This is Denmark Street , also known as “Tin-Pan Alley”, it is here that many of Britain’s most infamous musical artists (such as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, The Sex Pistols, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Lionel Bart) either lived or recorded many of their most famous hits. Today, number 1 to 3 Denmark Street is a branch of Fernandez and Wells, but up until 2016, this was the Charring Cross branch of the job centre, earlier dubbed The Labour Exchange.
In May 1974, a tall (6 foot 2 inches) yet pleasant man, who was both stern but surprisingly shy, by the name of Dennis Andrew Nilsen walked through the main door of the job centre looking for employment, having recently finished a fifteen year stint as an Army chef and six months as a trainee Police Officer in Wilsden, who was desperate for a new career and a renewed sense of camaraderie. Being hard-working and intelligent, Nilsen was offered a job on the spot, and after many years of diligence, he progressed to the lofty position of acting executive officer.
Although a staunch Labour supporter and a fierce union negotiator, Dennis was widely regarded by his colleagues as someone you could trust if you had a problem; he was a good boss, a strong ally, an excellent cook (who’d often come into work with treats, his speciality being a traditional curry), who also had a real soft spot for the homeless men, vulnerable boys and injured animals.
On one occasion, Nilsen rescued an injured sparrow which he found outside of these very offices, he nursed it back to health in a makeshift nest that he constructed in his office drawer (from cotton wool and shredded newspaper) and fed the struggling bird with Fish Fingers that he had masticated in his own mouth first, like he was the bird’s mother. But then again, as his colleagues would say, "that was Dennis (or Den' as he was known)", a little bit odd, but an alright bloke with a big heart, who loved his little dog "Bleep". .
But what his colleagues at the Denmark Street job centre didn’t know was that Dennis Nilsen, their acting executive officer, had a dark side.
In 1978, his 21 year old homosexual lover – David Gallichan; a pretty, blonde, thin and small-framed man who he’d nicknamed “Twinkle” – walked out off their one year relationship, leaving Nilsen to fester and fume in a drunken rage. Having already been abandoned so many times (first at birth by his Norwegian father, then by his over-worked single mother, then his beloved grandfather) and now by “Twinkle”, Nilsen was lonely and on the look-put for someone to replace him.
Having a penchant for “slim, attractive but vulnerable young men”, and with his sensitive and caring side also stretched to the waifs and strays of London’s homeless community; Nilsen would lure various young men back to his flat for drink, food, warmth and sex, but also (Nilsen hoped) a long-lasting relationship. All of whom he knew only wanted him for his money, most of whom would end up dead, and many of whom oddly resembled his former lover “Twinkle” (or, if they didn’t, he’d shave them, bathe them and dress them so that their corpses resembled his ex-lover).
Over a five year period, as he worked at the Denmark Street job centre (later briefly in Kilburn), Dennis Nilsen murdered 15 young men and attempted to kill 7 others. And none of his co-workers ever had a clue that he was one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers… until he caught.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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