“Mental Illness is the only disease that can make you deny its own existence. Certainly, the Idea that the brain can deny its own illness is a frightening thought.”- (Tracy). No matter how sharp the dagger, I believe a serial killer’s most potent weapon is his character. We don’t truly understand what someone is going through, what pain or problems they’re facing, but what we can understand is a grin. We often beg question what causes serial killers to kill? The answer is not so simple. Simply because the answer is a combination of causes, ranging from personal, life changing events to small, minor events. Sometimes these events generate something else thereby strengthening the violent behavior. Take the notorious “The Muswell Hill Murderer”. Before the news of his atrocities, Nilsen was a hardworking, well like man in his community. He, just like any other normal person blended into society and hid his terrors. However, behind that kindly person, Nilsen is responsible for the torture, rape, and murder of 12 to 15 young men (Biography). His tactic was to invite them to his house and have drinks after they fell asleep, he strangled them and later cut their bodies apart same way Jeffery Dahmer another serial killer.
Before diving into in of all the causes that drove Dennis Nilsen to become an infuriated man, it is important to shine light on his origin story, because even the serial killer has one. Dennis Andrew Nilsen was born on November 23, 1945 in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland (Wikipedia). Like most known killers, Dennis had a troubled childhood from abusive father, from the loss of his grandfather, not able express his sexuality and the controlled he desired, and was this a mixture of monster in the making. Was this what drove Dennis Nilsen “The Muswell Hill Murderer” gone to a disturbing rampage cause him to do sinister act to those men’s.
The first red flag was a rough childhood. According to the British Police, “Neglect and abuse in childhood have been shown to contribute to an increased risk of future violence” (Serial Killers). Neglect and abuse, how typical of modern-day mass shooters. Whether or not you become prone to violence in the upcoming, I think we can all agree that having a weak relationship with your parents will set you back will take a toll on how you grow up. The world of Criminal Justice even states that “Serial murderers often come from broken homes and were child victims of parental physical abuse” (Serial Killers). His father was a Norwegian soldier who had travelled to Scotland in 1940 as part of the Free Norwegian Forces, following the German occupation of Norway (Wikipedia). Olav Nilsen did not view married life with any importance, being preoccupied with his duties with the Free Norwegian Forces and making little attempt to spend much time with his family or find a new home for his wife. Olav was an alcoholic and abusive to his wife and had affairs that cause his mother to have a mental break down had move back with her parents due trouble that she had with Olav (Serial Killers). Dennis father was not close to his all three children he conceive with Dennis mother Elizabeth. He admits that the drinking and the abuse they received from his father did cause him to drink and neglect everyone else.
Having growing up without a father Dennis got close to his grandfather and whiteness death at a very young age and not knowing what “DEATH” means can cause a mix of emotion. Dennis grandfather was like a father to him they got very close they took long walks around Scotland Peer, they went fishing together, and did a lot work together. When he found out that his grandfather had passed away he was coming back from school. His mother Elizabeth was in the kitchen and told him “If you wanted to see your Grand Dad” Dennis was very happy that his grandfather was here to see him his mother Elizabeth told Dennis with a series look on her face well he’s here (Serial Killers). What the documentary states when they interview Dennis “When he saw his grandfather on the kitchen table inside this coffin that he states that was the first time he witness death” he was in state of shock (Serial Killers). He cried and had ask his mother “where has he gone” and his mother had replied “to a better place” and Dennis responded by “if he went to a better place… why didn’t take me with him.” (Serial Killers) In the documentary his psychiatrist stated witnessing his grandfather corps and the kitchen had shocked him. Having to whiteness something like Dennis had an effect on him. His mind he had known one else to talk to anymore he even stated that he wanted to take his own life so he could be close to his grandfather.
At the onset of youth, Nilsen discovered he was homosexual, which initially confused and shamed of it. He kept his sexuality hidden from his family and his few friends. Because many of the boys to whom he was attracted had similar facial features as his younger sister, on one occasion he sexually fondled her, believing that his attraction towards boys might be a manifestation of the care he felt for her (Wikipedia). He made no efforts to seek sexual contact with any of the peers to whom he was sexually attracted, although he later said he had been fondled by an older youth and did not find the experience unpleasant. On one occasion, he also touched and stroked the body of his older brother as he slept (Wikipedia). As a result of this, Olav Jr. began to suspect his brother was homosexual and regularly belittled him in public referring to Dennis as “hen” (Scottish slang for “girl”) (Wikipedia). Nilsen initially believed that his fondling of his sister may have been evidence that he was bisexual. And later contribute to his victims since they were all men.
Nilsen, actions made him a monster. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Monster Culture, Thesis IV, The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference states, “The monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us.”(Cohen) When he committed these murders, he became different in society. He was able to kill people, have sex with them after death, slice them open and pull out their insides, and even keep their bodies around his household for comfort. Normally people do not do things like this. When stories like this get to your feet, it usually brings out abhorrence. So, then why is society fascinated with these types of monsters? There are so many biographies, documentaries, interviews, books, movies, and TV shows on serial killers for public to see. Cohen states in Thesis VI, Fear of the Monster is really a Kind of Desire, that, “More often, however, the monster retains a haunting complexity.… “And will always dangerously entice.”(Cohen). People are drawn in to hear the stories of who the monsters are and what the monsters have done because they want to satisfy a curiosity by understanding why someone would do such horrible things. So, the question that comes to mind is, what led Dennis Nilsen to kill? Mental illness played a big role. It caused him to have unhealthy thoughts he could not rid himself of, and the mix of alcohol and then a set of circumstances suddenly left him with no one in his life which easily broke his already unstable psychological condition. Taking a closer look into his life can bring a better understanding to why Dennis Nilsen turned to a life of murder.
Nilsen characteristics was out of the ordinary people that new him couldn’t believe it, but he was someone who became a monster because of her vengeful spirit and mental illness. Study into the his life of Dennis Nilsen and the orders that lead Dennis down a road to his foreseeable transformation from kind heart soul to an indentation collecting killer leads one to believe that there was not just one event that caused this twisting into a life of atrocity but multiple contributing factors. Factors such as the experience of dealing with the traumatic loss of his grandfather and his abusive father, also his sexuality and wanting control. These were contributed to the formation of a monster ‘Dennis Nilsen.’
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” From Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25.
“Dennis Nilsen.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 23 June 2019, http://www.biography.com/crime-figure/dennis-nilsen.
“Dennis Nilsen.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Aug. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Nilsen.
Lotthammer, Kenneth. “Real Crime: A Mind to Murder |Dennis Nilsen| (Full Documentary).” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1S1P_OzEAk&t=881s.
Tracy, Natasha. “Home.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/pin/150378075035608718/visual-search/?x=16&y=16&w=517&h=561.
Wide, Serial Killers World. “Serial Killer – Dennis Nilsen Born To Kill.” YouTube, YouTube, 19 Dec. 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq2GdT7qF9o.