ITV’s brand new drama Des begins tonight, telling the story of how prolific serial killer Dennis Nilsen, played by David Tennant, was captured by police officers, who were then tasked with identifying Nilsen’s victims to stop the murderer from walking free.
Based on Brian Masters’ biography of the criminal, Killing for Company, this true-crime drama is set in 1983 and the Des cast is certainly star-studded, including Daniel Mays (Line of Duty) as lead investigator Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay.
But who is the real-life inspiration behind the police officer key to locking up Dennis Nilsen? And what happened to him after the horrific case was closed?
Here’s everything you need to know about DCI Peter Jay.
Who is DCI Peter Jay?
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay was one of the lead detectives on serial killer Dennis Nilsen’s case in 1983.
The Metropolitan Police Detective worked his way up in the police force and was working for the Hornsey Police Station when he was called to 23 Cranley Gardens in north London to investigate reports of human flesh and bone found clogging the drains in the area.
Upon arriving at Nilsen’s flat, he was met with a stench of death, subsequently discovered one of Nilsen’s victims and arrested the killer.
During a 30-hour interview with Jay at the police station, Nilsen admitted to murdering fifteen young men over a period of five years – but despite Nilsen’s confession, Jay and his colleagues struggled to find and identify the bodies of his victims.
Nilsen could not recall all the names of his victims, so Jay worked alongside the rest of his team to identify every single one but this proved to be difficult, as Nilsen purposefully preyed on homeless people or those living off-grid.
Whilst dealing with limited resources, Jay managed to identify six of Nilsen’s victims which led to his conviction for those specific deaths, however Nilsen was not tried for the remaining nine victims.
Jay was a heavy smoker, consuming 50-60 cigarettes a day during the case, according to his widow Linda.
My track record playing coppers continues in new 3 pt @ITV drama DES. In 1983, DCI Peter Jay was responsible for securing the conviction of notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen. A shocking and unprecedented case that rocked the nation. Excited to be joining such a talented cast pic.twitter.com/VA7RHiHPsR
— Daniel Mays (@DanielMays9) November 22, 2019
Who plays DCI Peter Jay in Des?
Peter Jay is played by Daniel Mays, the Essex-born actor best known for his roles in Line of Duty, White Lines, Good Omens and Ashes to Ashes.
Speaking about his character, Mays said: “Even with all of the experience that Peter Jay had as a policeman, he had never encountered anything of this magnitude and scale.”
“The world’s media and the spotlight were on Peter himself to lead the investigation with his team of officers. It was a really pressurised, difficult and strenuous situation they had to go through.”
Where is DCI Peter Jay now?
Two years after the investigation closed, Jay left the police force started a family with his life Linda. Jay passed away in 2017 at the age of 79, however his 32-year-old son Simon assisted the production team and Daniel Mays with their research about his father.
Speaking to HertsLive, Simon said that his father felt as though justice was never truly sought after failing to finding all of Nilsen’s victims.
“The problem with the case is that Nilsen always claims he killed 15 or 16 people. I think they only found six bodies and the police at the time shut the whole case down without Dad wanting it to be shut down,” he said.
“They could convict him for life based on the six bodies they found but he always thought they still hadn’t sought justice for the victims and their families,” he continued. “It was always a bit of a tainted case for him even though everyone looks at it as this big, positive case that they found this killer. For Dad it was always that we never got to finish it properly.”