Des confession: Serial killer’s ‘secret family rift’ exposed

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Dennis Nilsen was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of six murders and two attempted murders – although it was suspected that he killed at least 15 people. The serial killer’s life is being turned into the ITV show ‘Des’, which airs tonight (Sept 14) and stars from ‘Doctor Who’ actor David Tennant. Between 1978 and 1982, he lured victims into his two homes in London, where he plied them with alcohol, strangled them and then cut up their body parts. His crimes were discovered after a plumber discovered rotten human flesh in the drainage pipes beneath one of his addresses. Nilsen, known today as one of Britain’s most vicious serial killers, was claimed to be drastically different from the man remembered by his mother.

Betty Scott recalled that in Nilsen’s younger years, the boy would collect injured birds from the street and carry them home inside his coat to take care of them. 

This sensitive and shy side was far estranged from the man she would learn about in newspapers – after he was arrested for multiple murders. 

She struggled to believe the heinous crimes were committed by her son and when asked for photographs of Nilsen during the case she gave them out in an attempt to alter how he was perceived. 

Instead of the monster, who would later be convicted in 1983, she “wanted the son she knew” to be seen by the public and admitted the man they described was unrecognisable to her.

Ms Scott was reported to have acted defensively when asked why she thought he had become a serial killer. 

She told the Guardian in 1999: “It was nothing I had done, he was brought up the same (as her other children).”

The mother claimed to have “lost regular contact” with her son after he left their home in Strichen, Aberdeenshire, to enlist in the Army at the age of 15. 

After his time in the forces, he moved to London and despite her efforts to reach him with letters rarely heard back – police found a number of unopened letters from Ms Scott at his flat. 

She refused to address claims that bullying over his sexuality had caused difficulty during his younger life. 

But it was widely reported that Nilson’s elder brother Olaf “accused him” of being gay, which led to a massive fight and family rift. 

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Ms Scott remembered him as a “gentle school boy” and believed that “something must have taken hold of” her son after he left home. 

She told the Telegraph in 2001: “He never fought at school. He was never nasty to anybody. I would just give him a cuddle. He is just the same Dennis.”

Ms Scott felt it would be difficult for the public to see past Nilsen as a serial killer because that was all they had ever known him as – meanwhile for her, it was a different story. 

She added: “People might think it ‘funny’ to carry on loving your son. It’s not funny when he is your own. He was kind.”

Nilsen died last year while behind bars in HMP Full Sutton, in East Yorkshire, from complications related to a blood clot.

Des airs on ITV on September 14, 15 and 16.

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