilsen's murders were first discovered by Dyno-Rod, a drain cleaning company responding to a blocked drain. The company found the drain was packed with a flesh-like substance. The drain inspector then called his supervisor, but no assessment was made until the next day, by which time the drain had been cleared. This aroused the suspicions of the drain inspector and his supervisor, who immediately called the police. Upon closer inspection, some small bones and what looked like chicken flesh were found in a pipe leading off from the drain, with rats feeding on them; these were later discovered to be of human origin. Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay was called to the scene with two colleagues and waited outside until Nilsen returned home from work. As they entered the building DCI Jay introduced himself to Nilsen and explained that he had come about his drains. Nilsen asked why would the police be interested in his drains and also if the two officers were health inspectors. He was told they were police colleagues and given their names. They then climbed the stairs together and as they entered the flat DCI Jay immediately smelt rotting flesh. Nilsen queried why the police would be interested in his drains, so the officer told him they were filled with human remains. "Good grief, how awful!" exclaimed Nilsen. "Don't mess about, where's the rest of the body?" replied Jay. Nilsen responded calmly, admitting that they were in two plastic bags in his wardrobe. He was then arrested and cautioned on suspicion of murder and taken to the police station. On the way back to the station, Nilsen was asked how many bodies they were talking about and replied "15 or 16".

He later apologised to the police for not being able to tell them the exact number of people he had killed. When his flat was searched they found human remains inside a tea-chest in a wardrobe. His former address was also searched.


  • Murder 1, Stephen Dean Holmes: Nilsen's first murder took place on 30 December, 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 12 January, 2006, it was announced that the victim had been identified as Stephen Dean Holmes, who was born on 22 March, 1964 and was therefore only 14 at the time; Holmes had been on his way home from a concert. On 9 November, 2006, Nilsen finally confessed to the murder of Holmes in a letter sent from his prison cell to the Evening Standard.[8] Nilsen was not charged for the murder as the Crown Prosecution Service decided that a prosecution would not be in the public interest.[9]
  • Between the first and second murders, Nilsen attempted to murder Andrew Ho, a student from Hong Kong he had met in The Salisbury public house in St. Martin's Lane. Although afterwards he confessed to the police about the incident no charges were brought and Nilsen was not arrested.
  • Murder 2, Kenneth Ockendon: The second victim was 23-year-old Canadian student Kenneth Ockendon. Nilsen met the tourist in a pub on 3 December, 1979 and escorted him on a tour of Central London, after which they went back to Nilsen's flat for another drink. Nilsen strangled him with the cord of his headphones whilst Ockendon was listening to a record. Ockendon was one of the few murder victims who was reported as a missing person.
  • Murder 3, Martyn Duffey: Martyn Duffey was a 16-year-old runaway from Birkenhead. On 17 May, 1980[10], he accepted Nilsen's invitation to come over to his place. Nilsen strangled and subsequently drowned Duffey in the kitchen sink. [11]
  • Murder 4, Billy Sutherland: Billy Sutherland was a 26-year-old father-of-one from Scotland who worked as a prostitute. Sutherland met Nilsen in a pub in August, 1980. Nilsen could not remember how he murdered Sutherland; however, it was later revealed that Sutherland had been strangled by bare hands.
  • Murder 5, Unidentified: The fifth victim was another man who worked as a prostitute; however, this man was never identified. All that is known is that he was probably from the Philippines or Thailand.
  • Murder 6, Unidentified: Nilsen could recall very little about this and the following two victims. All that Nilsen could remember about the sixth man was that he was a young Irish labourer that Nilsen had met in the Cricklewood Arms.[12]
  • Murder 7, Unidentified: Nilsen described the seventh victim as a starving "hippy-type" whom Nilsen had found sleeping in a doorway in Charing Cross.
  • Murder 8, Unidentified: Nilsen could recall little about his eighth victim, except that he kept the man's body under the floorboards of his flat, until he removed the corpse and cut it into three pieces then put it back again. He burned the corpse one year later.
  • At some point between murders 6 and 8, on 10 November, 1980, Nilsen attacked a Scottish barman named Douglas Stewart, whom Nilsen met at the Golden Lion in Dean Street. Stewart woke up while being strangled, and was able to fend off his attacker. Although Stewart called the police almost immediately after the attack, the officers refused to take action, reportedly they considered the incident to be a domestic disagreement.
  • Murder 9, Unidentified: The ninth victim was a young Scottish man who Nilsen met in the Golden Lion pub in Soho in January, 1981.[13]
  • Murder 10, Unidentified: Another young Scottish man. Nilsen strangled him with a tie and placed the body under the floorboards.
  • Murder 11, Unidentified: Nilsen picked up his eleventh victim in Piccadilly Circus. The man was an English skinhead and had a tattoo around his neck reading "cut here". The man had boasted to Nilsen about how tough he was and how he liked to fight. However, once he was drunk, he proved no match for Nilsen, who hung the man's naked torso in his bedroom for a day, before burying the body under the floorboards.
  • Murder 12, Malcom Barlow: The 12th victim was a 24-year-old named Malcolm Barlow. Nilsen murdered Barlow on 18 September, 1981. Nilsen found Barlow in a doorway not far from his own home, 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. Nilsen murdered Barlow that night. Barlow was the final victim to be murdered at Melrose Avenue.

In October of 1981, Nilsen moved to a new house in Muswell Hill.

  • In November 1981, Nilsen targeted Paul Nobbs, a student, at the Golden Lion in Soho, and invited Nobbs 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, Nobbs was concerned about what would happen if his sexual orientation were to be disclosed, and did not go to the police.
  • Following this attempted murder, Nilsen targeted Carl Stotter, a drag queen known as Khara Le Fox at The Black Cap, in Camden. After passing out from strangulation, Stotter became conscious while Nilsen was trying to drown him in a bath of cold water. Stotter managed to gasp air four times before losing consciousness. Nilsen's dog then lapped Stotter's face and uncovered signs of life. Nilsen then led Stotter to a railway station, through a forest where Nilsen may have intended to finally kill Stotter, and the two parted ways. Stotter, due to memory loss from the event and alcohol before, did not realise for several years that he had almost been killed.[citation needed]
  • Murder 13, John Howlett: Howlett had first met Nilsen in a West End pub in December 1981. In March, 1982, John Howlett was the first victim to be murdered in Nilsen's Muswell Hill home.[14] Howlett was one of the few who was able to fight back; however, Nilsen had taken a dislike 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. Eventually, Nilsen drowned Howlett, holding his head under water for five minutes. Nilsen dismembered Howlett's body, hid some of Howlett's body parts around the house and flushed others down the toilet.
  • Murder 14, Graham Allen: Graham Allen was another homeless man, originally from Scotland, who Nilsen met in Shaftesbury Avenue in September, 1982.[15] Nilsen took Allen to his home and prepared an omelette for him. Nilsen crept up on Allen while he was eating and strangled him to death. After murdering Allen, Nilsen left Allen's body in the bath, unsure how to dispose of it. After three days, Nilsen dismembered him, like his previous victim. Parts of Allens' remains were what led to the drains being blocked at the flats where Nilsen lived.
  • Murder 15, Stephen Sinclair: Nilsen's final victim was a 20-year-old man named Stephen Sinclair who was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Nilsen targeted Sinclair in Oxford Street and bought the youth a hamburger. Nilsen then suggested that they go back to his place. After Sinclair drank alcohol and used heroin at Nilsen's house, Nilsen strangled Sinclair and dismembered Sinclair's body. Nilsen recalled that the youth's wrists were covered in slash marks from where Sinclair had recently tried to kill himself. This murder was on 26 January, 1983, less than two weeks before Nilsen was arrested. It was Sinclair's dismembered remains in the drain outside Nilsen's home that first alerted the police to Nilsen's murders.

Trial and sentence

Nilsen was brought to trial at the Old Bailey on 24 October, 1983; he pleaded diminished responsibility as a defence, 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.[16] Nilsen is awaiting an appeal on this decision at the European Court of Human Rights.


  1. ^ Shirley Lynn Scott. "What Makes Serial Killers Tick?". truTV. Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  2. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p184
  3. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p188
  4. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p190
  5. ^ Carol Ann Davis. "Killer Cannibals". Shots: The Crime & Mystery Magazine. Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  6. ^ Katherine Ramsland. "Dennis Nilsen". truTV. Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  7. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p195
  8. ^ "Serial killer Dennis Nilsen confesses to first murder". Daily Mail. 2006-11-09. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  9. ^ "Dennis Nilsen - CPS decision about first victim : Press Release : Crown Prosecution Service". Crown Prosecution Service. 6 December 2006. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  10. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p196
  11. ^
  12. ^ Killing for Company ISBN 0-09-955261-2 p123
  13. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p197
  14. ^ Killing for Company ISBN 0-09-955261-2 p126
  15. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 0-316-90332-9 p201
  16. ^ R v The governor of HMP full Sutton Ex. P. Nilsen, United Kingdom , 2004 EWCA Civ 1540 (Court of Appeal of England and Wales 2004-11-17).


  • Odell, Robin; Gaute, J. H. H. (1989). The new murderers' who's who. London: Headline. ISBN 0747232709. 
  • Masters, Brian. Killing for Company. Random House (UK). ISBN 0099552612. 
  • Lisners, John (1983). House of Horrors Dennis Andrew Nilsen. London: Corgi.  ASIN B0012JFAC6.
  • McConell, Brian (1983). The Nilsen File. London: Futura. ISBN 0708824307. 

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