• Emma

Dissecting my two decade obsession with Dennis Nilsen


David Tennant makes an eerily accurate Dennis Nilsen in the first promo for a new ITV drama

I’d never given David Tennant a second glance until I saw him in character as Dennis Nilsen, my “favourite” serial killer since childhood.


Even though he was arrested before I was born, the dour-faced Scotsman, who strangled or drowned at least 15 men to death, hid their bodies beneath his floorboards and would sometimes get them out to bath and defile them, has always completely fascinated me.


It can be hard to understand how people can have a favourite murderer - but for me, it all began at school with my friend Sarah.


We attended an all girls school, and while some male fantasies would have you believe this equals a school of Britney Spears looking teens lusting after each other, this was 100% not the case for us.


Our time was spent writing X Files fan fiction, planning weekend trips to buy limited edition 7” singles, swapping tapes of hastily recorded MTV Headbanger’s Ball, seeing how many mange tout we could fit in our mouths at once, talking about WWE, having secret after school screenings of Faces of Death - and in the case of me and Sarah, learning basic web design so we could make a Geocities site (it was 1999!) about why Dennis Nilsen - at that point the UK’s most prolific serial killer - should be released from prison immediately and signed in to our care so we could befriend him.


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Our online exploits didn’t make us particularly popular with some of the boys we knew. Now not only did we have to put up with them singing “who let the dogs out?” at us, we were fast gaining a reputation as being genuine freaks, who wanted to sacrifice someone in honour to their imprisoned idol.


It all began when three boys from a nearby school joined our sixth form. One, we noticed, a quiet lad called Keith, looked just like Dennis.


Interest sparked (not in Keith, I don’t think he even ever spoke to us, we were bottom of the hot league of our 100-girl sixth form), we bought Brian Master’s seminal book, Killing For Company - and discovered that our boring little town had previous history with the Scottish brute.


For a time, Dennis had had a job at the Film and Television School that was minutes from our own high school. We began walking there in our lunch breaks, looking at it and trying to imagine seeing Dennis having a fag out the side.

Dennis in chef mode while he was in the army

While many have read Killing For Company and been (rightly) sickened, as hormonal teens (and only slightly less unhinged as we are as adults), we saw someone who just wanted a friend, and missed his grandad.


I also saw a man who loved his dog, and I remember feeling desperately sorry for Bleep - or ‘Blip’ as the police kennels called her as Nilsen’s accent was so thick. Tragically, Bleep was put to sleep three days after his arrest.


As far as I was concerned, Dennis wasn’t like the other serial killers - they all tortured animals, but he dearly loved his pet.

Sweet gentle Bleep

Later I would come to understand that it would have been horrendous for that poor dog to be locked in a house full of rotting bodies, smell corpses burning on a bonfire, and see her “dad” fuck dead people.


There was also another surprise in store.... everything I had pinned my sympathy for “Des”on - who single-handedly triggered my fetish for Scottish accents - had been a lie.


Fast forward to 2003 and another Dennis Nilsen book was released. Written by Russ Coffey, who had been given access to the twisted autobiography Dennis had written while in prison - a text the Home Office has banned from ever being released as it was “pornographic” and “obscene” - it brought everything I thought I knew about Dennis in to question.

In these new memoirs, direct from Dennis’ mouth and complete with gory diagrams, he reminisced about torturing and killing a cat.


It was like someone had smashed an enchanted mirror and I could finally see him for what he was. A cowardly, narcissistic, cold-blooded piece of shit.


But similar to how last year’s When The Screaming Stops showed how Brosettes still go mad for Matt and Luke almost 40 years after their heyday, when I saw The Artist Formerly Known As Doctor Who in that ill-fitting blue shirt and those iconic wire-rimmed aviators, my heart skipped a beat.


Because it’s true. You never forget your first crush.




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