If you’re a lover of true crime documentaries and dramatizations, now seems like the best time to be alive, doesn’t it? There has never been more stories of murder, swindling, fake festivals or weird kidnappings than there are on TV these days, and we’re here for it.
So, we really thought we’d seen it all… And then we watched the first episode of The Act.
The series, which drops its first two installments on the Starz Canada streaming service and OnDemand on March 20, is the fictionalized retelling of the lives of Dee Dee Blanchard (played by Patricia Arquette) and her disabled daughter Gypsy Rose (Joey King). The duo became semi-famous following a long form Buzzfeed article in 2016 that broke down their strange tale, which includes made-up illnesses, a murdered mother, and one of the most severe cases of Munchausen syndrome by proxy that experts had seen in a long time.
Naturally we couldn’t help but do a deep dive down the rabbit hole of the actual case, and what a journey it was.
We don’t want to give away all of the nitty gritty details, but even the bullet points of this case are jaw-dropping. And to be honest, they may even be necessary in order to prepare you for the horror of what’s to come. Add in some Emmy-worthy performances by Arquette and King, and this is absolutely a series we’ll be talking about come awards season. Until then, here are the weird AF deets on the limited series and actual case.
Munchausen by proxy
The syndrome sounds like a Robert Munsch story gone rogue, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s the term applied to a person who makes up physical and psychological symptoms in order to gain attention and sympathy from others. The “by proxy” part is when a person makes those ailments up for a person in their care, usually a child or senior citizen (it is considered a form of abuse). The term has been in place since the 1980s, but in more recent years it has also been called “factitious disorder.” If a person is making up these illnesses for profit rather than sympathy it’s known as “malingering.” In that case it becomes a matter of fraud and not mental illness.
Gypsy’s daily life
Gypsy Rose was confined to life in a wheelchair, had a shaved head, and sported owlish glasses that amplified her small frame. That same frame housed a feeding tube, through which she consumed all her meals—mostly Pedialyte, which her mother would blend with regular food.
According to Dee Dee, her daughter had had her salivary glands removed because she drooled too much, and the girl had suffered various illnesses since she was three months old. Dee Dee would rattle off a list to anyone willing to listen (and there were plenty of sympathetic people listening). Leukemia, muscular dystrophy, sleep apnea, epilepsy, hearing loss, various allergies and asthma topped the list, with Dee Dee blaming most of it on a chromosomal defect. According to the mother, her dear daughter would always have the mental capacity of a seven-year-old.
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My name for the next 4 months, is Gypsy Rose Blanchard. This story is very disturbing and I am honored to be able to portray it. What a wild ride this will be on “The Act” @hulu Link in my bio for the exclusive interview I gave with @allure talking about the decision to shave my head for a 3rd time for a project I’m so ready to take on.
A string of lies
Dee Dee and Gypsy moved around a lot, and those moves included visits to a string of baffled doctors. Whenever Dee Dee didn’t get the answer she was looking for from a physician she’d reportedly leave in a huff and seek out the next one, sure that her daughter was terminally ill. No one ever thought to report her and most didn’t even really question her or her daughter’s safety.
At one point the duo lived in Louisiana where their home was supposedly ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. A single mother and disabled daughter losing their home is a pretty big human interest story, and so the news and charities paid attention. They received a slew of donations and experiences as a result, and Habitat for Humanity wound up building them a custom, pink bungalow in Springfield, MO. That’s where we pick up in The Act.
In Springfield, Dee Dee told neighbours that Gypsy’s father was a deadbeat drug addict who made fun of his daughter for her disability and refused to send them any money. In reality Ron Blanchard sent Dee Dee a steady stream of monthly cheques and gifts (even after Gypsy turned 18), and received constant updates about his daughter’s health from Dee Dee. He remarried and had two children with his new wife, and for the first 10 years of Gypsy’s life they both spent a lot of time with the child. It wasn’t until Dee Dee moved her to another state that the visits stopped, although he always planned on reconnecting with his daughter. Ron told Buzzfeed that something just always came up.
In 2015 a cryptic Facebook post on the Blanchard’s wall led concerned friends and neighbours to the pink bungalow, worried for mom and daughter’s safety. Police were called and a search warrant was issued, and by the time they got inside later that evening Gypsy was gone and Dee Dee was found murdered in bed. She had been there for days.
Gypsy’s wheelchairs were eerily left behind, leading to a massive manhunt for the girl. One neighbour told police about a secret Facebook account Gypsy had set up so that her mom wouldn’t find out, and that led to Gypsy’s boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn.
A day later police located Gypsy, and the truth behind the girl’s actual illnesses came out: there were none. She and her boyfriend had plotted her mother’s murder so that Gypsy could escape her stranglehold once and for all. She was 23 years old at the time, but believed herself to be 19.
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I watched Mommy Dead and Dearest on @hbo this weekend and that shit was WILD. I knew this would be an egregious tale of Münchausen syndrome by proxy but I did not know it would take a BDSM turn! GOOD LORD. Watch for yourself. Would you kill your mom if she made you get a feeding tube, chemo, and a slew of other crazy medical procedures when you are perfectly healthy? Something to think about.
Today Gypsy is serving out a 10-year prison sentence in a Missouri jail, where she’s working on getting her GED. She now has a full head of brown hair and walks just fine on her own. By all accounts she’s actually thriving. As for Nicholas Godejohn? He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Throughout the first season, expect even more strange details from this case — some real and some fictionalized for dramatic purposes — to unroll. The entire offering begins and ends with the Blanchard’s story, digging into all of the nooks and crannies of the toxic mother-daughter relationship that rocked headlines. Should The Act return for a second season, the producers will focus on another true crime story, but for now we can’t think of anything that comes close to this.
Some stories, as they say, are stranger than fiction. The Act season one absolutely falls into that category.
The Act debuts its first two episodes on the Starz Canada streaming service and the OnDemand platform Wednesday, March 20. The first episode airs Sunday, March 24 on the Starz Canada linear channels.
Want to know more? Be sure to stream Crave’s documentary of the Blanchard case, Mommy Dead and Dearest.