Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dennis Nilsen

**New Chapter: Nilsen's First Victim Only a Boy

Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen

In recent years, British authorities have thwarted Dennis Nilsen's attempt to publish his five-volume, 4,000-page memoir, apparently called "A History of a Drowning Boy, Papers From a Prisoner."  Yet he's found a new means of getting some press a letter to an editor.

Now 60 and incarcerated since 1983, Nilsen told police the details of his first murder, and on November 4, 2006, he sent a three-page letter from Full Sutton Prison to an editor of The Evening Standard.  While in carefully printed prose he discussed the recent development, out of "consideration for the victim's family" he declined to provide the most graphic details.  Numerous papers covered this event, especially London-based media such as the Times, and the letter was posted online.

In it, Nilsen described his encounter with the fourteen-year-old boy whose death, he once had stated, had "changed my life as I knew it."  His name was Stephen Dean Holmes and, despite his youth, Nilsen apparently met him in the Cricklewood Arms pub.  That was in 1978, twenty-eight years ago.  While Nilsen wrote that Stephen was the first of twelve victims, the police estimate that he actually killed at least 15.  He has said he'll assist in the identification of all of his victims, but seven remain unidentified.  Stephen was once in this group, because at the time of Nilsen's arrest, he had not known who the boy was.  He'd been on a drunken binge during their encounter and later could not find identification papers on the body.  Thus, Nilsen was not charged with this murder when tried for six others.

Yet the police had not given up.  In 1990, they had taken a blurred photograph of Stephen Homes to show Nilsen, but he'd been unable to say whether the boy pictured was the one he'd killed.  Then in January 2006, Stephen's family provided a better photo.  Detectives showed it to Nilsen and he made the identification: Stephen was his first homicide victim. 

Using what would become his usual MO, he'd invited Stephen back to his house for a beer.  They drank together throughout the night and Stephen stayed over.  When Nilsen woke up, he panicked that Stephen would now leave him, so he used a tie to strangle him.  Stephen fought but finally passed out and Nilsen drowned him in a bucket.  Faced with the difficulty of disposing of the corpse, he placed it beneath the floorboards of his flat.  Over the course of eight months, he examined it out of curiosity and finally burned the remains in the back garden until nothing was left but teeth and bone fragments.  Nilsen claims that at one point he urged the police to use these items to help identify Stephen but had learned that they'd been disposed of.

The Timesonline offered a few details about Stephen, born in Hampstead to Irish parents. Heterosexual and popular, he enjoyed football and rock and roll. In fact, he had disappeared on his way home from a concert.  Apparently, he'd gone into the pub, possibly to warm up, before catching a bus home.  Instead, he met Nilsen.  Although Stephen's mother died four years ago without learning what had happened to him, his father is still alive.

While the Crown may charge Nilsen with this homicide, it's unlikely to go to trial, since he's already in prison for life.  It will depend on whether the Prosecutor's Office believes they have sufficient evidence and that a trial will serve the public's interest.

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