SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Wisconsin man has been sentenced to life in prison in the stabbing death of a Missouri woman who forced her daughter to use a wheelchair and undergo unnecessary medical tests so she could collect gifts and charitable donations.
The Springfield News-Leader reports that the 29-year-old Nicholas Godejohn, of Big Bend, Wisconsin, won't be eligible for parole under the sentence ordered Friday. The sentence was the only one possible after he was convicted in November of first-degree murder in the June 2015 death of 48-year-old Clauddine "Dee Dee" Blanchard at her home near Springfield.
Defense attorneys argued for a lesser charging, saying that Blanchard's daughter, Gypsy Blanchard, manipulated Godejohn into killing her mother in order to escape from an abusive home life. She already is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The murder that rocked Springfield three years ago
A Facebook post out of character for Dee Dee had alerted neighbors something was wrong on June 14, 2015. Neighbors called police because they were concerned about the mother and daughter's welfare.
When Blanchard's body was found by police, a missing person's report was put out for her daughter, Gypsy. The girl was believed to be significantly younger than her real age, that she was bound to a wheelchair, struggling with cancer, and had several other maladies. Dee Dee had told the public for years that Gypsy had the mental capacity of a seven year old due to brain damage from a premature birth. While searching for the missing girl, Springfield Police and Greene County deputies quickly learned not everything was adding up; meanwhile, neighbors were grieved. They put together vigils in hopes of bringing Gypsy home. The Springfield community was concerned the girl wasn't just missing, but had been abducted and was in grave danger.
Police found Gypsy Rose the next day in Wisconsin. She traveled there with Nicholas Godejohn, a man she met online allegedly through a Christian dating site. They had been exchanging intense text messages for more than a year. They kept their relationship secret because Gypsy feared her mother would punish her for getting romantically involved with someone.
The next morning, after police in Wisconsin had found Gypsy, Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott spoke in a news conference, "things are not always as they appear," he ominously said. He told the community Gypsy is alive and well, but she wasn't actually a girl, but an adult and had no physical or mental health issues that her mother had claimed. Gypsy could walk unassisted.
As the investigation continued, officers found more disturbing findings. Doctors across several hospitals had treated Gypsy, even in Kansas City, and as far as the New Orleans area, but the doctors hadn't found evidence of the diseases Dee Dee claimed her daughter had. One professional suspected the mother had Munchausen syndrome by proxy. It's a mental disorder where a parent or caregiver finds meaning in life by exaggerating, fabricating, and inducing illness in a person in order to obtain sympathy. In this case, it also helped the pair get free movie tickets, a trip to Disney World, a house from Habitat for Humanity, and help from the Ronald McDonald House, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Along with special meet ups with celebrities, like Elijah Wood.
Clauddine also went by the name Clauddinea, and sometimes added an "e" to the end of Blanchard. The series of manipulation and fraud on the Springfield community goes back as far as 2005, when the pair left New Orleans after being allegedly displaced by Hurricane Katrina and needed a new place to call home.
Dee Dee's own family had been suspicious of her, calling Clauddine a master manipulator in the HBO documentary, Mommy Dead and Dearest. Family has suspected she killed her own mother, who died in 1997, by denying her food. There were also concerns she poisoned her stepmother with Roundup weed killer. She grew up Clauddine Pitre in Chackbay, Louisiana, near the Gulf Coast. She grew up near Golden Meadow. Her relatives recalled in the documentary that Blanchard occasionally engaged in petty theft, often as retaliation when she didn't get her way.
Bobby Pitre, Clauddine's nephew, recalls about three months after Gypsy was born the mother had claimed the girl had sleep apnea. She had continued stays at the hospital, often overnight. Tests found no sign of the condition. Nevertheless, the nephew said, Clauddine was convinced Gypsy had health issues, which she attributed to an unspecified chromosomal disorder. Gypsy stopped going to school after about the second grade, possibly earlier. Her mother homeschooled her. Gypsy independently improved her literacy by reading Harry Potter books.
Actual surgical procedures were performed on Gypsy, including the insertion of a feeding tube -- despite nothing being wrong with her. Dee Dee, who's home was for the most part in a disarray, had a closet full of medicines, which were meticulously organized. She had taken advantage of the medical world, pushing doctors around to make her demands happen -- even when Gypsy didn't actually have these conditions. Dee Dee would blame a lack of medical records for Gypsy's younger years on Hurricane Katrina destroying those documents. The mother would also routinely switch doctors when things didn't go her way.
Around 2012, Gypsy would use the Internet after her mother went to bed. She was afraid her mother would lash out at her for computer usage. The late night Internet sessions eventually led her to Nicholas Godejohn. He had some issues of his own: a criminal record for indecent exposure at a McDonald's, a history of mental illness, stated at times to be either dissociative identity disorder or autism.
Gypsy and Godejohn developed an intense romance through the Internet, somewhat based on their shared afflictions. At times the interactions dipped into BDSM. The pair somehow managed to meet under Dee Dee's watchful eye at a Springfield movie theater during a showing of Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella. Gypsy had hoped for him to bump into them as if he were a stranger and her mother to approve of him. Godejohn said Gypsy and him somehow left the movie without the mother noticing -- and the two had sex in a theater bathroom. Gypsy had arranged and paid for Godejohn's trip to Springfield.
After the trip, the two continued their interactions online, and they began developing a plan to kill Dee Dee.
Romance intensifies, murder plot thickens
Records and witnesses have proven Gypsy tried to escape her mother multiple times before the murder plot. The attempts would anger her mother who would punish her severely, at one point smashing her computer with a hammer and threatening to do the same to her fingers if she tried to escape again. Gypsy has also claimed Dee Dee handcuffed her to her bed. Gypsy was concerned if she attempted to go to police for help, they wouldn't believe her.
In 2014, Gypsy confided some of her secrets to Aleah Woodmansee, a 23-year-old neighbor who was unaware that Gypsy was about her age. Gypsy considered Aleah as a "big sister." Gypsy told her she planned to elope with Godejohn and had even chosen names for potential children.
Woodmansee was concerned Gypsy was being taken advantage of by an online sexual predator and tried to talk her out of the relationship. She thought Gypsy's ideas were just fantasies and dreams that would never take place.
Godejohn returned to Springfield in June 2015. While Dee Dee was asleep, Gypsy allowed him in and according to her testimony on Thursday, she gave him duct tape, gloves, and a knife with the intent to murder her mother. Gypsy has claimed she didn't expect him to really do it.
When Godejohn went into Dee Dee's bedroom, Gypsy was hiding in a bathroom. She has said in interviews she covered her ears, so that she would not have to hear what was happening. Godejohn stabbed Dee Dee multiple times while in her sleep. Gypsy testified in court Thursday that when Godejohn said he wanted to rape her mother, she talked him out of it, offering up herself instead. Right after the murder, the couple had sex in Gypsy's room, then they took $4,000 in cash that Dee Dee had saved, and they made their way to a motel outside Springfield.
The couple lingered in Springfield before heading to Wisconsin. They were seen on security cameras at several locations. They mailed the murder weapon back to Godejohn's home in Wisconsin to avoid being caught with it. Several witnesses saw the pair, a taxi driver was confused by Gypsy's childlike voice but commanding adult presence. The pair made their way to a Greyhound station, Gypsy wore a blonde wig and walked unassisted.
Police arrived at the Blanchard house after the community was concerned by the Facebook posts Gypsy made on Dee Dee's account. Police had to wait for a search warrant to be issued before they could enter, but they allowed a neighbor to climb through a window, where he saw the house was largely undisturbed, and all of Gypsy's wheelchairs were present.
When the warrant was issued, police entered and immediately found Dee Dee's body. A GoFundMe account was setup for funeral expenses, and possibly's Gypsy's. The Springfield community didn't know yet that Gypsy didn't need her wheelchair, medications, oxygen tanks, or feeding tube.
Woodmansee told police what she knew about Gypsy and her secret online boyfriend. Based on her information, police asked Facebook to trace the IP address from where Dee Dee's status updates had been made -- it turned out to be in Wisconsin.
Police agencies the next day in Waukesha County raided the Godejohns' Big Bend home. Both Godejohn and Gypsy surrendered and were charged on murder and felony armed criminal action.
Following the charges, Greene County prosecutor Dan Patterson soon announced he would not seek the death penalty for either Gypsy or Godejohn. After Gypsy's attorney obtained her medical records from Louisiana, Patterson secured a plea bargain to second-degree murder for Gypsy. The woman was excessively malnourished from her mother's treatment, and during her first year in county jail, she actually gained 14 pounds. Gypsy has told reporters she has been happier in jail and feels like she can actually be a woman.
In July 2016, Gypsy accepted a plea bargain agreement and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Blanchard will be eligible for parole before her 33rd birthday.
Godejohn faced more severe charges. Prosecutors said he initiated the murder plot, and he was the one who actually did the stabbing. His lawyers contended he has an I.Q. of 82 and is on the autism spectrum -- the attorneys wanted to suggest he had diminished capacity. In December 2017, the judge set Godejohn's trial for November 2018.
Nicholas Godejohn's trial
At opening arguments, prosecutors said Godejohn had deliberated for more than a year before the crime. His lawyers pointed to his autism and said Gypsy had formulated the crime. The next day, prosecutors showed jurors the text messages, sometimes sexually charged, that Gypsy and Godejohn shared in the weeks before the murder. In some of the texts, Godejohn asked Gypsy for details about Dee Dee's room and sleeping habits.
These were supplemented by video of his interview with police after his arrest, where he admitted to having killed her. Gypsy testified Thursday there was a Plan B; instead of murder, Gypsy would get pregnant by Godejohn. She believed this would have forced Dee Dee to accept him. Gypsy had been concerned that Dee Dee wasn't impressed with Godejohn when she briefly saw him during the Cinderella movie showing.
Gypsy testified Godejohn wanted to get her pregnant, but his mother wouldn't allow him, so they moved onto their other plan.
To make the murder happen, Gypsy stole several hundred dollars in cash from her mother and mailed the money to Godejohn. The money was used to get him to Springfield. Gypsy testified she stole the knife she gave Godejohn from Walmart. Baby clothes for the pregnancy option were also stolen from Walmart. Gypsy said Godejohn wanted a machete, but she didn't think she could steal one.
Thursday Gypsy admitted killing her mother was her idea. She said she persuaded Godejohn to travel to Missouri to kill Dee Dee. When asked why she wasn't the one to kill her, Gypsy said she was too squeamish.
“I don’t like blood. I don’t like the sight of blood," Gypsy said. "I didn’t believe I could do it on my own."
After four days, the case was sent to the jury. Godejohn was convicted of first-degree murder. He will be sentenced in February 2019.
Gypsy is serving her sentence in Missouri's Chillicothe Correctional Center. She said in a BuzzFeed report with Michelle Dean that she did believe Dee Dee's claim that she had cancer, even if she knew she could walk and eat solid food.
Munchausen expert Marc Feldman said a formal diagnosis for Dee Dee's actions is technically impossible since she is dead. Feldman told the Springfield News-Leader after Gypsy's guilty plea that he could confidently say Dee Dee had it based on what he knew about the case. "Gypsy was infantilized and kept away from her peers," he said. "She was little more than a tool for Dee Dee to navigate through the world."