most notorious serial killers in the united kingdom (part one)

A serial killer is a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparant motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable behaviour pattern.

The Burke and Hare murders

Burke and Hare were friends who lived in Edinburgh around the 1820s. During this time Edinburgh was leading the way in anatomical study, but there was a shortfall in the legal supply of corpses which could be used for medical research.

A lodger who was staying in Hare’s house died and the two of them decided to sell the body to Robert Knox, who was a anatomist and ethnologist. They received £7 10s, which was a lot of money in those days. Two months later, Hare was concerned that a lady who was suffering from a fever would deter others from staying in his house and so he and Burke murdered her again, sold her body to Robert Knox.

And so began the killing spree, with the same tactics deployed, they would suffocate their victims, a total of 16 by the time they were caught.

When they were arrested, the police were unsure if they could secure a conviction, due to the lack of bodies they could examine, so Sir William Rae, the Lord Advocate, offered immunity to Hare if he would make a full confession to all the deaths. Hare did this and charges were brought againt Burke.

Burke was hanged on the morning of 28th January, 1829.
Hare was released on 5th February, 1829 – his eventual fate is unknown.

Burke’s sketon was given to the Anatomical Museum of the Edinburgh Medical School where it remains. His death mask and a book said to be bound with his tanned skin can be seen ag Surgeons’ Hall Museum.

Jack The Ripper

During 1888, there was a serial killer active in the areas around the Whitechapel disctrict of London.

The murders involved female prostitutes who were found with their throat cut and in at least three of the victims, their internal organs were removed. There were five victims, but it wasn’t known for certain the exact numberof victims there was.

The Jack the Ripper murders ended as abruptly as they started, making experts think that the killer had either died or had gone to prison for other maybe similar crimes.

Popular theories as to who could be Jack the Ripper included Prince Albert Victor, Montague John Druitt, Seweryn Klosowski, Michael Ostrog, John Pizer, James Thomas Sadler and Francis Tumblety.

A surprising name that was put forward was Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Author, Richard Wallace put forward the argument that Carroll had a psychotic breakdown after he was assualted by a man at 12 years old. Carroll wrote a daily dairy in purple ink, but on the days of the Whitechapel murders, he switched to black ink.

Perhaps the true identity of Jack the Ripper will never be revealed.

Harold Shipman

Harold Frederick Shipman, was an English doctor, who was found guilty of murdering 15 patients under his care, his total number of victims was approximately 250, about 80 percent of whom were elderly women.

There were concerns raised initially by Dr Linda Reynolds who was suspicious about the high death rate among Shipman’s patients. She was concerned about the number of cremation forms that she had to countersign.

There was an investigation but due to insufficient evidence, the case was closed by the police. Not long after, a taxi driver, John Shaw, told police that he suspected that Shipman had murdered 21 patients, as he drove many of the patients to hospital, who seemed to be in good health, died in Shpman’s care.

Shipman’s last victim, Kathleen Grundy had made a will, which excluded her daugher and children, but left £386,000 to Shipman. Her body was exhumed and traces of heroin were found. Shipman claimed that Grundy was an addict and showed the police comments to that affect in his computerised medical journal, but examination of his computer found that these were inputted after her death. A search of his home found a Brother typewriter which was used to forge Kathleen Grundy’s will.

Police investigated other deaths that Shipman had certified and found a pattern of him administering heroin, then signing the patient’s death certificate and falsifying medical records to indicate they had been in poor health.

What led this doctor to do such a thing? We may never find out as he hanged himself in his cell at HM Prison Wakefield at 6.20 am on 13th January, 2004, on the eve of his 58th birthday.

Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen was a Scottish serial killer and necrophile, who murdered at least 12 young men and boys between 1978 and 1983 in London.

He became known as the Musell Hill Murderer, as he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London.

Nilsen typically met his victims in bars, but also sometimes on public transport. Some were homeless, some were gay and some were hetrosexual. They would be lured back to his home by the offer of alcohol or shelter and then once there, plied with alcohol and then strangled to death or if they were unconscious, he would drown them in his bath.

He would keep the bodies in his residence before dismembering them. When he lived in Cricklewood, he would burn their bodies in a bonfire and when he lived in Gladstone Park he would flush the flesh and smaller bones down the lavatory and the rest of the bodies in the back garden, over his fence.

Nilsen’s killing spree was ended by an emplyee of Dyno-Rod who had been called to Nilsen’s road regarding their plumbing. The employee discovered flesh-like substances in the drain and numerous small bones. There was even a discussion between the employee, his supervisor and Nilsen about the substances in the drain and Nilsen said, “It looks to me like someone has been flushing down their Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

When the Dyno-Rod employees arrived the next morning, the drain had been cleared , but there were some scraps of flesh and four bones still in a pipe which lead to the top flat of the house. They then decided to call the police, who upon closer inspection found further small bones and the remains of human or animal flesh in the same pipe. A piece of flesh which was examined by the pathologist confirmed it was human flesh and it was from a neck and had a ligature mark on it.

They found out that this flat belonged to Nilsen and on entering could smell the odour of rotting flesh. When told that the blockages were human flesh, Nilsen feigned shock stating, “Good grief, how awful,” to which the police officer replied, “Don’t mess about, where’s the rest of the body?” Nilsen told him the body was in two plastic bags in a nearby wardrobe. They asked him if there were any other body parts to be found, to which Nilsen replied, “It’s a long story, it goes back a long time. I’ll tell you everything. I was to get it off my chest. Not here, at the police station.”

In an interview Nielsen confessed that there were further human remains stowed in a tea chest, while other reamins were in an upturned drawer in his bathroom.

On 24th October, 1983 Nilsen was committed to stand trial at the Old Bailey on six counts of murder, two of attempted murder, where he pleaded ‘Not Guilty.’

After a lengthy trial, the jury returned the verdict of guilty on all counts of the murder and one attempted murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and that he serve a minimum of 25 years.

He died in 2018 having suffered a pulmonary embolism.


There are more notorious killers that I haven’t written about, but rest assured, there will be part two coming up soon…..

Gavin and Stacey

I expect you’re wondering why I have a section entitled Gavin and Stacey? Well, did you know that the families have serial killer surnames….

  • Gavin’s family name is Shipman.
  • Stacey’s is West and most chilling of all,
  • Pete Sutcliffe is their good friend!

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