It’s one of the strangest crimes in recent memory. After hearing the details, it’ll come as no surprise that the case of Clauddine "Dee Dee" Blanchard and her daughter, Gypsy Rose, inspired a massively popular 2016 Buzzfeed article, an HBO documentary called Mommy Dead and Dearest, and most recently, a new show called The Act, out in the UK on 14th June.
On this day 4 years ago, 48-year-old Dee Dee was found stabbed to death in her Missouri home. Neighbours were alerted to the crime after someone hacked Dee Dee’s Facebook account, where she frequently posted photos of her with her disabled daughter, and wrote: “That bitch is dead!” Gypsy Rose, who had been confined to a wheelchair almost her entire life, was nowhere to be found.
This act of violence came as a shock to the Blanchards' neighbours. Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose were beloved members of their community in Springfield, MO. “They were the shining star in this town. They were people who could outlast adversity and get through everything,” crime writer M.J. Pack told 20/20.
According to Dee Dee, she and her daughter had been through so much: an escape from Hurricane Katrina, a lifetime’s worth of illnesses. In The Act, Dee Dee (played by Patricia Arquette) rattles off a list of her daughter’s conditions: She has epilepsy, leukemia, a heart murmur, muscular dystrophy, learning disabilities, paraplegia, anemia. She’s fed through a tube. She had her salivary glands removed. Her teeth fell out from seizure medications. She was shuttled in and out of surgeries.
For all this hardship, Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose got ample media and charity attention. Habitat For Humanity built them a house with a special wheelchair ramp. Through the Make a Wish Foundation, Dee Dee and Gypsy went on an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World. Miranda Lambert visited them in Missouri and gave them $3,500 from her personal account. They posed with Elijah Wood in his Lord of the Rings garb.
But appearances weren’t what they seemed. What the neighbours didn’t know was that after her mother was murdered, Gypsy Rose rose from her wheelchair and walked out of the house. She never needed the wheelchair at all. In fact, she wasn’t even sick — and she had orchestrated the murder herself.
Dee Dee suffered from a condition called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP), in which people deliberately cause illnesses to those in their care. It’s considered a form of child or elder abuse. Most often, MSBP occurs between a mother and child. In addition to The Act, recent examples of MSBP in pop culture include Sharp Objects and the film Everything Everything. Gypsy Rose didn’t know the name of her mother’s condition — but she knew she could walk, and she knew she wasn’t as sick as her mother told her.
Back in 2012, Gypsy Rose started a secret romance with Nicholas Godejohn, a Wisconsin man six years her senior, after meeting on a Christian dating site. Soon, they were planning their wedding and naming their future children.
In Godejohn, Gypsy Rose saw an escape from her controlling mother. She had already tried to run away once, in 2011. She fled from the hospital to a friend’s house. Dee Dee tracked her down and punished her severely – taking away her phone, smashing her computer, hitting her with hangers.
Here was another chance for Gypsy Rose to get away. In 2015, 19-year-old Gypsy Rose convinced Godejohn to murder her mother so that they could be together. Apparently, Gypsy Rose had begun considering murder seriously starting the year before. "I wanted to be free of her hold on me," Gypsy said while testifying at Godejohn’s trial in 2018. "I talked him into it." Godejohn drove to their Missouri house and stabbed Dee Dee to death while she slept. Gypsy Rose waited in the bathroom. Then, they fled to Godejohn’s house is Big Bend, WI, where police caught up to them, and the real specifics of the case were unraveled.
In 2016, Gypsy Rose was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. According to her loved ones, Gypsy Rose is actually thriving in prison.
"Despite everything, she still tells me that she's happier now than with her mom. And that if she had a choice to either be in jail, or back with her mom, she would rather be in jail," Kristy Blanchard, Gypsy Rose's step-mom, told the Springfield News-Leader in 2018. Gypsy Rose will be eligible for parole in 2024, when she is 32 years old.
For perpetrating the crime, Godejohn received a more severe sentence. In 2019, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The Act will be available in the UK on Starz Play from 14th June