Des on ITV: Who were Dennis Nilsen’s victims?

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Des is due to air on ITV on September 14 and it stars David Tennant as the Scottish killer from the 80s, Dennis Nilsen. The three-part drama series documents the case from when Nilsen was caught out by police, right through to his imprisonment. The producers of the series spoke to and other media about Nilsen’s victims and how they are portrayed in the series.

Who were Dennis Nilsen’s victims?

Stephen Holmes

Stephen Holmes was killed on December 30, 1978, and he had been walking home from a concert when he came across Nilsen.

The 14-year-old had accepted an offer to have a drink with him at home in Melrose Avenue.

He was strangled and then drowned in a bucket of water, and his body was kept at the home for seven months.

Kim Varvell, executive producer, said some of the victims’ families were approached ahead of filming.

She said: “It was a very delicate balance, we didn’t want to be intruding but we wanted to let them know and reach out to them.

“We did speak to some of the victims’ families, it was about carefully managing and being as empathetic and open and trying to explain our editorial intention but understanding this is incredibly raw.

“We had a lot of interaction with the real police.”

Kenneth Ockenden

Kenneth Ockenden was killed on December 3, 1979, and he was a 23-year-old Canadian student.

He had been on a tour of Britain when he came across Nilsen in a pub and he was taken around London.

Nilsen invited him back to his flat for a meal and he had previously been reported as a missing person before it was uncovered that he had been strangled with a headphone cord.

The writer of Des, Luke Neal, said the crew knew from an early stage they did not want to depict the actual crimes in the series.

He said: “I think very early on we knew we didn’t want to show any of the crimes simply because, in our view, these poor men went home with Dennis Nilsen, the only thing they did was go home with someone whom they met in a pub.

“We wanted to show the human cost of Dennis and what comes after he is caught. We didn’t want to show any kind of thing that would give a salacious or gratuitous version of these events.”

Martyn Duffey

Martyn Duffey was murdered on May 17, 1980, and he was a 16-year-old who was found at a London railway station.

Nilson had just returned from a union conference when he spotted the teenager and he strangled him before drowning him and bathing with the body.

William Sutherland

William Sutherland was killed in August 1980 and he was a 26-year-old from Edinburgh who had a child.

Nilsen met him at a pub near Piccadilly Circus, but he could not remember much about how he murdered him when he was questioned about the death.

Malcolm Barlow

Malcolm Barlow was killed on September 18, 1981, and he was a 23-year-old who was the last victim to be murdered at Melrose Avenue.

He was an orphan who had spent time at various care homes, and he was murdered after Nilsen helped him receive medical help.

He had gone back to Nilsen’s home to thank him for his help.

John Howlett

John Howlett was the first murder victim at Cranley Gardens and he was murdered in March 1982.

The 23-year-old was from High Wycombe and he was strangled as he slept.

He had woken up during the ordeal but he was later drowned in a bathtub.

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Graham Allen

Graham Allen was murdered in September 1982 and he was a 27-year-old father of one who had tried to call a taxi in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Nilsen had made him an omelette before he strangled him, and parts of his body were found in a drain at Cranley Gardens.

Stephen Sinclair

Stephen Sinclair was Nilsen’s final murder victim and he was killed on January 26, 1983.

He was from Perth and had been addicted to drugs when he met Nilsen in Oxford Street.

Nilsen had bought the 20-year-old some food before inviting him back to his home and strangling him.

Nilsen was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 1983. He died in prison in May 2018.

There were also seven unidentified victims between September 1980 and April 1981.

Nilsen could not remember many details about his fifth victim except he was an Irish labourer, between 27 and 30 years old.

His sixth victim was believed to be between 20 and 30, either Filipino or Mexican.

The next victim was in his 30s and had been sleeping in a doorway on Charing Cross Road.

The final victim of 1980 was between 25 and 30 years old and Nilsen had met him in the West End. However, later Nilsen said he had invented this victim.

The first murder victim of 1981 was described as an 18-year-old Scottish man whom Nilsen met in the Golden Lion Pub in Soho.

In February 1981 he murdered a man in his early 20s from Belfast, whom he met in the West End.

The final unidentified victim was in April 1981 and he was aged in his 20s, whom Nilsen met in Leicester Square.

Des airs on ITV on September 14

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