Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes begins at the end — with serial killer Dennis Nilsen getting arrested and confessing to murdering 15-16 young men. He would ultimately be convicted of only six murders. Over the course of the Netflix documentary, Nilsen's own audio tapes are played as he claims he had difficult childhood and adulthood that eventually took a turn towards murder. But the movie hops around throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, which doesn't present the clearest timeline of Dennis Nilsen’s crimes.
For five years, Nilsen was able to get away with killing multiple young men, in part, because he targeted homeless youths, drifters, sex workers, and gay men. The ex-cop took advantage of London's then homophobic culture, which also made it difficult for the several survivors of Nilsen’s to come forward or to be believed if and when they did.
Late '70s: Nilsen's first would-be victims escape
According to investigators interviewed in the film, before Nilsen had formally started his killing spree, he tried to strangle a young man that he'd brought home. Police were called to the scene after the man escaped by jumping through the window. But when the young man and his family declined to press charges, Nilsen was free to go. It was around this time as well that Nilsen met Martyn, who declined to share his last name in the documentary. According to Martyn, Nilsen also tried to kill him after they went back to his apartment, but Martyn managed to escape. He said he didn't go to the police at the time because he feared he'd be met with homophobia.
December 1978: Nilsen's first kill
According to the Daily Star, Stephen Dean Holmes was 14 when he met Nilsen at a bar in late 1978. The two went home together, but Holmes never got to leave. The Star reported that Nilsen later said in a letter written from prison that he killed Holmes because he feared that Holmes would leave him. "I had started down the avenue of death and possession of a new kind of flatmate," Nilsen wrote.
Shortly after, he attempted to kill a student named Andrew Ho, but Ho escaped and went to the police. However, he declined to formally press charges, according to the book The Evil Within.
December 1979: Nilsen kills Canadian tourist Kenneth Ockenden
A year after his first murder is when Nilsen killed again, this time a 23-year-old Canadian visitor to London named Kenneth Ockenden.
Early 1980: Martyn Duffey is murdered
Throughout 1980: Several more Nilsen murders (allegedly)
The Mirror reported that Nilsen described killing five other people throughout 1980, but only one of them was ever identified. Scottish-born William "Billy" Sutherland was 26 when he fell victim to Nilsen's crime spree in August of 1980. He was a boyfriend and father who had gone to London to find work. He reportedly visited the job center where Nilsen was employed and was killed shortly thereafter. His family did file a missing persons report for him, but until Nilsen's arrest, Sutherland's case went unsolved.
It was around this time that Nilsen also allegedly tried to kill 29-year-old Douglas Stewart, but Stewart overpowered Nilsen and escaped. Stewart ended up testifying at Nilsen's trial.
1981: Three more unidentified murders
According to the Evening Standard, Nilsen claimed to have killed “a young Scot, an English skinhead, and a Belfast boy," none of whom were ever identified.
September 1981: Nilsen kills Malcolm Barlow
The Scottish Sun reported that Malcolm Barlow was 24 and homeless when Nilsen reportedly called an ambulance for him, believing the young man needed a welfare check. Barlow reportedly sought Nilsen out the next day to say thanks, and instead he was murdered.
November 1981: A would-be victim escapes
The Sun also reported that the man who would have been Nilsen's final kill in 1981 actually ended up escaping. After spending the night with Nilsen, Paul Nobbs, who was 19 at the time, woke up with a cut on his throat and facial bruises. Nilsen, who apparently decided to spare Nobbs, suggested he to go to the doctor and let him leave. Nobbs didn't report the incident to police.
March 1982: Nilsen kills John Howlett
Guardsman John Howlett was killed at age 23 after going home with Nilsen. Per the Mirror, Howlett reportedly put up a fight, but ultimately Nilsen was able to overcome him.
May 1982: Carl Stotter escapes
After attempting to drown Stotter, Nilsen decided to let him live. Stotter escaped, and in the documentary he claims that he went to the police but they didn't believe his story. He ended up testifying at Nilsen's trial in 1983.
September 1982: Graham Allen is killed
The 27-year-old Graham Allen was killed by Nilsen in late 1982. His wife Lesley is interviewed in the documentary about how she chose to go to the trial to get closure.
Early 1983: Nilsen makes his final kill and is caught
Stephen Sinclair, who was 20, became Nilsen's final victim in January 1983, per i News. Nilsen disposed of the body by flushing some remains down the toilet, and eventually the plumbing became stopped up. Nilsen himself wrote a letter of complaint about the plumbing in February, and a plumber uncovered Nilsen's terrifying secret. From there, Nilsen was quickly arrested and made a long confession where he admitted to killing over a dozen people. As the documentary reported, only eight of them were ever identified.