The tragic legacy of Scotland's 9 worst serial killers - including the notorious Dennis Nilsen

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

Actor David Tennant does an outstanding job as notorious Aberdeenshire-born serial killer Dennis Nilsen in ITV drama Des, which is airing this week.

The Doctor Who star plays the Scottish convict who died behind bars at the age of 72, with the three-part mini-series on TV from 14 to 16 September at 9pm.

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As well as Nilson, Scotland has seen several other notorious serial killers spark terror over the years.

Here’s what you should know about Nilsen - and some of the other worst killers from the country.

Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer and is one of Britain’s most infamous serial killers.

Nilson carried out a murderous spree of near-unparalleled savagery during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He is believed to have killed as many as 15 young men, most of whom were homeless homosexuals, at his north London home.

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After luring his victims to their death, Nilson would then often sit with their corpses for several days afterwards before dismembering them.

His crimes were only detected by chance when a drain outside his home on Cranley Gardens, in Muswell Hill, became blocked by the human remains he had tried to flush away.

Nilson was later jailed for life in 1983, with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 25 years, on six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

He died behind bars at HMP Full Sutton prison in 2018 at the age of 72, 34 years into his life sentence.

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Ian Brady

Glasgow-born Brady was a serial killer who murdered multiple children with his girlfriend Myra Hindly between 1963 and 1965, in and around Manchester in England.

Known as the Moors murders, five children aged between 10 and 17 were the victims, although the pair were only charged with the deaths of three, and each received life sentences.

Two of the victims were discovered in graves dug on Saddleworth Moor, and a third grave was discovered there in 1987, more than twenty years after Brady and Hindley's trial.

Brady was later diagnosed as a psychopath in 1985 and confined in the high-security Ashworth Hospital, where he made it clear that he never wished to be released, and repeatedly asked to be allowed to die. He died in 2017, at Ashworth, aged 79.

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Peter Manuel

The American-born Scottish serial killer was convicted for the murder of seven people across Lanarkshire and Southern Scotland between 1956 and 1958.

Manuel confessed to eight murders in total, including rape, but was ultimately only convicted of seven. His victims were both male and female, and ranged in age from 10 to 45, but the precise number of people he attacked is unclear.

He died at the age of 31 in 1958 and was the second to last person to be hanged at Barlinnie Prison.

Angus Sinclair

Angus Sinclair was found guilty of murdering teenagers Christine Eadie and Helen Scott in Edinburgh in 1977, crimes which later came to be known as the World’s End murders.

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The name came about as both victims were last seen alive leaving The World’s End pub in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Prior to this conviction, Sinclair had previously served 10 years in prison for murdering an eight-year-old girl when he was 16 via strangulation.

He wasn’t convicted of the murders until 2014 and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 37 years, the longest sentence by a Scottish court. He died at HM Prison Glenochil at the age of 73 in 2019.

Edward William Pritchard

Found guilty of murdering his wife and mother-in-law by poisoning in 1865, Pritchard became the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.

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Pritchard poisoned his victims over several months with aconite and antimony, and denied them treatment from anyone other than himself, as he was a doctor.

He was also suspected of murdering a servant girl, but was never tried for this crime.

Peter Tobin

The Scottish rapist and murderer was convicted of killing three people between 1991 and 2006, but has stated the number of his victims is actually closer to 48.

On searching his former home in 2007, police found the bodies of numerous women who had gone missing over the years.

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There has also been speculation he may be responsible for the Bible John murders, which saw the killer take the lives of three women in Glasgow in the 1960s.

Tobin is currently serving three life sentences in prison.

Burke and Hare

William Burke and William Hare committed at least 17 murders in Edinburgh in 1828, after which they would sell the corpses of their victims to anatomy lecturer Doctor Robert Knox, an anatomy lecturer, who needed materials for dissection.

During the trial, Hare was offered immunity for testifying against Burke and accepted the deal, with Burke then later found guilty of murder and died via hanging.

Robert Black

The Scottish serial killer and paedophile was convicted for the murder of four girls aged between five and 11, committed in the UK between 1981 and 1986. Black was captured after a witness saw him abduct a young girl in 1990.

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He was later sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 35 years, and died in 2016 aged 68.

He is also thought to be responsible for several other unsolved child abductions and murders in the 1980s.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, The Scotsman.