TELL-TALE CRIMES: From Munchausen to matricide

TELL-TALE CRIMES: From Munchausen to matricide

Welcome to Tell-Tale Crimes, the crime column of the QC. Tell-Tale Crimes will aim to provide a look at both local and national crimes and cases that are sometimes interesting, sometimes relevant, and sometimes both, from perspective of a true crime enthusiast. 

 Trigger warning! This piece contains mentions of murder, psychological abuse, and sexual assault.

Maggie Harvey

OPINIONS EDITOR

Children sometimes pretend to be sick so that they do not have to go to school; perhaps they want the sympathy, perhaps just a break from school; or perhaps they want to miss a particularly difficult assignment. It is not an uncommon phenomenon — I remember my own childhood attempts to get out of going to school by whatever means necessary — and we tend to grow out of it. As adults we understand that actions have consequences. What happens when someone does not grow out of it, though? When that need for sympathy, attention, and care grows too strong to ignore?

Factitious disorder imposed on the self, commonly known as Munchausen syndrome, is a mental disorder where a person pretends that they are ill by displaying symptoms that they have induced of their own accord. “People with factitious disorders act this way because of an inner need to be seen as ill or injured, not to achieve a concrete benefit, such as financial gain,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. While a child pretending to be sick may be similar in description, this behavior in an adult is a full-blown mental illness. The cause is not currently known, but some doctors theorize that it may be due to childhood psychological issues or abuse. The kind of factitious disorder I will be discussing is slightly different and all the more horrifying.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is when a caregiver makes up or causes illness or injury in a person they are caring for, most often a parent caring for a child. According to University of Michigan, a caregiver with Munchausen syndrome by proxy may “lie about the child’s symptoms, change test results to make a child appear to be ill, or, physically harm the child to produce symptoms.” Possibly the most famous and contemporary case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is the story of young adult Gypsy Rose Blanchard, which resulted in the murder of her mother and caregiver, Dee Dee Blanchard. 

Photo Courtesy of Brownie Horrise,  Rolling Stone

Photo Courtesy of Brownie Horrise, Rolling Stone

The story of the Blanchards’ first came to light in June of 2015. Dee Dee — being someone with munchausen by proxy — put her daughter through a series of unnecessary medical treatment, such as being confined to a wheel chair and fed through a tube in her stomach. On June 14, a post popped up from Dee Dee’s Facebook that read “That B­—h is dead!” According to Buzzfeed News, this immediately sparked concern from Dee Dee’s friends and followers, and after another comment was added to the post that read “I F—N SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER…HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO F—N LOUD LOL.” Friends called the police, and once they obtained a warrant to search the property, officers found Dee Dee’s body. She was stabbed and had been dead for several days. Her daughter, Gypsy, was missing. 

The community was in panic. GoFundMe’s were started to raise money for Dee Dee’s funeral expenses, and Gypsy remained nowhere to be found. Police then received a tip from Gypsy’s friend, Aleah Woodmansee, that there was something about Gypsy that people did not know. Woodmansee had always considered Gypsy to be like a little sister, but they rarely got to hang out by themselves because Dee Dee was always with them. Instead, Gypsy sent Woodmansee messages through a secret Facebook account under the name of Emma Rose, that her mother did not know about. 

There, prior to her mother’s murder, Gypsy told Woodmansee about her experience on a Christian singles site, where she met a man by the name of Nicholas Godejohn. They had been talking online for two years and planned on getting married. Woodmansee told the police about the messages and the secret boyfriend, and they found him in Big Bend, Wisc. several days later. There was a brief police standoff, according to Buzzfeed News, and Godejohn quickly surrendered. With him was Gypsy, and in perfect health. Instead of the disabled girl they had known all their life, there stood a healthy person. Gypsy explained to the police officers that all of her disabilities and illnesses had been a lie; her mother had spent her entire life lying and faking Gypsy’s symptoms. Gypsy’s age was even fake; Dee Dee had told everyone, including Gypsy, that Gypsy was 19. She was later proven to be 23.

Gypsy and Godejohn had planned that, in order to get Gypsy away from her mother’s grasp, they needed to kill Dee Dee. Godejohn waited at the house while Gypsy and Dee Dee were gone to a doctors appointment. Once they returned, and Dee Dee went to sleep, Gypsy let Godejohn in and gave him the tools to kill her mother. She waited in another room as Godejohn stabbed Dee Dee several times as she was sleeping. They then made their way to Godejohn’s Wisconsin home. 

Photo Courtesy of Greene County Sheriff’s Office

Photo Courtesy of Greene County Sheriff’s Office

Once there, Gypsy began to worry that no one would discover her mother’s body, so Godejohn posted to Dee Dee’s Facebook to stoke suspicion. Godejohn received a life sentence for the murder, and Gypsy received 10 years in prison for second-degree murder. She is still currently incarcerated, and working with a script writer to create an accurate depiction of her life. The working title of the piece is “By Proxy,” which is not affiliated with Hulu’s The Act, a dramtization of Gypsy’s life.

If anything, the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard should remind others that abuse is not always noticed. Munchausen syndrome by proxy may be a mental disorder, but it is also severe abuse. If you suspect that someone is the victim in a Munchausen syndrome by proxy situation, do not confront the caregiver. Speak with your own doctor about your concerns, observe and write down specifics of the victim’s symptoms, and, if necessary, report your concerns to your local child welfare agency. Gypsy Rose Blanchard spent 23 years being the victim of her mother’s abuse; perhaps we can make it less for other victims of abuse, not just Munchausen’s.