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An empty wheelchair sits in front of a window

The murder of Dee Dee Blancharde: The strangest homicide in history

Any murder detective worth their salt will tell you that there are two types of criminal case in the world. There are dunkers - the open-and-shut, routine cases where the evidence is overwhelming, the motive is clear and the prime suspect obvious. But then there are some which defy expectation; cases which leave investigators scratching their heads, sifting through contradictory data and piecing together the sordid timeline of events which led them to a dead body. The following case will surely go down in history as one of the most macabre murders ever committed: the death of Dee Dee Blancharde.

Dee Dee Blancharde was a big woman. A big woman with a big heart and a big laugh - at least, that was how her community regarded her. A single mother with a disabled child, Gypsy Rose, who had risen above the fell clutch of circumstance and cared for her sick daughter with a level of love and devotion that was inspiring to all. The Louisiana woman lived in West Volunteer Way in Springfield, Missouri, in a house that Habitat for Humanity had built for the two Blanchardes out of charity in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Something about the pair seemed to provoke incredible displays of altruism. This was partly due to Dee Dee's friendly "mama bear" nature, but it was mostly down to Gypsy Rose's laundry list of health problems.

She seemed to suffer from everything under the sun: chromosomal defects, muscular dystrophy, asthma, sleep apnea, eye problems. Dee Dee also claimed that her daughter suffered from learning disabilities and had trouble with basic cognition, which meant that she had to be homeschooled. Dee Dee stated numerous times that her daughter had the mental age of a seven-year-old and everything about her personality seemed to confirm this. She had a tiny, high-pitched voice and was completely bald, wearing a large pair of bi-focal glasses and a selection of wigs. She was obsessed with Disney, Harry Potter, princesses, teddy bears, and other girlish things. Despite the gamut of medical issues, she was unfailingly sweet and polite to everyone she met. The Blanchardes seemed almost supernaturally charming.

As for her father? Dee Dee claimed he was a deadbeat, an alcoholic who was singularly uninterested in his daughter's welfare. In actuality, Rod Blancharde, Gypsy's father, was simply uninterested in Dee Dee. He'd gotten then-24-year-old Dee Dee pregnant when he was 17 in 1990 and married her in a shotgun ceremony. They separated a year later, when he realised that he had "got married for the wrong reasons." Initially, he enjoyed spending time with his little girl, but her health problems meant that spending time with her was difficult, and Dee Dee kept moving further away. Eventually, Rod lost all contact with his daughter, aside from a few short phone calls.

Even in her early twenties, Gypsy was tiny: barely five foot tall and emaciated. She needed a feeding tube, and an oxygen tank to breathe, regular blood tests and invasive surgical procedures. When Gypsy was about seven or eight, Bobby recalls, she was riding on her grandfather's motorcycle when he had a minor accident. Afterwards, her mother confined her to a wheelchair for her own safety.

As a baby she had had leukaemia, and later her mother claimed that her hearing and vision was beginning to fail. Dee Dee had some of Gypsy's salivary glands injected with Botox, then later extracted, to control her drooling, and tubes were implanted in her ear canal to stop purported ear infections. All these things served to reinforce, over and over, that Gypsy was sick, in pain, and needed help.

As it transpired, Gypsy was in pain, and did need help. But she certainly wasn't sick. In fact, behind all the Make-A-Wish grants and charitable donations, the disability cheques and public housing, Dee Dee Blancharde was hiding a huge secret, one that threatened to topple the vast edifice of goodwill she'd painstakingly constructed over a period of two decades.

On June 14, 2015, an alarming Facebook update was posted on Dee Dee and Gypsy's official page. It read "That B*tch is dead!" Concerned followers wondered whether the message was a prank or not, but soon even more disturbing messages followed. As they debated, a new comment from Dee Dee’s account appeared on the status: “I f*cken SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER…HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO F*CKEN LOUD LOL, [sic]." Worried followers called the police, and officers quickly responded to the message. Once a search warrant had been obtained, they broke in.

The interior of the house had been largely undisturbed, and Gypsy's wheelchairs were still present. Police then found the dead body of Dee Dee Blancharde herself, lying face-down on her bed in a pool of dried blood; the result of multiple stab wounds to the abdomen that a coroner's report determined were several days old.

To a casual observer, it appeared as though someone had broken in, kidnapped Gypsy and killed her mother. But the house showed no signs of forced entry, and nothing had been taken. Moreover, there had been no ransom note. A manhunt was launched to try to find the vulnerable missing girl. Everyone who knew her was concerned that, due to her many disabilities, Gypsy would not survive long away from special care.

A neighbour of Gypsy's, whom she often confided in, confessed to police that Gypsy had told her about a secret online relationship she had had with a boy named Nicholas Godejohn. The neighbour in question had grown concerned that Gypsy was being groomed by a sexual predator looking to take advantage of a handicapped underage girl. Authorities were able to trace Gypsy via her IP address on Facebook, when it was noticed that she was still using social media under a pseudonym account.

Apparently, it had been Gypsy herself who had posted the status regarding her mother's death. They traced the post to Waukesha County, Wisconsin, and proceeded to raid the Godejohns' home. Having found Gypsy, they made a further two incredible discoveries. Firstly, Gypsy could walk. In fact, she wasn't mentally or physically disabled at all. Secondly, it was Gypsy who was responsible for her mother's death.

It turned out that Gypsy had been a victim of decades of emotional and physical abuse at her mother's hand, and was actually far older (mid-twenties) than she appeared. Dee Dee Blancharde suffered from a rare mental disorder called Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. This disorder is a form of abuse characterised by a caregiver (Dee Dee in this instance) fabricating illness or injury in a person in their care, in order to obtain the respect, sympathy and esteem they feel they are lacking in their lives. From a young age, Gypsy had been aware that she wasn't truly sick, and that the vast sums in charitable donations they received were curated dishonestly.

But her mother controlled every aspect of her life, and would even violently beat and constrain her if she didn't comply. Gypsy had to pretend she couldn't walk, that she needed a feeding tube, and had to have unnecessary operations to keep up appearances. She had attempted to escape while attending a science fiction convention in 2014, but her mother had discovered her plans and her abuse had gotten even worse.

Her mother's nursing background meant that she was able to manipulate authorities easily, telling doctors just enough to keep them convinced that Gypsy was sick. Gypsy wasn't even aware of how old she really was, and was forced to act far younger and more infantile than she was in reality. Her situation had more in common with a victim of kidnapping than someone who was sick.

Gypsy couldn't take it anymore. She needed to escape before her mother's smothering behaviour actually killed her. She struck up an online relationship with Godejohn (who was high on the autistic spectrum) and the pair's fantasies became ever more vivid and violent, with Godejohn roleplaying, often violent, BDSM fantasies with Gypsy. The pair plotted to murder Dee Dee in the night, and then escape to Milwaukee. At first, the idea was just speculative, but as they talked it over, it became something all-encompassing.

On June 12, 2015, Godejohn travelled to Gypsy's house in the middle of the night. Gypsy let him inside while her mother slept and gave him a knife. Gypsy hid in the bathroom and covered her ears, and Godejohn stabbed Dee Dee several times in her back and gut. Gypsy alleges that she heard her mother's screams through the wall. The two then stole $4,000 in cash that Dee Dee had been keeping in the house, mostly from her ex-husband's child support cheques, and fled to a motel. They posted the murder weapon back to Godejohn's home in Wisconsin and caught a bus there. On June 14, Gypsy urged Godejohn to post on Dee Dee's Facebook page, so that her mother's corpse could be discovered.

As a result of their crimes, the pair were charged with murder in the first degree. This charge usually bears the death penalty under Missouri law, but county prosecutor Dan Patterson confirmed that Gypsy would receive a reduced sentence as a result of the mitigating circumstances. While in the county jail, the severely undernourished Gypsy Rose actually gained 14 pounds (6.4 kg). In July 2015, she accepted the plea bargain agreement and was thus sentenced to 10 years in prison. Godejohn still faces a trial, as it was he who actually killed Dee Dee. However, his trial has been postponed after prosecutors requested a second psychiatric exam.

Should Gypsy have been punished for her crimes? There's no doubt that the killing of her mother was premeditated. But after a lifetime of abuse and degradation, it's hardly surprising that she felt like she had no other option. Gypsy seems profoundly regretful, and stated during her trial "my mom probably would have been a good parent if I had actually been sick." If social services, or the hospital, or anyone associated with her welfare had spotted that she wasn't really sick, then the whole mess could have been avoided. But as it was, she slipped through the cracks and now faces a decade behind bars.

Featured illustration by Egarcigu