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Joanna Dennehy and the Peterborough Ditch Murders

Composite image showing various Peterborough locations with the text 'The Peterborough Ditch Murders'

Over the course of ten days in March 2013, three men were murdered in Cambridgeshire, England. The events became known as the Peterborough Ditch Murders, and sent shockwaves through the community, as the spectre of a serial killer loomed overhead.

It was around 10:04am on 30th March 2013, when police in Newborough received a phone call from a concerned member of the public. He had stumbled across the body of a male in a ditch. The body was dressed in a black sequin dress and posed sexually. An autopsy confirmed that the victim had died as a result of stab wounds to the chest. The man was identified as 48-year-old Kevin Lee.

Just the following day, police announced that they were seeking two people in relation to the stabbing: Joanna Dennehy and Gary Stretch. Police asked the public not to approach either suspect but to report any sightings to police. Det Chief Insp Martin Brunning from the Major Crime Unit said: "Gary and Joanna are very distinctive in their appearance which is why I am asking the public for help. Gary Stretch is 47 and 7ft3ins with grey balding hair and Joanna Dennehy is 30 and has a very distinctive green tattoo on her right cheek, beneath her eye.”

Dennehy was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1982. She grew up in the affluent commuter town of Harpenden. She had come from a well-to-do family that had worked hard to provide her with a stable upbringing. Years later, Dennehy was diagnosed with several psychopathic and anti-social disorders. She slipped into a life of low-level crime, but there was nothing to indicate that she was capable of such violence.

While the search for Dennehy and Stretch was underway, two more bodies were discovered on 3rd April. Police were called to Fenland Field in Thornley, near Peterborough. A member of the public had stumbled across two more bodies: Lukasz Slaboszewski and John Chapman. Autopsies confirmed that Lukasz had been stabbed in the heart while John had been stabbed in the neck and chest.

Lukasz had met Dennehy just a couple of days before she killed him. He had told friends that he had met an “English girlfriend” and quickly moved in with her. Somewhere between 19th and 29th March, Dennehy lured Lukasz to a property in Rolleston Garth where she stabbed him and hid his body in a wheelie bin.

John was killed next on 29th March. He had lived at the same bedsit as Dennehy and was plagued by drug and alcohol addiction. It was been said that he was “at the mercy” of Dennehy as she brutally stabbed him to death. Upon killing John, Dennehy called up Stretch and sang the lyrics to Britney Spear’s song, ‘Oops, I Did It Again’.

Stretch and another accomplice, Leslie Layton, had helped Dennehy transport the two bodies to Fenland Field, where there were found by a passer-by a couple of days later. Later on that same day, Dennehy took her third victim: Kevin Lee. Kevin was the landlord and lover of Dennehy. He was stabbed in the neck and chest.

Police were unaware at the time, but after Dennehy and Stretch’s photographs were released in the media, they had fled 140 miles away to Hereford, alongside another friend, Mark Lloyd. Both men were well aware of the murders that Dennehy had committed and she commented to them that she wanted to continue killing.

As the trio drove, they came across 64-year-old Robin Bereza, who was walking his dog. Dennehy jumped out of the vehicle and launched a brutal stabbing attack. Miraculously, Robin survived. He later commented: “I felt a blow to my right shoulder. I turned around and saw this lady, she just stared through me.”

From there, the trio continued to drive before Dennehy targeted a second dog walker: 56-year-old John Rogers. John was stabbed a total of 40 times but also survived the attack with serious injuries. Both men were found by a passer-by, who immediately came to their assistance. The first aid that they gave undoubtedly contributed to their survival.

A nationwide manhunt ensued as the community struggled to make sense of the attacks. There was an immense fear that a sadistic serial killer was lurking somewhere among the reputable residents. Even more chilling, she was targeting people at random and with terrifying ferocity.

Police were able to track Dennehy down with the assistance of CCTV. She had been captured on surveillance as she stopped to purchase some tobacco at a service station. They traced her to a green Vauxhall Astra in Newman Close, Newton Farm. Two officers approached the car and arrested Dennehy and Stretch without incident. When she was searched, she was found to be carrying a 9cm pocket knife that was caked in blood.

Joanna Dennehy had killed simply because she wanted to. While on the run, she commented that she wanted to be like Bonnie and Clyde and that she wanted to take nine victims. Det Insp Williams said: “She was attacking for fun. Robbery was not a motive. They were driving around and carrying out random but deliberate attacks."

It was also discovered that Kevin had been attempting to evict Dennehy and Stretch from the bedsit. They had been served an eviction notice which may have been some form of motive for his murder.

Dennehy pleaded guilty to the three murders as well as preventing the lawful burial of her victims and two counts of attempted murder. She was sentenced to a whole-lie tariff. In handing down the sentence, Judge Justice Spender referred to Dennehy as “cold-blooded” and a “cruel, calculating, selfish and manipulative serial killer.” He stated: "Within the space of ten days you murdered three men in cold blood. Although you pleaded guilty, you've made it quite clear you have no remorse.”

In addition to Dennehy, three men were jailed for assisting her in her sadistic killings. According to prosecutors, she had “cast a spell” over her accomplices to help her after conducting the murders. Stretch was found guilty on three counts of preventing the lawful burial of a body and one count of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Leslie Layton was convicted of preventing the lawful burial of two murder victims. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Robert Moore pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Dennehy’s crimes were so horrific that she is one of just three women in the United Kingdom that have been jailed for whole-life terms.

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