How did Joanne Dennehy become one of the only women in the UK to receive a whole life prison sentence?
In the spring of 2013, in the space of just a few days, three dead bodies were found in ditches in the Peterborough countryside. All the victims were men, all had been stabbed with the same weapon, and all of the murders appeared totally motiveless. It didn't take long however, before the police realised they needed to speak with thirty-one year old Joanna Dennehy; neighbour of one, friend of another, lover and employee of the third. No-one could have imagined that it was Dennehy herself who carried out these cold and brutal murders, and that these three men were not her only victims.
Joanna Dennehy was born in 1982 and grew up near St. Albans, Hertfordshire living with her mother, Kathleen, father, Kevin, and sister, Maria. Her upbringing was, by all accounts, a stable and loving one, and she did well at school throughout her junior years.
As she entered her teenage years however, Joanna began to experiment with drink and drugs and to spend more and more time with petty criminals. At the age of 15 she left home and entered a relationship with the then twenty-year-old John Treanor whom she would subsequently have two children with.
As their babies grew, Treanor and others around the family noticed Dennehy's increasing narcissism – she would put her own wants and desires above those of anyone else, including the children. By this time Joanna was an alcoholic and drug addict and she and Treanor would often argue and fight. Joanna was self-harming – cutting her stomach with knives and razor blades – and had developed a hatred of her mother whom she would rant about. She was a petty criminal and served time in a juvenile detention facility for burglary. She was manipulative and showed no remorse for her actions, nor any empathy for others. Sick of the violence and abuse, Treanor took the children and relocated, leaving Dennehy alone and homeless.
In 2012 Joanna Dennehy was arrested and convicted of theft. She underwent psychological testing while in prison. She was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder. Underlying psychopathic traits were noted; rage, impulsivity, violence and anger. She was subsequently prescribed medication to regulate her moods.
In 2013 Joanna met 48-year-old Kevin Lee in the town of Peterborough. Lee rented out cheap rooms to people who were vulnerable. Lee began paying rent for Dennehy and the pair entered a sexual relationship. Joanna acted as Lee's paid “enforcer”, threatening and intimidating people into paying outstanding rent and other debts. With her rent paid, a porter of sorts, and a paying job, Joanna Dennehy felt her life was more stable than it had been for a long time. Convinced that she was in control, she stopped taking her anti-psychotic medication altogether.
On the 19th of March 2013, 31-year-old Polish immigrant Lucasz Slaboszewski received a text from Joanna Dennehy. The pair had met previously on the streets of Peterborough, and Lucasz is thought to have believed that there was some chance of a romantic relationship. The text invited Slaboszewski round to Dennehy's flat where the pair drank and chatted together. Joanna persuaded Lucasz to put on a blindfold as part of what she said was a game. With her victim's eyes covered, Dennehy produced a knife and proceeded to stab Slaboszewski through the heart.
Unable to dispose of the body alone, Joanna Dennehy called upon Gary “Stretch” Richards, a known criminal and associate of hers, for assistance. Richards – a 7 foot 3-inch giant of a man – was, by all accounts, smitten with Dennehy and was happy to do anything he could to help her. Richards arrived at the flat with an associate of his, Leslie Layton, and together the pair relocated Lucasz Slaboszewski's body to a wheelie bin outside a nearby block of flats. Days later, the body was retrieved and thrown into a ditch in the Peterborough countryside.
On the 28th of March 2013, Joanna Dennehy called at the flat of her neighbour, 56 year old John Chapman, with some alcohol. The pair drank and chatted together until Chapman passed out drunk. Using the same knife she had killed Slaboszewski with nine days earlier, Dennehy stabbed Chapman six times in the chest. Again, Richards and Layton were called upon to help dispose of the body and Chapman's remains were dumped in the same ditch as those of Slaboszewski.
The next day (March 29th) Joanna Dennehy invited Kevin Lee to her flat. There Lee was stabbed in the heart and killed. His body, dressed in a black dress of Dennehy's, was dumped in another ditch some eight miles away from those of Joanna's first two victims, once again with the help of Richards.
On the 2nd of April 2013 Joanna Dennehy and Gary “Stretch” Richards committed a robbery in Norfolk. They contacted an associate of Richards', Mark Lloyd, who agreed to help them fence the stolen goods. Once in the car with the pair Lloyd was shocked and appalled at Dennehy's boasts of having murdered people and wanting to do so again. Driving around, Richards selected a victim for Dennehy, seemingly at random. Leaping from the car, Joanna stabbed 64-year-old Robin Bereza in the shoulder, then jumped back into the vehicle as he collapsed on the ground in a pool of his own blood. Nine minutes later Dennehy attacked another man, 57-year-old John Rogers, stabbing him more than thirty times.
Unlike the first two victims, Kevin Lee had a wife and family and so was reported missing. His body was discovered on the 30th of March by a member of the public. Once he had been identified, and his affairs looked into a little, Joanna Dennehy became a person the police wanted to track down and interview in connection with the murder.
Both Robin Bereza and John Rogers survived their frenzied attacks on the 2nd of April and so were able to describe their attacker to the police.
The bodies of Lucasz Slaboszewski and John Chapman were discovered on the 3rd of April, but no initial connection was made between their deaths and Lee's.
Upon her arrest Joanna Dennehy is said to have been calm to the point of coldness. As she was led to the cells, she is said to have sung “Singin' in the Rain”.
On the 8th of May 2013, Joanna Dennehy was charged with the murder of Kevin Lee and the attempted murders of Robin Bereza and John Rogers.
Connections between Slaboszewski, Chapman and the other victims were established, as was Dennehy’s relationship with both. Pathology found that the exact same knife had been used on all five victims.
While on remand before the trial, prison staff found an escape plot in Dennehy's diary. The plan involved killing or seriously injuring a prison guard, severing off one of their fingers and using it to fool the biometric system in the prison. Dennehy was placed in solitary confinement from September 2013 to September 2015 because of the plot.
On the 21st of November 2013 Joanna Dennehy pleaded guilty to all charges. She went straight to the Old Bailey for sentencing where Mark Lloyd testified against her. Lloyd, who maintained that he was an unwilling spectator in the final two murder attempts, was not charged with any crime.
On the 10th of February 2014 Gary “Stretch” Richards was found guilty of attempted murder. Leslie Layton was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. On the 12th of February Layton and Richards were convicted of all other charges including three counts of preventing the lawful burial of a body.
On the 28th of February 2014 at the Old Bailey, Joanna Dennehy was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge, Mr. Justice Spencer, recommended that she should never be released. He said that this was justified due to the premeditation of each murder. Dennehy is one of only three women in the United Kingdom to be told that her life sentence should mean life – a "whole life tariff", meaning she should never be released. The other two being the deceased Moors Murderer Myra Hindley, and serial killer Rosemary West.
After her trial it emerged that Joanna Dennehy had been on probation at the time of the murders following convictions for assault and for owning a dangerous dog. It was ruled that her probation officers had been given inadequate training.
Joanna Dennehy is currently an inmate at Bronzefield Category A Prison, Surrey. Bronzefield is the only purpose-built private prison solely for women in the UK, and is the largest female prison in Europe.
In May 2016 Dennehy was informed that her attempt to sue the British Justice System for breaching her human Human Rights by keeping her in solitary confinement for two years had been unsuccessful. Mr. Justice Singh found Dennehy's solitary confinement was "in accordance with law [...] at all material times it has been necessary and proportionate".
Joanna Dennehy: born St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK, 1982.
Lucasz Slaboszewski: murdered 19th of March 2013.
John Chapman: murdered 28th of March 2013.
Kevin Lee: murdered 29th of March 2013.
Robin Bereza and John Rogers: attacked 2nd of April 2013.
Arrest: 2nd April 2013.
Pleaded guilty to all charges: 21st of November 2013.
Sentenced to life in prison: 28th of February 2014.