Dena Thompson is every man's worst nightmare.
For almost 20 years, she used sex and deception to extort hundreds of thousands of pounds from a string of lovers.
But her most powerful weapon was murder. This is the story of how police caught The Black Widow.
Richard first met Dena through a lonely hearts column in 1998 and was instantly smitten. But unbeknownst to him, for Dena, their courtship was merely a game and one she had played before.
It was to end in a vicious attack 15 months later – one which Richard was lucky to survive.
In the early days of their relationship, Dena used a number of well-practised ploys to hook her new lover.
She flattered Richard, pretending to share his hobbies and showing an interest in everything he did.
She lied about her wealth, claiming to have £300,000 from a lottery win in an high interest bank account. She even invented a fictitious illness - telling Richard she was suffering from terminal breast cancer.
Finally, came the promise of a new life abroad together. Richard said: "Her skill was honing in on people's hopes and ambitions…it can make you blind to what was happening."
The couple married and, from their Sussex home, they started making plans for a new life together in Florida.
But eight months later, on New Year's Day 2000, everything changed.
The pair started the day with a bath and as they dried off, Dena suggested they play a game.
She tied Richard's hands behind his back, put tape around his ankles and placed a towel over his face.
But as Richard heard rustling noises coming from the bedroom, he immediately sensed something was wrong and decided to make a bid for freedom.
He said: "Something in me said there's something maybe not quite right here. It was at that point I freed my hands. Had I not freed my hands at that moment, I would not be talking to you now."
As survival instinct kicked in, Richard put aside his feelings of love and trust for the woman he had married. He struggled against her – even sticking his fingers in her eyes as he fought for his life.
He said: "Something then gave. She broke down, then said, 'It's all been a lie'."
Immediately after the attack, Dena packed her bags and left. That night, Richard lay silent – too stunned to tell anyone what had happened.
But the next day, the extraordinary extent of her lies was to become apparent, when an estate agent called at the house.
He told Richard he was there to see Dena – explaining he had been instructed to sell the house. He seemed surprised to see Richard there too, as he said Dena had told him that he was going to be in Florida.
It was then that Dena's plan became clear.
Richard said: "She was going to kill me, tell everyone I was in Florida and then live happily ever after with the proceeds of the house."
With the ugly truth dawning on him, Richard went to the police.
Officers investigating Richard's story soon noticed worrying similarities with a previous case – and alarm bells began to ring.
Six years earlier a man by the name of Julian Webb was found dead at his home in suspicious circumstances.
Julian's wife had told police he'd been depressed for days before taking a lethal overdose of anti-depressants.
The grieving widow was none other than Dena Thompson.
Police looked back over the case surrounding Julian Webb's death and were struck by the similarities to Richard's story.
So they began to trace all of Dena's previous relationships – with a view to reopening the investigation.
They were staggered by what they discovered. Their work revealed a trail of men lured in, and then conned, by Dena.
Police said once these men trusted her, Dena would persuade them to let her deal with their bank accounts. She stole credit cards and used them without her lovers' knowledge. Some of her victims told police they had felt a 'fatal attraction' to Dena, saying it seemed too good to be true, but that they had not been able to resist.
Dena was arrested, but although she admitted conning money from men, she denied trying to kill Richard and claimed it was self-defence.
The jury believed her story and she was acquitted. The Black Widow had got away with it…for now.
Uncovering the past
But the investigating team refused to give up. Police were determined to explore the suspicious death of Dena's previous husband – Julian. So they took the drastic step of having his body exhumed.
Dena had always claimed Julian had taken an overdose of her own anti-depressant, Dothiepin. But forensic tests on Julian's body did not seem to shed any more light on the situation – just confirming that this was indeed the drug that killed him.
Police were mystified. Dothiepin tasted very bitter, so officers couldn't understand how the taste could have been masked.
Dena was questioned again – but gave nothing away.
So, with little more than circumstantial evidence to go on, police started going back through Dena's old statements with a fine-toothed comb.
And they discovered she had lied throughout.
Then, a crucial lead emerged, in the form of an American friend of Julian's. When police tracked him down, his testimony was the turning point that transformed the entire investigation.
He told police that on the night of his death, Dena had fixed Julian a hot curry. This was the missing piece of the jigsaw, as police realised she had used the hot curry flavour to hide the taste of the Dothiepin.
So police now knew how Dena had murdered her husband. Then, an interview with a next-door neighbour revealed why she had done it.
The neighbour in question had heard the couple arguing the day Julian died. They were fighting about money.
It was clear Julian had found out Dena had been spending his money. And as soon as he'd discovered her secret, he had to die.
For Dena, it was all about the money. By mixing a toxic cocktail of drugs into her husband's curry, she ensured his death would look like suicide…and she would inherit everything.
Within 24 hours of Julian's death, Dena was on the phone to his employers, asking about how to claim his pension. She had also contacted the mortgage company, asking how to redeem their mortgage.
Dena had subsequently invented a litany of contradictory explanations for Julian's death.
Detective Chief Inspector Martyn Underhill (ret), the senior investigating officer in the case, said: "That was massively damning for me, because she came up with something like nine different versions."
The police had uncovered enough. It was time to charge Dena with Julian's murder. It was a charge Dena denied yet again. But this time, the jury were not convinced by her story. She was found guilty and sentenced to life.
The Black Widow's web of deceit had unravelled and the game was over.