Des – ITV’s account of Dennis Nilsen

As the second wave of coronavirus lockdown looms, we all need cheering, so ITV’s three nights devoted to a drama about serial killer Dennis Nilsen this week may be approached with trepidation.

Nilsen was found guilty of murdering 15 boys and young men between 1978 and 1983. The case still has the power to dismay us, being a perplexing tale of loneliness and inexplicable horror. Most of the victims were not even missed.

Brian Masters’ classic portrait of serial killer Dennis Nilsen

ITV’s series, starring David Tennant as Nilsen, who was known as Des, is not a lurid recreation of the crimes, however. It comes at the events from an unusual angle, which should make the drama fascinating.

Writer Brian Masters got close to Nilsen while he was behind bars, and this relationship is central to the drama. Masters wrote a classic account of his dealings with Nilsen, Killing for Company, using the killer’s own writings and poems in addition to their interviews to offer psychological insights into the man.

The book starts with a description of Muswell Hill, where Nilsen had been living when he was arrested. It looks at his Scottish background and slowly builds a portrait of this solitary but intelligent civil servant.

Masters also spoke to Nilsen’s mother and leading detectives on the case, and wrote a balanced and rare depiction of a strange, shocking predator.

In the drama, Masters, played by Jason Watkins, is exhilarated to be involved in writing up the case, but he underestimates the impact his new obsession will have on his life. The series considers the ethics of our interest in such figures.

Undoubtedly, these are dark events, but I don’t feel our inclination to watch such series is prurient. Our curiosity to understand how these crimes occur and who commits them is powerful.

But after each episode, I might switch over for some escapism and watch Battlestar Galactica.

Des, ITV, Mon-Wed 9pm

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark TV series

Michelle McNamara, who died in 2016, wrote one of the most fascinating true-crime books of the last 10 years.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark charted her obsession with a case about an unknown perpetrator she called the Golden State Killer. The crimes graduated from burglaries to rapes and then murders.

They were chilling in their sadism, remorselessness and sheer volume.

McNamara was a graduate in creative writing who had an interest in true crime. She ran a website called TrueCrimeDiary and started to explore the crimes of a burglar and attacker known as the East Area Rapist, who operated in the Sacramento area in the late 1970s.

Between 1979 and 1986 there was then a series of murders attributed to the Original Night Stalker. It wasn’t until 2001 that DNA evidence confirmed it was one man committing this multitude of crimes.

Joseph James DeAngelo arrested

McNamara’s mission was to make the case better known and to uncover who had been getting away with these attacks for decades.

She died before she saw a suspect, former police officerJoseph James DeAngelo, aged 74, get arrested in 2018. He is charged with multiple first-degree murders and is awaiting trial.

However, McNamara’s book may have been instrumental in assisting detectives with her suggestion that the DNA should be used to explore the killer’s genealogical background. Perhaps this new HBO true-crime series, which is showing on Sky Atlantic in June, will reveal if her book played a part.

The documentary is directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus. This should be an intriguing account of the case, but also, via McNamara’s own fixation on it, an insight into why so many people are fascinated by true crime.

Did Michelle McNamara help crack the case?

Originally posted on robinjarossi.com 29 4 18

I’ve just finished the fascinating I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.

What an amazing coincidence that California police finally nabbed a suspect for the Golden State Killer crimes so soon after its publication. Finding the perpetrator is the subject of McNamara’s book.

Or was it a coincidence?

It looks as if McNamara’s investigation may have inspired the capture of suspect Joseph James DeAngelo. The cops somehow surreptitiously got his DNA from something he threw away and came up with a match.

Joseph James DeAngelo

What is not clear at the moment is how they latched onto DeAngelo, a former cop. However, the book contains a couple of ideas about he could be caught one day.

It has some geographic profiling of where his murders and rapes, carried out between 1976 and 1986, were committed. He was linked to 50 rapes, 12 murders and many burglaries.

The purpose of this kind of profiling is to indicate where a predator may live or work. The geo-research by a detective McNamara was talking to and by Kim Rossmo, the leading geographic profiler (whom I interviewed for The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper), both pinpoint the area around Citrus Heights. This is precisely where DeAngelo lived and was arrested last week.

Using DNA to catch DeAngelo

The use of ancestral DNA to unmask the serial killer was another feature of McNamara’s theories for trapping the GSK. McNamara died in 2016 before finishing the book. However, her researcher, Paul Haynes, and journalist Billy Jensen pieced her notes together to finish it.

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Golden State Killer finally unmasked?

First posted on robinjarossi.com 25 4 18

I’m just reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. It’s a very readable account of her interest, or perhaps obsession, with a serial rapist and murderer call variously the Golden State Killer, the East Area Rapist or the Original Night Stalker.

He committed 12 murders, 45 rapes and 120 burglaries, particularly in a swathe of Sacramento county. Reading McNamara’s account, I have been wondering how the police failed to catch him. The crimes were perpetrated in fairly concentrated areas, suggesting that the homicidal prowler lived locally and knew the area well.

Has the Golden State Killer been caught?

Someone just contacted me with the hot news that California police are about to make an announcement of an arrest. Incredible. The man has been free all this time, apparently living in the Sacramento area.

It would be fascinating to discover who he is, how he evaded law enforcement for so long and what motive he had for his horrible crimes.

I’ll come back to this story shortly.

Freddie Mills rumours

Originally posted on robinjarossi.com 30 8 17

I only devote a page or so to the theory that British light-heavyweight boxer Freddie Mills was the Nude Killer in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper. The reasons for my scepticism? Mills never appeared in any police reports as a suspect and there are simply no facts connecting him to the crimes.

But there have always been rumours. In the past week newspaper reports have brought these back with a vengeance. A former Sun reporter, Michael Litchfield, has written a book called The Secret Life of Freddie Mills. He claims Mills admitted his guilt to Detective Chief Superintendent John du Rose.

Du Rose was running the biggest manhunt in British criminal history. But this new book suggests du Rose let a potential self-confessed serial killer go free to get his affairs in order because he and Mills were Freemasons and trusted each other.

Apparently, the two men agreed that Mills would hand himself in and du Rose would somehow assist in his plea to have charges dropped from murder to manslaughter. That’s manslaughter six or seven times…

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Catching a Serial Killer by Stephen Fulcher

Originally posted on robinjarossi.com 13 9 17

Catching a Serial Killer by Stephen Fulcher

This book will leave you wondering at the injustice dished out to a detective trying to bring a vile killer to justice.

You may remember Stephen Fulcher’s story from recent headlines. He was the detective superintendent who breached Police and Criminal Evidence rules in an effort to find abducted Sian O’Callaghan. Sian, 22, disappeared after a night out in Swindon in 2011.

When Fulcher’s investigators closed the net on taxi driver Christopher Halliwell, the detective ignored the requirement to make the familiar ‘You do not have to say anything’ speech. Instead, he acted in the hope that Sian was still alive somewhere and he could appeal to Halliwell to confess where. The alternative was to arrest Halliwell, in which case the suspect might clam up and Sian could perish.

Meeting Christopher Halliwell

It was a career-risking move. Fulcher’s reasoning? Sian’s life took priority over rules designed to protect the rights of a suspect.

His encounter with Halliwell is the extraordinary fulcrum of the book. In the countryside, overlooked by a posse of police cars, he shared cigarettes with Halliwell and got him talking.

Sadly, he had murdered Sian. Halliwell took the police to the place he left her. However, Fulcher had another shock in store – Halliwell revealed the whereabouts of a second victim.

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Voice of a Killer Special

David Wilson presents Voice of a Killer Special

Welcome to the new home of this blog, covering true-crime writing, books and other subjects.

I moved it on Guy Fawkes day in the hope that it would arrive with a small bang at least – which is this trailer. It highlights a new series I took part in call Voice of a Killer Special on CBSReality.

It is a fascinating look at killers under the pressure of police interrogation. I have a cameo at the end of the trailer, and did a little filming with the production team in Wales during the summer.

The first killer covered, on Tuesday November 27 at 10pm, is Colonel William Russell of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The series is presented by Britain’s leading criminologist Professor David Wilson, looking pretty stern here but he’s friendly and approachable in real life.

More to come on this series soon…