Countdown To Murder

Series 1 - Dennis Nilsen's First Kill

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This darkly compelling documentary series tells the stories of some of Britain's most high-profile murder cases in forensic and chillingly accurate detail. Pinpointing the trigger moment, each film charts the last days leading up to these horrific killings, counting down to the murder from the perspective of both murderer and victim.

The series uses dramatic reconstruction, exclusive personal testimony from witnesses, detailed crime reports, forensic evidence and expert commentary from criminologists, detectives, pathologists and journalists. Examining days, hours and minutes from many perspectives provides a complete psychological analysis of unfolding events as the lives of killer and victim collide.

In November 1983, Dennis Nilsen was sentenced at the Old Bailey to life imprisonment for the murders of six men and the attempted murders of two others. He is believed to have a killed a total of 15 men between 1978 and 1983. This programme tries to establish the events that led him to become one of this country's most notorious serial killers.

Nilsen was born in Fraserburgh in 1945 to Betty and Olav, his Scottish mother and Norwegian father. Olav was a soldier stationed in Scotland during World War II, and was a heavy drinker. "Dennis didn't know his dad really," recounts Douglas Bence, a journalist who reported on Nilsen's case. "His father was a violent, drunken waster." Olav and Betty had three children, but divorced when Dennis was four years old, after which the boy became close to his grandfather, Andrew. Then, just before Dennis's sixth birthday, Andrew died suddenly of a heart attack.

"The death of Dennis Nilsen's grandfather had a huge impact on his life," explains Dr Vincent Egan, a forensic psychologist from the University of Leicester. The body was laid out in the small front room. As family members wailed, young Dennis was brought in to see the corpse. It was to have a lasting effect on him. "He found the excitement around the funeral curious and that might have meant he felt quite paradoxical about death," says Dr Egan.

Nilsen was to later write: "My troubles started there. It blighted my personality permanently. I spent all of my emotional life looking for my grandfather." Dennis had an inability to make friends and it was not until he moved to London that he came close to forming a relationship. Nilsen found companionship with a man called David Gallichan, with whom he shared a flat in north London for two years. This relationship was the closest thing to stability that Nilsen had ever experienced. The year after Gallichan moved out of the flat, Nilsen met Stephen Holmes, who was to become his first victim.

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