24 March 2018

Can a lonely butcher become a mass murderer? Dennis Nilsen in North London

Dennis Andrew Nilsen (b1945) was born in Aberdeenshire. His father was an alcoholic and his parents divorced early, so Dennis was sent to his adored grand­parents. Sadly when grandpa died, the traumat­ised 6 years-old was shown his grandfather lying in his coffin.

The lad joined the army in 1961 at 15. His first three years in the army were spent undergoing training at the Aldershot Barr­acks. This was a very happy time for Nilsen who thrived on the hard work, dis­cip­line and comradeship of army life. He was no longer an outsider.

Nilsen's chosen army trade was in the catering corps - he trained as a butcher in Aden, Cyprus and Berlin. When Nilsen reached the rank of Corporal, his successful army career had lasted 11.5 years, but he disliked the Army's role in Northern Ireland and left.

In Dec 1972, he enrolled in the Metropolitan Police, hoping to recapture army-type comradeship. He was fas­cin­ated seeing autopsied bodies in a morgue. But he wasn’t happy and resigned in Dec 1973.

From the mid 1970s, Nilsen worked in a job centre. He met a man there who was looking for a job. They went to Nil­sen's flat but David Painter saved himself and rushed to hosp­it­al. NB Nil­sen was questioned by the police and released!

195 Melrose Avenue North London By 1974, Nilsen's life revolved around cruising bars. One night David Gal­l­ichan came home with Nilsen and stayed. It was Nilsen’s happiest affair. The two men went flat hunting togeth­er and rented 195 Melrose Ave for 2 years. When the relationship ended, Nilsen filled the void by visiting London’s bars and drinking.

The killings re-started a year after Gallichan left. As 1978 ended, Nil­sen sank into a deep depression, until the old death fantasy came back out to comfort him. By New Year he went to a pub and returned home with an unknown teenager. The men drank themselves into a blear, and when Nilsen awoke, he wanted to keep this lad as a companion forever. So he strang­l­ed the youth with his neck­tie, drowned him and placed him under the floorboards.

In Oct 1979, a year after the first murder, another young stud­ent went home with Nilsen. Andrew Ho informed the police, but no charges were brought!!

All his partners were young men whom he picked up in bars and brought home for sex or for company. Nilsen strangled and drowned his victims during the night, then carefully used his butchering skills to help him dispose of the bodies. Nilsen had access to a large garden and was able to burn many of the remains in a bonfire.

Later on, the police inspected Nilsen's home at 195 at Melrose Avenue and found another 13 bodies.

Dennis Nilsen standing in front of photos of his two North London flats
Photo credit: The Mirror

23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill, North London. The new house at Cran­ley Gardens had been divided into 6 flats and an attic for Nilsen. He’d lost the use of a garden and even of a space under floor boards, so he was certain this would be a deterrent for his comp­ulsive homicides. Wrong!

Nilsen met a student in a Soho bar and invited him home. The stud­ent awoke the next morning not remembering the previous evening, but knew enough to see a doctor because of neck bruising. The doct­or said the student had been strangled and advised him to go to the police. Alas the student would not.

Rather than being appalled by the sight of corpses, Nilsen thought them quite beautiful. He did not really know why he had killed any young men - he just wanted them to stay. Sometimes he decided to have sex with the corpses. Or he would make dinner and watch telev­ision with a corpse propped upright on the couch.

In just 1.5 years, Nilsen had killed twelve unemployed or homeless young men in Muswell Hill, largely unidentifiable. As his murders contin­ued in the attic, Nilsen had to dispose of the human rem­ains in suitcases; they were full of human org­ans stored in his ward­robe. Neighbours gagged at the smell. When he tried to dispose of the bodies by flushing them down the toilet, the sew­er­age clogged up. In 1983 the drain ins­p­ect­or imm­ediately called the pol­ice who discovered the bones were human.

Despite being cautioned, Nilsen unburdened himself in nauseating detail. And he also accompanied police back to 195 Melrose Avenue and pointed out where he had buried body parts and made bonfires.

At the 1983 trial at Old Bailey, Nilsen’s in­terviews with the pol­ice were read verbatim, taking four hours, and surv­iving vic­tims gave chilling evidence. Because this profess­ion­al butcher knew how to cut up a body well and boil flesh off the heads in a large pot, they present­ed his pot, dissecting board and butch­ering knives in court. Finally Dennis Nilsen was convicted of 6 murders and 2 attempted murders, sentenced to life in prison, never to be released. Read Killing for Company 1985, by Nilsen’s friend Brian Masters.

Conclusion Different decades, countries, preferred victims, motives and killing methods. Yet the outcome was equally tragic for hundreds of people in the USA and Britain.

The police were rarely told of Dr Holmes’ killings for financial windfalls and few missing person’s reports were filed. Yet Holm­es openly placed ads in news­papers offering jobs for young women, hotel rooms for guests and positions for potential wives. Did the parents do nothing when their daughters didn’t come home? And from the early insurance claims, the insurance companies must have und­er­stood what was happening. It was unthinkable that the insur­ance companies could make endless payouts to one person!

Of the victims who manag­ed to escape lonely Nilsen’s grasp, many had made hospital records and police reports, so the police knew that they had been given solid evidence over four years. If only the various hospitals and police stations had been able to coord­inate with each other, a more urgent & proactive police investigation may have saved many lives. If only the neighbours, workmates, sexual partners and parents had not averted their eyes and noses, even when they knew (or suspected) that the army butcher was psychotic.

20 March 2018

Can a greedy doctor become a mass murderer? Dr H.H.Holmes in Chicago

In 1861 Herman Webster Mudgett was born to a respected New Hamp­sh­ire family. In childhood he was fascinated with skeletons and soon became obsessed with death. Mudgett changed his name to H.H Holmes and studied medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

While a student, Holmes stole cadavers from the labor­at­ory, disfig­ured them and then planted the bodies as if they were killed in accidents. His passion for death had started early in life but his criminal skills began in med­ical school; it was only then he collected on fake insurance policies.

Holmes was a very good medical student. In 1884 he passed his exams easily and in 1885 he moved to Chicago where he worked at a pharmacy as Dr Henry Holmes. When the owner of the business passed away, Holmes convinced the wid­ow to sell him the shop in 1887. Holmes hired the Conner family from Iowa to work in the shop and keep the books, and the widow was never seen again!

Holmes married a few times, often to more than one woman at the same time. Emeline Cigrand became Holmes' personal secretary but after acc­ept­ing Holmes' marriage proposal, Cigrand disappeared. Soon after, Holmes sold an articulated female skeleton to a nearby medical school. Holmes later confessed to locking Cigard in the vault, before raping and murdering her.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Knowing the World Fair was coming to Chicago, Holmes bought the un­d­eveloped land across the street, and began building his hotel at 63rd and South Wallace Sts Englewood. Construct­ion took two long years because Holmes was constant­ly changing labourers. By keeping turnover high, Holmes easily hid its layout from the world.

On the ground floor of Holmes’ three-storey Murder Castle, thousands of people enter the shops, some operated by Holmes and some leased to local mer­chants. They knew nothing of what was happening above.

The angled, nar­row corr­id­ors had poor light­ing. Most of the rooms were rigged with gas pipes connected to a con­trol panel in Holmes' closet. Stairways that led nowhere were interspersed with locked doors to which only Holmes had the key. And Holmes' personal off­ice contained a walk-in bank vault, leaving the victims to suff­ocate. There were trap doors, secret passage ways, hidden closets with sliding panels, peepholes, door­ways opening to brick walls, sound­proofed bedrooms that were either airtight and lined with asbestos-coated steel plates, false bat­tle­ments and wooden bay windows were covered in sheet iron.

Holmes' medical training paid off. The basement was designed for a good surgeon; it had a dissecting tab­le, surgeon's cabinet, stretching rack and crematory. Sometimes he would send the bodies down the greased chute, dissect them, strip them of the flesh and sell them as skeleton models to medical schools. Or he placed the bodies into pits of quicklime vats or burnt them in the furnaces. Charles Chappell was an artic­ul­ator i.e he could strip flesh from human bodies and reassemble the bones to form complete skeletons. Holmes paid Chappell to art­iculate a cadaver, then to sell the skeleton to a medical school.

When completed in 1891, Holm­es placed ads in news­papers offering hotel jobs for young women and ad­vert­ised the Castle for guests. He also placed ads presenting himself as a wealthy man look­ing for a wife. In May-October 1893 the Chicago World Fair was opened, to cele­brate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. The event attracted millions of people from all over the world.

All of Holmes’ employees, hotel guests, fiancés and wives were req­uired to have life insurance policies. Holmes paid the premiums, as long as he was the beneficiary. Most of his fiancés, employees and guests suddenly disappeared, leaving Holmes to collect the insurance.

Holmes' Murder Castle in Chicago
Photo credit: Chicago Historical Society

Post-Wor­ld Fair Chicago’s economy slumped; so Holmes abandoned the Castle and focused on insurance scams, meanwhile comm­it­ting random murders. During this time, Holmes stole horses from Texas, shipped them to St Louis and sold them – making a fortune with accomplice Benjamin Pitezel. He was arrested and imprisoned.

While in gaol, he devised an insurance scam with cellmate Marion Hedgepeth. Holmes would take out a valuable insurance policy, fake his own death and provide Hedgepeth with $500 in exch­an­ge for a helpful lawyer. Holmes did try his plan but the in­surance company was suspicious and refused payment. Holmes then attempted a similar plan in Philadelphia, asking Pitezel to fake his own death. But Holmes killed Pitezel and collected the insurance anyhow!

In 1894 Hedgepath told police about Holmes’ scam. The police track­ed Holmes, arresting him in Boston for insur­ance fraud. Almost acc­id­entally, Chicago police investigated Hol­m­es’ Castle where they discovered his tortures and murders. The bodies they found were so badly dismembered and decomposed, the number was unclear.

How did the crisis get so far? Because of the World's Fair and lim­ited police procedure, missing persons had barely been invest­igat­ed. And more difficult still, Holmes' innate charm could smooth over any major worries that neighbours and families were pursuing.

While conducting their investigation in Toronto, police discovered the dead Pitezel children who had gone missing sometime during Holmes’ insurance fraud spree. Linking Holmes to their murd­ers, police arrested him and he then confessed to 28 other murders. Holmes' 6-day trial began in Philadelphia in late 1895. Throughout, he was charismatic to the day of his exec­ut­ion: May 1896. He was 36.

A man named AM Clark purchased the Murder Castle soon after the police investigation. Clark intended to capitalise on the Castle's notoriety and reopen it as a tourist attraction. However in August a watchman saw flames and explosions from the bedroom windows and the roof had collapsed. Only the first floor was salvaged and served as a bookshop until the Castle was sold in 1937. It was then pulled down.

After Holmes’ death, men who'd had dealings with Holmes came to violent ends. The last was Pat Quinlan, suspected acc­om­plice and former Murder Castle caretaker. In March 1914, Quinlan committed suicide via strychnine.

In the next post I will examine a similar mass murderer (in Britain), and draw some conclusions.

17 March 2018

Princes St Synagogue Auckland, built in 1885 by architect Edward Bartley

The first Jewish settler in New Zealand was Joel Samuel Polack in 1831. Born in London to Dutch parents, he established a successful retail business and later branched out into shipping, mainly to Cal­ifornia. When New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, it was the perfect time for the Auckland Jewish community’s found­at­ion; they soon acquired land for their first cemetery.

The first Hebrew congregation began worship in Auckland in 1843. Their first formal place of worship was in Nathan & Joseph's Ware­house in Shortland Street. By 1853 the congregation had grown to 100 and worship was held in a small building in Emily Place. By the 1860s this building had become too small for the rapidly increasing population and moneys were collected to build a new synagogue.

In 1884, the Jewish Community purchased a section on the corner of Princes and Bowen Sts. At that time the site was occupied by the former Albert Barracks Guard House, which overlooked a vegetable garden used by soldiers.

The community asked architects to submit synagogue designs and they chose Edward Bartley to take on the project. Bartley was an Irish carpenter and joiner arrived in New Zealand in 1854 and trained as an architect and builder. In 1872, he went into partnership with another builder, forming Matthews & Bartley Builders. He moved to the North Shore in 1872, later building his own home in Devonport. Other significant Bartley buildings included the Foundation for the Blind Jubilee Building and the original Wellesley St Opera House. And was a founding member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Princes St Synagogue in Auckland
built by Edward Bartley by 1885

The Princes St Synagogue structure was designed in a mixed Roman­esque and Gothic style, the project influenced by an important Glasgow Syn­agogue. It was built to seat a congregation of 375. As one of NZ’s oldest massed concrete buildings, the basement was set aside for childcare, wedding and barmitzvahs, and a school annexe was later added.

The interior ornamentation was by the decorator JL Holland. The int­erior of the building featured a barrel vaulted timber ceiling and an ornate circular ark, covered by a stained glass dome im­port­ed from Australia. The blend of Arabic and Classical styles feat­uring ornate stained-glass windows; an ell­iptical stair­case; a decorated barrel-vaulted, wood-panelled ceil­ing supp­orted by graceful Arabic arches and columns; and ornate plaster work.

During his long career Bartley served as architect to the Anglican Church, the Auckland Savings Bank and the Auckland Hospital & Charitable Aid Board. The Mount Eden Public Library designed by the firm Bartley and Wade was prob­ably his last building. For the 1913 Auckland Exhibition he was a member of the Building Committee which selected the designs and oversaw the construction of the exhibition buildings in the Auckland Domain.

Along with his 3 sons who became archit­ects, Bartley also trained Malcolm Keith Draffin (1890-1964). Draffin later became an Auckland War Memorial Museum architect.

The barrel-vaulted, wood-panelled ceil­ing with graceful Arabic arches and columns are still intact. The women's pews upstairs were removed and the bank office spaces remain.

The synagogue had been Auck­land’s main synag­ogue until 1967. Only then, due to substantial growth in the Jewish Community, did the congregation move to a lar­g­er, newly synagogue opposite Myers Park.

After the original building was de-cons­ec­rated in 1969, ownership reverted to Auckland City Council. The building was left vacant and slowly deteriorated over 20+ years, until it was renovated to oper­ate a branch of the National Bank in 1989. The interior of the form­­er syn­agogue was meticulously restored to its original condit­ion in the late 1980s, with extensive structural and streng­thening work of the interior office spaces.

The University of Auckland has leased the old synagogue since 2003, using the building as home to the University’s Alumni Relations and Develop­ment office. It is located at the campus entrance.

The former synagogue is registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and has Historic Place Category 1 Status. The conservation project won the inaugural Auckland City Heritage Aw­ard. And they won a New Zealand Institute of Arch­itects National Award citation in 1990 for successfully reconciling the tenant’s commercial requirements with the need to conserve one of Auckland’s significant buildings.

Decoration and lamps on the arches and columns

This important part of Auckland’s cultural history is for sale. The synagogue is the only landmark historic building of its type in the city and one of only two extant C19th synagogues in all the country. It had acted as Auckland’s main synagogue and focal point for the Jewish community from 1885 until 1968! The ad­joining building, the Trish Clark Gallery for contemporary art that was built in 1986, is one of Auckland’s leading art spaces. Along with the old synagogue, the whole complex is for sale in Apr 2018.

You might like to read The History of the Jews in New Zealand (1958) by Lazarus Mor­ris Goldman for an excellent and detailed analysis of Jewish settlers in C19th New Zealand.