Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


What's Done in Secret — Nilsen

Human Skulls
Human Skulls

Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen, like Gein, were both ordinary people who became quiet killers, merging their growing sexual excitement over corpses with an intense loneliness that they wanted to alleviate.

Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen lived in London and picked up his victims in pubs.  As Brian Masters, author of the definitive biography of Nilsen put it, he was "killing for company."  Before he ever killed, he'd experienced an erotic attraction to death, so he would spend hours lying in front of a mirror, pretending to be dead.  There was something about the vulnerability that stirred in him an intense hunger.  He also invited a few lovers to role-play his fantasy, but then things got more serious.

His first murder occurred in 1978.  He strangled a man he barely knew with a necktie, completely caught up in the eroticism of having this kind of power over another, and then placed him beneath the floorboards of his apartment.  Once having tasted the climatic pleasure of this activity, he found ways to repeat it.

He continued to invite men to his home, strangling them, bathing the corpses, sometimes taking them to bed, usually attempting sexual contact, and finally butchering them or storing them in various places in his apartments.  He especially loved the first night with them when he could have them in his bed before decomposition made them smelly and messy.  He was enraptured with the fact that they couldn't get up and leave.  That meant that he was in total control.  Sometimes after he bathed them, he'd then soak in the same water and then he would decide their fate: store them, sit them in a chair, or cut them up and distribute the parts.  With experience as a butcher, he had no trouble dissecting them and boiling the flesh from their skulls.  To him, the entire procedure was a loving act, the last that these men would know.  That idea gave Nilsen a great deal of satisfaction.

Often he flushed parts down the toilet, which eventually proved to be his undoing.  When the septic system clogged in the building, an investigation led to Nilsen and without hesitation, he pointed out a closet where police found the dismembered parts of two different men.  Another torso was found in his tea chest, along with a number of old bones, and he was arrested.  He then confessed to killing 15 men over a period of five years, partly because the idea of them leaving his apartment made him feel alone and partly because he simply enjoyed it. In prison, he made drawings of their corpses and body parts.


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