Held in contempt by the men who loved her, branded a predator by the detectives who hunted her, bigamist Dena Thompson has lived a life of cold-hearted deceit.

Dubbed the Black Widow, Thompson weaved webs of fantasy to snare her victims, often luring them with promises of a new life.

It is not clear what led to the 43-year-old mother-of-one's hatred of men. Police say she had a troubled youth.

Detective Chief Inspector Martyn Underhill, who led the inquiry into the death of her second husband Julian Webb, said: "I think the events of her childhood have made her hate men. If you look at her life, it is always men she has targeted.

"She targets men for their money. There is no conscious plan to kill but at times she was left no choice."

By her own admission, Julian Webb was one of a string of men she preyed on, first marrying him bigamously before making him believe she had secured him work with a newspaper in Florida. He died before ever taking up the post.

Richard Thompson, whom the defendant married in 1998 and allegedly tried to kill during a sex session, was promised a new life as a fishing boat captain, also in Florida.

Her defence claimed she had acted in self-defence when he threatened to kill her, although she admitted she planned to sell his house and shares and disappear.

During the trial at Lewes Crown Court for attempted murder, Thompson admitted she had fleeced three former lovers, including Richard Thompson, of thousands of pounds.

She was jailed for three years and nine months for 15 counts of deception but was acquitted of attempted murder.

Judge Anthony Scott-Gall said when sentencing her: "You stole property from vulnerable men, all of whom in their way had become enamoured with you and Mr Thompson went so far as to marry you.

"You are someone who is irredeemably dishonest and driven by a desire to defraud people of their property."

It was after that trial Sussex Police became suspicious of the woman who had seemingly built up a pattern in which she had promised much to the men in her life but had only delivered violence and lies.

On February 8, 1993, a distraught Dena Thompson told police she had been the victim of an horrific sex attack.

She was at her home in Douglas Close when her assailant came knocking, she said.

According to her statement, she opened the door and her first husband, Lee Wyatt, grabbed her and smashed her head against a wall.

She reported Mr Wyatt to the police and was found to have the severe injuries consistent with such a violent attack when examined.

Yet Mr Wyatt was able to provide an alibi - satisfying detectives he was at work hundreds of miles away at the time of the incident.

Since no one else was involved, astonished officers came to the conclusion she had inflicted the injuries - vaginal bruising, marks on her neck, burns and bleeding - on herself.

A decade later, it would surprise few who knew her she was capable of such fabrication.

The episode was just one of four discredited stories of attacks to which she alleges Mr Wyatt subjected her.

She has since admitted two were lies.

Thompson's conviction for murder closes the chapter on a long history of court cases, allegations and counter claims by Thompson and the men in her life.

Judge Eric Wrintmore said during her trial for fraud in 1995 Thompson was "one of the most fluent liars I have ever come across" before sentencing her to 18 months in prison.

Since then, Thompson has fleeced a string of men and changed her name four times.

When she met Mr Wyatt in 1982 she was called Dena Holmes and had no criminal record.

They moved into a house in Green Oaks, Lancing, married on October 12, 1984, and had a son in 1987.

The couple set up a company called Denalee Crafts, which made soft toys, while she worked for the Woolwich Building Society in Arundel.

The firm went bust and Mr Wyatt's father-in-law got him a job in the Bedford Hotel in Brighton.

After a family holiday in Florida, Thompson told Mr Wyatt they would make £50 million in the USA promoting a soft toy - designed by Mr Wyatt - called Sean the Leprechaun.

Meanwhile, she was taking money from the Woolwich and later served 18 months for seven charges of theft and two of forgery.

On July 8 of that year the couple signed mortgage forms for a house in Douglas Close.

Mr Wyatt said during the murder trial he was staying at the house before it was bought, moving furniture and putting up shelves.

On July 22 he was working when he was handed an envelope containing a petition for divorce stating he had been "quick-tempered, violent, noisy" and their son was afraid of him.

On August 23 she obtained an injunction banning Mr Wyatt from contact with her or her son.

When he spoke to her, she said: "Don't worry. It's not proper, it's not real."

Mr Wyatt found out on November 2 Thompson had married Julian Webb but he kept in touch with her and she told him to leave the area and get a new name.

Mr Wyatt said Thompson told him he had to go because the Mafia wanted a cut of the Sean the Leprechaun money.

She also told him the family was being protected by a secret organisation called the G Squad.

He took a job mending fruit machines in Cornwall.

He told the jury: "She said, 'When it's all over we will be living in the States'."

Thompson, born in Hendon, north London in 1960 to a retired prison warder called Michael Holmes and his wife Margaret, began asking him for money, claiming it was for her son, and gave him a bank account number to pay the cash into. Thompson left Mr Wyatt a broken man.

As his suspicions grew he was being framed for fraud and Thompson was having an affair, he decided to visit her in June 1994 and have it out with her.

Meanwhile, she had been leading a double life as the happily-married wife of Julian Webb for three years.

Michael Birnbaum QC, who prosecuted Thompson for murder, says she was shocked when her first husband turned up at her door.

She feared first and second husbands might meet and her life of lies would be exposed.

Only Thompson knows how she killed Julian Webb. In her trial it emerged she probably poisoned him by sneaking anti-depressants into hot curries - either over a period of days or in one go.

Mr Webb was buried in Hampshire and his inquest ended in an open verdict.

Thompson next came face-to-face with Lee Wyatt after being convicted of the Woolwich frauds in 1995.

She served her time in prison, put her first two marriages behind her and married again.

But her disregard for the welfare of the men in her life again got her in trouble.

During her trial for the attempted murder of Richard Thompson in 2001, Mr Thompson said she was trying to kill him after her life of deceit, in which she spent thousands of pounds of his money, was exposed.

The couple set up home in Rustington after meeting through a lonely hearts ad in 1998 and later married.

The court heard Thompson told her husband she had won £300,000 on the National Lottery and the pair were to embark on a new life in America. She later confessed it was all lies.

Detective Inspector Martyn Underhill said: "The events portrayed in this trial and the unusual nature of Julian Webb's death" led Sussex Police to reopen the investigation into the death.

While investigating Mr Webb's death following the Richard Thompson case, Mr Underhill and his colleagues spent months trying to track down the defendant's former lovers.

Mr Underhill said: "There are some we never managed to find. One man we think was a Russian and the other English. We have no idea what happened to them."