true crime

The strange case of a mum, a murder and Munchausen by proxy.

It’s a story that seems more like great fiction than real life. It’s the story of Clauddine (“Dee Dee”) Blanchard and her daughter Gypsy Rose, now 25, that came to light through a BuzzFeed investigation. It’s one of those stories that you can’t stop reading. Even though you really, really want to.

Here goes:

By all accounts, Gypsy was a sickly teenager. She’d been in and out of neonatal intensive care as a baby and had “developmental problems” that left her with the mind of a seven-year-old. She lived with her mother, a devoted, caring, “sweet” person doing her best to look after a teenage daughter with special needs.

Her father was dangerous, abusive. They were on the run.

Gypsy’s medical conditions were exhausting. Chromosomal defects, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, asthma, sleep apnea, eye problems, cancer as a child, cancer as a teenager. She was restricted to a wheelchair and would often be seen with a nasal cannula suspended across her cheeks and an oxygen tank trailing along behind her.

The pair were given a house built by Habit for Humanity in Springfield in 2008. The house was fitted with a wheelchair ramp and a bathtub for Gypsy’s muscles. In a television interview with KYTV after being given the house, a small perennially childlike Gypsy told the camera: “I remember my mum had gave me this little glass house and she said ‘one day this will be real’. And now it finally is.”

Her voice is like a child’s, despite the fact she is 16 at the time of the interview. Her teeth are small and falling inwards. She is wearing owl-like glasses and you can barely see her shaved head beneath the baseball cap she is wearing. She is clutching her mum’s hand throughout the interview.

Most pictures of Gypsy, seen on Dee Dee’s Facebook page, have her hair covered. Usually, this is done with a curly wig, a tiara perched atop of it, a shiny fairy princess costume completing the ensemble. Her mother said Gypsy had cancer, and would shave her hair off “because it was going to fall out anyway”.

Gypsy was operated on. Her eye muscles were tightened. She had tubes put in her ears to help with hearing problems. She was often tube-fed. Her salivary glands were injected with Botox, then removed completely. She was given medication after medication. She was malnourished. Her attorney said she was likely tranquilised.

Why did she have an attorney?

She and her boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn (a man she connected with on the internet, late at night after Dee Dee was asleep) were charged with first-degree murder.

Gypsy and her mother Dee Dee. Image via Facebook.

Gypsy asked Godejohn to kill her mother. And, in June of 2015, Godejohn stabbed Dee Dee to death at her Springfield home, while Gyspy waited in the next room.

The news broke when Dee Dee's Facebook status was updated to read "That Bitch is dead!" on June 14, 2015, around 5:30pm.

Friends commented, concerned.

Minutes later, "Dee Dee" also commented: “I fucken SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER…HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO FUCKEN LOUD LOL.”

That is not Dee!!! - Friends said. Now worried.

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Neighbours and friends tried to call. No answer. They congregated around the house, couldn't see anyone inside but also realised Dee Dee's car, which was wheelchair accessible, was still in the drive.

They called the police. Everyone worried about a devoted mother and her sick disabled child.

While the police waited to attain a search warrant for the house, news of the missing mother and daughter travelled through social media.

"It's not official but my friends Dee Gyp Blancharde is missing. I might be jumping the gun, but God forbid something happened to them. PLEASE SHARE!!!!!!! Call the Greene County Sherrif. 417 864-1810." one status read.

Dee Dee's original status was shared more than 350 times, and attracted hundreds of comments from worried friends and family.

The Facebook status that alerted neighbours to Dee Dee's murder. Image via Facebook.

The search warrant arrived at 10:45pm. Police entered the house and found Dee Dee's body, with multiple stab wounds, in her bedroom. She had been dead for days. There was no sign of Gypsy.

Slowly, through information from one of Gypsy's only friends, the police learned about Gyspy's secret online profile, and the boyfriend she'd met through Facebook - Nicholas Godejohn.

They found Gypsy at Godejohn's house in Wisconsin. Godejohn surrendered. Gypsy wasn't harmed. She was, in fact, in better health than ever and could, 'miraculously', walk. Both were arrested. Both claimed responsibility for the Facebook updates.

“Things are not always as they appear,” the Springfield sheriff told the media.

Gypsy was never sick. In courtroom footage after her arrest, she can be seen walking across the courtroom unassisted. Head bare, dark shaved hair uncovered. An orange jumpsuit instead of a fairy costume. Hollow brown eyes, no glasses. The only thing that remains of the "sickly, mentally disabled, fairy princess"? The child-like voice, that calls out across the courtroom, tells the judge her address.

Close your eyes and it could be a five-year-old talking.

Listen: Meshel Laurie talks to a true crime writer about Munchausen by proxy.

Dee Dee had a syndrome called Munchausen by proxy. It's a mental illness where the person fakes, or even induces, symptoms of psychological or physical illness in someone else for attention and sympathy. People with the condition can have these "symptoms" themselves, which is straight Munchausen syndrome. Or they can create or cause the symptoms in others, which is Munchausen by proxy.

Munchausen by proxy is not common. But cases of mother-daughter Munchausen by proxy are the most common type of the disease. Remember the mother blogger who poisoned her five-year-old son to death with salt to get the attention of her readers? That was also Munchausen by proxy.

It's considered a mental illness and Dee Dee hid the truth between a myriad of lies. Lies that medical records were lost in the floods following Hurricane Katrina. That she lost files in one of her many moves from town to town. That she was running from her abusive ex-husband, so she couldn't retrieve old records and she had to add an 'e' to the end of her last name. Sometimes she would simply stop going to doctors if they didn't believe her. Sometimes the prescriptions were not even for Gyspy, but she would feed her the medication anyway.

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Dee Dee fits the bill as a perpetrator of Munchausen by proxy. She had a background in nursing, she was educated, manipulative, moved around a lot, cleverly hid a clear medical trail. Her reports of Gyspy's sleep apnea is also a sign of Munchausen by proxy - that's often how the lies start.

“I think Dee Dee’s problem was she started a web of lies, and there was no escaping after,” Rod Blanchard, Gypsy's father - who, incidentally, was not abusive and continued to pay $1,200 in child support for Gypsy every month, right up until Dee Dee's death - told Buzzfeed. “She got so wound up in it, it was like a tornado got started, and then once she was in so deep that there was no escaping. One lie had to cover another lie, had to cover another lie, and that was her way of life.”

Dee Dee's lies also reaped benefit. The pair were given a house, funding, government support. Gypsy often stayed in Ronald McDonald's houses for sick kids. Dee Dee didn't work, because Gypsy required full-time care.

As for Gypsy,  it's hard to determine the extent of her knowledge or power in the situation. How much she really believed, what she really thought about her own life, her own health. After all, she had been treated as a very sick, very mentally handicapped "seven-year-old" for the entirety of her 23 years before her mum was killed.

Gypsy via Dee Dee's Facebook.

In 2011, she did try and run away. She and her mum had visited a convention and she left with a man, hoping to escape. Dee Dee tracked them down in the man's hotel room.

“I feel like I was just as used as everybody else,” Gypsy told BuzzFeed. “She used me as a pawn. I was in the dark about it. The only thing I knew was that I could walk, and that I could eat."

“The doctors thought that she was so devoted and caring,” she continued. “It makes me frustrated that none of the other doctors could see that I was perfectly healthy. That my legs were not skinny, like someone who was [really] paralysed. That I can’t… I don’t need a feeding tube. Stuff like that.”

Gypsy told Buzzfeed she was afraid of hurting Dee Dee by asking too many questions. She was also scared of getting into trouble.“I was afraid that we were gonna get in trouble,” she said. “The line between right and wrong…was kinda blurred, ’cause that’s the way I was taught. I just grew up that way.”

Now? Gypsy is serving a 10-year jail sentence. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on July 5, 2015. She received a minimum sentence of 10 years and will be eligible for parole in 2023. She will be 32 years old.

In the courtroom footage, you can hear Gypsy sobbing as details of her mother's death are read out.

“What I did was wrong. I’ll have to live with it.”Gypsy told BuzzFeed. “I think she would have been the perfect mum for someone that actually was sick. But I’m not sick. There’s that big, big difference.”

“She taught me to lie, and I don’t wanna lie. I want to be a good, honest person," Gypsy continued, who incidentally put on weight when she went to prison. “This time [in prison] is good for me. I’ve been raised to do what my mother taught me to do. And those things aren’t very good.”

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