The subject of this case, Joanna Dennehy is quite special, she has been described in the media as the most dangerous woman currently in the British prison system and she is one of only three women in the UK to be given a full life sentence alongside Myra Hindley and Rose West.
Dennehy was born in August 1982 in St Albans, Herefordshire, she grew up in the nearby Harpenden area with her father Kevin, who worked as security guard and her mother Kathleen a shop manager, she also had a younger sister Maria who went on to have a successful career in the army before starting her own IT company. While in prison Dennehy has made claims that she was abused as a child, but no evidence has been found to suggest she was, and all family and friends report that both girls were always treated well. In relation to these accusations many have said that she actually had a comfortable and ordinary working-class upbringing, she shared a bedroom with bunk beds with her sister as a child and the two were described as being so close they even made up their “own language”. Dennehy enjoyed playing with dolls and as she grew became interested in make-up, fashion and styling her hair.
Dennehy attended Roundwood Park School in Harpenden, she was a bright and capable student and her parents had hope that she would attend university and become a lawyer, they even paid for her to see a tutor for extra help in her studies. She was also active in many extra-curricular activities, being an active member of the school hockey and netball teams. The problems reportedly began in her early to mid-teens, her sister claims she ran away from home for the first time at 13-years-old, it was brief and it is believed that’s she was with an older boy of about 18 or 19, she also started stealing from her parents before running away from home a few more times. When she was 15 years old, she began a relationship with an older man John Treanor, who was 20 years old when they got together. During their relationship Dennehy ran away from home to him, she told Treanor that she had an argument with her mother and that she had been kicked out, the couple were found living rough on a waste land, sleeping in a tent close to Dennehy’s home, her family tracked her down and they reconciled , taking Dennehy home with them.
Dennehy continued to spiral out of control, she was taking drugs and drinking before going to school and by the age of 16 she left home for good, she would only return home when she needed money. Dennehy set up a home with Treanor a few miles up the road from her family in Luton, then moved to Milton Keynes. Dennehy had two children while in her teens and became permanently estranged from her family after the birth of her first child, she had reportedly told her parents that they would have to pay if they wanted to see their grandchild.
Her relationship with Treanor was described as stormy and toxic, she was repeatedly unfaithful with both men and women, telling friends that she never wanted children, she would also leave her children home for days or weeks with Treanor then return and ask for forgiveness. After one of these incidents the couple moved to try for a fresh start in East Anglia, but her drinking worsened, she worked as a labourer on farms, but would sometimes be paid in alcohol rather than cash. As well as abusing substances, Dennehy would also self-harm by cutting her arms, body and neck with a razor blade, the tattoo of a star under her right eye was also done by Dennehy herself.
During this time Dennehy’s younger sister Maria was serving with British troops in Afghanistan, after a tour of Helmand she decided to track down her older sister and traced her and Treanor to an address in Cambridgeshire, but Dennehy made it clear to her family that she wanted nothing to do with any of them. Her violent behaviour also worsened, Treanor would often be the target of her outbursts while drunk or high, she would kick and punch Treanor and would tell him and friends that she wanted to kill someone. Dennehy started to carry a dagger in her boots regularly and this was the final straw for Treanor, during one of her outbursts she took the dagger and repeatedly stabbed the carpet, Treanor said the blank, cold look on her face made him afraid that she would eventually use the dagger on him so he left her in 2009 taking their three children with him.
Dennehy didn’t seem too bothered about losing her children and drifted from address to address in East Anglia, her behaviour worsened as she would steal and prostitute herself to pay for her drug and alcohol habits. She was arrested and charged around this time for burglary and served time in prison, here she received some treatment for her mental health problems. In February 2012 she spent a few days in Peterborough city hospital, she was diagnosed as suffering from anti-social personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Her mental health was examined further after her arrest by a consultant forensic psychiatrist, Frank Farnham while at Bronzefield prison in Surrey, she was described by Farnham as having paraphilia sadomasochism, this means she felt sexual excitement from acts involving pain, humiliation or bondage, he said that Dennehy liked to give and receive pain.
Dennehy started her spree on 19th March 2013, she targeted 31-year-old polish immigrant Lucasz Slaboszewski, he had moved to the UK in 2005 from Nowa Sol and was working in a DHL warehouse in Peterborough at the time of his death, he was lured to her property at 11 Rolleston Garth by a number of texts sent by Dennehy, he had met Dennehy for the first time days before the murder and told friends that he had found an “English girlfriend” as he believed there was a chance of a romantic connection with Dennehy. When he arrived at the flat the pair drank and chatted for a while until Dennehy convinced Slaboszewski to put on a blindfold as part of a “game”, when his eyes were covered, she launched her attack and stabbed him through the heart. She realised after killing Slabosewski that she couldn’t dispose of the body alone, so she called upon a known criminal associate Gary “Stretch” Richards, at 7ft 3in he was described as a “giant of a man” and was “smitten” with Dennehy and would do anything he could to help or please her. Richards brought another associate with him to the flat Leslie Layton, and they moved Slabosewski’s body to a wheelie bin outside a nearby block of flats, prosecutor Pete Wright said that Dennehy had “showed the body to a teenage girl quite casually” as it lay in a wheelie bin. In order to transport the body, Dennehy and Richards bought a green Vauxhall Astra, which stretch nicknamed “the hearse” they then disposed of Slaboszewski’s body in a ditch on the outskirts of Peterborough.
Dennehy struck again on 28th March 2013, this time she targeted her 56-year-old housemate at 38 Bifield, John Chapman, Chapman was originally from Leeds and had served in the Navy in the Falklands War, he fell on some dark times and developed a drinking problem, but locals described him as a “friendly drunk”, just like Slabosewski, he drank and chatted with Dennehy for some time, but Chapman passed out, once he was unconscious Dennehy pulled out the same knife she had used in the first murder and stabbed Chapman once in the neck and five times in the chest. She again needed the help of Richards and Layton, telling Richards “ooops, I’ve done it again”. The pair again disposed of the body for her and Chapman’s body was placed in the same ditch as Slabosewski. In relation to this murder she claimed that Chapman had tried to watch her while she showered and that Kevin Lee who was renting the property had asked her to get Chapman out “by any means” as he intended to sell the property. It was revealed that after this murder Layton had a photo on his mobile phone of Chapman’s body, the photo had been taken at 7:32am not too long after the murder, he was never questioned about the photo as it had been deleted before the photo could be retrieved forensically, he was given the opportunity to give evidence on this matter to a jury at his trial to say whether he took, deleted or knew about the photograph but didn’t say anything, his counsel put forward the theory that Dennehy had taken the photo on his phone without his knowledge, as there was no evidence to prove this the judge argued that Layton did not comment on the photo because he did take it himself and delete it before police searched his phone because that photo would have disputed any claims he made about being under duress.
Dennehy’s third victim had known Dennehy for some time before she killed him, 48-year-old Kevin Lee also met Dennehy in Peterborough in early 2013 after her release from prison, she had told Lee and his friend Paul Creed that she was looking for somewhere to stay after being released from prison for killing her abusive father, the only truth in that story being her prison release, Lee rented out cheap rooms to vulnerable people, he was described as a generous, helpful man, Creed said he took an instant dislike to her saying “I did not want to house her” but Lee was more sympathetic arguing that she had been honest with them so he wanted to give her a chance. Dennehy began renting a property and working for Lee doing odd jobs and acting as an “enforcer” that would lean on troublesome tenants in order to pay rent, It’s suspected that during the period she knew Lee she felt she had some stability since her rent was paid and she had somewhat of a job, as a result of this she stopped taking the anti-psychotic medication she had been prescribed previously. Lee started an erotically violent affair with Dennehy and some of Lee’s friend report that she had asked Lee to “punch her in the face” during sex. Prior to his murder he once described her as “like Uma Thurman from Kill Bill or the woman from Terminator”, he became aware of how far her violent tendencies went after the first murder, when they were looking for a car to transport the first victim Lee helped them find the green Vauxhall Astra, it s unknown whether he fully knew what the car was actually for, but police believe he did and as a result confessed the nature of his relationship with Dennehy to his wife, Mrs Lee told him to stay away from Dennehy for his own safety, but he continued to be drawn to Dennehy.
Lee’s murder took place on 29th March 2013, Lee was also invited to her flat, then attacked. Dennehy stabbed Lee in the heart and killed him on arrival to the property, for this murder Dennehy seemed to be getting more sadistic, she was not content with just killing Lee, before Richards disposed of the body Dennehy dressed Lee in one of her black sequin dresses. Richards and Layton were again on hand to help Dennehy dispose of the body, they drove Lee’s car out to the same countryside as the first two murders and torched it, then dumped his body in a ditch five miles away from the other bodies, before leaving Dennehy placed the body in the ditch with the dress pulled up to expose his buttocks, in one last act of humiliation.
On 2nd April 2013 a farmer found the bodies of Chapman and Slaboszewski in the ditches, in searching the area Lee’s body was found and the police launched a triple murder investigation, upon hearing that the bodies had been discovered the pair fled. First, they went to north Norfolk and visited a former cellmate of Dennehy’s Gillian Page. When they arrived, Page said that Dennehy was excited when she saw the police television appeal for information on the murders, she was described as “jumping around” in excitement and joy she said, “Jo was ecstatic about it”. Dennehy told Page that she knew they would go to jail “for a long time” and compared herself and Richards to Bonnie and Clyde as they further bragged that no one would find the bodies where they had left them. They committed a robbery before leaving Norfolk to Hereford, in this robbery they only took items and no money, so they contacted another associate of Richards’, Mark Lloyd to help them sell the items. Lloyd said that while Dennehy was at his property she was waving a knife around and behaving aggressively she then demanded that the three of the go for a drive.
Once in the car, Lloyd said she started to brag about the men she had killed saying, “I’ve killed three people, Gary helped me dispose of them and I want to do some more, I want my fun” leaving Lloyd shocked, appalled and scared for his life. While driving around she wanted to strike again and selected a victim at random saying to Richards “I want my fun. Find me my fun” and that she wanted “a man with a dog”. She leapt from the car and stabbed 64-year-old Robin Bereza in the shoulder, she stabbed him twice before he realised what was happening, speaking about the attack he said, “I said: what are you doing? And she replied “I’m hurting you. I’m going to fucking kill you”, she just stared right through me, I kicked her and made contact. It had no impact on her. She just came straight towards me. I ran into the road. I put my hand to my jacket and saw all this bood”. The attack on Bereza was only stopped when a passer-by intervened, Dennehy jumped back into the car as Bereza collapsed on to the ground.
Just Nine minutes later Dennehy attacked another man as he walked his dog on a cycle path, 57-year-old John Rogers was stabbed in the back, he said he initially thought he’d been punched in the back saying, “I turned around and saw the woman who stabbed me just standing there” “she started stabbing me in the chest” he asked Dennehy why she was doing this, she replied by noting that he was bleeding and that she “better do some more”, during this attack Rogers said she didn’t seem to be showing any emotion or even seem like she was enjoying the violence that she insisted she wanted to inflict. As she left Rogers on the ground she took his lurcher with her in the vehicle Lloyd said when she got back into the car with him and Richards, she “stank” of blood and that her blade of her knife was black because it was caked in so much blood, but she kept addressing the dog she had now placed on her lap saying “he’s me only friend”.
Bereza and Rogers survived the attacks inflicted on them and were able to give a description to police of their attacker, Dennehy and Richards were arrested on 3rd April 2013 in Hereford, as the bodies were discovered and links were made to Dennehy and Richards and CCTV was obtained from a service station showing the pair stop for tobacco as they were fleeing across the country. As she was being processed in the police station security footage from the station showed her laughing and flirting with officers she joked to one “he had nice eyebrows” and that he was a “sound copper” as they spoke to her she began to ask about the well-being of Rogers’ lurcher and where he was being kept, she showed more concern for the dog than she did for the men she had killed and nearly killed this was proved further when she said to the officers “attempted murder and murder ain’t that bad though are they?” and that the feeling of murder was “more-ish”.
Dennehy stood trial in November 2013, she pleaded guilty to all three murders and the two further attempted murders, her sister attended the trial and said she wasn’t surprised by Dennehy’s guilty plea saying, “I think she did that to control the situation. She likes people to know she’s the boss”, it was during this time while being held at HMP Bronzefield she was diagnosed as having anti-social, borderline and psychopathic personality disorders. The sentencing came around on 28th February 2014 at the Old Bailey, Dennehy was sentenced by the judge Mr Justice Spencer to life imprisonment, it was recommended that she never be released.
Richards and Layton also stood trial for their part in Dennehy’s spree, they both decided not to give evidence and avoid a cross-examination. On 10th February 2014 Gary Richars was found guilty of attempted murder he was given life imprisonment with a recommended minimum term of 19 years. Leslie Layton was charged with perverting the course of justice and was sentenced to 14 years.
During his trial Richards compared the Dennehy case to 17th century tragedy in which one crime leads on to other atrocities, he was referring to Slaboszewski’s murder as being the one crime, he said “Shakespeare and Jacobean writers understood how foul one deed beget a sequence of tragic circumstances” whereas Dennehy told one friend after the murders “They shouldn’t have pissed me off. They shouldn’t have flirted with me”.
During her time on remand it was revealed that Dennehy was planning to escape, the plan was discovered in her diary, she intended to kill or seriously injure a prison guard with the aim of cutting off a finger and then using it to fool the biometric system in the prison, once the plot was discovered she was placed in solitary confinement until the trial, in total 2 ears (September 2013 – September 2015). She said that being in isolation made her tearful and drove her to self-harm again, and made a claim to the High Court saying that her human rights had been violated, while government lawyers argued that she posed as a huge risk if to public safety if she was to escape due to the nature of her offences. Mr Justice Singh ruled that solitary confinement was in accordance with law and said, “at all material times it has been necessary and proportionate”.
Dennehy is currently serving her life sentence in Bronzefield Prison, Surrey. In August 2018 it was reported that Dennehy had been rushed to hospital after a suicide attempt, Dennehy and her lover were found entwined and bleeding on the floor, Dennehy had slicer her throat and the lover had sliced her wrists in a suicide pact, both survived and prison officials decided to separate the women, which resulted in Dennehy attempting suicide again once discharged and back in prison, she also survived this attempt and is currently back in Bronzefield.
The question everyone seems to ask about Joanna Dennehy is why? And there is no one answer when it comes to Joanna Dennehy, the main theory is that she simply enjoyed killing because she was as everyone who knew her said a “mad woman”. This theory is somewhat true she did enjoy committing her crimes because of her personality disorders, her mental state seemed to be deteriorating for years leading up to the murder through the teen years as a frequent runaway, substance abuse and the stress that comes from being a young mother. Being a mother would have been difficult for Dennehy although she may love her children, she had too selfish a personality to consider her children in the way a mother should, seen in the way she would leave her children for weeks with Treanor and then just randomly come back, she couldn’t cope with the responsibility of having to consider someone over herself. After the Treanor and the children left her Dennehy lost her one bit of stability, this progressed the deterioration of her mental state as it drove her to start committing minor crimes to fund her addictions, this shows how she would act selfishly due to her anti-social personality as she was stealing to help herself completely with no remorse or regard for the people she was stealing from. Once she was arrested and imprisoned for the first time for these crimes she was given access to mental health treatment, but her strong manipulative personality would have thrived in prison, and possibly taught her new ways to manipulate people once released, and that’s exactly what happened when she walked into Kevin Lee’s building. The new life she was building for herself saw her as a figure of respect and fear among Lee’s tenants, as well as adoration from Lee to the point she had free accommodation, she would have loved the feeling of control she had in her life at this point and that’s why she stopped taking her medication. Stopping her anti-psychotics was the beginning, as they left her system her mental state got more and more unstable leading her to want to behave recklessly and have less control over the intense rage that is seen in borderline personality disorder, she now had a taste for the violence that she craved in her “job” as an “enforcer” for Lee and wanted to escalate to murder for a while and couldn’t control herself leading her to plan to kill Slaboszewski and begin her murder spree.
The fact she has been diagnosed with paraphilia sadomasochism does play a part in why she likes to kill, but once again her mental state makes this unhealthy and escalates it to extreme acts such as rape and extreme humiliation, it would have been a sexual fantasy building in her head for years as her mental state grew more imbalanced, and this also led to her eventually building up to commit her first murder, it was also a factor in what made her experiment with humiliating Lee post-mortem, as each murder was successfully executed her confidence grew and she started to think of things that would enhance the experience and the sexual high she got from the murder by enjoying the feeling of humiliating Lee when he is completely helpless.