ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri woman accused with her boyfriend of killing her mother may have faked the need for a wheelchair and pretended to be a Hurricane Katrina victim so that she and her mom could collect donations, a sheriff said Tuesday.
The daughter, Gypsy Blancharde, had been the focus of a search in the Missouri Ozarks since her mother, Clauddinnea “Dee Dee” Blancharde, was found dead Sunday in their Springfield home. Neighbors told reporters that the daughter used a wheelchair and had leukemia and muscular dystrophy.
KSPR-TV in Missouri reported Wednesday that the family may have concocted the fake-illness story while living in Chackbay, La., as outlined in a 2001 story in the Daily Comet in Thibodaux. The TV station talked to Dee Dee Blancharde’s nephew, Bobby Pitre, who lives in Louisiana and said family members did not know the Blanchardes’ whereabouts before Tuesday.
Petre told the TV station the family tried to stop the charade when Dee Dee first started claiming her daughter was wheelchair-bound. He said Gypsy was perfectly healthy and could walk just fine.
“I figured it was a ticking time bomb, that one day, Gypsy might, you know, come to realize her mom was abusing her this way,” he said.
Authorities now say the daughter and mother may have duped their community and that Gypsy Blancharde and her boyfriend pillaged several thousand dollars in possibly ill-gotten gains from the victim’s safe after the killing.
Greene County prosecutors charged the daughter and Nicholas Godejohn of Big Bend, Wisconsin, on Tuesday with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the killing of Dee Dee Blancharde, 48. She and Godejohn, 26, were arrested Monday in Godejohn’s Wisconsin home, roughly 570 miles from the crime scene.
Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott urged people Tuesday not to give anymore donations to the family, noting “things are not always as they appear.”
Blancharde “can walk without assistance or a wheelchair, and she can do that very well,” Arnott told reporters.
Investigators also were looking into whether “the appearance of a long financial fraud scheme” by the Blanchardes included claims that they were Hurricane Katrina victims displaced by that 2005 disaster. Habitat for Humanity provided the mother and daughter with a home in Springfield, complete with a wheelchair ramp, in 2007.
Even Gypsy Blancharde’s real age is unclear. A probable cause statement lists three different birth dates for her, with her age ranging from 19 to 23.
“We really don’t know the true background of this family,” Arnott said. “This is a tragic, tragic event surrounded by mystery and public deception.”
It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Blancharde and Godejohn have attorneys who could comment on the allegations. The two remained jailed Tuesday afternoon in Wisconsin, pending their extradition to Missouri. Their bonds were set at $1 million apiece.
According to the probable cause statement, Godejohn admitted he traveled to the southwest Missouri city and killed the elder Blancharde at the request of her daughter, who supplied the knife and hid in a bathroom while he repeatedly stabbed the victim in the back. Lead investigator Stanley Hancock wrote in the court document that Gypsy Blancharde “admitted she was in the house when her mother was being stabbed, and she could hear her screaming.”
Gypsy Blancharde also admitted that she was wrote about the killing on the Facebook page she and her mom shared in an expletive-laden post that prompted friends to contact police, leading to her mother’s body being found.
Authorities say the killing happened at some point last week. Arnott said Blancharde and Godejohn lingered around Springfield for a day or two after the killing, with surveillance video at various businesses showing Blancharde walking unimpeded, at times carrying her own luggage and wearing disguises. The two ultimately made their way to Wisconsin by bus, Arnott said.