In February 1983, the residents of 23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill started having problems with their drains. Calling out a plumber, the blockage would turn out to be much, much worse than the usual toilet blockages, as well as accounting for the terrible smell that had been permeating the house for some time. The resident in the attic flat had been flushing human flesh. Quickly arrested, Dennis Nilsen was extremely forthcoming with the police. As well as immediately copping to having bodies hid in his wardrobe awaiting disposal, police asked him if they were dealing with one body or two. Nilsen calmly replied “Fifteen or sixteen, since 1978.”
Born in a remote Scottish fishing village, Nilsen was an extremely withdrawn child. With even his mum stating she never felt she could cuddle him, Nilsen bonded with only one person throughout his childhood – his grandfather. When his grandfather died at sea and was brought home for burial, 6 year old Nilsen was awoken (without having been told his grandfather had died) and asked if he wanted to see him. It is now thought that the image of his grandfather’s corpse made an unbreakable link within his mind, equating love with a dead body.
Nilsen had a range of careers whilst maturing – first in the Army catering corps (where he learned butchery skills), then as a police officer, and eventually in the Jobcentre. He remained, however, unequipped to make lasting friendships, his strident personality proving off-putting to most (check out his home video footage to get an idea of what he’d have been like as company, forever monologuing with no-one else able to get a word in edgeways). Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Nilsen would also spend his nights out looking for male company, so many of whom would never make it out of his house alive. Strangling his victims, Nilsen would then spend days ‘caring’ for the corpse – bathing, dressing and posing his victims as though they were still alive – hiding them under the floorboards for days and weeks at a time before removing them to spend more time with them, only disposing of them when the stench of decomposition became too much to realistically hide.
Killing for Company is an excellent true crime book, looking at the psychological and sociological aspects of Nilsen’s make-up as well as providing documentation of his crimes. That it is able to do this so well is partly due to Nilsen’s behaviour post-capture. Much like Ed Kemper, Nilsen was not only intelligent and articulate, but extremely forthcoming with the police as well as with the book’s author, with his own diaries providing a lot of material around his thoughts and behaviours both during and after his crimes.
This isn’t an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fascinating and very informative look at one of Britain’s most notorious killers.