Have you heard? Hulu has a new true-crime anthology series and it will definitely be your new TV obsession. The Act, premiering on the streaming service on March 20, stars Joey King and Patricia Arquette as Gypsy Rose and her mother Dee Dee Blanchard, respectively, who made headlines in 2015 when Dee Dee was found dead at their home in Springfield, Missouri. Chloë Sevigny and AnnaSophia Robb also have supporting roles.
For most of her childhood, Gypsy was kept in a wheelchair by her mother, who led her to believe she was terminally ill, required around-the-clock care, and could only be fed through a tube. Some 24 hours after Dee Dee’s body was discovered, Gypsy was located in Wisconsin with Nick Godejohn, a man she had met online. They were both later charged for Dee Dee’s death: Nick for stabbing and Gypsy for helping him in the act.
Gypsy is currently serving her 10-year sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Center in Missouri after pleading guilty to second-degree murder while Nick was found guilty in November 2018 of first-degree murder. He was sentenced in February 2019 to life in prison without parole. Gypsy will be eligible for parole at the end of 2023; she will be 32 years old then.
The Act is based on much of Michelle Dean’s reporting in the 2016 BuzzFeed piece, “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom Murdered.” Dean is also an executive producer and writer for the show’s first season.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy 101
It’s believed that Dee Dee likely had Munchausen by proxy, a pattern of behavior in which caretakers make up or induce illness (mental and physical) in a person for “no obvious benefit other than attention or sympathy,” as Dean writes in her piece. For years, Dee Dee insisted to doctors in Louisiana (where they previously lived) and Missouri that her daughter had muscular dystrophy, among other illnesses.
Per Dean’s research, some medical records suggest that most doctors took Dee Dee’s account at face value and did not run further tests. Gypsy was subsequently treated for what was believed to be problems related to muscular dystrophy (vision, hearing, sleep, salvation). She underwent numerous surgeries, some more invasive than others as Dee Dee claimed her daughter also had leukemia, asthma, and brain damage. Gypsy, who was fed through a tube, was also believed to have the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, according to Dee Dee. At the time of her arrest, Gypsy’s biological father provided a birth certificate showing her real age: 23.
Dee Dee and Gypsy also made headlines following Hurricane Katrina
Over the years, Dee Dee was able to build a story based on a web of lies about Gypsy’s medical condition, attracting donations from Ronald McDonald House and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As detailed by Dean in the BuzzFeed story, not long after they lost their home and possessions in Hurricane Katrina, Habitat for Humanity came through with a home for them in Springfield. The pink house came with a wheelchair ramp and hot tub.
In 2008, Dee Dee and Gypsy were interviewed by a local news station about their Habitat for Humanity home. A clip is featured in the 2015 report of the arrest of Gypsy and her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, for the murder of Dee Dee.
Gypsy once tried to run away
As Gypsy revealed from prison in a 20/20 interview that aired in January 2018, her failed escape resulted in Dee Dee chaining her to the bed. “She physically chained me to the bed and put bells on the doors and told anybody that I probably would have trusted that I was going through a phase and to tell her if I was doing anything behind her back.” A brief depiction of this can be seen in the trailer for The Act.
She’s got “complicated feelings” about her sentence
Speaking to Dr. Phil in 2017, Gypsy got candid about whether or not she should be in prison. “I firmly believe that, no matter what, murder is not okay. But at the same time, I don’t believe I deserve as many years as I got….I do deserve to spend some time in prison for that crime, but I also understand why it happened and I don’t believe that I’m in the right place to get the help that I need.”
One more thing
In addition to (re)reading Dean’s BuzzFeed investigative piece, do spend some time watching Erin Lee Carr’s 2017 HBO documentary about the mother-daughter pair Mommy Dead and Dearest. (For a break immediately after, might I recommend watching The Kissing Booth for the 300th time on Netflix?)