In February 1983 a tenant at 23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill complained that the toilets were blocked and the Dyno-rod company was called in to investigate. What they discovered in the drains would lead to the arrest of one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers.

Dennis Nilsen, a 37 year-old civil servant living in the attic, had murdered at least 15 men in the space of five years. In many cases he would keep the corpses in his home for several months before cutting them up and disposing of them, either on a bonfire or by flushing them down the toilet.

He would later confess to having sex with the dead bodies of his victims.

The first known victim was 14 year-old Stephen Holmes on December 30, 1978. Nilsen invited him back to his flat at 195 Melrose Avenue in Cricklewood, strangled him with a necktie and then drowned him in a bucket of water. Eight months later Nilsen burnt the body in the garden.

On 3 December 1979 Kenneth Ockendon, a 23 year-old Canadian student, was invited back to the same address and strangled. He was followed by 16 year-old Martyn Duffey on May 17, 1980 and 27 year-old Billy Sutherland in August 1980.

According to his later confession, he would go on to kill seven other unidentified male victims before the murder of Malcolm Barlow, 23, on September 18, 1981. He burned five of those on a bonfire at the back of his home on October 4, 1981. The next day he moved to 23 Cranley Gardens.

The first victim at the new flat was John Howlett, 23, in March 1982. He was followed by Graham Allen, 27, in September 1982 and finally Stephen Sinclair, 20, on January 26, 1983.

Nilsen was arrested two weeks later on 9 February after the discovery of human flesh in the drains. When questioned by detectives at the flat he feigned shock before showing them two bags full of body parts in his cupboard.

Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen

On 24 October 1983 he went on trial at the Old Bailey. Nilsen denied the charges on the grounds of diminished responsibility but was convicted of six murders and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve 25 years.

Ten years after his conviction ITV broadcast an interview with Nilsen in prison in which he discussed his crimes. The following year, in December 1994, the home secretary Michael Howard decided he should never be released from prison.

Nilsen died in hospital of natural causes on 12 May 2018.

Further reading:

Killing for Company by Brian Masters (Amazon link)

Features on Dennis Nilsen can be found online at the Crime and Investigation Network website, Wikipedia, and Murderpedia.org.

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