From a forensic psychology perspective, the tragic story of Gypsy and Dee Blancharde (to be featured in an HBO documentary on May 15) is an extreme example of the ongoing tug of war between law and psychology. At age 18, for example, the legal system holds us individually responsible for what we do; psychology, on the other hand, argues that psychological captivity can be just as strong as imprisonment and the adverse effects of ongoing mistreatment don't disappear just because we've earned the right to vote.
As you read this story, see where your beliefs lead you. Why do you think Dee Dee did what she did? How much did Gypsy know? Was Gypsy a casualty in her mother’s scams or at some point, did she become a confederate?
The Alarm is Raised
“That Bitch is dead.” Those words appeared on Claudinea “Dee Dee” Blancharde’s Facebook page shortly after noon on June 15, 2015. A short time later, an even more graphic post appeared; “I FUCKEN SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER . . . HER SCREAM WAS SOOO FUCKEN LOUD LOL!” Friends and neighbors of the 48-year-old mother and 19-year-old disabled daughter quickly sprang into action; by 1:00 p.m., the police had been called and neighbors began collecting on Dee Dee’s front lawn.
And so began an investigation which would unravel a story so twisted and tragic that the entire truth will likely never surface. In the understated words of Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott during the initial press conference about this case, “Things are not always as they appear.”
Neighbor Kim Blanchard (no relation) called 911 while her husband, David, went over to Dee Dee’s house and waited for law enforcement to arrive. Other neighbors had already begun gathering on the lawn. Dee Dee’s car was in the driveway but there was no answer at the door.
The police arrived at 1:34 p.m. but were reluctant to enter the house without a warrant. They did not, however, object to David Blanchard crawling through the tinted kitchen window and taking a look around. Uncomfortable entering his friends’ house when no one was home, David spent less than 5 minutes in the pink house on Volunteer Way just north of Springfield, Missouri. David saw nothing; no blood, no body, no sign of a struggle. He was disturbed, however, by the fact that all of Gypsy’s wheelchairs appeared to be in the home; as a paraplegic, Gypsy would be completely immobile without one.
At 10:47 p.m., police finally entered the house with a search warrant and found the body of Dee Dee Blancharde in her bedroom. She had been stabbed in the back numerous times and had apparently been dead for several days. As a welfare check turned into a homicide investigation, law enforcement upped their efforts to locate 19-year-old Gypsy.
While law enforcement worked to trace the source of the vulgar Facebook posts, a few police officers began taking statements from concerned friends and neighbors. A consistent picture of the Blancharde household quickly emerged; of Dee Dee as a sweet, devoted and selfless mother and Gypsy as a disabled but uncomplaining trooper who loved to dress up in princess costumes and watch movies. Witnesses were virtually unanimous in their description of the mother-daughter relationship as close. Police discovered numerous newspaper articles to back this up.
In 2008, on the steps on the very house where Dee Dee died, Gypsy talked with a reporter about the many trials and tribulations she and her mother had endured. “A lot of people started to give up," she says. "...But my mom stayed with me. She never left me. We are a pair of shoes: Never good without the other."
The First Sign of Deception
While police tried to sort things out, Aleah Woodmansee, a 23-year-old family friend and neighbor, came forward. She was the first person to suggest that there was more to the mother-daughter relationship than met the eye. Gypsy, Aleah said, was in love. She had an online boyfriend named Nicholas Godejohn that her mother didn’t know about. And, while Dee Dee may have been happy with her relationship with her Gypsy, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Gypsy wanted a lot more freedom than her mother allowed.
Aleah, a 23-year-old medical claims investigator, had known the Blanchardes for years. She met them at a housewarming ceremony after her family was approved for a Habitat for Humanity House; Gypsy and Dee Dee, living in the pink house with the heavily tinted windows since 2008, were her neighbors in the Habitat community; “they were the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever met.” Aleah described Gypsy as cheerful and uncomplaining about her paralysis, cancer, muscular dystrophy, and host of other physical problems. In Aleah’s eyes, Dee Dee was an outgoing, generous mother whose overprotectiveness (she rarely left Gypsy alone, even with friends) could perhaps be justified by her love and concern for her physically fragile, intellectually impaired teen.
In October 2014, Aleah began receiving email messages from Gypsy through a secret Facebook account. Gypsy told Aleah that she had hidden Facebook accounts because of her mother’s overprotectiveness. Aleah wasn’t shocked by Gypsy’s deceit; although Dee Dee had often reminded Aleah that Gypsy’s mental functioning was the equivalent to a 7-year-old, Aleah already knew that, in some ways at least, Gypsy was much more mature, particularly when it came to her interest in love and romance. Gypsy had shared her interest in the opposite sex with Aleah before.
This time, she talked about one love interest in particular. Nicholas Godejohn. Since October 17, 2012, Gypsy said, she had been in a serious online romance. “I’m 18. Nick my boyfriend is 24, we met on a Christian Singles site and what made me fall for him was when I told him I’m in a wheel chair and I’ve got medical issues and I was bracing myself for him to be like other guys I was expecting him to either pitty me or say oh goodbye . . . but his response was ‘I don’t care about that ur an angel in my eyes and you’re perfect.’” The rest of Gypsy’s communications were filled with fantasies about her future with Nick – an engagement in 2016, wedding in 2017, already picked-out names for babies.
Gypsy is Found
Police soon that the Internet Provider address linked to the alarming Facebook posts was indeed registered to Gypsy’s beau, Nicholas Godejohn, a 26-year-old who lived in Big Bend, Wisconsin. Fearing Gypsy had been abducted, on June 15, a swarm of police officers descended on the Godejohn household. They were prepared for the worse. What they discovered was a Gypsy who was not only unharmed, but the picture of perfect health.
Gypsy Rose Blancharde could not only walk on her own, she showed no signs of muscular dystrophy, cancer, epilepsy, or any other illness. Soon, the bizarre story of Gypsy and her mother began to unravel. Gypsy was not 19; she was 23. Her mother had, for years, forced her to sit in a wheelchair when out in public. She had shaved Gypsy’s head and given her drugs she didn’t need. She had subjected her to unnecessary medical procedures and fed her through a feeding tube. Since as far back as she could remember, Gypsy had pretended to be sick for her mother. Dee Dee’s death, Gypsy said, was a desperate attempt to end two decades of abuse and deception and lead a normal life.
Until October 17, 2012, the day her online romance with Godejohn began, Gypsy had believed nothing in her life would ever change. She had tried to escape her mother at least once before by finding a knight in shining armor to rescue her. After meeting a 35-year-old man at a science convention, she began communicating with him through social media and, in February 2011, he took Gypsy back to his hotel room during a local convention. Word quickly spread to Dee Dee, who knocked on the hotel room door with what turned out later to be fake papers showing that Gypsy was a minor (she was actually 19) and threatening legal action. Gypsy went home.
Gypsy had finally recruited a willing rescuer in Nicholas Godejohn. Their discussions about the murder began in 2014, authorities eventually retrieved 26 files of communication between the two on ChristianDatingForFree.com, where they plotted the killing of Gypsy’s mom. On June 9, 2015, Nicholas travelled to the Habitat Community, entered Dee Dee’s bedroom as she lay sleeping and stabbed her to death with a knife. For her part, Gypsy was a willing accomplice. She was the one who asked Nicholas to kill Dee Dee. She handed him the knife and pair of gloves and stayed behind to clean the blood. And, knowing what was about to happen, Gypsy hid in the bathroom and heard Dee Dee’s screams.
After the murder, Gypsy stole over $4,000 out of her mother’s safe, and the two of them taxied to a local hotel. The next day, they traveled by bus to Godejohn’s home. Gypsy posted the Facebook posts five days later to sound an alarm because she wanted her mother’s body to be found; she couldn’t stand the suspense.
What Was Wrong with Dee Dee?
There are no easy answers, and, of course, Dee Dee is no longer here to shed some light on her psyche. There are some clues. We know, for instance, that Dee Dee was a con artist before she got Gypsy involved. Family members describe Dee Dee attempting to take out credit cards in relative’s names without permission. She was arrested at least once (in 1997) for “issuing worthless checks.” Then, of course, there was the charity con Dee Dee was running off of Gypsy’s faked illnesses; free stays at Ronald McDonald's houses, Make-a-Wish trips, free flights, rent-free housing.
Not all of Dee Dee’s lies had a financial incentive; she also abandoned the truth whenever there was an opportunity to gain sympathy. For example, Dee Dee’s descriptions of her ex-husband, Rod, as a deadbeat drug-using father who made fun of Gypsy’s disabilities fly in the face of $1,200 cashed checks for Gypsy’s care. Dee Dee played fast and loose with the truth whenever it suited her. One can only imagine what Dee Dee told Gypsy behind closed doors.
There has been a lot of speculation about what psychological condition would cause someone to behave as Dee Dee did. Munchausen by Proxy (now formally called Factitious Disorder by Proxy in the latest mental health diagnostic manual) and Malingering by Proxy have been the most common. Both of these involve faking, causing or exaggerating physical or psychological problems in another person, usually a child; the difference between the two is in the motive. With Munchausen by Proxy, the perpetrator is seeking the attention, admiration and sympathy that comes from being the caretaker of an ill person. With malingering, the goal is some kind of external reward – money, avoiding work, access to controlled prescriptions, etc. Based on what we know, Dee Dee seemed to bask in the role of heroic nurturer and to have no problem taking advantage of the generosity of others.
Of course, there’s a more straightforward explanation of Claudine Blanchard’s behavior. Dee Dee was a child abuser. She just used drugs and doctors as her weapons instead of belittlement and beatings.
A Glimpse Inside Gypsy’s World
In the beginning, Gypsy was just like any other child. She was born on July 27, 1991, although, at various times, Dee Dee gave three different birth years for her only child. She was born to 24-year-old Claudine Pitre Blanchard (she later changed her name to Claudinea and added an “e” to Blanchard) and 17-year-old Rod Blanchard. After dating for a few months, Claudine got pregnant, they married, and, according to Rod, ““I woke up on my 18th birthday and realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be.” They were already separated when Gypsy Rose was born.
Just when Claudine (Dee Dee) decided Gypsy had medical problems is up for debate. Gypsy may have been slightly premature but was, from all accounts, a perfectly healthy newborn. Dee Dee herself stated on several occasions that she and Gypsy had been staying at Ronald McDonald’s houses since Gypsy was three days old. Todd, Gypsy’s father, pinpoints the medical merry-go-round starting when Gypsy was about three months old; at that time, Dee Dee reportedly became convinced that Gypsy had sleep apnea. When several rounds of medical tests and a sleep monitor found nothing, Gypsy’s “diagnosis,” per Dee Dee, morphed into “a chromosomal defect.” The doctors’ visits continued.
It was around age 4 when Gypsy was first introduced to a wheelchair. According to several Louisiana relatives, Gypsy was on the back of a motorcycle with her grandfather, Claude, when the bike rolled over; Gypsy sustained some minor scrapes on her knees from the cement but was otherwise fine. Dee Dee, however, allegedly took this minor incident and ran with it, claiming Gypsy needed surgery on her knees, could no longer walk without a wheelchair and, eventually, claimed she was permanently disabled.
Young children will do whatever it takes to earn a parent’s approval. Fortunately, children generally earn that approval by showing off their accomplishments: “Watch, Mommy! Look what I can do!” But, for Gypsy, her path to her mother’s “love” was through submission to wheelchairs, feeding tubes, a shaved head, and all the rest. Gypsy says she grew up believing she was sick. She believed it when her mother told her she had cancer and that she was shaving her daughter’s head to “keep it looking neat.” Gypsy also knew she could walk and talk and that she was playing a role when she pretended like she couldn’t. (These same relatives recall numerous times when Gypsy, out of her mother’s sight, would push her cousins around in her wheelchair or jump on a relative’s trampoline, only to collapse on the ground or run back into her chair when her mother appeared.) By second grade, Gypsy was homeschooled since, according to her mother, she could no longer keep up with other kids.
All of the details of Gypsy’s childhood may never be known, but what is clear is that Gypsy has no memory of a childhood where she was free to run and play, make her own friends and tell the truth. Even after more than year in jail, it is unclear just how much Gypsy knew about her mother’s abuse and how complicit Gypsy was in her mother’s lies. Given Dee Dee’s need to live through Gypsy, it is likely that Gypsy isn’t clear herself.
Where Things Are Now
In spite of the clear premeditation leading up to Dee Dee’s murder, both the prosecutor and defense attorney were horrified after medical records revealed the extent of Gypsy’s mistreatment. As such, Gypsy was allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder and received the lightest allowable sentence; ten years. She will be eligible for parole before her 33rd birthday. Nicholas Godejohn has not yet gone to trial. A psychological evaluation by Dr. Kent Franks has described Nicholas as “a suggestible man with no friends who is on the autism spectrum and spent much of his adult life either surfing the internet or playing video games. . .. His ability to understand the gravity of what was taking place was more childlike than adult."
Friends and family of the Blanchards have had to come to terms with the betrayal they have felt about all the lies and coverups. There’s been a lot of finger pointing on social media at innocent supporters and well-meaning charities, as well as questioning of medical professionals who perhaps should have known better – or, at least, dug a little deeper.
Since she went to prison, Gypsy has gained 14 pounds and her hair has grown out. She’s had no symptoms of any of her previously diagnosed illnesses and has publicly stated that she feels freer than she did when she lived with her mom. Time will tell how much she is able to heal the emotional scars she’s acquired over the past 20 plus years. In a recent interview, she seemed to settle on a romantic view of her mother’s past.
“I think she would have been the perfect mom for someone that actually was sick. But I’m not sick. There’s that big, big difference.”