When Gypsy Blanchard turned 18, her father Rod called his ex-wife Dee Dee and asked to speak to the birthday girl.
That's fine, Dee Dee told Rod, but don't tell Gypsy she is 18.
"Dee Dee always told me (Gypsy's) mental capacity was behind four or five years, which was understandable. She told me every time she had a seizure, it would set her back," Rod Blanchard told the News-Leader. "It was very weird that she wouldn't let me celebrate her 18th birthday or let her know she was 18. That was part of the whole scam, I guess.
"Looking back now, it probably should have brought up a big red flag."
The notion that Gypsy, now 24, likely didn't know her own age when she was arrested in 2015 for her role in the stabbing death of her mother Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard is among the many disturbing details revealed in a documentary set to air on HBO Monday night.
Directed by Erin Carr, "Mommy Dead and Dearest" explores the bizarre relationship between Dee Dee and Gypsy, an extreme case of Munchausen by proxy that resulted in matricide.
The documentary features interviews with Gypsy from prison in Chillicothe, interrogation videos, home videos of Dee Dee and Gypsy, intimate photos and texts exchanged between Gypsy and her boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn prior to the murder and on the day of the murder, and interviews with friends and family members, Gypsy's attorney and medical and mental health experts.
The filmmakers allowed a News-Leader reporter a sneak peek of the documentary.
Gypsy accepted a plea agreement that includes 10 years in prison — the minimum sentence for a second-degree murder charge.
Godejohn is in the Greene County Jail, awaiting trial for his role in the murder.
Abuse, complicity and culpability
On June 15, 2015, Dee Dee Blanchard was found slain in their Springfield home. Her wheelchair-bound daughter, Gypsy, was reported missing.
A post on Dee Dee and Gypsy's Facebook that read, "That b---- is dead," led investigators to Wisconsin, where they found Gypsy — who clearly did not need a wheelchair — with Godejohn.
It was soon discovered that Gypsy had been the victim of her mother's abuse via Munchhausen by proxy syndrome since early childhood.
Rod Blanchard said Dee Dee's claims of Gypsy's health troubles began when their daughter was three months old. Dee Dee told Rod that their baby had breathing troubles and sleep apnea and needed a CPAP machine. By this time, Rod and Dee Dee had divorced.
"The next thing was that she had epilepsy," Rod said. "Over time, Gypsy became more and more sick."
When Rod and Dee Dee's families became suspicious of Dee Dee's claims, she moved with Gypsy from Louisiana to Springfield, the film reveals.
The Blanchards came to Springfield after Hurricane Katrina. Dee Dee convinced neighbors and Gypsy's doctors that Gypsy suffered from various ailments, including leukemia, muscular dystrophy and seizures. Neighbors and national organizations provided monetary donations, trips to Disney World and even housing, courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.
Michael Stanfield, Gypsy's attorney, is also featured throughout the film.
"Mind boggling is the only way I can put (Dee Dee's) ability to manipulate people," he said in the film.
Film viewers will see photos of Gypsy's belly with a feeding tube and the Blanchard's medicine cabinet: five shelves stuffed with prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.
Doctors now say Gypsy is healthy and that side effects from some of those drugs likely caused symptoms that mimicked the ailments Dee Dee claimed.
"I was on breathing medication, medication for seizures, medication to help go to the bathroom, pain medication, anxiety medication. Just everything," Gypsy said in the film. "I would have to put on the breathing machine every night. I hated it though. It seemed to make my breathing worse, not better. And then another machine for the feeding tube. It was controlling what I eat. My medications would be put through there. I really wouldn't even have to be awake. So she could put whatever in my body and I wouldn't know."
Dee Dee also claimed Gypsy had mental retardation and would often cover Gypsy's ears when talking to doctors, the film reveals.
Carr said she felt it was important for viewers to actually see the number of medications and the long list of illnesses Dee Dee claimed her daughter had, as well as photos and videos from the many medical procedures performed on Gypsy.
"When you see the photo of her with this feeding tube implanted in her body, it creates this visceral reaction," Carr said. "This is not just, 'Hey, sit in the wheelchair when we are out in public.' This is, 'I'm going to stick tubes in your body so I have control over what you eat.'"
Gypsy said she believed everything her mother told her about the ailments — except, of course, for the wheelchair. Gypsy was able to walk. But for 14 years, her mother didn't allow it.
Multiple sources interviewed in the film describe Dee Dee always being with Gypsy and holding her hand.
Marc Feldman, a national Munchhausen by proxy expert interviewed in the documentary and by the News-Leader last year, said the touching and hand holding was likely Dee Dee's way of "reasserting her mastery" over Gypsy.
"If we were in a group of friends, if I said something I wasn't supposed to," Gypsy said in the film, "she'd squeeze my hand and I'd know: Zip it."
Feldman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama and author of the book "Playing Sick?" — told the News-Leader he's been studying Munchhausen by proxy for 25 years and this is the first case he's seen where the abuse victim murdered her parent.
In the film, Feldman said people can "understand the crime in terms of a hostage trying to gain escape."
Rod Blanchard said Dee Dee never allowed him to be alone with Gypsy, citing her multiple health problems.
"We were very intimidated about her medical conditions," he said. "Dee Dee was explicit that she had to be by her side 24-7. So we never did get to build that bond."
Rod's wife, Kristy, said on several occasions they planned visits to Missouri. But on the days leading up to their trips, Dee Dee would not respond to calls or texts. Then, weeks later, Dee Dee would explain that Gypsy had been in the hospital.
Gypsy ran away once, but Dee Dee quickly found her and brought her back to Springfield.
Carr said the home videos used in the documentary are important because they show firsthand Gypsy and Dee Dee's strange relationship.
"We can look at what happened after the murder, but it's really important to look at firsthand evidence of what it was like before," Carr said. "Home movies are a documentarian's bread and butter."
The film chronicles Gypsy's relationship with Godejohn, who lived in Wisconsin. They met on a Christian dating website. Their mostly online relationship consisted largely of talk of role-playing and sadomasochism. Eventually, though, the pair began to discuss a plan to kill Dee Dee as a way of rescuing Gypsy.
As seen in the documentary through text messages and interrogation videos, Godejohn traveled to Springfield, Gypsy let him into the house and he allegedly stabbed Dee Dee repeatedly while Gypsy hid in the bathroom. The couple then fled to Wisconsin, where they were apprehended.
Godejohn, who was charged with murder along with Gypsy, has not had a trial yet. He is in the Greene County Jail.
Carr said Gypsy has not been allowed to view the film yet but has been reading stories in the media about it and has talked to her dad and stepmom about it.
"(She knows) it's a complex, but fairly empathetic portrait of her," Carr said. "It's difficult because it involves the death of her mother and her complicity, her culpability surrounding that. But she is also excited that her story can be told in a way that she feels this is her story."
Rod and Kristy Blanchard are featured throughout the film and have been a source of support for Gypsy since her arrest.
"We are hoping when she gets out, she'll come stay with us and we'll get her in the right direction," Rod told the News-Leader. "We are hoping to bring her home and help her the best we can. The possibilities are endless. We are hoping she chooses to do something that makes her happy. She'll be 32, so she can still get married and have kids."
"She'll have a lot of life to live when she gets out," Kristy Blanchard added.
Carr said she hopes people will watch the documentary with an open mind, but admits that even she sometimes wonders why Gypsy didn't run away again.
"But I need to remind myself again and again, I did not grow up in a household where I was emotionally and physically abused," she said. "I can't really make that judgment call. I can't question the logic of her behavior because I don't know what it was like to grow up a hostage not only in your own house, but in your own body."
© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved