by Tierney Bricker | Mon., Mar. 25, 2019 12:19 PM
"People thought of us as the sweetest mother-daughter family ever."
It was the perfect act, according to Gypsy Rose Blanchard, whose shocking story of Munchausen by proxy and matricide once again making headlines thanks to Joey King's portrayal of her in a new limited series.
The Kissing Booth star credited watching Mommy Dead and Dearest, the HBO documentary released in 2017, "no less than ten times" as one of her main sources of inspiration and guidance as she prepared to play Gypsy, the young woman who planned the murder of her mother Dee Dee Blanchard after suffering years of medical child abuse.
The 27-year-old, who is currently serving a 10 year sentence for the 2015 crime that gripped the nation's attention, detailed the disturbing details of her childhood and the depths of her mother's deception for the film, going on to sit down for an exclusive interview with ABC News a year later.
And now, King and Patricia Arquette (taking on the role of Dee Dee) are bringing the true story of Dee Dee and Gypsy and their horrifying little pink house of secrets to Hulu in The Act, which premiered on March 20 and airs new episodes on Wednesdays.
But before we get to the ending, we have to start at the beginning, with act one: What kind of person would subject their healthy child to a lifetime in a wheelchair and eating through feeding tubes?
Greene County Sheriff's Office
From Louisiana, Dee Dee, whose real name is Clauddine (or Claudinea), was once a beauty queen and worked as a nurse's aide, with her former co-worker and her ex-husband's second wife Kristy telling HelloGiggles, "You pick up things in your work environment. So it's not that she didn't have a medical background—she did."
Dee Dee was estranged from her family, with her father Claude Pitre simply saying "she was OK" of his daughter during her childhood in Mommy Dead and Dearest. He later said Dee Dee "got what she deserved" and revealed he had flushed her ashes down the toilet.
Other relatives interviewed in the film listed Dee Dee's previous misdeeds, including writing bad checks, credit card fraud, and the explosive allegation that she helped kill her own mother, Emma Pitre, through slow starvation.
When she was 24, she became pregnant with Gypsy, marrying the father: then 17-year-old Rod Blanchard. Recalling the early days of their romance in Mommy Dead and Dearest, Rod said Dee Dee was into "dark things," including witchcraft.
In 1991, the couple welcomed Gypsy Rose.
"Perfectly healthy, pretty little baby," Rod told ABC News. "I was excited and very scared. I'm 18 years old and I got a baby here. Nothing wrong with her. Perfect."
But their marriage was far from perfect, with the couple eventually splitting up shortly after Gypsy Rose was born. "I woke up on my birthday, on my 18th birthday, and realized I wasn't where I was supposed to be," Rod admitted to Buzzfeed. "I wasn't in love with her, really. I knew I got married for the wrong reasons."
When Gypsy was about three months old, Dee Dee began telling her ex that their infant daughter suffered from sleep apnea, the first of her many health issues: leukemia, muscular dystrophy, asthma, vision and hearing impairment, she suffered from seizures and had learning disabilities, and she had not been able to be out of a wheelchair since she was five.
"I told Dee Dee she was the best mother," Rod told 20/20. "'There's no way I can do what you do, you have a sick child, it's constantly 24/7, taking care of her.' I always praised her."
But she didn't exactly return the sentiment, often telling neighbors Rod didn't pay child support or even try to have a relationship with Gypsy. In reality, Dee Dee was receiving checks ($1,200 a month), Rod and his new wife Kristy would have visits, but never had any alone time with his daughter.
"All the visits, Dee Dee had to be there the whole time…Dee Dee was so controlling of her," Kristy recalled.
Aside from the money being sent to her by Rod, Dee Dee and Gypsy were the recipients of donations and disability payments, and when they were left displaced and homeless after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they received their dream home from Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, Missouri, in 2008. There was even a wheelchair ramp for Gypsy, who told the local news, "I remember my mom had gave me this little glass house and she said, 'One day this will be real,' now it finally is!"
The little pink house was right on the corner of Hope Road and Volunteer Way.
Dee Dee and Gypsy often traveled the country, going to Disney World and attending baseball games and charity events, all through offers from Make a Wish and other foundations.
"You're the reason I was born, Dee Dee once told Gypsy on stage at a Relay for Life event to raise money for American Cancer Society, "to be your mom."
Celebrities like Elijah Wood, Blake Shelton, and Miranda Lambert rallied around Gypsy, with Lambert even giving Dee Dee a personal check for $3,500, according to ABC News.
"She was one of the happiest people I had ever met and yet she was the most sick people I'd ever met at the same time," Gypsy's Springfield neighbor and close friend Aleah Woodmansee (portrayed by Annasophia Robb in The Act) told 20/20.
While the traveling and celebrity run-ins seemed wonderful, Aleah said, "It's not worth what condition her health was in." That included frequent trips to the emergency room if Gypsy had a cold or cough, feedings through tubes and rotted teeth.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Rod theorized of his ex-wife's behavior, "I think Dee Dee's problem was she started a web of lies, and there was no escaping after. 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."
During all their visits with Gypsy, Rod and Kristy said she had never spoken ill of her mother, with Gypsy telling ABC News, "For a long time, I believed we were best friends…other than my stuffed animals. I thought she was a great mother, we got along so perfect. I saw her as angel that could do no wrong.
But as she grew older, Gypsy, like many teenagers, craved her independence and would attempt to stage her own small rebellions. She would walk around the house at night. She would secretly access the computer, even setting up a private Facebook account using the name Emma Rose to send messages to Aleah.
"This is my personal account my mom is still overprotective so she don't, know about this account," Gypsy wrote in October 2014. to Aleah, who she often asked for tips on how to flirt and kiss.
Greene County Sheriff’s Office; Brownie Harris / Hulu
Again, like many teenagers, she also became a little boy crazy. In 2011, she attempted to run away to be with an older man she met at a sci-fi convention. Dee Dee eventually caught up with her, and according to Gypsy in the HBO documentary, told her, "If you ever try to do that again, I'm going to smash your fingers with a hammer." She also destroyed her phone and computer, with Gypsy alleging she was also chained to her bed and Dee Dee put bells on the doors.
But in 2014, Gypsy, obsessed with Disney fairy tales and dressing up like Cinderella, believed she had finally found her Prince Charming on a Christian dating site. His name was Nick Gottejohn and they fell fast and hard for each other.
"I need to tell you something. I'm no model…I have a medical condition..so I can't walk, I have a chair I use…is that a issue?" Gypsy wrote in one message, with Nick responding, "why would that be a problem u are an angel in my eyes…it will never make any difference in how I see u from the inside out."
Gypsy also gushed about her new boyfriend in messages to Aleah, saying he was "soo romantic" and they were already talking about their future.
"She was talking about this new guy that she was now in love with and they had met on this Christian dating site and that they were already planning on their children after him," Aleah told ABC News.
Nick was from Wisconsin and reportedly struggled with mental health issues; he was arrested in 2013 for masturbating at a McDonald's and having a concealed knife.
According to former FBI agent Brad Garrett, who spoke about the case with 20/20, Nick was "sort of similar" to Gypsy in that he functions at around 15-16 year old level and "did not really having a normal social interaction history."
And Nick was allegedly into BDSM, something Gypsy said she wasn't comfortable with but went along with.
"As [the relationship] progressed, things got weird," Gypsy said in Mommy Dear and Dearest. With Nick claiming to have multiple personalities, Gypsy also came up with various identities to match.
Gypsy, then 18, and Nick, 24, attempted to introduce their relationship to her mother with a movie date. It did not go well.
"Awful, oh my god. She got jealous because I was spending a little too much attention on him and she had ordered me to stay away from him," Gypsy recalled in her interview with ABC News, with the mother and daughter going on to argue for a couple of weeks, which included Dee Dee "yelling, throwing things, calling me names, 'bitch, slut, whore.'"
According to Gypsy, who had shared with Nick what her home life with Dee Dee was really like, she finally wanted to break free, though she told ABC News, "I didn't hate her...I wanted to escape her."
And in June 2015, her plan to escape became a reality, with Godejohn traveling from Wisconsin to Missouri to kill Dee Dee.
On the day of the murder, Gypsy texted Nick, "The ***** gonna go down tonight…just the gloves and knife?'" Nick responded, "…duct tape too…to muffle her." Gypsy said she would "precut" the tape.
In her sitdown with ABC News, Gypsy said she was "terrified" and hid in the bathroom when Nick came in to murder Dee Dee, who was asleep.
"I did actually stab her mom. I'll admit it," Nick said in his police interview. "Then she called up for Gypsy but Gypsy didn't do anything."
"I heard her scream once and there was more screaming, but not like the kind in a horror film," Gypsy recalled, "A startled scream…she called out my name about three or four times, at that point I wanted to go help her so bad, but I was so afraid to get up. And then everything just went quiet."
After Dee Dee died, the couple then had sex on Gypsy's bed, though Gypsy later alleged Nick had raped her in the HBO documentary, saying he had tried to have sex with her mother's corpse.
"I made a deal with him. I'd let him rape me and then he wouldn't do that to my mom," she said for the time in Mommy Dead and Dearest.
Before they left the little pink house, they sealed the murder weapon and over $4,000 they stole from Dee Dee in an enveloped, mailing it to Nick's house in Wisconsin via USPS.
And then they were off, with Gypsy admitting, "I honestly didn't think we were going to get caught."
But Dee Dee's body and Gypsy's disappearance soon became big news in the small town when the shared Facebook account for the mother-daughter duo posted a startling update that rocked their friends.
"That B—ch is dead!" the first post in June 14, 2015 read, with some thinking the "Dee Gyp Blanchard" account had been hacked.
Then the second status update came: "I ****** SLASHED THAT PAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER…HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO ****** LOUD LOL"
A family friend immediately called the police to ask for a wellness check with Dee Dee's body being found.
"I was in hysterics thinking she got brought somewhere and was left to die," Gypsy's stepmother Kristy told Buzzfeed News of receiving the call, going on to say she wondered "how could I take care of her when Dee Dee knew everything on how to take care of her?" if Gypsy was found.
Gypsy was on her way to Wisconsin, with a taxi driver who transported the couple telling ABC News she picked up Gypsy wearing "an old-looking Cher wig" and a pretty big attitude.
"The girl looked 12, sounded five and have a 40-year-old attitude," the driver said. "She was not afraid to tell me off. I just knew there was something wrong."
In the brief window of time before they were tracked down by the police, tracing the IP address of the Facebook posts to Nick's computer, the couple "acted like two normal people," Godejohn's stepfather said in Mommie Dead and Dearest. "That's what's really freaky. How can you do that?"
After a short standoff with a SWAT team, the couple was taken into custody.
In footage from her first police interrogation, Gypsy feigned shock and despair over her mother's death. "Wait, go back…no. no. I don't know what happened with my mom," she told the police officer, who doesn't seem to be buying the act. "Why don't you just tell me? No…sir, I, I didn't do anything!...I don't know what happened with my mom!"
And during a phone call with her father, she maintained her innocence.
"The stuff they say in the news is horrible and not true," she told him. "You know I love mama and you know that I would never hurt her. Just know that I am innocent and I'm still your little girl."
As the details started emerging and the secrets that had been housed in the little pink house started spilling out, the Blanchards' family and friends were shocked. As Sheriff Jim Arnott put it in a press conference: "Things are not always as they appear."
Like the fact that Gypsy could walk.
"I still did not want to believe she could walk when she came on the news," her father told 20/20 of seeing footage of his daughter walking into the courtroom on the news. "In fact, I rewound it and played it multiple times."
And after the shock wore off, Rod had a lot of questions.
"I was happy she was walking," he continued, acknowledging that in hindsight there were "big red flags, I felt so stupid. If she could walk, what else have we been lied to about?"
But it wasn't just Rod and Kristy who had been lied to; the world, including over 100 doctors, had been deceived, with Sheriff Arnott saying, "We have unearthed the appearance of a long financial fraud scheme."
When investigators searched the mother and daughter's home, they were shocked at what they found. "This case by far has had the most discovery that I've ever had," Gypsy's attorney Mike Stanfield told ABC News. "Close to 100 CDs worth of papers, photos and digital information."
Rod and Kristy also went through the home, calling it "a disaster," adding it was clear "Dee Dee did a lot of hoarding, stuff piled up chest high to the back of the room."
And then there was the closet.
"I was like, holy s--t. My mouth dropped," Kristy said, "from the top to the bottom, full of so many medications."
The linen closet was filled with hundreds of prescriptions, some that were filled illegally as Dee Dee had stolen prescription pads.
In her life, Gypsy was treated by over 100 different doctors, with one consistency among them: every medical record only referred to Dee Dee providing any information. She was able to convince most doctors to run brain scans, CAT scans and even perform procedures like eye surgeries and the removal of Gypsy's salivary glands.
"She had a very sweet personality, very convincing, she would call it Southern charm and she would use her Southern charm to get them to be friendly and to get on their good side," Gypsy told ABC News.
Dee Dee would often blame Gypsy's lack of medical records on Hurricane Katrina, claiming they had been destroyed, and created a fake birth certificate for her daughter, altering her age. When one doctor in Missouri seemed to be catching on, Dee Dee moved Gypsy's care to a hospital three hours away.
Despite all of this medical attention, Gypsy was fine. More than fine, in fact.
"There were certain illnesses I knew I didn't have. I knew I could eat and I knew I could walk, but I did believe my mother when she said I had leukemia," she admitted to ABC News in 2018. "The only thing that I have wrong with me is I have a little bit of a lazy eye. Not all the time, but I have better vision in [one eye]. That's it."
As for why she never questioned her mother, Gypsy explained, "I was so young and me looking up to her so much and believing she knows best."
When it came to her childlike demeanor, specifically her voice, Gypsy said it's real, getting defensive in a Buzzfeed interview. "It's not my fault. I can't help it. This is my voice," she told the reporter Michelle Dean.
But the mother and daughter did hear one pretty official diagnosis from a doctor over the years, just not for Gypsy; it was Dee Dee, as a neurologist she brought Gypsy to became "suspicious" right away after Dee Dee "was not happy" when he informed her that her daughter had been misdiagnosed and was totally fine.
"She left the office in a storm and told my nurses I don't know what I'm talking about and she's not coming back," Dr. Bernardo Flasterstein told 20/20, showing the medical record in which he wrote of Dee Dee: "There is a strong possibility of Munchausen by proxy."
According to the University of Michigan, Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is "a mental health problem in which a caregiver makes up or causes an illness or injury in a person under his or her care, such as a child, an elderly adult, or a person who has a disability. Because vulnerable people are the victims, MSBP is a form of child abuse or elder abuse."
For Gypsy, she saw her mother's control over her as a void Dee Dee was trying to fill.
"I think that she was constantly seeking attention for herself because she didn't feel love, so let's make this baby girl sick so she forever needs you," she said on 20/20. She added, "I think that she was very sick in her mind."
After pleading guilty, Gypsy was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2016, the minimum sentence for a second-degree murder charge.
As for Nick, he was sentenced to life in prison in February 2019 for first degree murder, even with Gypsy serving as the main witness for the defense, taking blame for planning Dee Dee's violent death.
"She was basically the mastermind behind it all. I was basically a hired hit man in its own weird sense," Godejohn told ABC News in a video conference before his trial. "The reason why I did do this because I was for some so deeply in love with Gypsy at the time. I do still love her."
While Gypsy doesn't love Nick anymore, she said, "Now, I don't hate him. I feel sorry for him. He was very much like my mother in certain ways, both of them were very controlling, and I feel like I was trained my whole life to do as I was told."
Eligible for parole in 2024, when she will be 32 years old, Gypsy doesn't exactly look at life in prison as all that different from her life in the little pink house.
"In some ways they're the same, but now I'm so much more freer," she said on 20/20. "I couldn't walk, I couldn't eat, I couldn't have friends. I feel like I'm freer in prison than living with my mom. [I can] live like a normal woman."
Living like a normal woman included reconnecting with her father and stepmother, who often visit Gypsy in prison.
But one of the questions that now lingers and is addressed in most of the documentary and in-depth specials about the shocking tale of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose is has the apple fallen far from the tree?
In the HBO documentary, a Munchhausen expert said he believed Gypsy is afflicted with some degree of sociopathy, pointing to some of her behavior after the murder.
While the filmmaker Erin Lee Carr acknowledged seeing a shift in Gypsy's behavior depending on how she was speaking to, she said she ultimately believed Gypsy. "That's not to say she was lying or being manipulative. That's what she's been taught. It's impression management."
But Dean, the investigative journalist who covered the story for Buzzfeed, isn't quite as convinced.
"I do think Gypsy is potentially dangerous. Dee Dee was a master manipulator," Dean said in Mommy Dead and Dearest. "It's impossible that Gypsy would not have picked this up and used it."
So is Gypsy a victim or villain, a question once posed by 20/20?
"I've been raised to do what my mother taught me to do. And those things aren't very good," Gypsy told Buzzfeed. "She taught me to lie, and I don't wanna lie. I want to be a good, honest person."
The Act's first two episodes are now streaming on Hulu.
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