Why I wrote to serial killer Dennis Nilsen… And see his letters for the first time

He pointed out that my letter was not dated.

That was the first thing that jumped out at me when I received a response from Dennis Nilsen.

A serial killer commenting on my letter-writing style was not what I expected.

I wasn’t sure what I would get back from Scotland’s most prolific murderer – or if he would even reply.

He has never really been out of the media limelight which gave me some confidence that he would, but would I get the information I wanted?

His first letter was fairly guarded and short in comparison to later correspondence. But he still decided to share some information with me.

In later letters he chose what topics he wanted to cover – completely ignoring questions that he did not want to answer.

He used a typewriter, and his errors neatly scored out and corrected in pen.

In some, he was succinct and well-spoken, revealing himself to be quite an intelligent man. In others there was large sections that there completely incomprehensible, resembling more an extract from a poem.

I think these sections were to show how cultured and intellectual he is – he also spoke about his passions for writing and classical music – but really it made him appear confused and somewhat distracted.

I wanted to know why he committed his crimes, how he felt about dying in prison and whether he regretted his life, among lots of other questions.

I got explanations to most of what I asked him, but the questions he left blank, I don’t think even he knows the answers to them 30 years on.

Of course he’s restricted in what he can talk about to the outside world, but even with free reign, I think some of my questions would still be left unanswered.

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