All her life, Gypsy Rose Blanchard knew she wasn’t like other girls. The wheelchair-bound Missouri girl was in and out of hospitals, taking dozens of medications and relying on a feeding tube that had to painfully be re-installed every six months.
Then came a shocking twist: Doctors say Gypsy, 25, had no underlying health problems. Instead, she was the victim of Munchausen by proxy, in which a guardian, in this case her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, exaggerates or induces illness in a child for attention and sympathy.
Now Gypsy is serving 10 years in prison for plotting her her mother’s murder in June 2015.
The case is the subject of an upcoming HBO documentary, Mommy Dead and Dearest, airing on Monday and featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
The abuse impacted Gypsy physically, mentally and emotionally. She was 23 when Dee Dee was killed, but had been told by her mother that she was just a teenager with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. Her mother wouldn’t let her speak during doctors visits and told her if she ever tried to escape, police wouldn’t believe her story.
“When you’ve grown up with this distorted reality for such a long time it may have seem to Gypsy that nothing short of death could help her escape,” Maunchausen by proxy expert Dr. Marc Feldman tells PEOPLE.
Dee Dee began abusing Gypsy soon after she was born, her family tells PEOPLE.
As a young child, Gypsy was forced use a wheelchair, even though she didn’t need one. Later, Dee Dee had her shave her head to appear like she was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. She also had to sleep with a breathing machine and take medications that made her lose her teeth and induced symptoms of medical issues Dee Dee told doctors that Gypsy suffered from.
“You want to think that something short of murder could have worked, but for this case I don’t know that for a fact,” Feldman says.
He adds: “The child and young woman’s whole life was solely based on deception of every part of her being, including her intellectual capacity and of course her physical capacity.”
When they were in public, Dee Dee was always by Gypsy’s side. Their habit of holding hands and sharing tight hugs, taken by friends and family as signs of affection, were actually ways Dee Dee controlled Gypsy.
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When Dee Dee was found dead in her bed by Missouri authorities in June 2015, Gypsy, who was believed to be wheelchair-bound and suffering from Musclescular Dystrophy, was nowhere to be found. A day later, she was arrested in Big Bend, Wisconsin, after being spotted walking around a convenience store with her then-boyfriend Nick Godejohn, 26.
Gypsy and Godejohn were both initially charged with first-degree murder. In July 2016, Gypsy pleaded guilty to second degree-murder.
Godejohn is awaiting trial. He has argued he killed Dee Dee to free Gypsy.
He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting mental evaluation, a Greene County, Missouri, court clerk official tells PEOPLE. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
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Gypsy is currently serving her sentence in a Missouri state prison. Her father, who says Dee Dee did not allow him to see Gypsy, says his daughter will “always have a home” with them in Louisiana. He hopes the psychiatric treatment Gypsy receives in prison will help her with both the longterm effects of the abuse and the trauma surrounding her role in her mother’s murder.
“It’s the worst imaginary situation to be trapped, in what you know to be a lie your whole life,” Feldman says. “And to be held captive by those lies and by [your own] mother.”