Ihave four VHS tapes in a large ziplock bag. They are family home movies, but not of my family. The label of one tape reads simply “Gypsy”. A little girl appears in the centre of the frame, her eyes are large and brown, her hair almost white blonde. She is gazing up at the camera, asking for Mama.
Born in Louisiana in 1991, Gypsy Rose Blanchard was raised solely by her mother, who was known by family and friends as Dee Dee. When the baby was three months old, Dee Dee told doctors that she didn’t seem to be breathing properly. Gypsy was diagnosed with sleep apnoea and given breathing apparatus. Dee Dee was convinced that something else was wrong. When Gypsy was seven, Dee Dee met with her extended family and told them the bad news. The little girl had a chromosomal disorder and her range of motion was limited so using a wheelchair would be a necessity. After that, the health troubles seemed endless. A feeding tube was put in when Gypsy’s weight was too low. When she was diagnosed with epilepsy, the doctors prescribed the drug Tegretol, which made her teeth crumble from inside her mouth. Gypsy’s grandparents wondered to each other if their granddaughter would even make it to adulthood.
Dee Dee often clashed with her family about Gypsy and the care that she thought the girl needed. After it was discovered that Dee Dee had opened up credit cards in her father’s name, she left her family’s house in the middle of the night, leaving no forwarding address.
Later, Gypsy and Dee Dee were forced to move from Louisiana to Missouri when Hurricane Katrina ruined their modest apartment. Dee Dee added an “e” to Blanchard and reinvented herself. In Springfield, Missouri, Dee Dee was known as a generous, God- fearing caretaker of a sick little girl. According to neighbours and family members, Gypsy and Dee Dee were best friends, one never seen without the other. At local events, they would be spotted chatting noisily with fellow neighbours, smiling and holding hands. True, the illnesses seemed rough on the family, and they needed all the help they could get, but they got through it without complaining. They had Jesus on their side.
Dee Dee and Gypsy appeared on local TV news shows, the perfect feelgood story for the community. Dee Dee talked about how grateful she was for the hospital treating Gypsy, and that she would be lost without them. Nonetheless, Dee Dee was sure to leverage her daughter’s sick condition to enjoy the maximum amount of kindness from strangers.
When she was seven, Gypsy was crowned queen for the day during a local Mardi Gras parade. As she grew older, the pair were gifted several trips to Walt Disney World. Money was an issue. Dee Dee hadn’t worked since Gypsy was a baby – Gypsy was home-schooled, as her mother said the girl was “developmentally challenged”. When mother and daughter were given backstage passes to a Miranda Lambert concert, Dee Dee orchestrated a photo op between the star and the little girl, and Lambert would end up sending Dee Dee a series of cheques, totalling $6,000.
The hospital visits grew exponentially and, in the videos, Gypsy looks like she was ageing in reverse. Pictures from 2015 show a Gypsy who looks like a little old lady rather than the young woman she hoped to become.
It was a difficult and painful life, but the teenager got through it with her passion for Disney films. She watched Beauty and the Beast, Tangled and Lilo & Stitch on repeat, losing herself in cartoon daydreams. The world was a colourful and beautiful one, where the princess always got rescued and the villain always got what she deserved.
In 2013, Gypsy decided it was time to try to find her own prince. She created a profile on a site called Christiandatingforfree.com. After a couple of lacklustre responses to her “winks”, sent on the site, she received a message from a young man named Nicholas Godejohn who thought she seemed “pure”. After a couple of conversations, they knew they had found “true love”. Gypsy explained that she was in a wheelchair, but led a very active and fulfilling life. She was worried her honesty had ruined her chances with such a young, good-looking guy. Much to her surprise, he told her he didn’t mind.
The online communication intensified between Nick and Gypsy. He requested that she always be sure to capitalise his name and be “respectful” towards him at all times. In order to hide the relationship from Dee Dee, they shared a private Facebook page where they could post messages for one another. Nick kept angling for an in-person meeting but Gypsy was terrified – what would he think when he saw her in her wheelchair? There was something she had to tell him before they made the IRL leap: a terrible secret.
When I met her in 2016, for the documentary I made about her life, Gypsy told me how nervous she’d been, calling him. He was the first person to whom she’d revealed the truth – she didn’t need the wheelchair, her mum forced her to use it. She could walk just fine, but no one could ever know the truth.
They moved forward with their love affair. Nick and Gypsy met in person in early 2015 for a screening of Cinderella at a local Missouri cinema. Gypsy went with her mum and planned the rendezvous to look as if she was just meeting Nick for the first time, and they snuck away to consummate the relationship in the bathroom. When Gypsy got out, her mother was furious and forbade her from ever seeing Nick again.
On 14 June 2015 Dee Dee and Gypsy’s Facebook status was changed to “THAT BITCH IS DEAD.” In the comment section it read, “I fucken SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER… HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO FUCKEN LOUD LOL.” Dee Dee was found murdered in her pink bedroom, the duvet piled on the body as if to hide it from view.
After the Cinderella screening, Gypsy told me, her mum had become less of a best friend and more of a cruel captor. Gypsy felt weak and helpless, as if all the doors were shutting in front of her. This feeling made her ask Nick a desperate, terrible question. “Would you kill my mother for me?”
She said they would call it Plan B and it would take place on 12 June 2015. Dee Dee’s killing was graphic and bloody. Gypsy claims Nick entered their pink Habitat for Humanity (a housing charity) house late that night and says she handed him the blue gloves and giant serrated knife. Afterwards, he texted her to “get your ass to the bathroom”, and she claims she obeyed dutifully, crouching on the floor naked, listening to her mum being murdered mercilessly by her boyfriend. This was not the Disney movie she was expecting her life to be. But at last she could be free – well, for a couple of days.
The couple fled to Wisconsin, to his parents’ house where they planned on starting a new life. Worried that her mother’s body would rot, Gypsy decided it would be best to write a confession on Dee Dee and Gypsy’s shared Facebook page to alert authorities. She hoped that the police would assume a random person had done the killing. But the police traced the IP address of the Facebook status to Big Bend, Wisconsin and her story fell apart right away. At first, she lied to investigators and said she had nothing to do with it. They knew better.
Gypsy tells me all this the same day she pleads guilty to the second-degree murder of her mother. She can now speak freely, without fear of further legal repercussions. At 2pm, she walks into the darkened courtroom, set up for our interview. She has attempted a braid on the right side of her head, but the hair has fused together giving a her a harsh appearance. She is 24 years old, much older than many who knew her realised. Dee Dee registered her with different birth dates. There is no hot water in the jail, which has made it impossible to shower. I unclip a hairpin from my own head and make a move to help her, but the bailiff calls out to me: no touching.
My first question to her is a simple one: “How would you describe your mum?” She looks down and thinks hard for a couple of seconds and then smiles and says: “Unique? If I had to say one word about her it would be… overprotective.”
Gypsy is a mystery explaining another mystery to me. During the pre-trial hearings, much is hinted about Gypsy inheriting her mother’s duplicity. After careful investigation I just don’t believe that she set out to murder her mother and cover it up. That would have been a simple story – this is anything but. Gypsy was a young woman who lived in a false reality. Her life was filled with public playfulness and private abuse. There is no way for us to know what it was like inside that little pink house, nor would it be fair to judge her actions.
When I spoke to Gypsy in interviews at the local jail, she said Dee Dee had told her that her father, Rod, had abandoned them. In fact, it emerged, Dee Dee hid Gypsy from her father for years, promising visits that were always cancelled at the last second due to Gypsy’s medical emergencies. According to Rod, whom I interviewed on tape, he was careful to send her Christmas and birthday gifts. He would find out later that Dee Dee would open them and present them to Gypsy as if they were gifts from herself. And still, Gypsy tells me that she misses her mother. For a long time, Dee Dee was the only other person in her life. Her mum created her reality of the world, as many parents do.
Gypsy took a plea deal and received a 10-year sentence for the crime of second-degree murder. Prosecutor Dan Patterson cited her medical and physical abuse as being a huge mitigator and the reason for receiving such an unusually light sentence. Many have brought up the notion of self-defence as a response to this case. The slaying did not happen during an altercation: it appears to have been planned and she alleges it was executed in the middle of the night by a man whom Dee Dee had only met once.
The law could not see it as self-defence, and nor could Gypsy. After taking the plea, Gypsy told me that it is a comfort to know she will be out in under 10 years – she was frantic about the possibility of receiving life in prison. Her remaining family believe the sentence to be harsh and wonder what would have happened had she gone to trial. Nick, the person who is accused of actually committing the grisly act, is still awaiting trial in Missouri. There have been numerous discussions about his mental competency. The former couple do not communicate at all.
When Gypsy first arrived at the Greene County Jail she was sent to the infirmary to determine the best course of treatment for her epilepsy and the myriad other illnesses she had been treated for her entire life. The doctor gave her a clean bill of health.
It wasn’t just the wheelchair that was a lie, it was everything. Gypsy will be eligible for parole in 2024. I finished filming in 2016, but I can’t stop thinking about her, and wondering what other tapes were left behind.