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‘I Am Not A Monster, I Am A Man. Awkward, Isn’t It?’' Who Was Serial Killer Dennis Nilsen?

Dennis Nilsen admitted killing 15 people when he was arrested in 1983 after a plumber found human flesh in his drainage pipes. 

Dennis Nilsen G

Netflix’s new documentary Memories Of A Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes is based around a series of never-before-heard audio cassettes recorded by one of England’s most vicious serial killers. While he's not a household name in America, Nilsen is as repulsive to those across the pond as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer are in the U.S. 

Nilsen, whom Netflix refers to as “Britain’s most notorious serial killer”, admitted killing 15 people from 1978 to 1983. His five year killing spree came to an abrupt end when his Cranley Gardens neighbors realized there was something wrong with their drains. When a plumber came to fix the pipes, they found them clogged with human flesh and remains, as the docuseries details. This led investigators to Nilsen in 1983.

Nilsen grew up in Scotland and realized he was gay when he was about 8-years-old, according to his cassette tapes. He also claims in the tapes that he was molested by his grandfather. Unlike other serial killers who killed animals as a child, he rescued birds. His mother told the United Kingdom's The Press and Journal in 2020 that he'd nurse injured ones back to health. He went on to join the army before moving to Britain where he worked as a security guard before becoming a police officer.

Detective sergeant Bob Brenton, who once worked with Nilsen, described him in the documentary as someone who would drop his head and avoid eye contact when spoken to. 

“A real loner,” he called him. In his tapes, Nilsen says he resigned due to homophobia in the department.

A few years before the murders began, Brenton was dispatched to Nilsen’s home after a teen boy jumped out his three-story window and injured himself, requiring around 100 stitches. The teen claimed he was plied with alcohol and that, when he woke up, he was naked and Nilsen was attacking him. The victim’s family didn’t want him to testify so Nilsen was never charged. Brenton called him a “dangerous psychopath” in the paperwork from that file.

Nilsen targeted young men he believed wouldn't be missed if they disappeared. In that regard, he was very similar to John Wayne Gacy who also targeted boys  dismissed as delinquents and runaways by society. Several of Nilsen's victims were homeless and many were sex workers. Some were drug users. Many were gay at a time of institutionalized homophobia. He’d lure them back to his home, strangle them, and dispose of their bodies under the floorboards and later in the toilet or a bonfire in the backyard, the Scottish Sun reported last year. But before disposing of their bodies, he’d often defile their remains sexually, while often dousing them in talcum powder.  

Of the victims, only eight have been officially identified by investigators: Graham Allen, 27, Malcom Barlow, 23, Martyn Duffey, 16, Stephen Holmes, 14, John Howlett, 23, Kenneth Ockenden, 23, Stephen Sinclair, 20, and William Sutherland, 26.

Nilsen was sentenced to life in prison in 1983 after being found guilty of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder. His defense tried to unsuccessfully argue that he was insane at the time of the murders. 

‘I am not a monster, I am a man,” the serial killer stated in his tapes. “Awkward, isn’t it?’

The serial killer produced around 250 hours worth of tapes while behind bars. He co-wrote a biography Killing For Company in 1985 before writing his own memoir History Of A Drowning Boy, Yahoo! Entertainment reports. The memoir was banned from release until after his death; it was published this year. 

In prison, he was allowed to keep two budgie birds, named Hamish and Tweetles, the Times reported in January.

Nilsen died at the age of 72 in May 2018, the BBC reported. He reportedly died of natural causes. His official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism and retroperitoneal hemorrhage following a surgery, Metro reported in 2019.

Memories Of A Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes” hits Netflix on Aug. 18.

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