Dee Dee Blancharde had had a rough go: displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she was the sole care-giver for her severely disabled daughter, Gypsy Rose. Gypsy’s diagnoses were many: epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer, chromosomal and developmental defects. She was confined to a wheel chair, fed by a tube, often breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. She endured frequent surgery and chronic pain. She was brain damaged and stuck at the intellectual age of 7. Dee Dee, devoted to her daughter, didn’t work. They accepted charity in the form of a house from Habitat for Humanity, met Miranda Lambert through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, got free trips to Disney World, Gypsy’s favourite. Kindly neighbours pitched in what they could; the Blanchardes were community fixtures, and well-liked. Then one day Dee Dee’s Facebook status read “That bitch is dead” and when police investigated, they found her stabbed to death in bed. Gypsy was nowhere to be found.
This case caught my eye at the time and I read about it extensively. It turns out that Gypsy was never sick, wasn’t even paralyzed. She had endured years of abuse, via ‘Munchausen by proxy,’ a condition wherein a caregiver fakes and actually induces health problems in their child in order to gain sympathy and attention for themselves. Gypsy, armed with a secret internet boyfriend, had had enough, and plotted her mother’s murder.
Mommy Dead and Dearest is a shocking documentary that explores this case in depth. People who knew them were shocked to see Gypsy Rose walking unassisted, and wondered how much she herself had been in on the deception. But even Gypsy Rose didn’t know her true age, or the extent of her health problems. Many of the medications given her to treat fake illnesses gave her real, troubling side effects. The documentary follows her trip through the justice system and asks us whether we must consider her to be a cold-hearted perpetrator, or a victim who finally fought back. Director Erin Lee Carr lets the story tell itself, giving the narrative time and space to unfold itself, deftly answering questions before we even ask them. This case is so astonishing that Carr’s guidance is particularly necessary, yet her presence is minimally felt. I was completely fascinated and absorbed by the story, and I bet you will be too.