Dennis Nilsen - The Muswell Hill Murderer

Dennis Nilsen was a Scottish serial killer who murdered at least 12 young men and boys between 1978 and 1983 in London. He became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer because he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London. On 4th November 1983 at the Old Bailey, Dennis Nilsen was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was later changed to a whole life order. He died on 12th May 2018 at York Hospital of a pulmonary embolism and retroperitoneal heammorrhage following surgery.

About Dennis Nilsen

Born on 23rd November 1945 in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire Dennis Nilsen was a quiet but adventurous child. He went on long walks with his grandparents, and growing up was very close to his maternal grandfather who he later described as being a "great hero and protector". When his grandfather died Nilsen became more quiet and withdrawn. At home he rarely participated in family activities and retreated from any attempts by adult family members to show him any affection.

On a trip to the beach at Inverallochy Nilsen became submerged beneath the water and was almost dragged out to sea. He panicked at first, flailing his arms and shouting. As he "gasped for air which wasn't there" he recalled believing his grandfather was about to arrive and pull him out, before experiencing a sense of tranquility. His life was saved by another youth who dragged him ashore.

During puberty Nilsen discovered he was gay but made no efforts to seek sexual contact with any of the peers he was sexually attracted to, but he said he was fondled by an older youth and didn't find the experience unpleasant.

At 14 years old he joined the Army Cadet Force, seeing the British Army as his escape from his rural origins. He enlisted for 9 years' service in September 1961 where he trained as a chef. His training began at St. Omer Barracks in Aldershot where he kept his sexual orientation a secret from his colleagues. Nilsen never showered in the company of his fellow soldiers for fear of developing an erection in their presence; instead opting to bathe alone, which gave him the privacy to masturbate without discovery.

After passing his catering exam he was assigned to the First Battalion of Royal Fusiliers in Osnabruck, Germany. During this deployment he drank more alcohol and on one occasion he and a German youth drank themselves into a stupor. He awoke on the floor of the youth's flat and while no sexual activity had occurred the incident fuelled his sexual fantasies. He served in various stations eventually ending his military 11 year career in Shetland Islands at the rank of Corporal.

After the Army he decided to join the Metropolitan Police and in April 1973 he completed his training and was posted to Willesden Green as a Junior Constable. He performed several arrests but didn't have to subdue a member of of the public. He enjoyed the job but missed the comradeship of the army. Nilsen began to drink alone in the evening and began frequenting gay pubs, having several casual liaisons with men. Eventually he decided his personal lifestyle was at odds with his job and he resigned from the police.


In 1978 Stephen Dean Holmes, a 14 year old last seen on his way home from a rock concert, encountered Nilsen in the Cricklewood Arms. He accepted Nilsen's offer to drink alcohol with him at his flat at Melrose Avenue. The following morning Dennis Nilsen strangled Stephen Holmes with a necktie until he was unconscious and then drowned him in a bucket of water. His body remained under the floorboards of Melrose Avenue for over 7 months before being disposed of upon a bonfire. Stephen Holmes was the only victim not to be dissected before disposal.

I wished I could stop, but I couldn't. I had no other thrill or happiness

Dennis Nilsen

In December 1979 Kenneth Ockenden, a 23 year old Canadian student on a tour of the UK met Nilsen in a pub. He was escorted on a tour of London and agreed to accompany Nilsen to his flat for a meal and further drinks. Kenneth Ockenden was strangled with the cord of Nilsen's headphones as he listened to a record. He was one of few victims who was widely reported as a missing person.

Martyn Duffey, a 16 year old runaway from Birkenhead, met Nilsen at a London railway station as Nilsen returned from a conference in Southport on 17th May 1980. Martyn Duffey was strangled and then drowned in the kitchen sink. Nilsen bathed with the body and placed it on his bed. Two days later Martyn Duffey's body was placed beneath the floorboards of Melrose Avenue.

William Sutherland, a 26 year old father of one who occasionally worked as a male prostitute, met Dennis Nilsen near Piccadilly Circus in August 1980. Nilsen couldn't recall how he murdered William Sutherland other than that he had strangled him as Nilsen stood or knelt in front of his victim.

In September 1980 Nilsen killed a tall Irish labourer with rough hands. Nilsen couldn't remember much about the man but said he wore an old suit and jacket, and his guessed his age to be between 27 and 30 years old. He had met his victim in the Cricklewood Arms. Dennis Nilsen later claimed to have fabricated this victim.

Another unidentified victim followed in October 1980. Nilsen described his sixth victim as a slender male prostitute, approximately 5' 10'', aged between 20 and 30, and of either Filipino or Mexican descent. He said this victim had "gypsy-like features". Nilsen met this victim in the Salisbury Arms.

November 1980 brought another unidentified victim, described as being an English vagrant in his 20s whom Nilsen found sleeping in a doorway at the top of Charing Cross Road. He was emaciated, had a pale complexion and had several teeth missing. Nilsen and the victim took a taxi to Melrose Avenue and that evening the victim was strangled to death as he slept. Nilsen later said he believed his victim's life had been "one of long suffering", and that act of killing this victim had been "as easy as taking candy from a baby".

In November or December of 1980 Nilsen met a "long-haired English hippy" aged between 25 and 30 in the West End after the pubs had closed. This victim's body was kept beneath the floorboards of the flat at Melrose Avenue until Nilsen removed the corpse, cut it into 3 pieces, then put the remains back under the floorboards. He burned the corpse one year later. Dennis Nilsen later claimed to have fabricated this victim.

1981 brought more unidentified victims. Dennis Nilsen's ninth victim, described by Nilsen as an "18 year old, blue-eyed Scott" who wore a green tracksuit top and trainers. He met this victim in the Golden Lion pub in Soho. The victim was killed after a drinking contest with Nilsen at Melrose Avenue. The body was dissected on 12th January 1981.


Nilsen recalled little about his next victim apart from that he was originally from Belfast, was slim, approximately 5' 9'' tall and was in his early 20s. Nilsen had met this victim somewhere in the West End after the pubs had closed. The victim was strangled with a necktie and his body placed beneath the floorboards at Melrose Avenue in February 1981.

Dennis Nilsen's eleventh victim was never identified but he was described by Nilsen as a muscular young English skinhead aged about 20. He met his victim at a food stall in Leicester Square in April 1981. The victim was lured to Nilsen's home on the promise of a meal and alcohol. Nilsen recalled the victim wore a black leather jacket and had a tattoo around his neck that read "cut here", and that he had boasted about how tough he was and how he liked to fight. Nilsen hung this victim's naked torso in his bedroom for 24 hours before putting the body under the floorboards. Dennis Nilsen later claimed to have fabricated this victim.

In September 1981 Dennis Nilsen met his final victim to be murdered at Melrose Avenue. Malcolm Barlow, a 23 year old epileptic orphan who'd spent much of his life in care homes, was murdered after returning to Nilsen's home to thank him for having ensured he received medical attention the previous day. The body was kept in a kitchen cupboard because there was no more room beneath the floorboards.

After moving to Cranley Gardens in 1982 Dennis Nilsen met 23 year old John Howlett. He was the first victim to be killed Cranley Gardens. Nilsen strangled him as he slept in Nilsen's bed  and shouted "it's about time you went" when Howlett awoke to find himself being strangled. Nilsen eventually drowned John Howlett by holding his head under water in a bathtub for five minutes. Nilsen then dismembered the body, flushed portions of flesh and internal organs down the toilet, and placed "large bones out with the rubbish".

In September 1982 Dennis Nilsen killed 27 year old, father of one, Graham Allen, from Motherwell, North Lanarkshire. He met Graham Allen in Shaftesbury Avenue as he tried to hail a cab. Nilsen strangled Graham Allen with a ligature as he sat eating an omelette Nilsen had cooked for him. Nilsen dissected portions of flesh and small bones from Allen's body and these were what subsequently blocked the drains at Cranley Gardens. His body was identified from dental records and healed fractures to his jawbone.

Stephen Sinclair, 20 years old and Dennis Nilsen's final victim. Originally from Perth Stephen Sinclair was a heroin addict who suffered from the habit of self-harming when he Dennis Nilsen. Nilsen bought the youth a hamburger in Oxford Street before asking him back to his flat at Cranley Gardens. Stephen Sinclair drank alcohol and injected heroin at the flat and Nilsen strangled him to death with a ligature. The head, upper torso, and arms were stowed in a tea chest in Nilsen's living room; the lower torso and legs were placed beneath Nilsen's bathtub.

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.

Dennis Nilsen

Discovery and Arrest

Plumbing complaints led to a Dyno-Rod employee discovering a drain packed with a flesh-like substance and numerous small bones. The police were called and upon further inspection more remains were found and sent to the mortuary. Professor David Bowen advised police the remains were human and that one particular piece of flesh had been from a human neck and bore a ligature mark.

Police officers learned the top floor flat, from where the remains had been flushed, belonged to Dennis Nilsen and waited for him to return home from work. Upon his return they requested access to his flat to discuss the matter further. When they entered the flat they noted the odour of rotting flesh. They told Nilsen the blockage had been caused by human remains and he feigned shock, saying "Good grief, how awful!" to which the Investigating Officer DCI Jay responded "Don't mess about, where's the rest of the body?" Nilsen told them it was in two plastic bags in a cupboard and when asked if there were any other body parts he responded "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."


Dennis Nilsen was arrested and cautioned on suspicion of murder and was brought to trial on 24th October 1983 charged with six counts of murder and two of attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty on all counts but was found guilty on 4th November 1983 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 25 years.

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