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Beyond Gypsy Blancharde: When Mothers Harm Their Kids for Attention

A look inside five cases of Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, a rare and terrifying disorder where parents fake their children’s illness

Beyond Gypsy and Dee Dee Blancharde: When Mothers Make Their Children Sick

For years, Dee Dee Blancharde (right) faked her daughter Gypsy's illness.


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.

Lisa Hayden Johnson

Lisa Hayden Johnson

Lisa Hayden Johnson had grown accustomed to the luxury of other people's sympathy after her son was born dangerously premature. Once he began to heal, the fame-hungry British mother appeared on daytime television to inform viewers that her son was now suffering from a life-threatening food allergy that left him unable to eat.

"What a brave little boy," thought the countless viewers and talk show hosts Johnson fooled into showering her and her son with gifts. She spoke to magazines, was given free tickets to live tapings and accepted multiple cars and cruises from charity foundations. Of course the innocent boy at the center of all this believed in his imaginary condition. He'd spent his life hooked up feeding tube he never needed, plopped down into a wheelchair he learned to rely on, and even received the Children of Courage Award from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife.

After six years, doctors became suspicious of the boy's lack of symptoms and demanded to perform further testing. In an effort to delay this from happening, Johnson falsely claimed that she'd been sexually assaulted. The hospital, however, discovered that Johnson had been "spiking" her son's urine with glucose, and the Brixham native was publicly disgraced. Johnson was arrested in October 2007 on the charge of child cruelty and "perverting the system of justice." Despite public outrage, Johnson was given the lenient sentence of just over three years in prison.

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