If you’re looking for a quick bit of interesting true crime and don’t have time for the long docuseries that have become popular lately, look no further that HBO’s newest, Mommy Dead and Dearest, premiering tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.
This new documentary focuses on the relationship between Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blancharde and the controversial psychological condition of Munchausen by proxy syndrome that led to Dee Dee’s murder.
On June 15, 2015, Dee Dee Blancharde was found murdered in her home in Springfield, Missouri, with no clues about who could have committed such a horrible crime. Worse yet, her wheelchair-bound daughter, Gypsy Rose, was missing. Shortly after the grisly discovery, a Facebook post on Dee Dee and Gypsy’s shared profile stating, “That Bitch is dead,” led investigators to Wisconsin where they found Gypsy living with her boyfriend, Nick Godejohn. What was most astonishing to the investigators, and to friends and family of the Blanchardes, is that Gypsy could walk without a problem.
It’s at this point that the narrative shifts. It’s no longer about a teen girl and her internet boyfriend colluding to kill the girl’s mother. It’s about the nightmare living conditions the girl suffered while in the care of her mother, who likely suffered from Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Munchausen by proxy is extremely difficult to diagnose because who would accuse a parent—especially one who seems loving and attentive—of manufacturing a child’s illnesses?
Mothers who have this mental illness are capable of manipulating doctors, family, and other caregivers into believing a child is suffering from multiple diseases in order to gain sympathy, and Dee Dee fit this to a tee. Dee Dee had claimed that Gypsy suffered from asthma, epilepsy, hearing and vision problems, mental retardation, leukemia, and muscular dystrophy, and went so far as to lie to Gypsy about her own age. Gypsy never made it past the second grade in school, and she was at the complete and total mercy of her mother, who was giving her many medications, some of which caused more harm than helped. It’s astonishing to imagine a mother doing such a thing to their child.
Meanwhile, Gypsy was sneaking online while her mother slept, creating a life for herself that she imagined was more truthful than the life she was living with her mother. It was on the internet that she met Nick Godejohn, a borderline autistic teen that fell hard for Gypsy. After a year of online dating, with very few meetups in real life because of Gypsy’s circumstances, Gypsy finally confessed to Nick all of the things she was suffering at the hand of her mother. It was at this time that the two of them hatched a murderous plan.
Mommy Dead and Dearest is a fascinating portrait of Munchausen by proxy syndrome and an abused child’s need to escape at any cost. I was struck by how completely manipulated everyone in their lives had been. It seemed hard to believe that Gypsy’s father would have just completely given up on taking care of his child the way he did, but then again, we don’t know what Dee Dee said to him. I imagine if the mother of your child told you your child was sick and had hospital photos to back up the claims, you’d be inclined to believe her.
Gypsy’s story is so tragic, I couldn’t help but feel for her despite her crimes. But someone in the documentary threw out the idea that if the mother was so successfully manipulative, could the child have learned her tricks? It certainly is chilling to think about.
Mommy Dead and Dearest premieres Monday, May 15, 2017 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. It will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and affiliate portals.
Ardi Alspach was born in Florida, raised in South Carolina, and now resides in New York City with her cat and an apartment full of books. By day, she's a publicist, and by night, she's a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ardyceelaine or check out her website at ardyceelaine.wordpress.com.