Dee Dee Blancharde spent more than twenty years convincing the world that her daughter Gypsy was sick. From three months to twenty-three years old, Dee Dee claimed again and again and again that Gypsy was suffering. The world responded to Gypsy’s ailments with charity, with treatment, with medications, with surgeries. In the end, all of it was unnecessary: Gypsy had never been sick.
Gypsy was angry though. She was so angry in fact that she conspired with an internet boyfriend to murder Dee Dee. Now she sits in a Missouri prison serving a ten-year sentence, the least amount of time allowable by law. She will be released when she is 32.
She is there because adults chose to believe other adults, even in the face of evidence that screamed otherwise. And she is there because those adults, when confronted with their own failures, insisted that Gypsy be the only person held responsible for her actions.
Michelle Dean’s reporting of Dee Dee’s and Gypsy’s story is almost impossible to believe. One trope in internet writing is to choose to the story’s worst part to highlight, almost as if it to know the hardest part allows us a full understanding of its entirety, but here, there are simply too many truly terrible things to comprehend.
There is this:
Dee Dee told doctors there that Gypsy had seizures every couple of months, so they put her on anti-seizure medications. Dee Dee insisted to one doctor after another that her daughter had muscular dystrophy even after a muscle biopsy proved she didn’t. There were problems with her eyes and ears, too, Dee Dee insisted, poor vision and frequent ear infections. Doctors dutifully operated on her.
Dee Dee kept Rod updated on his daughter’s whereabouts and medical circumstances. She did this even as she told doctors and new friends in Missouri that he was a drug addict who had abandoned his daughter…Rod continued to send, as he always had, $1,200 a month in child support to a New Orleans bank account. He also sent the occasional gifts Dee Dee asked for, television sets, and a Nintendo Wii. He continued to send these things even after Gypsy turned 18, because Dee Dee said Gypsy still required full-time care. “There was never a question whether or not I was going to stop paying,” he said.
Parents make your world, and Dee Dee made Gypsy’s into one where she did, indeed, have cancer. Gypsy told me her mother said some of the medications were related to it. Even as she grew older, she wasn’t sure how to question it. There are lingering questions, in fact, about exactly what medications Gypsy was given over the years. Some of them may never have been prescribed to Gypsy at all; her attorney, for example, suspects Dee Dee gave Gypsy some kind of tranquilizer.
The desire to please a parent can be enough to enlist a child in the deception. But even in adult cases, there can be some kind of emotional attachment keeping the patient in on the lie. “The relationship that develops between the two is so unhealthy,” Burton told me, of the adult cases she had treated. And no source I consulted had ever heard of a case where the abuse went on for this long, into their adulthood. One thing seems certain: For the patient in a Munchausen by proxy case, the truth becomes corroded.
Some interventions were surgical. Gypsy’s eye muscles were repeatedly operated on for alleged weakness. Tubes were put in her ears for alleged ear infections. She was given a feeding tube and ate very little by mouth, surviving on cans of the meal replacement PediaSure well into her twenties. Her salivary glands were first injected with Botox, then removed because her mother complained that she drooled too much. Gypsy’s teeth rotted out and had to be extracted, though whether that was because of poor dental hygiene or a mixture of medications and severe malnutrition, it’s hard to say.
It was not the only missed opportunity for authorities to intervene. In the fall of 2009, someone made an anonymous call to the Springfield Police Department, asking for a wellness check. The person said that they had doubts that Gypsy was suffering from all the ailments her mother described. (Flasterstein says it was not he who made that call.) The police drove over to the house, but Dee Dee put their fears to rest. She told them that the reason she sometimes used inconsistent birth dates and spellings of her name was to hide from an abusive husband. No one called Rod Blanchard, or checked on these claims. The police accepted the explanation.
When the records finally arrived, though, they were so damning, Stanfield called the prosecutor without needing to investigate further. A plea deal was worked out. On July 5, Gypsy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The judge gave her the minimum sentence: 10 years. With the year she’s served, she’ll be eligible for parole in about seven and a half years, at the end of 2023. By then she will be 32 years old.
Gypsy Is The Guilty One
That Gypsy is doing ten years in prison is presented in this reporting as a charitable, almost reasonable outcome. It was literally the least that the justice system could do given the severity of the crime that Gypsy committed when contextualized against the horror contained within those files.
Making sense of our society is an overwhelming task. When faced with an individual who lived frankly unimaginable decades of psychological and medical torture, the prosecutorial response to her having resorted to murder is to offer her only ten more years of incarceration. Maybe her ten years is considered justice because she was so accepting of it. In the story, she describes herself as having been responsible for her mother’s death, and for deserving to pay a price for this punishment. But she also describes jail as a reprieve of sorts, and as an opportunity to unlearn everything it was that her mother forced her to learn. She will have access to a counselor and to technology. She seems to have turned her sentence into a reward of sorts, and if she finds peace in this, so much the better.
There will be those who see her response as an absolution of sorts, not of her mother’s treatment, but of the system’s failures generally. At every opportunity to save her and Dee Dee from their fates, the system reverted to that most standard of systemic responses: it believed the adult.
This is of course not the first time that this has been the adult world’s response. Abusers have repeatedly enjoyed the sanctuary provided by other adults who were themselves comforted by assurances that the abused had simply misunderstood what had happened, whatever it might have been. Gypsy’s case might have been more confusing given her mother’s careful attempts to limit her ability to communicate, but there was evidence available regardless.
When Gypsy failed tests that should have proven the truth of the claims being made about her, Dee Dee insisted otherwise, and licensed professionals taught to know more and to know better believed her instead, their own tests be damned. Even after being confronted with the gravity of their professional failures, these adults did not then conclude that believing Dee Dee had been a catastrophic mistake. They shrugged off the ramifications of their actions, and asked us instead to wonder about the costs of having inverted the situation. In other words, when challenged, they challenge back with “What if Dee Dee had been right?” and then presume that this alternative scenario were somehow at least as plausible as the actual facts of the actual case.
It is of course understandable that this would be response, especially considering that there is no professional threat in doing this. Doctors who operated on a perfectly healthy girl (and, eventually, a perfectly healthy woman) face no sanction for having done so, because they did it at the behest of her mother. They make themselves out to be victims in all of this and everybody seems to collectively agree that they have suffered enough. Prosecutors seem to have pursued nothing against any of them. In twenty-three years of utter and repeated failure, everybody involved remarkably managed to never once run afoul of the law.
But Gypsy? Her twenty-three years of suffering is insufficient. Gypsy was party to a murder after all, her victim a woman who seemed to have the entire world at her beck and call, a woman who could order a doctor to perform an unnecessary surgery in one breath, and shoo away concerned police in the next. Is it any wonder that Gypsy might have concluded that the only way out of her nightmare was in doing what she did?
Missouri is lucky she is so accepting. It seems entirely reasonable to believe that a different Gypsy Blancharde might have responded with righteous fury at having been asked to spend even a single second behind bars given all that she suffered, and all that society all around her repeatedly sanctioned. Not that her fury would have much mattered. She would simply join the long list of victims expected to pay a higher-price than those who victimized them.
Oh, And Gypsy’s Family And Friends Too
To describe what Dee Dee was doing as “fraud” would be appear to be wildly insufficient. Police and medical professionals dismissed the possibility of malingering almost immediately; this was a diagnosed mental illness at work, Munchausen by proxy. Gypsy was surely its, and her mother’s, victim. This is the simplest of all possible explanations.
To view her as a victim necessitates grappling with a world in which this could possibly happen to someone. This, after all, was not a case in which a lightning bolt happened to lash out. This case involved prolonged, intentional suffering. This, in other words, is something that we are capable of doing to one another as a species. To grapple with this is to stare into Neitzsche’s abyss.
But because human beings are human beings – and because human beings are often collectively desperate to believe that the world cannot be as simple as it appears to be – the aftermath of Dee Dee’s murder involved not only a collective shock at what had occurred for so long, but an attempt to contextualize it in a way that looped Gypsy (and her limited biological relations, as well as a few family friends) into some sort of grander plot to exploit the world’s kindness and generosity. Surely this was then a grand conspiracy, rather than a horrendous societal failure.
Under other circumstances, a tale of child abuse as long and as involved as what Gypsy experienced might have inspired public sympathy. But something about the fraud element deeply offended people, particularly those who hadn’t known Gypsy or Dee Dee at all. Evidently there are a lot of people who are worried that others who are sick and disabled don’t deserve their generosity. So Facebook groups began to spring up. They splintered on whether Gypsy could be said to be blamed, whether Rod and Kristy were in some way in on the fraud. Some groups ballooned to over 10,000 members, some of them posting every day about the crime, voicing unfounded theories about what had happened.
This is a cruelty in its own way. Unlike the professionals discussed above, this makes demands upon the powerless, upon people who are not tasked with healthcare or public safety, but rather, family and friends. They should have stopped it, people reason, and that they did not means that they were in on it. It demands of those duped to have been better, to have been smarter, to have conceived of a world in which an adult could do this to a child. It demands, frankly, that they be better than the paid professionals tasked with discovering precisely what was occurring.
That is almost always too big of an ask. To concoct an elaborate conspiracy theory in which Dee Dee must have worked in concert with those around her, even with her daughter, is easier than coming to understand the possibility that a very specific confluence of events – severe mental illness plus a child plus medical knowledge plus a reward mechanism plus professional concern about inaction plus whatever else – could result in Dee Dee’s having tortured Gypsy for decades.
The professionals shouted, “We weren’t the ones who failed!” and then these people fill the resulting void, ominously adding, “But they were.”
Per the story’s reporting, literally thousands of people signed up to believe this sort of story, one in which friends and families are obligated to prevent what professionals enable. Given the passion for this belief, it becomes extremely difficult to imagine the next case playing out any differently.