Before her murder, Dee Dee Blancharde reveled in the world’s pity. By 2015, the 48-year-old mother from Missouri had managed to convince just about every Make-a-Wish-sized charity that her wheelchair-ridden daughter Gypsy Rose was dying of natural causes. This month, Buzzfeed published a detailed report of the 2015 murder, introducing readers to one of psychology’s most controversial conditions: Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, an extremely divisive “syndrome” that many consider to be one of the most dangerous forms of child abuse. Throughout her life, Blancharde fed Gypsy seizure medication, shaved her tiny head, and confined the growing child to a wheelchair for years – all so that Gypsy would appear ill. Petite and toothless, Gypsy Rose was her mother’s cash cow. So when the small, sickly girl emerged from her wheelchair to take knife-wielding selfies shortly before posting “The bitch is dead!” on Facebook, her actions begged the question, was the killing of Dee Dee Blancharde an act of self-defense from years of sadistic abuse, or cold, premeditated murder?
Children raised by mothers with Munchausen’s by proxy live through unfathomable abuse and manipulation. In 2003, Arizona mother Blanca Montano was caught on tape contaminating her infant daughter’s IV with fecal matter. In 2009, former chemist Hope Ybarra drained her daughter’s blood with a syringe and faked tests for cystic fibrosis. Just two years ago, Lacey Spears was convicted of murder in the second degree after slowly poisoning her five-year-old son with lethal amounts of salt. People with Munchausen’s syndrome typically feign their own illnesses. Munchausen’s by proxy, however, is when the caregiver (predominantly adult females with a history of abuse) intentionally sickens their patient to maintain sympathy and attention. Gypsy Rose narrowly escaped her mother’s torture by enlisting her boyfriend, Nick Godejohn, to stab her to death, but other victims are not so lucky. Here, five other fascinating court cases that have linked Munchausen’s by proxy to intense sickness – and even homicide.