A Springfield, Mo., mother and daughter who apparently perpetrated a long-standing deception of illness to garner money and sympathy were no strangers to Kansas City.
Dee Dee Blancharde brought her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blancharde, to Children’s Mercy Hospital on several occasions, impressing at least one doctor and making friends at the Ronald McDonald House here.
Gypsy was supposed to have muscular dystrophy and leukemia, among other ailments. But in the days after Dee Dee was stabbed to death in her bed in her Springfield home, her daughter was observed walking without her wheelchair in seemingly good health, even carrying luggage. She and her boyfriend are now charged with first-degree murder in a case that has stunned many who befriended the mother and daughter.
“Dee Dee is such a wonderful person. She never complains, and I think that is why Gypsy Rose is so positive,” Robert Beckerman, a doctor, was quoted as saying in a 2009 article in Treasures, a publication of Children’s Mercy Hospital. “Dee Dee is such a great advocate for her child. Having a child with special needs is not easy.”
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After the charges and the revelations, one man posted his recollection on Facebook.
“Wow! We met this family a few years back at the Ronald McDonald House in KC,” he wrote. “They were very nice and my daughters and wife spent time with them. If this is true, Gypsy play (sic) it off very well and fooled a lot of people. Seeing the photo of Gypsy she looks very abled compared to when we met her. She was very fragile and looked very sick. How sad!”
Anna Condren, who lived next door to the Blanchardes for seven years, was completely blindsided by what she has recently learned about them.
“I knew (Dee Dee) was taking Gypsy up to Kansas City,” Condren said. “I thought she was sick. … The big surprise is just that all of this has even happened. They came across as the nicest people in the world. You never would have thought.”
Dee Dee, whose given name was Clauddinnea, and Gypsy collected gifts and contributions throughout the girl’s childhood and adolescence, including their house with a wheelchair ramp that was built and donated by Habitat for Humanity. There was a free trip to Disney World. Gypsy was honorary queen of a Mardi Gras parade. Everywhere, people poured sympathy and money on the brave little girl and her suffering mother — until this week.
“This is a tragic, tragic event surrounded by mystery and public deception,” Sheriff Jim Arnott of Greene County said at a news briefing. “We have unearthed the appearance of a long-term financial fraud scheme.”
To the outside world, Gypsy appeared frail.
“I always saw her in a wheelchair,” said Condren. “There were times when we saw her on a daily basis, when she was supposedly feeling good. She would come out and check the mail in her wheelchair. She never talked much. She had a feeding tube and everything.”
She also, apparently, had an online boyfriend in Big Bend, Wis.
According to court documents, Gypsy asked Nicholas Paul Godejohn to stab her mother to death. She allegedly gave him the knife and hid in the bathroom listening to her mother’s screams as Dee Dee was stabbed repeatedly in the back and neck. According to police, both confessed.
Godejohn cut his finger during the killing, and Gypsy tried to clean up his blood with baby wipes, they said. The two then reportedly took thousands of dollars from a safe in Dee Dee’s bedroom, called a Yellow Cab and went to a Days Inn in Springfield on June 10.
Police said Godejohn told them he mailed the knife to his home in Wisconsin so he would not be caught with it. The two reportedly took a bus to Big Bend and on Sunday, Gypsy admitted, she posted the words “that bitch is dead” on the Facebook page she shared with her mother.
Police said Gypsy told them she made the post because she wanted someone to find her mother’s body more quickly. Either Gypsy or Godejohn also posted a more profane message. The postings alarmed a family friend, who called 911.
Police found Dee Dee Blancharde’s body Sunday night and traced the Facebook posting to Godejohn’s home in Big Bend. After a brief standoff, police arrested the two. A Wisconsin TV station said police found $4,431 and a bag with three wigs.
On Tuesday, Godejohn and Gypsy Blancharde were arraigned separately in Wisconsin. Gypsy sobbed as she recited her home address in a childlike, high-pitched voice.
A prosecutor told the court that Gypsy wanted Godejohn to kill her mother “so they could be together.”
“He asked her at one point if she was sure she wanted him to kill Clauddinnea, and Gypsy said yes,” court documents said, adding that Godejohn said he thought about raping the mother but didn’t.
According to published reports, Godejohn had been charged a few years ago with committing an indecent act while looking at porn on a laptop at a McDonald’s restaurant in Wisconsin.
Godejohn and Gypsy Blancharde are each being held on $1 million cash bond and awaiting extradition to Missouri.
Godejohn is 26. Court records indicate Gypsy is 23, although she has two other listed dates of birth that would make her seem to be one to four years younger.
The mother and daughter were recorded on video in 2008 when they received their Habitat for Humanity house.
“We have an awesome bathtub,” Gypsy Blancharde told an interviewer. “It’s a Jacuzzi tub for my muscles. And we have a wonderful ramp. It just proves that happy endings are not just in fairy tales. They’re real and true in real life also.”
According to a story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Blanchardes received a trip to Walt Disney World and Discovery Cove, Fla., in 2003 courtesy of the Children’s Wish Endowment. The Oley Foundation, which supports patients requiring home IV and tube feedings, named Gypsy Blancharde its 2007 Child of the Year.
Dee Dee Blancharde told everyone she and her daughter were forced to relocate from their former home in Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina. All of her daughter’s medical records, she said, were lost.
They chose to settle in Missouri. At Children’s Mercy Hospital, they found a friendly face in Beckerman, who had known Gypsy in Louisiana before moving to Kansas City in 2007.
“After Katrina, the medical care regressed dramatically in New Orleans,” Beckerman was quoted in the Children’s Mercy publication in 2009. “Gypsy Rose is right where she needs to be, getting state of the art care.”
It is not clear what Beckerman treated Gypsy for, either in Louisiana or here. A spokeswoman for Children’s Mercy said she could not comment because of patient privacy concerns.
An estranged cousin of Gypsy told the Springfield News-Leader that Dee Dee Blancharde had in effect imprisoned her daughter by forcing her to use a wheelchair.
“It was basically all a fraud,” Bobby Pitre told the newspaper.
During warm weather, Dee Dee and Gypsy Blancharde would have fundraising parties in which they projected movies onto the side of their house in Springfield. People would donate $1 or $5.
Dozens of people turned out for a candlelight vigil for Dee Dee in Springfield on Monday night before learning about the charges against her daughter — or learning that Gypsy could walk. It was a testament to how much the mother and daughter had endeared themselves to the community.
“It was hard not to be friendly with Dee Dee,” said Condren. “She was the nicest person in the world. Always a positive attitude. Very encouraging. She seemed like a loving, caring mom.”