Dee Dee Blanchard looked like a doting mother, but she was forcing her healthy child to pretend to be ill. Dee Dee wanted her daughter to be ill, but Dee Dee was the one that was really sick. Gypsy Rose Blanchard was the loving daughter that arranged for her mother to be savagely murdered by the man she met on a Christian dating site. But was Gypsy Rose the real victim? The case is the latest to get the true crime drama treatment through The Act (based on an investigative piece by Buzzfeed) and to anyone that knows the details, it’s obvious why: nothing about it is straightforward.
Looking at the long list of afflictions Gypsy Rose Blanchard was diagnosed with, it’s not a surprise that her own grandparents questioned if she’d make it to adulthood. She was born slightly premature (which Dee Dee would claim caused brain damage) and was only a few months old when the health problems started. Dee Dee became convinced Gypsy had sleep apnea and took her to the hospital for tests. When the doctors couldn’t find any evidence, Dee Dee refused to accept it. Gypsy had a chromosomal disorder, she said.
A few years passed and a new diagnosis was tacked on: muscular dystrophy. She started using a wheelchair. Gypsy believed her mother when she said she was ill: she thought she was paralysed.
Next came further diagnoses: epilepsy and leukaemia. Dee Dee started shaving Gypsy’s head before the hair could fall out, which of course it was going to, because of the cancer. Gypsy was taken out of school and taught at home, instead; she could never keep up with the other children, anyway, Dee Dee explained. She had the brain of a child, Dee Dee would tell people when Gypsy grew up. The doctors listened to Dee Dee and operated on Gypsy. Her saliva glands were taken out, a feeding tube was put in, there were operations on her eyes and ears and tests to see why her legs were paralysed.
Throughout it all, Gyspy and Dee Dee remained close. They were like a ‘pair of shoes,’ Gypsy said. ‘Never good without the other.’ Rod Blanchard wasn’t around; Dee Dee said he had abandoned them, so it was just the two of them.
Only, Gypsy wasn’t ill. It was Dee Dee who was: she had Munchausen’s by Proxy.
Then, in 2005, another tragedy: Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, where they lived. They went to a shelter. They said that Gypsy’s medical records had been lost. They moved to Missouri and into a house that Habitat for Humanity volunteers had built for them, specially equipped with access for Gypsy. Things like that happened for Gypsy and Dee Dee: they might have been struggling through life, a single mother who worked as a full-time carer for her tragically ill daughter, but the community around them would always rally round, offering their support to the doting mother and her loving child.
Only, Gypsy wasn’t ill. It was Dee Dee who was: she had Munchausen’s by Proxy. The sympathy she received over Gypsy’s health fed into her disease. So Dee Dee ensured that her daughter stayed tragically, hopelessly, irredeemably ill.
Gypsy knew she was healthy, but she was trapped into pretending by her mother—a mother who had spent Gypsy’s entire life telling her (and everyone else) otherwise. When she tried running away, Dee Dee found her and threatened to break her fingers if she ever did it again. She couldn’t escape in real life, so she did so the only way she could: online. Gypsy made a profile on a dating website and it was there that she met her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn. For two years, they talked online without Dee Dee knowing. When she finally found out, she was furious. She chained Gypsy to her bed.
In June 2015, Dee Dee was found dead in her bed, where she had been for days. Disturbing posts on her Facebook were tracked to Gypsy, who was in Wisconsin with Godejohn. The pair quickly confessed to the murder: Gypsy orchestrated it and hid in the bathroom, while Godejohn stabbed Dee Dee to death. Gypsy took a plea deal and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for second-degree murder. Godejohn was found guilty of first-degree murder.
The epilepsy medication that Dee Dee forced her to take made her teeth fall out.
To outsiders, it was easy to believe Gypsy was as ill as Dee Dee said: malnourishment had stunted her growth; there was the wheelchair, the feeding tube, the hairless head. Sometimes, an oxygen tank was added. The epilepsy medication that Dee Dee forced her to take made her teeth fall out. Even medical staff believed Dee Dee’s claims (or at least, few saw past them to what was really going on).
People made sure they did what they could for the pair, things like giving them free trips to Disneyland, backstage passes to concerts and thousands of dollars in donations. Their Habitat for Humanity home had a hot tub. They met Miranda Lambert backstage after a concert, then Lambert sent Dee Dee $6,000. Dee Dee took full advantage of this, swindling friends, neighbours and charities out of their money in the name of her daughter. She screened films at her house and charged people to watch. Rod Blanchard, meanwhile, was paying child support and trying to keep in contact with Gypsy. Dee Dee blocked every attempt.
Dee Dee is dead, brutally murdered, but it’s Gypsy that wins most people’s sympathy. Tellingly, Dee Dee’s own father, stepmother and nephew agree: Gypsy’s suffered enough. They have rejected Dee Dee in death, saying her ashes should be flushed down the toilet. They have also since questioned whether Dee Dee killed her own mother, by witholding her food when she was caring for her. Gypsy, for her part, is ‘thriving’ behind bars. She was so undernourished, she actually gained weight in prison.
Gypsy might have killed her mother, but Dee Dee was responsible for taking away her daughter’s life by making sure she was as ill as Dee Dee wanted her to be. Does that excuse murder? Maybe not. But who was the real victim?