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Dennis Nilsen

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A disturbed individual

Nilsen became increasingly disturbed by his sexual encounters, which only seemed to reinforce his loneliness when they were over. He met his first young victim in a pub on 29 December 1978, and invited him home, as he had on previous occasions. The next morning, overcome by a desire to prevent the man from leaving, he first strangled him with a tie, before drowning him in a bucket of water. Taking the corpse to his bathroom to wash it, he then placed it back in his bed, later remarking that he found the corpse beautiful. He attempted to have sex, unsuccessfully, then spent the night sleeping next to the dead man. He finally hid the corpse under his floorboards for seven months, before removing it and burning the decaying remains in his back garden.
Nilsen’s second brush with the police came in October 1979, when a young student accused Nilsen of trying to strangle him during a bondage-play session. Despite the student’s claims, no charges were laid against Nilsen.
Nilsen encountered his second victim, Canadian tourist Kenneth Ockendon, at a pub on 3 December 1979. Following a day of sightseeing and drinking, which ended at Nilsen’s flat, Nilsen again succumbed to his fears of abandonment and strangled Ockenden to death with an electrical cable, before cleaning up the corpse as before, and sharing a bed overnight. He took photos, engaged in sex and finally deposited the corpse under the floorboards, removing it frequently and engaging in conversation, as if Ockenden were still alive.
His third victim, some five months later, was Martyn Duffey, a homeless sixteen-year-old, who was invited to spend the night on 13 May 1980. As with his first victim, Nilsen strangled then drowned him, before bringing him back to bed and masturbating over the teenager’s corpse. Duffey was kept in a wardrobe for two weeks, before joining Ockenden under the floorboards.

His next victim was rent boy Billy Sutherland, aged 27, who had the misfortune of following Nilsen home one night. He too was strangled.
Malcolm Barlow, 24, was an orphan with learning difficulties, who was soon despatched by strangulation.
By 1981, Nilsen had killed twelve men in the flat, of whom only the above four could be identified which, given his penchant for preying on the homeless and the unemployed in a large city, is probably less surprising than it might be in a smaller community.
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 majority of his victims weren’t so lucky.
By the time Malcolm Barlow was killed, Nilsen was forced to stuff him under the kitchen sink, as he was rapidly running out of storage space, what with half a dozen bodies secreted around the flat. He was forced to spray his rooms twice a day, to be rid of the flies that were hatched from the decomposing bodies. When neighbours complained about the smell, he convinced them they stemmed from structural problems with the building.
To get rid of the corpses, he would remove his clothing and dismember them on the stone kitchen floor with a large kitchen knife, sometimes also boiling the skulls to remove the flesh, also placing organs and viscera in plastic bags for disposal. He buried limbs in the garden and in the shed, and stuffed torsos into suitcases until he could burn the remains in a bonfire at the end of his garden. On occasions he would burn fires all day, without raising any suspicion from neighbours. He generally crushed the bones once the fire had consumed the flesh, and police found thousands of bone fragments in the garden during later forensic examinations.
In 1982, in a desperate attempt to stifle his homicidal behaviour, Nilsen moved into a top-floor flat at 23 Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, also in North London, which had no garden and no convenient floorboards. Still unable to quell his impulses, a further three victims were killed in this flat between his arrival and February 1983. These victims were identified as John Howlett, Archibald Graham Allan and Steven Sinclair, and presented Nilsen with much greater disposal challenges, given the flat’s lack of direct access outdoor space. He overcame these by boiling the heads, feet and hands, and dissecting the bodies into small pieces that could be flushed down the toilet, and disposed of in plastic bags.
There were five other tenants at Cranley Gardens, none of whom knew Nilsen very well and, in early February 1983, one of them called out Dyno-Rod, the drain specialists, to investigate a drain blockage. In the presence of the tenants, including Nilsen, the technician discovered rotting human remains when he descended via the outdoor manhole, and it was decided that a full inspection would be conducted the next day, after which the police would be called in to investigate. Nilsen, increasingly aware of the prospect of capture, tried to cover his tracks by removing the human tissue from the drains that night, but was spotted by the downstairs tenant, who became suspicious of his actions. It was reported that, on the morning of 9 February 1983, he told a work colleague laughingly: “If I’m not in tomorrow, I’ll either be ill, dead or in jail.”