To be a serial-killer or not to be a serial-killer

Joanna Dennehy- you might not have heard the name- I hadn’t and I’m low-key (maybe high-key) obsessed with true crime.

Joanna Dennehy grew up in Hertfordshire. She was academic as an adolescent- smart, attractive and athletic. She grew up with a loving family and parents who provided for her and her sister the best they could. When she was 13 years old, she tried to run away with an 18 or 19  year old boy. She began to self-harm. She began to steal from her parents. She began to drink. She started showing sado-massochistic tendencies. At 16 years old, she ran away for good.

Two children later and she ended up in prison for 12 months for assault. Her children’s father had left with them shortly before. That same year, all before she was 21 years old, she ended up in the hospital where she was diagnosed with anti-social, psychopathic and borderline personality disorders. 

Throughout her short time in her young adult life, she discovered an ability to control men using her sexuality, and that’s what landed her a place to stay after her time in prison. Kevin Lee, a naive property developer, was touched by Dennehy’s ability to be so honest and up-front. He commended her desire to start a new life after prison and wanted to help her. He became her lover, perhaps feeling his marriage hadn’t been giving him what he needed- or perhaps his wife just wasn’t into what Dennehy was- dressing men up as women and sexually assaulting them.

In 2013, Lee turned up dead in a black sequenced dress. His two housemates’ bodies were found a few days later- all had been stabbed to death.

Dennehy had a group of men at her will at the time of the murders- her sexuality hypnotized them (actually though, a judge let one of these men off with a year in prison because he had been “under Dennehy’s spell at the time.”) and they were at her beckon call. These men helped her dump the bodies after the murders since they were much stronger. They also drove her around in a car while she looked out the window for her next victims- men chosen at random who she stabbed until she thought they were dead. These two men lived, however, and that brought her to her demise. She only wanted to kill men- never women and NEVER women with children. This killing spree lasted only ten days, but she would have continued as long as she could, later telling a psychiatrist that killing was moreish (an english slang term meaning causing one to desire more).


Joanna Dennehy (above) is currently an inmate at Bronzefield Prison, Surrey.

This story is abnormal because (1) it’s a woman serial killer and (2) there is not one hint of an environmental influence causing this woman to completely switch from a sweet academic to a psychopathic killer. Usually, serial killers are males who have been abused as children by possibly both mother (or mother-figures) and father (or father-figures). The males grow up to end up murdering and/or torturing and/or brutally sexually assaulting women or men who resembled the original abuser. It’s a classic story of their interpretation of regaining dignity through others as an adult after being humiliated by an abuser. These killers often show signs as children- typical things like being bullied/bullying, love for violence or rule-breaking blah blah blah- but the most tell-tale signs displayed are hurting animals and bed-wetting. Look up the top serial killers in the U.S. and in the world- the majority will be male with childhoods described as above and most will have displayed the tell-tale signs of future killers.

Why are you talking about this, though, seriously, get to the point.

Okay, okay- so to be a serial killer, most frequently, there is a genetic component and an environmental component- the environmental being more variable and perhaps, just acting as a trigger or catalyst in many cases. So it’s not like there’s just one extreme- serial killer or not serial killer- there’s a whole range of greys between the black and white of these definitions- for all we know, tons of us walk around with enough of the genetic component to become killers in the right environment, but our environments never triggered us. So what’s in between being a killer and not being a killer?

Looking at specific case studies- the personality disorders that lie somewhere between killer and not killer are borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder- we are cognizant of who we are- we’re not crazy; we’re actually very aware of the way that we work and function- but we can’t control the way that we are and we share certain characteristics with psychopaths and other personality disorders that are deemed crazy. We can be powerful and abuse that power or we can be victimized and abused.


My dad was (is?) a narcissist and possibly a psychopath. Even as a kid I remember him telling stories about tying a firecracker to a cats tail as a child and thinking it was hilarious- remember animal cruelty is a tell-tale sign of serial killers. My brother is a narcissist. I have borderline personality disorder. My dad did what he wanted and manipulated others to get what he wanted. Maybe he had good intentions, maybe not. Either way, the consequences were/are prison for 12 years. My brother does the same to others even at a young age, he’s able to manipulate and almost transform himself into someone who others want in order to use them. I, in the meantime, have fallen prey to other narcissists. It’s like they have a sixth sense for me because I was groomed to become a victim and I have one for them without knowing it consciously- I can only be attracted to narcissists, who are, by nature, abusive in all situations, be it physical, emotional or sexual. They can’t help it and I can’t help it. I know who I am and how I function and I know that I have traits like a narcissist and that I could use them to manipulate others to get what I want and I won’t lie, I’ve tried that, but because of the way I was brought up, emotionally, possibly sexually, abused, I can’t help but become a victim rather than an abuser. Just like serial killers are criminals who have victims, the grey areas who have the genetics to become a killer have abusers (criminals) and victims. In my own experience- the grey areas (narcissists and borderline personality disorders) will always tend to one extreme or another- victim or abuser. The shade of grey correlating to the degree of extremity to which they tend.

Future posts will look at case studies involving this topic. I leave you with the following questions

Why is there a trend for the killers/abusers to be men if the women with the same genetics/environment don’t become these but rather, tend to be victims

aka why would I become a victim and my brother, an abuser,


in the situations that diverge from statistical trends, what is the factor that makes these samples outliers?




  1. I look forward to future posts exploring this topic. I am a true crime fanatic, watching Dateline, 48 Hours, Deadly Women, etc and my daughter asked me why I am ‘obsessed’ with killers.

    Quite opposite, actually. What fascinates me is how people become killers. People with psychiatric disorders, people with them but undiagnosed,people who are seemingly fine-until they aren’t. It’s the abnormal psychology (and the criminals getting busted) that capture my interest. So many use the “I was abused” or “I was disturbed by my illness” defense…but it doesn’t explain why a million others with the same history or diagnoses do not become killers. So…what does?

    I should think with my family’s dysfunction, mental disorder on both sides, and really poor mental health care I’d be a serial killer by now if that’s all it takes to ‘turn on’ the killing machine. Yet I don’t even kill spiders if I can safely get them outdoors and I feel bad for cutting someone off in traffic. I have disorders but I’m not a monster but does it rule out that I could easily become one at some point?

    Really glad you touched on this. It’s a fascinating study in nurture, nature, genetics, personality, etc. What makes the ‘perfect storm’ that turns an otherwise decent or seemingly decent person cross that line? It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.


    1. I’m so glad you liked this! If you like the topic there are two super good podcasts- sword and scale is amazing but one called serial killers talks more about childhoods and is more understanding as to why people turned out like this- Usually they say things like “imagine if you were treated like x, y and z as a kid- what would you be like later on in life?”
      I look forward to your thoughts and reflections on the topic in the future 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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