On this day in history : 24th October 1983 – Dennis Nilsen, a civil servant from North London, goes on trial at the Old Bailey – accused of six murders and two attempted murders….

Mug shot of Nilsen – Full Sutton Prison – Fair use

37-year-old Nilsen had been arrested after human remains were found in a blocked drain at his home in Muswell Hill…. The tenants at the flats had complained to the landlord about the drains smelling – it was a plumber who made the grisly discovery….

Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill – where Nilsen occupied an attic flat – Image credit : Chris Whippet CC BY-SA 2.0

After a search of Nilsen’s flat the remains of three bodies were found; the bones from at least eight others were discovered at his former home in Cricklewood, Northwest London…. Nilsen admitted to further murders, telling police he had killed fifteen or sixteen….

Nilsen would meet his victims in pubs; they were always male – some were homeless, some were homosexual and some were prostitutes…. He would invite them back to his flat for a drink – and would then strangle them using a tie or electrical cable…. He would usually spend the night lying in bed beside the corpse and would invariably have, or attempt to have, sex with it….

He disposed of the bodies in a variety of ways…. He hid them under floorboards, in a wardrobe, in suitcases and even under the sink…. Having spent eleven years in the Army he had learned butchery skills in the Catering Corps…. He cut up many of his victims, burying limbs in the garden – or burning body parts on a bonfire…. He even flushed remains down the toilet….

Fair use

When Nilsen came to trial he pleaded not guilty to all charges, citing diminished responsibility due to a mental defect…. The jury retired on the 3rd of November to deliberate but were unable to reach a unanimous verdict…. The next day the judge agreed to accept a majority verdict and at 4.25pm on the 4th of November a guilty verdict was delivered an all six counts of murder…. Nielsen was sentenced to life in prison and it was ordered that he should not be eligible for parole for 25 years….

During his time in prison Nilsen wrote his autobiography History of the Drowning Man – but this was denied publication…. On the 12th of May 2018 he died of a pulmonary embolism (a blockage in an artery of the lungs)….

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