Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Selfies and the Serial Killer

Female murderer takes photos of self just before victim assaults.

This week in England, we have the trial of Joanna Dennehy, who allegedly murdered three men and attempted to kill two others. I’ve been watching the trial’s progress, but after a particularly weird revelation on Tuesday, I had to make a comment. Nothing says malignant narcissism like a selfie taken as a murder memento.

Last November, Dennehy, 31, pled guilty to the murders earlier that year of three men she knew and the attempted murders of two random strangers. She fancied herself to be a sort of Bonnie, as in Bonnie and Clyde, but according to her alleged accomplices, Dennehy was the ringleader. She initiated the attacks and reportedly grew wildly excited over news items about the murders. Her “Clyde,” 7-foot-3 Gary “Stretch” Richards, is believed to have assisted with the body dumps.

Female serial killers are rare, but they’ve been documented as far back as Ancient Rome. Some have shockingly high victim totals. Their motives range from greed to anger to power, and a few have been outright lust killers. It’s not yet clear what motivated Dennehy – and there might be several motives, since she knew her first three victims well – but thrill appears to be a significant component in at least the two attempted murders.

One witness, who met Dennehy on April 1 and rode in the car when she went out to kill, told the court he smelled blood on her. “I’ve killed three people,” she’d bragged. “I want to do some more. I want some fun.”

Once a pretty girl who’d aspired to be an attorney, Dennehy had spiraled into serious drug and alcohol addictions. She gradually became unrecognizable to people who knew her. A former lover, with whom Dennehy had two children, had left with them to protect them from their mother. He'd tried giving her a second chance but had found her to be quite frightening. His instincts were right.

Dennehy generally stabbed her victims in the heart with a 9-inch folding knife before dumping the bodies in remote ditches outside Peterborough. She admitted to killing Kevin Lee, with whom she'd had an affair, on March 29 last year. To further humiliate him, she’d dressed the corpse in a sequined black dress. Lukasz Slaboszewski and John Chapman were friends, and supposedly one had been Dennehy’s lover. Both were stabbed to death in March. The two random victims, 56 and 64, had been out walking their dogs. Both survived the attacks.

The witness from the car described the nightmare trip with Dennehy in court: “It was frenzied. She just went absolutely mad. She takes a knife out of her left pocket with her right hand. She strikes him like in the film Psycho, just like that. Thrusting and putting her whole weight behind it.” She then came back to the car and kissed Stretch. She had one of the dogs with her, as her “new pet.”

Just before Dennehy launched her final attacks, she’d used her phone to take a selfie of herself sticking out her tongue. It was shown to jurors this week. They saw other photos of her posing with an ornamental dagger, her tongue seemingly ready to lick it as a pair of handcuffs hung from her belt. She also lifted her shirt to show off a red bra and pose in a sexually provocative position. It wasn’t difficult to see the scars across her stomach from self-inflicted knife wounds. (The Daily Mail ran all the photos online, as well as selfies that Stretch had taken.)

Well, pictures are with a thousand words, and these visuals will likely stick in the minds of the jurors as they go to deliberate, perhaps having more impact than any verbal reports. This British Bonnie took selfies as not just a record of her bloodlust but probably also of her own self-orchestrated demise.

 

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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