Psychology of Murder

Joanna Dennehy: The Psychology of A Female Serial Killer

In a rare case of a female serial killer, 31 year old Joanna Dennehy stabbed three men to death within days of each other. Intent on matching the nine kills of Bonnie & Clyde, she stabbed a further two men in the street. Arrested and convicted of first degree murder in 2013, Joanna Dennehy told the court:

“I killed to see how it felt, to see if I was as cold as I thought I was, and then it got moreish.”

Her desire landed her in a prison cell being only the third woman in the UK to ever be given a whole life sentence. Joanna Dennehy is a young woman who turned to murder with seemingly no conscience and no remorse over her actions.

As a result her case is one of curiosity with questions being asked about just want made a women from a good background who had all the opportunities in life available to her, become a serial killer.

The life of Joanna Dennehy

Born in 1982, Dennehy enjoyed a secure and happy childhood with her parents and sister, in by all accounts, a loving home near to St Albans in Hertfordshire, UK. She performed well academically, however in her teenage years she began to rebel.

Alcohol and drugs entered into her life and she began mixing with people following a more dangerous path. At 15 years old she started a relationship with an older man, eventually having two children with him.

As the years passed her personality began to change, showing signs of narcissism; she did little to take care of her children, she put her own needs and desires before everybody else’s and appeared to do what she wanted regardless of the impact on herself or those around her. Other aspects of her personality were showing worrying signs. She was self-harming, allowing the drugs and alcohol to take over her life, developed a hatred of her mother and her life began to spiral downwards.

She got a tattoo of a small black star on her cheek and after a period in juvenile detention for burglary and numerous incidents with her boyfriend the relationship failed.

Joanna Dennehy

In 2012 Joanna Dennehy was convicted for theft and underwent psychological testing while in prison with a resulting diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder. Underlying psychopathic traits were noticed in this young woman; rage, impulsivity, violence and anger. A medication program was developed which stabilised her mood.

She found herself in the town of Peterborough in the East of England and by March 2013 she was out of control. Homeless, alcoholic, addicted to drugs and in no contact with her family or her children. Her descent into murder had begun.

Kevin Lee was 48 years old and a family man who rented rooms to people who were vulnerable and in need of support. He met Joanna Dennehy and rented her a room to keep her off the streets. Her attitude and strong nature appealed to him and they soon started a romantic relationship.

Related: Are Narcissists Dangerous? The 9 Traits of a Narcissistic Personality [Infographic]

Kevin Lee began to use Dennehy as his ‘enforcer’, tackling other residents who had not paid their rent, a role which she seemed to very much enjoy. She enticed fear from people, was fearless in her own attitude and enjoyed the power and control this role provided for her. Dennehy had accommodation, a source of income and a partner and stopped taking her medication thinking she no longer needed it.

The First Murder – Lucasz Slaboszewski

Thirty-one year old Polish man Lucasz Slaboszewski had recently moved to the UK to find work in Peterborough. He met Joanna around the town and was taken by her confidence and attitude and hoped he could start a relationship with her.

On the 19th March 2013 he received a text from Dennehy inviting him to her flat. Excited at the prospect of intimacy between the two, he readily agreed. They drank alcohol, talked and laughed and appeared to be having a good time. She blindfolded Lucasz in what he thought was a game. When he was blindfolded Dennehy reached for a knife and stabbed him through the heart. Realising she had to remove the body from her flat and she did not have the size and strength herself to do it alone she called in help.

Gary Stretch was a known criminal in Peterborough and had spent time with Dennehy over the previous months. He was another man who had been taken in by her, captivated by her and who friends said ‘would have done anything’ for her. Along with a friend, Leslie Layton, they arrived at the flat and promptly moved the body of Lucasz into a wheelie bin outside a separate apartment block. Neither of these two men showed any horror at her actions or any objection to helping her dispose of the body.

A number of days later they returned to the body and using Gary’s car drove to the countryside and threw him into a ditch at the side of the road.

The Second Murder – John Chapman

The brutal murder of unsuspecting Lucasz Slaboszewski had given Dennehy a thrill. John Chapman rented a room from Kevin Lee in the same building. A Falklands war veteran and an alcoholic he had few friends and few people to miss him. On 28th March, a mere 9 days after the murder of Lucasz, she talked her way into Johns flat with drink. When he passed out drunk, she stabbed him with the same knife she had stabbed Lucasz.

With over six stab wounds to his chest and neck, John did not stand a chance against this young woman. Joanna Dennehy called upon her trusted companions Gary Stretch and Leslie Layton to once again help her remove the body. John Chapman was placed in the same lonely ditch as Lucusz. The motive for murder in this case is not clear. Joanna Dennehy did not rob her victims, she did not torture them or require anything from them. The act of killing appears to have been the attraction, an enjoyment and a sense of empowerment this young woman received from taking the life of another in such a brutal way.

Many individuals with a similar taste have come under the scrutiny of psychologists and criminologists in an attempt to understand their behaviour and why they appear to enjoy carrying out such acts. The psychological profiling of serial killers has provided some understanding of the psychology involved and provided a groundwork for the possibilities in preventing a criminal becoming a serial offender, or even intervening before they act at all.

Hours after stabbing John Chapman she was looking to kill again and she knew of the perfect victim. On 29th March 2013 she invited Kevin Lee to her flat. The man who had provided her with shelter and support, the man who was her lover.

We know Kevin Lee was aware of her dominance and of her enjoyment of power and control over others, but it is unlikely he had any idea of the fate awaiting him that night. Dennehy and Kevin enjoyed themselves that evening, she dressed him in one of her dresses, a game, a bit of fun and then just with Lucasz, when Kevin was least expecting it she stabbed him repeatedly in the chest, killing him within minutes.

That night Kevin was dumped in another ditch seven miles away from where her other two victims’ bodies lay. She positioned him with his bottom sticking up in a humiliating pose, laughing and joking at her own plans for how he would be found.

The Final Attacks

In a terrifying spree of violence, Joanna Dennehy had killed three men in just 10 days. No one reported John and Lucasz missing but Kevin Lee had a family and people to worry about him. The next day his body was found by a member of the public.

A murder investigation was launched looking into his history and lifestyle and Dennehy quickly became a person of interest. Dennehy and Gary Stretch had fled, speeding away in his car to Norfolk to continue her rein of murder and her expression of power. Once in Norfolk on the 2nd April 2013, they committed a robbery and in trying to sell the stolen goods they contacted an old friend of Gary’s, Mark Lloyd. Mr Lloyd found himself mixed up in a plot he could not have imagined. Joanna told Mark she had killed three people, Gary had disposed of the bodies and she was looking to kill more.

Mark agreed to take them to a meeting point to sell the goods but intended to call the police as soon as he had got rid of them. Mark, stuck in the back of the car, listened in horror as Dennehy and Gary laughed about the murders, discussed the victims and planned to find more. He recalls Joanna telling Gary:

“I’m a killer, I want my fun, I want to have my fun, I want to do nine.”

As they drove around the streets of Norfolk, Gary points at a man in the street, 64 year old Robin Bereza, within moments Dennehy was out of the car and plunging a knife into the innocent man’s shoulder, running back to the car as he fell to the ground.

The atmosphere in the car is a mix of terror from Mark and joy and laughter from Dennehy and Gary. They continue to drive, coming to a stop in an estate where 57 year old John Rogers was walking his dog. Just nine minutes after stabbing Robin Bereza, Dennehy repeats her actions, stabbing Mr Rodgers over 40 times before returning to the car with the victim’s dog and announcing she wanted to take him for a walk.

Related: Mental Illness and Violence – Stranger Murders In The UK

The Capture and Trial of Joanna Dennehy

Both victims of her random knife attacks survived and were able to describe to police the distinctive star tattoo Dennehy has on the side of her face. Police quickly linked these reports with the girl they were looking for in the murder of Kevin Lee back in Peterborough. She was tracked down and arrested along with Gary Stretch.

After her arrest, she was polite, happy and carefree. Reports say she sang ‘I’m singing in the rain’ as she was led to the cells to the astonishment of police officers.

On 8th May 2013 she was charged with the murder of Kevin Lee and the attempted murders of Robin Bereza and John Rogers on the streets of Norfolk. The police then found the ditch in Thorney on 3rd April 2013 containing the bodies of Lucasz Slaboszewski and John Chapman. There was no immediate link to Dennehy, however three murders in the same area is unusual and it wasn’t long before the police started to make the connections back to Joanna Dennehy.

One victim was her landlord, another a fellow resident in her apartment building and the third had messages from her on his mobile phone. Joanna was subsequently charged with all three murders. The evidence against her was compelling, both circumstantial in her relationship with the victims and forensic in that she used the same knife in each attack.

During her court hearing Dennehy showed no remorse, she was reported to be smirking and appeared entirely cold to the bloodshed and trauma she had willingly caused. On the 21st of November 2013 she pleaded guilty to all charges. She went straight to the Old Bailey in London for sentencing where Mark Lloyd testified against her and was not charged with any crime.

Dennehy became the third woman in the history of the UK to receive a whole life sentence and to be categorized as too dangerous to ever be released. Rosemary West and Myra Hindley, both convicted of multiple murder, are the only two other women to have received this sentence. Gary Stretch also received a life sentence and Leslie Layton received 14 years for his involvement.

This is a rare murder case from both the brutality shown by a female offender and the manipulation and control Dennehy had over those around her. A young woman has now been marked in history in a case more brutal and more chilling than anyone could have ever imagined.

To cite this article: Guy, F. (2015, Aug 26) Joanna Dennehy: The Psychology of A Female Serial Killer. Crime Traveller. Retrieved from


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