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Inside the Online Romance That Led an Abused Girl to Kill Her Mom and Escape Her Life of Lies

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In the hours after her mother, Dee Dee, was stabbed to death in June 2015, authorities say Gypsy Rose Blanchard felt free for the first time in years.

Gypsy, then 23, was celebrating that newfound freedom with her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, then 26, at a local motel in Springfield, Missouri, according to authorities.

The couple ate brownies and stayed overnight at the motel before catching a bus to Godejohn’s home in Big Bend, Wisconsin, where they were discovered just one day after investigators found Dee Dee lying face-down in a pool of blood on the bed she shared with her daughter in their Springfield home.

Both Gypsy and Godejohn were charged with first-degree murder in Dee Dee’s death.

The case baffled Missouri officials: To those that knew her in Springfield, Gypsy was wheelchair-bound and seemingly suffering from muscular dystrophy, leukemia and other ailments. Dee Dee had said she was terminally ill and a teenager, with the mind of a 7-year-old.

In reality, Gypsy was an adult who could walk — with enough mental awareness to plot her mom’s killing.

• For more on the fatal family secrets between Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands now.

Experts say she was the victim of Munchausen by proxy, a rare form of abuse in which a guardian, in this case Gypsy’s mother, exaggerates or induces illness in a child for attention and sympathy.

The twisted saga is the subject of an upcoming HBO documentary, Mommy Dead and Dearest, airing on Monday and featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.

Gypsy Rose (left) and mom Dee Dee Blanchard
Courtesy HBO

Last year, Gypsy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is currently serving 10 years in prison.

Godejohn — who is accused of stabbing Dee Dee and who has argued he did so in order to save Gypsy from a life of abuse — has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting mental evaluation. Authorities have said he claimed he had multiple personalities. (His attorney could not be reached for comment.)

“She wasn’t looking for a hit man or anything, she was looking for love,” Gypsy’s stepmother, Kristy Blanchard, tells PEOPLE of what happened.

In between hospital visits and charity events, Dee Dee had Gypsy watch Disney movies. Her favorite was Tangled.

“It’s like she played out that part of the fairy tale, you know?” Kristy says of Gypsy. “She got rid of the evil [villain].”

From left: Nicholas Godejohn and Gypsy Rose Blanchard

Connecting Online

According to her father and stepmother, Gypsy and Godejohn first met online more than a year before Dee Dee was killed, after Gypsy set up an online dating profile as a way to escape her mother’s control.

The relationship started off like any other, Gypsy’s family says. It was only after a year that she revealed to Godejohn that she could walk.

As they grew closer, Gypsy and Godejohn experimented with erotic role-playing online, and Gypsy created separate Facebook profiles including characters such as “Little Kitty,” “Candy” and “Ruby.”

“I guess she may have figured that, you know, well if he’s going to accept me for what I am, I’m going to accept him,” Gypsy’s father, Rod Blanchard, tells PEOPLE.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter. 

The couple only met once in person before Dee Dee’s death: at a movie theater in 2015, for a screening of Cinderella.

Months later, in June 2015, Godejohn allegedly traveled down from his home in Big Bend to Springfield, to fatally stab Dee Dee as she slept.

“I really believe she was madly in love,” Rod says of his daughter.

Growing up, Gypsy wasn’t allowed to have play dates or see anyone without her mother’s approval, he says. “Maybe she felt like she had to chose. She chose Nick and love.”

Kristy adds: “She chose life.”