WRITERS OF GORY CRIME NOVELS need a fertile – if not downright disturbing – imagination, but it is difficult to think of anyone who could have invented Dennis Nilsen. Between 1978 and 1983 he murdered – and then butchered – a series of young men who had been lured into his houses, 195 Melrose Avenue and 23 Cranley Gardens. On the face of it, the two properties (below) couldn’t look less sinister if they tried.
Both houses are harmless suburbia writ large. They might be the subject of a gently mocking John Betjeman poem, but Houses of Horror – surely not? Think again!
Nilsen (left) preyed on young men who were often lost and alone in London. He murdered them, so he claims, so that they would not leave him. To ensure their continuing post-mortem presence, he would wrap their bodies in polythene and conceal them beneath the floorboards, regularly spraying with with deodorant as the corpses putrified. When he tired of this game, he would dismember what was left of his young victims, and then try to dispose of the body parts via the toilet. Sometimes, when this was too difficult, the limbs were boiled to remove the flesh, thus making disposal more straightforward. When he had access to a garden space, at Melrose Avenue, many of the victims were eventually consumed by that most normal of activities – the garden bonfire.
Nilsen’s catalogue of horror closed in 1983 when an employee of Dyno Rod discovered the cause of the smell and the drain blockages near the house in Cranley Gardens. Nilsen was duly arrested, and confessed to the murders. At his trial, the only major dispute was the question of his sanity, and his fitness to stand trial. He was found guilty of six counts of murder and one of attempted murder.He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum stipulation of twenty five years. It would be a brave – or suicidal – Home Secretary who would ever agree to his release.