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Murder by Proxy: Gypsy Rose Goes Free

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

A woman named Gypsy Rose Blanchard is set to be released on parole in December after serving 85% of a 10-year sentence. This isn't all that remarkable on its own. People get parole all the time, and there's a fairly long list of crimes that can carry a 10-year sentence. This case is remarkable for three specific reasons: what she did, who she did it to, and why.

See, Gypsy Rose was in prison for murder. Her victim was her mother, Clauddine "Dee Dee" Blanchard. That's the who and the what. The why is … complicated.

Let's start with a diagnosis and a description.

Murder by Proxy

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) is one of the stranger behavioral disorders in the medical canon. It's one of the rare disorders that takes two victims at a time, usually a mother and her child. MSP is characterized by a caretaker inventing or exaggerating the symptoms of real, perceived, or completely fabricated illnesses that a person under their care is supposedly experiencing.

Sufferers will hospitalize healthy children, falsify or alter tests, claim to see symptoms that are invisible to hospital staff, force their children to use wheelchairs or crutches, and, in extreme cases, even poison their own children. Research suggests that the death rate for victims of MSP is about 10%, and children who are freed from their caretakers may even develop Munchausen syndrome themselves after internalizing the idea of using illness to get attention.

The exact cause of MSP is a matter of some debate. Possible causes include marital problems, a history of abuse or neglect, the early loss of a parent, and a host of other biological and psychological factors. And since constant dishonesty is part of what defines MSP, attempts to diagnose it or identify its root causes are often stymied by MSP sufferers themselves. Treatment involves intense psychotherapy, medication, and the removal of the MSP sufferer's victim from their care — but only if the MSP patient admits there is a problem in the first place.

MSP is also one of the only behavioral disorders with a built-in goal: attention.

Dee Dee's Deeds

Clauddine "Dee Dee" Blanchard was 24 when she became pregnant with her daughter. The father, then 17-year-old Rod Blanchard, stayed with her for just long enough to help decide on the baby's name: Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Dee Dee liked the name Gypsy. Rod loved Guns N' Roses. They split up shortly before Gypsy Rose was born.

Dee Dee had shown signs of mental instability since she was young. Things did not get better once Gypsy Rose was born. It started with frantic claims that her three-month-old daughter was suffering from symptoms of sleep apnea, then ballooned to assertions of an unspecified chromosomal disorder, muscular dystrophy, and a laundry list of other maladies – none of which were corroborated by the legions of doctors Dee Dee thrust her daughter in front of. She forced Gypsy Rose to start using a walker, then a wheelchair. She took the girl out of second grade, claiming that her daughter was too sick to go to school.

Dee Dee proceeded to force her young daughter through a labyrinth of doctors' offices, hospitals, and labs. She was poked, prodded, tested, biopsied, medicated, and even underwent several surgeries for ailments and disabilities that her mother imagined. As the years went by Dee Dee managed to leverage her daughter's supposed disabilities into a magnet for charitable donations, pleading her way into free housing, flights, trips to Disney World, backstage passes to Miranda Lambert concerts, and continued financial support from her ex-husband Rod.

Gypsy Rose, meanwhile, was kept isolated and under her mother's control for decades. Dee Dee used a combination of physical and emotional abuse to keep her daughter close. For years she regularly shaved her daughter's head to mimic the effects of chemotherapy, forced her to use an oxygen tank and feeding tube in public, made her get unnecessary surgeries, and even convinced the girl that she was much younger than she actually was.

Dee Dee's control began to slip as she and her daughter got older. Gypsy Rose found ways to escape her mother bit by bit, first through science fiction and fantasy conventions, then through elaborate fantasies played out through late-night chat sessions with people on the internet.

And then she met Nicholas Godejohn.

Bad Boy Godejohn

Gypsy Rose and Nicholas Godejohn met online through a Christian singles group. You know how it goes. Introductions turn to pleasantries. Pleasantries turn to flirting. Flirting evolves into feelings. Feelings turn into weird BDSM stuff and asking him to kill your mom.

Nicholas Godejohn was not a well man. He claimed to suffer from dissociative identity disorder (which didn't hold up in court) and that he was on the autism spectrum – neither of which explain his previous convictions for indecent exposure or willingness to do what came next.

Crime and Punishment

Gypsy Rose and Nicholas Godejohn maintained a mostly online relationship from 2012 to June 2015, when Godejohn made his way to Gypsy Rose's house. Gypsy Rose allegedly led him to her home and gave him duct tape, gloves, and a knife, with the understanding that they would be used to murder Dee Dee. Gypsy Rose says she hid in the bathroom and covered her ears while Godejohn stabbed her mother 17 times in the back while she slept. Afterward the two had sex, took $4,000 in cash that Dee Dee had kept in the house, and fled to a motel outside the town. At some point they mailed the murder weapon to Godejohn's home to avoid being caught with it.

Authorities raided Godejohn's home shortly after he and Gypsy Rose arrived. The two fugitives surrendered to police. Gypsy Rose's attorney leveraged her extenuating circumstances to secure a plea deal. She took it, pleading guilty to second-degree murder and receiving a sentence of 10 years in prison.

Godejohn wasn't so lucky. His attorneys argued that Gypsy Rose was the instigator, the planner, and ultimately the reason why the mentally ill young man with an IQ of 82 committed the murder. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. There was more than enough evidence to show that he'd been involved in planning the murder for over a year, and he had none of the extenuating circumstances that helped Gypsy Rose avoid a first-degree murder conviction. Godejohn was convicted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action, then sentenced to life in prison — a downgrade from the prosecutors' first choice: death.

Why It Matters

It is a fascinating story, if horribly tragic. But Gypsy Rose's murder case touches on several legal issues that we can learn from. How to safely and legally escape from an abusive relationship, for example. And the factors that go into sentencing and parole. Even how the insanity defense works in criminal cases.

Regardless of how you feel about Gypsy Rose, Godejohn, and their respective punishments, the case provides a wild look into the world of criminal defense.

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