The June 2015 murder of Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard captured headlines not simply because of its brutality — Blanchard was stabbed 17 times — but the bizarre story that motivated her killers. Days after 48-year-old Blanchard was found dead in her Springfield, Missouri, home, her daughter, Gypsy Rose, and her daughter’s boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, were arrested at his home in Wisconsin — and even more shocking to those who knew the Blanchards was the revelation that Gypsy was not the sickly, wheelchair-bound teenager Dee Dee made her out to be.
The twisted mother-daughter relationship, and the years of secrets and lies that preceded Blanchard’s murder, are in the news again this week, as Godejohn’s first-degree murder trial began in Greene County, Wisconsin, on Tuesday. Gypsy Rose Blanchard pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2016 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison after admitting she arranged for Godejohn — whom she met on a Christian dating website — to kill her mother after enduring years of abuse. Numerous experts who have studied the case believe Blanchard had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental disorder in which a parent or other caretaker exaggerates, fabricates or induces illness in another person for attention and sympathy.
From the time she was small, Blanchard raised Gypsy to believe she was severely disabled and chronically ill, subjecting her to unnecessary surgeries and medications, all while collecting donations from charities such as Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Blanchard claimed Gypsy had leukemia, muscular dystrophy, asthma and brain damage that limited her mental capacity to that of a seven-year-old. She was confined to a wheelchair from the age of eight (despite having full use of her legs), fed through a feeding tube, and made to shave her head, somehow fooling doctor after doctor with claims about Gypsy’s various symptoms. When Gypsy was old enough to figure out the ruse, she later said in interviews, Blanchard forced her to keep up the charade, including lying about her age to appear younger, at times using physical and psychological abuse.
According to the Springfield News Leader, prosecutors claim Godejohn’s motive wasn’t to “save” Gypsy, but simply for the couple to be together, and Blanchard was the only thing that stood in their way. They argue that Godejohn deliberated several times before following through with the murder, and claim text messages, Facebook chats and other online activity will show Godejohn was a willing participant from the time Gypsy first proposed the idea a year earlier.
“Yes, this was Gypsy’s idea, but the defendant on June 10th was ready to kill, and these texts show that he was enjoying it,” Assistant Greene County Prosecutor Nathan Chapman said in his opening statement.
Godejohn’s attorneys don’t dispute that he committed the murder, however, they are arguing he has been overcharged, and that his autism made him incapable of possessing the mental capacity to commit first-degree murder, which requires premeditation.
“Nick was happy to do whatever Gypsy wanted,” said public defender Andrew Mead, who also pointed out that Gypsy stole the knife used as the murder weapon. “He was always compliant.”
Mead described Godejohn as a man with few friends, who only ever held one job, and spent almost all of his free time on the Internet, which he called “his outlet to the world.” The defense fought against the inclusion of portions of Godejohn’s recorded confession to police, in which he said he considered raping Blanchard before he killed her, arguing that it was irrelevant since he didn’t follow through (instead, he and Gypsy had sex in the house after Blanchard was dead). The judge ultimately sided with the prosecution, which argued this portion of his confession was evidence of premeditation.
In the first day of trial testimony, the jury heard from several police officers who responded to the crime scene, as well as the Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy on Blanchard’s body. It’s not yet clear whether Gypsy Rose Blanchard will be called to testify by either the prosecution or the defense.