In his book “Killing For Company”, Brian Masters delves deep into the chilling and macabre world of serial killer Denis Neilson. When police officers arrested the mild-mannered, well-spoken civil servant they had absolutely no idea that they were dealing with one of the most prolific and enigmatic murderers in British criminal history.
In February, 1983, following complaints from residents at a block of flats at 23 Cranley Gardens, North London, an engineer from Dyno-Rod lifted the manhole cover and climbed down to investigate the blocked drain. He found what appeared to be human remains and immediately contacted his superior. When they returned with police officers the next day most of the fragments had mysteriously vanished but several tenants had an interesting story to tell.
They had been awoken by noises in the small hours of the morning and on looking out had seen the occupant of the top-floor flat rummaging about outside. He had removed the manhole cover and was down inside the drain for several minutes. They watched as he emerged, carefully replaced the cover and returned inside the building. The officers recovered what was left and took it off to the police mortuary.
When Neilson arrived home from work several days later he was met by three detectives headed by Chief Inspector Peter Jay who told him they were there about the drains. His first reaction was to express surprise that the police should be interested in drains but Jay was in no mood for games and told him to stop messing about and show them where the rest of the body was. Neilson immediately backed down and seemed almost relieved as he led the officers to a wardrobe where they found human remains packed into two black plastic bin-liners.
Neilson was arrested and taken to Muswell Hill police station. On the way, one of the detectives, acting on a hunch, asked Neilson if they were talking about one body or two. His answer stunned all of them. Three, he told them – at Cranley Gardens…and another twelve or thirteen at his previous address.
Even he himself was unsure of the exact number. Police realised that, if his claims were true, this was going to be a far from ordinary murder investigation.
Over the next few weeks Neilson carefully and methodically listed the catalogue of grisly events to police. Neilson’s murder spree began on 30th December 1978 when he strangled a young Irishman he had met in a pub and had lasted until 26th January 1983 when twenty-year old drug-addict Stephen Sinclair had been murdered. It was his body parts, lodged in the drain, that had led to Neilson’s arrest. Although his memory was generally very good some aspects of the case never came to light.
One of the most puzzling aspects of this case was the apparent lack of motive. When asked, even Neilson himself did not know why he had killed. As the title of his book suggests, Brain Masters puts forward the theory that the former soldier and one-time policeman literally killed for company. His first murder did, after all, take place only six months after his live-in partner left him. Did he kill his pick-ups rather than watch them leave?
Some of his bizarre rituals would suggest that he preferred the company of even a dead companion to no company at all. He would sleep with the body, leave it “watching” television while he was at work and on his return describe his day as if his victim were still alive. Only when decomposition made this impractical would he dispose of the body and seek out his next victim. Whatever the truth may be, Killing For Company is a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the strangest and most unlikely killers of the twentieth century.