The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The girl in the wheelchair was told she was critically ill. Her mother’s brutal murder exposed the truth.

Nicholas Godejohn appeared in court Nov. 13 in the first-degree murder case of Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard, who had been stabbed 17 times in June 2015. (Video: KSPR News)
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The mother and daughter lived alone in a small candy-pink house hammered together by Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, Mo. But more than walls kept Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard and her daughter, Gypsy, barricaded away from the outside world.

Gypsy Blanchard used a wheelchair, allegedly mentally and physically disabled from a host of ailments, including a childhood bout of leukemia, muscular dystrophy, a seizure condition and asthma. As BuzzFeed reported in 2016, Dee Dee told friends and family the teenager Gypsy had the mind of a 7-year-old.

Dee Dee diligently guarded Gypsy against the outside world, home-schooling her, monitoring her Internet usage, sticking with her daughter at all times. The young girl’s condition was like a bubble they both lived inside. They shuttled to doctor appointments together. They traveled to Disney World for charity trips. They even shared a Facebook page combining both their names: “Dee Gyp Blancharde.”

On June, 14 2015, a post from the account attracted attention: “That Bitch is dead!” it read. As friends began piling up concerned comments, another message popped up: “I . . . SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER . . . HER SCREAM WAS SO . . . LOUD LOL.”

Friends soon arrived at the pink house, followed by police. Inside, they discovered Dee Dee on her bed, dead from 17 stab wounds in her back, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

When investigators arrested Gypsy, then 24, and her online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, in Big Bend, Wis., in connection with the murder, it was just the first disorienting jolt. Police soon revealed that Gypsy was perfectly healthy. She could walk and never had cancer. Her ailments had been the product of Dee Dee’s imagination, a rare possible instance of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental condition where a parent grafts fictitious sicknesses onto a child.

In June 2016, Gypsy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She was given a 10-year sentence. The themes tangling through the case — mental illness, faked disease, online romance, a bloody murder — created a media sensation around Gypsy’s arrest. She appeared on “Dr. Phil.” HBO featured a documentary on the case. Hulu is set to produce a scripted series based on the events.

But the case is far from over.

This week, the 29-year-old Godejohn’s own first-degree murder trial kicked off in a Missouri courtroom. Once again, mental capacity — real or faked — is the central issue. In the opening statement this week, Godejohn’s attorney argued that his client is autistic and therefore unable to hatch a murder plot on his own. Gypsy is the real culprit, Godejohn has maintained. He did not dispute his client’s involvement in the killing.

“All the planning she did, every bit of it. She pretty much willed the knife in my hand to commit the deed herself,” he told ABC’s “20/20” last January. “She is the mastermind behind the entire thing.”

Dee Dee was originally from a small town in Louisiana, according to BuzzFeed. She separated from Gypsy’s father shortly after the girl was born in 1991.

As the child was growing up, Dee Dee continuously took her daughter to the doctor, claiming the child had seizures. BuzzFeed reported that Dee Dee later continued to tell doctors that her daughter was suffering from muscular dystrophy, even though tests proved otherwise. Medical professionals often went along with the diagnosis; if they didn’t, Dee Dee went to a different practitioner. Over the years, Gypsy was put on anti-seizure medication, her eyes were operated on, and she had a feeding tube installed.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the pair relocated to Missouri, where they continued the charade. The young girl’s condition opened doors. They met celebrities such as Miranda Lambert, went on trips, and were the beneficiaries of the goodwill and financial help of friends and neighbors.

“I think Dee Dee’s problem was she started a web of lies, and there was no escaping after,” Gypsy’s father, Rod Blanchard, 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."

In an interview with “20/20,” Gypsy claimed that she began to suspect her health was not as dire as her mother said as she grew older.

“I was so young, and me looking up to her so much, I didn’t question it,” she explained. “There are certain illnesses that I knew I didn’t have. I knew that I didn’t need the feeding tube, I knew I could eat. And I knew that I could walk. But I did believe my mother when she said I had leukemia.”

Gypsy also said life under her mother’s roof was abusive. After arguments, Dee Dee allegedly would not feed Gypsy for days. Starting in 2011, Dee Dee also would beat her daughter with a coat hanger, Gypsy claimed. On one occasion, when the teenager ran away, Dee Dee found her hours later and then allegedly chained her to the bed.

“The prison that I was living in before, with my mom, it’s like, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t have friends, I couldn’t go outside, you know, and play with friends or anything,” she told “20/20.” “For a long time I believed we were best friends. When I was younger, she was my best friend, other than my stuffed animals.”

The Internet was her only path out to the world beyond Dee Dee’s fictions and rules. That’s where she met Godejohn, according to prosecutors. The pair linked up on the website Christian Dating for Free in 2012, the News-Leader reported. In his opening statement, defense attorney Andrew Mead told the court that Godejohn was a lonely autistic man who had a job holding a sign outside a pizza joint. Most of his socializing was through an Internet connection.

“That was his outlet to the world,” the attorney said this week.

The messages between the two reportedly took on a sexually graphic edge. They swapped nicknames such as “hun” and “daddy.” Gypsy and Godejohn talked about living together in rural Wisconsin and having children.

Three months before Dee Dee’s murder, Gypsy mailed $400 to Godejohn so he could come visit her in Missouri, according to an interview he gave to police after he was arrested. The two met at a movie theater where Gypsy was going to see “Cinderella” dressed up as the Disney princess. At the theater, Gypsy pulled him into the boys' restroom, where they had sex for the first time, Godejohn told investigators.

“The truth is I worship her,” he said in the interview.

The couple’s messages allegedly also drifted into darker territory. The court heard testimony that both Gypsy and Godejohn referred to their own evil alter egos. Gypsy called hers “Ruby.” Godejohn referred to his “evil side.” On the day before the killing, Godejohn messaged Gypsy that his “evil side” required duct tape for the next day. “It’s my evil side doing it. He won’t mess up, because he enjoys killing,” he allegedly wrote.

“Did Gypsy know you were going to kill her mother?” a detective asked Godejohn in his interview.

“She asked me to,” he replied. “She felt it was her only way to be with me.”

According to his own interview with police, when Godejohn arrived at the pink house on the night of the killing, Gypsy gave him a pair of gloves and the knife to use. He then crept into Dee Dee’s room, got on the bed and began slamming the knife into the older woman’s back.

"Never get between me and Ruby,” Godejohn said he told Dee Dee as he jabbed the knife.

Dee Dee cried out for Gypsy, he told detectives. The daughter, however, was in the bathroom shaving her legs. After Dee Dee was dead, Gypsy came into the murder room naked to clean up the mess. The two then had sex in Gypsy’s bed after knocking her stuffed animals off. “Me and her did it naked,” he told police.

Police arrested Gypsy and Godejohn less than 48 hours after Dee Dee’s body was discovered. They were able to track the couple down to Wisconsin thanks to the post the pair put up on Dee Dee and Gypsy’s shared Facebook account.

At his trial this week, Godejohn’s attorney has argued that the young man was simply an instrument in Gypsy’s gruesome escape plan.

“Nick was happy to do whatever Gypsy wanted,” his attorney said. “He was always compliant.”

Gypsy, serving her 10-year sentence, disagrees.

“There’s a big difference between someone that asks someone to kill someone, and someone who actually does it,” she told “20/20.” “I would never kill somebody. I would never physically go through with it.”