It seems like more than a coincidence that Gypsy Rose Blancharde shares her first and second name with the fabled burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee, who claimed she was ruthlessly pushed into showbiz by her domineering mother. The 1962 film Gypsy starring Natalie Wood is based on Lee’s memoir and examines her mother Rose’s desperation to vicariously achieve fame, notoriety, and attention through her two daughters. When Gypsy’s sister married and dropped out of showbiz, Rose focused solely on Gypsy.
Clauddinnea “Dee Dee” Blancharde was a stage mother of another sort. To Dee Dee the stage was the entire world and the act she forced her daughter into held up a tower of lies meant to defraud well-meaning people of their money and sympathy. Gypsy seems to have only saw one way out of her lifelong crippling performance.
Gypsy Blancharde has been ill all of her life. Since the age of four, she’s been shuttled around to different doctors and kept under close watch. In court she says the furthest she’s gone in school is the second grade, but her attorney doubts she received any education beyond kindergarten.
Which maladies afflicted over the years Gypsy changed rapidly. The list of diagnoses grew longer and more dire as the years past. According to a friend when young Gypsy first started using a wheelchair her mother said it was due to a car accident injury. Later, her inability to walk was attributed to muscular dystrophy, leukemia, a chromosomal defect and epilepsy. On top of these more serious issues Gypsy was said to suffer from eye problems, ear problems, asthma and sleep apnea. Whatever Gypsy’s precise ailments where, anyone who encountered immediately knew they were looking at a very sick young girl. She was frail and was missing most of her teeth. She wore childlike clothing and caps to cover her bald head, a hint that she was undergoing chemotherapy. The mother and daughter even said they were victims of Hurricane Katrina displacement, and received a new home in Missouri gratis of Habitat for Humanity.
During media interviews Gypsy spoke in a small, quivering voice, but remained ever hopeful. In the face of such adversity, the story of Gypsy Rose Blancharde was a shining example of hope and resilience. In reality Gypsy actually was suffering a great deal, but the source of her troubles was not an internal illness. In the year she’s been in jail, Gypsy’s health has vastly improved. She is able-bodied and can walk just fine, she’s at a healthy weight, and she has a full head of hair.
The summer of 2015 Gypsy was 21, usually an age of independence and exploring the world. Gypsy, however, had not seen much beyond trips to hospitals and doctors offices. When her mother Dee Dee was found slain in her house after a chilling Facebook update, friends and family were deeply concerned about Gypsy. Where was she? Was she kidnapped? What would happen to her without her medications, wheelchair and other medical devices?
Police found Gypsy days later in Wisconsin, staying with her boyfriend Nick Godejohn, who she’d met on a Christian dating website. In a shocking twist, Gypsy was walking just fine. She didn’t need a wheelchair, or the scores of medications she took. It became clear early on that Gypsy had conspired with Nick Godejohn in the murder of her mother, but the wider story of fraud, deceit, and extreme child abuse complicated the case.
The murder case became interlocked with the financial fraud committed by the dead woman and her daughter, but by the time Gypsy took her plea deal, her role in the extensive financial fraud was downplayed. Although she was an adult at the time of the investigation, she had been guided in this performance her entire life. And it wasn’t all a performance. Her mother had been giving her medications she for conditions she didn’t have that were actually making Gypsy physically ill from the side effects.Her seizure medication had caused her to lose most of her teeth.
Gypsy had been imprisoned by her mother, both in body and mind. She was denied basic education and social interactions beyond displays necessary to keep up their charade. Gypsy had once told a reporter: “We are a pair of shoes. Never good without the other,” an indication of how deeply Dee Dee was trying to convince her daughter to cleave to her, to never leave her.
Mommy Dead and Dearest, a documentary about this strange and heartbreaking case, is set to premiere on HBO in the upcoming months. Nick Godejohn, who actually kill Dee Dee while Gypsy hid in the bathroom, is set to be tried November, 2017.
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