Please note this article contains details which some readers may find disturbing.
In May 2018 one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers- Dennis Nilsen– died in prison after spending 35 years behind bars for a string of gruesome murders committed during the late 1970s and early 80s.
These crimes were intrinsically linked to two north London addresses, the second of which would grant the bespectacled killer his sinister nickname; ‘The Muswell Hill Murderer.’
Nilsen was born on 23rd November 1945 in Fraserburgh, a remote Scottish fishing town located 40 miles north of Aberdeen.
Nilsen’s father- Olav Magnus Moksheim- was a Norwegian soldier who’d travelled to Scotland during World War Two. Unfortunately he was also an alcoholic and soon abandoned the family, meaning the four year old Dennis looked towards his grandfather as a paternal figure.
Although Nilsen was still young when his beloved grandfather died, his mother insisted her son view the body before the funeral; an event which Nilsen would later claim made him develop a disturbing obsession with corpses.
When he was 16 Nilsen signed up with the army where he trained to be a chef, mastering butchery skills which, as we’ll soon see, were later put to ghastly efficient use.
After serving in West Germany, Aden and Northern Ireland Nilsen left the military in the early 70s and headed to London where he enrolled with the Metropolitan Police Force, spending a brief period as an officer stationed at Willesden Green.
He soon realised however that law enforcement wasn’t for him and so adopted a new role as a civil servant, working at a JobCentre on Denmark Street– a small road in the heart of London’s West End nicknamed ‘Tin Pan Alley‘ which has long been associated with the music industry.
The JobCentre in which Nilsen worked has since been transformed into a branch of the Fernadez and Wells cafe chain.
In the autumn of 1975 Nilsen intervened to rescue a young man named David Gallichan who was being threatened outside a pub.
He invited David back to his bedsit on Cricklewood’s Teignmouth Road and the pair quickly embarked upon a relationship.
However, after the couple moved a short distance to a larger flat at 195 Melrose Avenue, David- who Nilsen nicknamed ‘Twinkle‘- quickly came to realise that Nilsen was short-tempered and verbally abusive.
Dennis Nilsen’s abrasive attitude can be witnessed in a number of Cine Films which he and David shot during this period…click below to view.
After one particularly explosive argument in 1977, David decided to pack his bags and leave- a lucky escape in hindsight.
Now alone, Nilsen began drinking heavily and it was whilst boozing in the Cricklewood Arms on the 30th December 1978 that he encountered his first victim; a 14 year old Irish youth named Stephen Holmes.
Stephen had been to a concert in Willesden and was returning home to Kilburn when he decided to try his luck in the pub. When the youngster was refused service at the bar, Nilsen- who claimed he thought Stephen was 17- invited the lad back to Melrose Avenue for a drink.
Following a heavy session, he awoke at dawn to find Stephen still fast asleep.
“I was afraid to awake him in case he left me” Nilsen would later state, adding “He was going to stay with me over the New Year whether he wanted to or not.”
With this grim decision made, Nilsen strangled the sleeping youngster with a necktie before plunging his head into a bucket of water.
When interviewed about Stephen’s murder, Nilsen chillingly said, “I had started down the avenue of death and possession of a new kind of flat-mate.”
Stephen’s body was stashed beneath the floorboards where it would remain for eight months until Nilsen decided to burn the remains in the back garden; a plot of land to which he conveniently had exclusive access.
Nilsen’s second recorded victim was a 23 year old Canadian tourist named Kenneth Ockendon who he met during a lunchtime drinking session at the Princess Louise pub on Holborn in December 1979.
As twilight set in and London’s Christmas lights began to sparkle, Nilsen gave Kenneth a guided tour of the city.
He then invited the Canadian back to his flat for a nightcap and as the pair knocked back alcohol Nilsen suggested Kenneth should listen to some of his records- which were largely defined by experimental music such as Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and The Who’s rock-opera, Tommy.
As Kenneth donned a pair of headphones and zoned out, Nilsen slunk behind his chair, grabbed the headphone cord and used it to garrotte his guest.
Once again, Nilsen hid his victim’s remains beneath the floorboards- although he would sometimes haul Kenneth’s corpse out on certain evenings and eerily rest it beside him whilst watching television.
A new decade was now on the horizon and with it would come many more murders…
In his seemingly normal everyday life, Dennis Nilsen- or ‘Den’ as he was known to his colleagues at the Denmark Street Jobcentre where he worked- was a staunch trade unionist and in May 1980 he attended a union conference in Southport.
After this sojourn he caught a train back to Euston station and it was at the bustling terminal he encountered his third victim: 16 year old Martyn Duffey.
Martyn was a troubled young man from Birkenhead who’d hitchhiked to London four days previously and was already sleeping rough.
Feigning a good Samaritan routine, Nilsen invited the youth back to Melrose Avenue with the offer of food and a clean bed.
Once his grateful guest was asleep, Nilsen crawled upon the sheets and pinned him down with his knees. He then twisted a custom made ligature around Martyn’s neck and throttled the youngster. Although Nilsen put all of his might into the attack he noticed Martyn was still breathing and so dragged his limp victim into the kitchen where he completed the evil deed by drowning the teen in the sink.
As 1980 progressed Nilsen began to kill so often- and was always blind drunk when he did so- that he could recall fewer of his victims’ personal details.
He was however clear about dates and would later become infuriated with the press when they made mistakes regarding them.
He knew his fourth victim was named Billy Sutherland; a male prostitute who he killed in August 1980, but of the murder itself he could remember nothing, simply stating he woke up to find “another dead body.”
The next slew of victims were men who’d existed on the fringes of society and as such their identities remain unknown to this day.
In September there was an Irish labourer, of whom Nilsen could only recall he had rough hands.
In October there was a man who he believed to be either Mexican or Filipino who he met in the Salisbury pub.
In November, a homeless man he’d discovered dossing in a doorway on Charing Cross Road– when strangled, Nilsen recalled that this victim kicked his legs in the air as if pedalling a bicycle.
In December 1980 he murdered a “long haired hippy”.
After killing each victim Nilsen would bathe the body before keeping it around the house for days on end as a bizarre form of company; chatting to the corpse when he returned home from work, sitting it beside him whilst watching television and, perhaps most disturbingly of all, even sharing his bed with it.
Once decomposition set it Nilsen would use the butchery skills he’d mastered as an army chef to dissect the bodies and then hide the severed parts beneath the floorboards. As for the organs, he’d toss them into an alley for birds and foxes to pick at.
On one occasion he stuffed entrails into a shopping bag which he absently dumped on the pavement whilst walking his beloved dog, Bleep.
This gruesome package was discovered by a member of the public who handed it into police- although the find led nowhere.
Unsurprisingly, the stench in Nilsen’s flat was appalling; so much so that the neighbours had cause to complain. They also noted how Nilsen kept his windows permanently open, even in the winter.
By late 1980 the sheer number of body parts was becoming a real problem for Nilsen and so towards the end of the year he built a large bonfire in the garden which he used to cremate the remains, heaping old tyres on top of the pyre to disguise the smell.
But still the killing continued.
In January 1981 he met an “18 year old blue-eyed Scot” in the Golden Lion, Soho who he invited home for a drinking contest.
In February, there was a victim who Nilsen knew only as the “Belfast Boy” and in April a skinhead who he met in Leicester Square.
This individual had a tattoo around his neck; a dashed line bearing the words ‘cut here’- an instruction which Nilsen took quite literally when carving up the body for disposal.
Again, the identities of these men murdered in Cricklewood remains a mystery…
It is estimated Dennis Nilsen murdered 11 men at 195 Melrose Avenue, the last being 24 year old Malcolm Barlow who, on the 17th September 1981, had the misfortune to fall ill outside the notorious address.
Curiously, Nilsen didn’t take immediate advantage of Malcolm’s condition, choosing instead to help by phoning an ambulance.
The following day Nilsen discovered Malcolm- who’d come to thank the stranger for his kindness- perched on his doorstep. Nilsen asked the young man in for a drink but soon considered him a “nuisance” and proceeded to choke his guest to death.
Days later, the landlord requested Nilsen vacate the property as it was due a renovation. This prompted Nilsen to build another bonfire on which to cremate the remains of his most recent victims.
Then, on the 5th October 1981, he moved to an attic flat at 23 Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill.
With no garden and zero chance of hiding bodies beneath the floorboards, this was possibly a conscious choice by the serial killer who claimed he was desperate for his spree to cease.
But still he continued.
The first victim murdered at Cranley Gardens was 23 year old John Howlett who he met whilst drinking near Leicester Square. As usual, Nilsen invited him home where the pair drank until John passed out. Rudely awakened to find himself being strangled, John put up a ferocious fight and almost succeeded in killing Nilsen himself.
Then, in June 1982, Nilsen spotted 27 year old Graham Allen attempting to flag a taxi on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Nilsen stepped in and the pair ended up sharing the cab back to Cranley Gardens. Of this murder, Nilsen recalled few details; simply that he’d cooked an omelette for Graham before murdering him and then kept his body in the bathtub for several days.
Nilsen’s final victim was Stephen Sinclair, a troubled young man who he encountered on January 26th 1983.
As he’d done with previous victims, Nilsen invited Stephen to listen to records- his favourite at the time being ‘O Superman’; an eerie electronic song by Laurie Anderson.
As Stephen listened through headphones, Nilsen attacked from behind, strangling him with a ligature.
To dispose of these bodies Nilsen had to improvise, dissecting each corpse and boiling the parts in a large pot on the stove.
Once the flesh softened he’d cut it into small pieces which were unceremoniously flushed down the toilet.
Unsurprisingly a blockage soon ensued- which Nilsen himself complained about- and so, on February 8th 1983, Dyno-Rod employee Michael Cattran came to assess the problem.
It didn’t take long to discover the drains were clogged with a gunky mass of flesh and bone. As Michael worked, Nilsen popped down to see what was going on, gruesomely remarking, “It looks to me like someone has been flushing down their Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
The next evening, Nilsen returned home from work to find Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay and two other police officers stationed outside his door.
When informed that they’d come to discuss the matter of human remains, Nilsen feigned ignorance, exclaiming, “Good grief, how awful!” Dismissing this act- and having already noted the horrendous stench in the flat- Inspector Jay bluntly said, “Don’t mess about, where’s the rest of the body?”
Nilsen calmly replied it was in two plastic bags in the wardrobe, adding “It’s a long story… I’ll tell you everything. I want to get it off my chest.”
Arrested on suspicion of murder he was driven to Hornsey police station and, during the short ride, matter-of-factly hinted at the sheer number of people he’d killed. After being charged he was remanded in Brixton prison.
Dennis Nilsen was tried at the Old Bailey during autumn 1983 and, after considerable debate as to wether or not he was insane, was found guilty on six counts of murder. After describing the “unforgettable tales of horror” associated with the case, the judge sentenced Nilsen to a minimum of 25 years.
The clip below is a news report broadcast shortly after Nilsen’s imprisonment.
In 1994 Nilsen’s sentence was upped to a whole life tariff meaning he was condemned to remain behind bars for the rest of his life- which he did, dying at HMP Full Sutton, East Yorkshire on 12th May 2018 aged 72.
(This is Part Two of Lord Camelford’s story. For Part One, please click here)
Despite a notorious incident in which he’d assaulted his former captain, George Vancouver on Mayfair’s Conduit Street, Thomas Pitt the 2nd Baron of Camelford was permitted to remain in the navy.
Quickly rising through the ranks, he was made commander of HMS Favourite aged just 22- a controversial choice given it bypassed Camelford’s senior, Charles Peterson.
Although Peterson himself was soon granted command of HMS Perdrix a bitter rivalry festered between the two.
This came to a head when both ships were docked in Antigua and Camelford gave an order to Peterson who, claiming it was not conducive to his own vessel, refused to obey.
This resulted in a tense standoff, during which Camelford asked, “Do you still persist in not obeying my orders?” To which Peterson replied, “Yes my lord. I do persist.”
With that, Camelford stepped forward and shot Peterson dead at point-blank range.
Despite this cold-blooded killing, Camelford was acquitted.
When he returned to London in autumn 1798 Lord Camelford conjured up a plot in which he planned to personally assassinate the nation’s arch enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Packing a brace of pistols, a dagger and a “Letter of introduction to the French” Lord Camelford caught a night coach to Dover where he chartered a boat, comically claiming he had a collection of fine watches and fabrics he intended to sell to potential French bargain hunters.
As Britain was at war with France during this period any attempt to cross the Channel was punishable by death.
Fully aware of this, the boat’s skipper instead took Camelford straight to the authorities who, once again, set the Lord free, this time claiming “His only motive had been to render a service to his country.”
Nevertheless, Camelford was disgusted and quit the navy in protest.
Now a man of leisure, Lord Camelford once again took to menacing the people of London.
In May 1799 he was one of “Several gentleman intoxicated with liquor” who instigated a riot at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
During the brawl, boxes, doors and windows were splintered and smashed and Camelford punched and kicked a man down a flight of stairs.
As a result, he had to cough up £500 in damages- about £22,000 in today’s money.
Around this time Camelford also employed a servant; a black American named Bill Richmond.
Bill had been born a slave on Staten Island, New York but made it to England in 1777 where he rose to become a celebrated bareknuckle fighter.
A known boxing fan, it’s believed Camelford encouraged Bill to teach him some moves and the two men attended a number of prize-fights together.
Bill and Lord Camelford could also be seen frequenting London’s many taverns- apparently, the pugilistic peer’s favourite ruse was to stir up drunken trouble so he could delight in watching Bill knock people spark out.
Bill Richmond would later go on to own a pub named the Horse and Dolphin near Leicester Square and became close friends with fellow boxer and publican, Tom Cribb.
Indeed it was in Tom’s pub on Panton Street that Bill spent his final evening before passing away at the age of 66.
In January 1802 Britain and France announced peace with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens (a declaration which would soon transpire to be short-lived).
Properties across London were lit in celebration but Camelford’s residence on the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane remained resolutely dark; no doubt due to his cynicism and the fact he’d been prevented from having a crack at bumping off Napoleon.
Consequently a mob gathered outside and began breaking Camelford’s windows in protest at his lack of participation in the festivities.
Unperturbed, Lord Camelford armed himself with a club and stepped outside to tackle the crowd, beating them back single-handed until they were subdued.
In March 1804 Camelford became embroiled in a spat over a woman with his former friend, Captain Best.
After a charged meeting at a coffee house on Oxford Street, Camelford refused to withdraw insulting comments that he’d made.
Only one course of action therefore was left to the two rogues: a duel which was to be held in the grounds of Holland House.
Camelford knew his old pal was a far better shot- but backing down would mean cowardice and that was not an option.
When the two turned to fire, Camelford missed but Best’s bullet found its mark, puncturing his foe’s lung. The bullet also destroyed part of Camelford’s spine, paralysing him.
With the score settled, Captain Best rushed to his old friend and tried to comfort him.
As the pair gripped hands, Lord Camelford assured the victor, “You have killed me, but I freely forgive you.”
Camelford spent the next three days in agony, during which time he managed to compose his will. In it, he stated that his impending death was his own fault; lost “In a contest of my own seeking” and that nobody was to take proceedings against his antagonist.
On March 10th 1804 Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Lord of Camelford finally succumbed to his injuries. He was 29 years old and had no heir, meaning the Camelford peerage died with him.
Following his death, Lord Camelford’s body was embalmed and placed in a crypt beneath St Anne’s Church in Soho.
This was intended to be a temporary measure: in his will, Lord Camelford had stated his desire to be buried on the shores of Lake St. Pierre in Switzerland- a place that had been dear to him since childhood- and his body was to lay in St Anne’s only until transport to The Continent could be arranged.
However, whilst stored in the crypt the corpse inexplicably vanished…
To this day, the fate and current whereabouts of the thuggish Lord’s body remains a complete mystery.
They say “Money doesn’t buy class.”
This was certainly true of Thomas Pit, the 2nd Baron of Camelford; an obnoxious figure from the late 18th century who by all accounts was a thug, a bully and, as those at the time described him, a “desperate bruiser.”
Pitt was born in Cornwall in 1775. His father, also called Thomas, owned property on Hanover Square and was a career politician who eventually gained a peerage to the House of Lords.
The young Pitt was educated at Charterhouse School (which was then located close to Smithfield Market but has since moved to Surrey) but he soon grew bored of education and, against his father’s wishes, decided instead to pursue a career in the Royal Navy.
Aged just 16, Pitt signed up to join the crew of the HMS Discovery which had been tasked with exploring America’s Pacific coast.
During the long voyage Pitt proved to be quite a handful.
As well as smashing a delicate navigational device he also slept on duty, dabbled in illicit trade and pursued amorous liaisons with native islanders; activities which were strictly forbidden.
For these misdemeanours the ship’s Captain, George Vancouver (after who the Canadian city is named), had Pitt flogged and was eventually forced to have him placed in irons.
Although harsh, such punishments were not unusual at the time and what appeared to infuriate Pitt most was the fact he was made to sit shackled alongside his more ‘common’ shipmates.
Unable to cope with such ruthless authority, Pitt was discharged whilst docked in Hawaii and had no other choice but to find his own way home.
Whilst away, his father died meaning the peerage was passed on; an inheritance which ensured the young tearaway was officially a Lord by the time he finally made it back to London.
In 1795 Captain Vancouver also returned to London. His expedition had been utterly gruelling- out of 153 men, only 6 had made it back.
Vancouver settled in Petersham, south-west London where he hoped to enjoy the view from Richmond Hill and pursue the quiet life: a simple desire which was soon blighted when Thomas Pitt discovered his old commander was back in town.
Hellbent on revenge, the newly made Lord sent a letter to his former tormentor which was packed with insults and challenged him to a duel; a bout which he hoped would “Give him satisfaction for his injuries.”
When Vancouver refused, Pitt vowed to track him down in person, finally succeeding in September 1796 when he cornered his nemesis on Conduit Street (which branches off of Regent Street )and administered a ferocious beating with a cane.
The attack, which became popular gossip in London after being satirised in a cartoon, left an already weakened Vancouver in very poor health and he passed away soon after.
Pitt however faced no repercussions, largely due to his privileged connections.
Following this encounter, Pitt continued to exude a violent nature which struck fear in many Londoners.
He was especially fond of roaming the streets in search of potential crooks and troublemakers to rough up; a pastime known as ‘Boxing the Watch’.
In one incident he battered a tollgate keeper black and blue after claiming to have been given counterfeit pennies in change- a trifling sum for a man of such wealth.
Pitt’s fearsome reputation was further bolstered by his dog, ‘Trusty’; a bull-terrier brutalised into becoming a champion fighting dog.
During his career, Trusty endured 104 bouts and remained unbeaten. Pitt later gifted his prized pet to ‘Fighting Jim Belcher’; the celebrated bare-knuckle boxer, explaining that “The only unconquered man was the only fit master for the only unconquered dog.”
Fortunately, it appears Trusty received kinder treatment from Jim and was able to live out his days in the Jolly Brewers, a former Wardour Street pub taken over by the boxer in his retirement.
For Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron of Camelford however there would be a great deal more violence, controversy and murder to follow…