true crime

From faeces to salt: the mothers who poisoned their children for attention.

Warning: This post features details of abuse that could be triggering for some readers.

Netflix’s new series The Politician explores Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, where an adult is believed to have poisoned a child to make them unwell, and/or fabricated their symptoms so the adult can receive public attention.

But the mental health condition is not something that only happens in a fictional setting.

The syndrome, now known as ‘factitious disorder imposed on another’ (FDIA), is all too real, and although rare, the most notorious cases reported have seen gross child neglect and abuse.

We remember the most high-profile cases.

Gypsy Rose Blanchard.

Gypsy Rose Blanchard, 27, orchestrated the murder of her mother Dee Dee in 2015, and is currently serving a 10-year sentence in a Missouri, US prison.

Her motive was revenge, for the years of medical child abuse her mother had inflicted on her. Gypsy never knew how old she was, was confined to a wheelchair, and had her head shaved to give the impression of illness.

Her mother also told her she was terminally ill, and that she had everything from leukaemia to muscular dystrophy and developmental issues that meant she had the mental capacity of a seven-year-old.

None of what Dee Dee claimed was true. Instead, she was the one suffering from an illness – FDIA.

Watch the trailer for “The Act,” based on the true story of Gypsy Rose. Post continues after video.

Video by Hulu

Dee Dee managed to convince doctors to prescribe unnecessary medications and even deliver dubious diagnoses.

As a result of public sympathy, the family received a home built by Habitat by Humanity, and trips to Disney World paid for by charities.

It wasn’t until Gypsy was a teenager that she started questioning her age, why she wasn’t allowed to have friends and her health issues. Finally, a boy she met online would give her the freedom she so desperately wanted; he would kill Dee Dee for her.

Nicholas Godejohn fatally stabbed Dee Dee as she slept, using a stolen knife and gloves Gypsy had taken from a local Walmart. During the murder, Gypsy hid in the bathroom.

For their crime, Gypsy was sentenced 10 years in prison, and Nicholas received life imprisonment without parole.

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Gypsy was so undernourished that in her first year in jail she put on six kilograms. Her lawyer said most of his clients lose weight in the first 12 months.

In an interview with ABC News, Gypsy was hopeful.

“The prison that I was living in before, with my mum — I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t have friends.

“I feel like I’m freer in prison than living with my mum. I guess now I’m allowed to just live like a normal woman.”

Gypsy Rose Blanchard on Dr Phil.

Blanca Montano.

Blanca Montano of Tuscon, Arizona, infected both of her young children in 2011. After becoming ill, they tested positive for E. coli, a bacteria commonly found in human waste.

The eldest of her two children recovered but her seven-month-old daughter fell ill with infection time after time.

Hospital staff became suspicious and installed a camera in the room during a prolonged stay. What they saw would eventually lead to Montano being imprisoned for 13 years.

The mother was recorded attempting to cover the camera’s lens and contaminating her baby's IV by sticking it in her own mouth.

When Montano was prohibited from visiting her daughter due to the hospital’s concerns, the baby’s health improved significantly, confirming the role of FIDA in the situation.

Montano has always claimed she is innocent. During her trial, the prosecution alleged she was making her children sick to get attention from their father.

Lacey Spears.

Lacey Spears, from Kentucky, was a popular blogger who depicted a very different online life to the one she was leading. She was convicted of her son’s murder in 2014.

Garnett, who was born with various health issues, was just five years old, but his mother poisoned him daily by putting excessive – and toxic – amounts of salt into his feeding tube.

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He died in 2014, his body in agony from the poison in his organs. Garnett’s official cause of death was swelling in his brain due to elevated levels of sodium. Sixty-nine packets of salt were found in his feeding bag at home.

The story made international headlines, and Spears received a 20-year sentence – despite claiming that the hospital where he died was to blame.

Lacey was jailed for 20 years. Image: CBS

Lisa Hayden-Johnson.

Lisa Hayden-Johnson had, according to her, “the illest child in Britain.”

In the early 2000s, the mother gave birth to a very premature son. But even as he slowly grew into a healthy child, Hayden-Johnson, accustomed to the attention she had been receiving from an empathetic public, pretended his condition was worse than it was.

The mother claimed on television that her son was now suffering from a life-threatening food allergy, and was unable to eat. Viewers responded with gifts and donations. The family was also offered tickets to shows, interviews in magazines, even cars and holidays.

The boy also received the Children of Courage Award from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his mother collected disability benefits on his behalf.

The child spent years in a wheelchair and ate via feeding tube until doctors demanded further testing on his condition. The six-year-old's test results determined he was healthy. It was found that his mother had been tampering with his urine samples.

Police also discovered video footage of the boy on a cruise ship, running in swimming attire, and eating solid food such as a roast.

Hayden-Johnson protested her innocence but was charged with child cruelty and fraud. Despite public outcry, she was sentenced to just three years in jail.

Her son is well, and now living with his father and other siblings.

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