Joshua Komisarjevsky committed evil crimes – but what in his upbringing led him eventually to death row?


In a suburban house in Connecticut, USA, on 22 July 2007, the Petit family went to bed as usual.

First, Michaela, 11, then her sister, Hayley, 17, and mum, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48. Meanwhile Dr William Petit, dropped off on the sofa.

They’d no idea a monster was lurking outside in the dark.

Burglar Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, had followed Jennifer and Michaela home from the shops. Now he texted Steven Joseph Hayes, 44, and the pair swooped.

Komisarjevsky brutally beat William with a bat. Then they tied him up in the basement, and bound Jennifer and the girls in their bedrooms.

Next morning, they drove Jennifer to her bank and forced her to withdraw $15,000 (over £9,000) of savings.

Back at the house, Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Michaela, while Hayes raped Jennifer. William, however, managed to escape. When the pair realised, Hayes furiously strangled Jennifer. He doused her body, the house, and the girls with petrol. Then he torched the house and fled. Both Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation.

Dr William Petit Jr survived the home invasion, but his wife and daughters were murdered (PA Photos)

Dr William Petit Jr survived the home invasion, but his wife and daughters were murdered (PA Photos)

William was left distraught. Who could’ve done this?

Born in August 1980, Joshua Komisarjevsky was adopted by a very religious couple.

By age 4, he had a 2-year-old sister – then his parents fostered a disturbed 15-year-old lad. Komisarjevsky later claimed the boy burned him with cigarettes, raped him, and forced him into sexual acts.

At 9, Komisarjevsky suffered five concussions – from a car crash, and playing sport. Afterwards, he became angry and depressed. He started seeing a demon with glowing eyes, and heard voices telling him to kill himself.

Aged 10, he was home-schooled, and for the next two years, he molested his little sister. Then at 13, he claimed he was raped by a man he’d trusted and respected, and afterwards he began self-harming.

He began to steal, then burgled houses.

When concerns were raised about Komisarjevsky’s mental health, a hospital evaluation recommended he be medicated. Instead, his parents sent him on a religious treatment programme.

From 20 to 22, Komisarjevsky drank and took drugs. He also dated a 16-year-old girl – with whom he had a baby daughter.

Arrested for robbery soon after, he confessed to 17 other burglaries, declaring he was turning his life around. He was jailed for nine years, but got early parole and full custody of his daughter.

Joshua Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death (PA Photos)

Joshua Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death (PA Photos)

But in early 2006, Komisarjevsky met Steven Joseph Hayes on an alcohol and drug programme. A loud, rough drug addict with convictions for violent offences, Hayes seemed to be the opposite to sober family man Komisarjevsky. Yet a bond formed.

In July 2007, they committed their first burglary together.

That same month, Komisarjevsky spotted Jennifer and Michaela, 11, shopping. He followed them home, texted Hayes the location.

When arrested, both blamed each other. Komisarjevsky later said he didn’t believe Hayes would actually set fire to the petrol he had poured.

Hayes was convicted of 16 charges, including murder, kidnap and sexual assault, while Komisarjevsky was convicted of 17 charges, including murder, kidnap, sexual assault and arson.

Both were sentenced to death.