It was my job to get inside the minds of serial killers – then I was stabbed

We’ve all been glued to true crime shows about some of the grizzliest murders around the world.

Meeting killers face to face might be a step too far for us but for Kerry Daynes, it’s just another day on the job.

Kerry has spent over 20 years working as a forensic psychologist in maximum security prisons. She’s met notorious killers like Ian Brady and Jeremy Bamber, fought off a stalker and even endured phone calls from serial killer Dennis Nilsen.

Here, she gives us an insight into her fascinating job working with some of the most dangerous people in Britain…

Wolfing down my chicken kebab supper, I look around the table and idly wonder what most folk would make of my fellow diners – a collection of ex-murderers, sex offenders and arsonists. But I’m not frightened. It’s 2011 and part of my job is spending time in this “halfway house” in a busy northern city.

I return my empty plate to Nigel, a shy man who’s washing up. Suddenly, I feel a blow to my stomach. Nigel’s stabbed me with a 10-inch kebab skewer. He looks panicked, eyes flicking from side to side. I remain calm, staggering to the staff office while blood seeps through my white blouse. “Call an ambulance!” I gasp, slumping to the ground.

I’ve been a forensic psychologist for 25 years, working with some of the most famous killers in our country, such as Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, Moors Murderer Ian Brady and necrophile Dennis Nilsen.

In a nutshell, I use science and psychology to try and analyse people who commit crimes – from shoplifting to shocking murders – and determine if they’re safe to be released from prison.

I’ve always had a fascination with the macabre. As a child I read horror stories about killer grannies and watched Doctor Who from behind the sofa – monsters were about the only things that scared me. This career was my calling.

I remember the first time I ever walked into a prison. It was Strangeways – now called HMP Manchester. I was a naive 19-year-old, keen to learn about crime psychology. It sounds cheesy, but I wanted to create a world with less victims in it.

On my tour, the inmates started catcalling, “There’s some p***y on the wing!” The prison officer rolled his eyes at my confusion. He knew I’d be eaten alive.

Two years later, in 1996, I volunteered as a psychology assistant at Wakefield prison, nicknamed by insiders “Monster Mansion”. It’s full of sex offenders and murderers I’d only seen in the newspapers.

I was feet away from parent killer Jeremy Bamber, Colin “Gay Slayer” Ireland and child murderer Terence McCready.

It was utterly surreal yet I was so excited.

This was long before the #metoo movement and the male prison officers gave me a hard time. One day I interviewed a man who raped, strangled and murdered a woman. While we talked in the cell, the officers locked me in for a laugh.

When I tugged at the door, it wouldn’t budge. Then it hit me… I was stuck in a room with a killer. I tried not to look frightened but I’m a redhead, I must have flushed like a tomato.

He looked at me with a creepy smile. I was intimidated and genuinely scared – and he loved it. He said to me, “You’ve got a pretty neck, you know. It looks a lot like my victim’s.”

I was only locked in for 10 minutes, but it felt like forever. Another inmate called out, “Are you alright in there, Miss?” adding, “I hope you’re treating her well.” That was his way of telling the intimate I was locked in with, “I’ll deal with you if you don’t.”

I shook like a leaf that afternoon, but it didn’t put me off. Nowadays I’m desensitised to a lot of things others would find completely paralysing.

You’re probably used to seeing grey-haired men commenting on crimes on TV, but most forensic psychologists are actually women.

People still think I chop up dead bodies for a living – that’s not my job. Nor am I running around the country, trampling over crime scenes in my high heels and single-handedly arresting serial killers, like they do in TV dramas. Not all of my clients are dangerous either.

In 2009 I worked with a 21-year-old named Frank Ecclestone, who confessed to a gruesome assault with a baseball bat.

It was a messy case and the victim had almost died.

Frank was regarded in the community as “a bit strange”. When I interviewed him, he was wearing a T-shirt featuring John Wayne Gacy – the “Killer Clown” who murdered at least 33 young men and boys.

Not only did this quiet young man confess to the assault, he also blurted out that he was a serial killer and began headbutting the hospital wall.

Afraid of blood

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Afterwards, we were intercepted by another patient who had slit her wrist. My arm turned red as I gripped her wound to stem the flow. Meanwhile, Frank had gone a terrible shade of green. I knew he wasn’t a serial killer. Nor had he assaulted the victim. He was clearly scared of blood.

Frank had given a false confession. It turned out that he had been raped by his stepmother as a child, and his little sister Holly was actually his daughter. His father threatened him and Frank confessed, “If I could say I was a killer he [Dad] would be scared to fight me.”

To Frank, killers were powerful people who commanded attention and respect.

Indeed, serial killers have become almost like pop culture celebrities. I’ve been contacted by women who have US killer Ted Bundy’s teeth marks tattooed on their bodies – they think he was sexy!

One day I was sitting on the sofa at home watching telly when the phone rang. I put the phone to my ear and heard a faint Scottish burr: “Hello Kerry, this is Dennis Nilsen.”

I thought it was a wind-up, but it really was him.

Dennis talked to me in graphic detail about his offenses, keeping his fantasy alive. He spoke bitterly about his childhood in a Scottish fishing village, where he was bullied and was dishonest about his sexuality.

He blamed a great deal of his dissatisfaction in life on his mother. Over four years he phoned me 15 more times. They were long, rambling telephone calls.

Dennis loved to talk about himself and I wanted to understand his distorted version of the events that occurred at Melrose Avenue and Cranley Gardens in London. He’d revel in the TV shows about him.

Receiving telephone calls and text messages from offenders and victims is common – you wouldn’t believe how many I’ve had. So Dennis’s chats weren’t that surprising. I now have Call Guardian on my phone, because I never know who’s going to ring me.

Killed my cat

A few years ago, I really felt fear. I was on TV talking about Jeremy Bamber. Jeremy doesn’t like me – he claims I wrote false stories about him and that I was never a qualified psychologist, which is nonsense. Anyway, someone who was watching became my stalker.

This man set up websites in my name, claiming to be a fan of mine – I’m a forensic psychologist, not Britney Spears! He wanted photographs and information about me and when I politely declined, he got angry and wrote awful things about me.

He said I was the criminal, he knew the size of my breasts and described what I was wearing each day. He was physically watching me and I was terrified.

One day I found the words “Jill Dando” written on my fence and, behind it, the lifeless body of my cat. I was devastated by the death of my poor pet.

I took the man to court myself and paid thousands to have the awful websites removed. Only then was he arrested and given a harassment warning. It was 2016 and I felt more afraid at home alone than I ever did in a prison full of killers.

I’m a single woman, so there’s no man to worry about me. And I didn’t tell my parents or sister about being stabbed with that kebab skewer – I didn’t want them to fret. But now, after 25 years in the business, I could tell my family anything and they’d take it in their stride.

It’s only when I talk about my job that I realise how surreal it sounds, but after work I come home, do the washing up and watch Strictly like everyone else.

In the past I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy to stop me remembering crime scene photographs or the horrors that I’ve heard. But I’m not scared of anyone I’ve worked with – I find politicians far more frightening than murderers.

I’ve met people who’ve done dreadful, unforgivable things, but I don’t believe they are evil. It’s my job to find those human drivers behind inhuman behaviour. Every person has a story.

  • What Lies Buried: A Forensic Psychologist’s True Stories Of Madness, The Bad And The Misunderstood by Kerry Daynes is out now (£7.99, Octopus)

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