This Is How Serial Killer Dennis Nilsen Was Finally Caught

Known in the press as the Muswell Hill Murderer, Scottish-born serial killer Dennis Nilsen tormented young men and boys who lived in the North London area from 1978 to 1983. Nilsen is believed to have murdered at least 12 people, although he confessed to having closer to 15 or 16 victims, many of whom may have been homeless or otherwise vulnerable, according to The Sun. His killing spree began in late 1978, while he was living at 195 Melrose Avenue in North London. Nilsen would often pick up his victims in pubs. He would convince them to come back with him to his home, where he would strangle them, and eventually burn or bury their bodies in the back garden, according to Biography.

In 1982, Nilsen moved to the top floor of 23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill. He continued his depraved killing spree, although he no longer had access to a back garden. Without a convenient place to dispose of his victims’ bodies, Nilsen began cutting up their remains and flushing them down the toilet. As a result, Nilsen’s crimes were finally brought to an end thanks to a plumber named Michael Cattran in 1983. Cattran, who was employed by the plumbing service Dyno-Rod, was sent to 23 Cranley Gardens on February 8, 1983, responding to repeated complaints from residents in the building that their drains were blocked.

A plumber uncovered human remains in Nilsen's pipes

Once Cattran opened up the pipes in the building, he discovered what he described to the Daily Mirror as “lumps of flesh the size of my fist and strips of flesh that looked as though they had been cut from an arm.” “I was trying to think what sort of animal it could be. As I was prodding around, I thought it’s obviously not a dog, there’s no fur. It’s not a chicken — not that much of it. It was all bruised up, and eventually I got to thinking that it had to be a body,” he explained.

Per Murderpedia, Nilsen, in a last-ditch attempt to escape detection, spent that night underneath the manhole, clearing the remains from the drains. However, this only raised suspicion when Cattran returned the next day with his boss to find the bulk of the remains suddenly gone. They alerted the authorities, who uncovered the remaining scraps of flesh, as well as human bone, that had been left in the drain. Once the pathologist David Bowen confirmed the remains were human, police returned to Cranley Gardens to arrest Nilsen. According to Biography, Nilsen readily confessed to the crimes, even directing detectives to garbage bags full of human body parts stored around his apartment. 

Dennis Nilsen was sentenced to life imprisonment on six counts of murder and two charges of attempted murder. He remained imprisoned at Full Sutton maximum security prison until his death in 2018, per Newsweek.

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