For seven years before the murder, Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blancharde lived in a small pink bungalow on West Volunteer Way in Springfield, Missouri. Their neighbors liked them. “’Sweet’ is the word I’d use,” a former friend of Dee Dee’s told me not too long ago. Once you met them, people said, they were impossible to forget.
Dee Dee was 48 years old, originally from Louisiana. She was a large, affable-looking person, which she reinforced by dressing in bright, cheerful colors. She had curly brown hair she liked to hold back with ribbons. People who knew her remember her as generous with her time and, when she could be, generous with money. She could make friends quickly and inspire deep devotion. She did not have a job, but instead served as a full-time caretaker for Gypsy Rose, her teenage daughter.
Gypsy was a tiny thing, perhaps 5 feet tall as far as anyone could guess. She was confined to a wheelchair. Her round face was overwhelmed by a pair of owlish glasses. She was pale and skinny, and her teeth were crumbling and painful. She had a feeding tube. Sometimes Dee Dee had to drag an oxygen tank around with them, nasal cannula looped around Gypsy’s small ears. Ask about her daughter’s diagnoses, and Dee Dee would reel off a list as long as her arm: chromosomal defects, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, severe asthma, sleep apnea, eye problems. It had always been this way, Dee Dee said, ever since Gypsy was a baby. She had spent time in neonatal intensive care. She had leukemia as a toddler.
The endless health crises had taken a toll. Gypsy was friendly, talkative even, but her voice was high and childlike. Dee Dee would often remind people that her daughter had brain damage. She had to be homeschooled, because she’d never be able to keep up with other kids. Gypsy had the mind of a child of 7, Dee Dee said. It was important to remember that in dealing with her. She loved princess outfits and dressing up. She wore wigs and hats to cover her small head. A curly, blonde Cinderella number seems to have been her favorite. She’s wearing it in so many photographs of herself with her mother. She was always with her mother.
“We are a pair of shoes,” Gypsy once said. “Never good without the other.”
Their house, like everyone else’s around them, had been built by Habitat for Humanity. It had amenities specially built for Gypsy: a ramp up to the front door, a Jacuzzi tub to help with “my muscles,” Gypsy told a local television station in 2008. Sometimes, on summer nights, Dee Dee would set up a projector to play a movie on the side of her house and the children of the neighborhood, whose parents usually couldn’t afford to send them to a movie theater, came over for a treat. Dee Dee charged for concessions, but it was still cheaper than the local multiplex. The money was to go to Gypsy’s treatments.
Dee Dee became particularly close with some people across the way, a single mother named Amy Pinegar and her four children. Over years of tea and coffee, Dee Dee would tell Pinegar her life story. She was originally from a small town in Louisiana, she said, but she’d had to flee her abusive family with Gypsy. It was her own father, Gypsy’s grandfather, who’d been the last straw; he’d burned Gypsy with cigarettes. So she’d lit out from her hometown for good.
She told Pinegar that Gypsy’s father was a deadbeat, an alcoholic drug abuser who had mocked his daughter’s disabilities, called the Special Olympics a “freak show.” As Pinegar understood it, he’d never sent them a dime, not even when Dee Dee and Gypsy had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. It was a blessing that a doctor at a rescue shelter had helped them get to the Ozarks.
Sometimes, listening, Amy Pinegar found herself overwhelmed. “I wondered,” Pinegar told me over the phone last fall, “keeping this child alive… Is she that happy?” All she could do was be a good neighbor and pitch in when she could. She’d drive Dee Dee and Gypsy to the airport for their medical trips to Kansas City, bring them things from Sam’s Club. Ultimately, they did seem happy. They went on charity trips to Disney World, met Miranda Lambert through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Looking back on it, Pinegar was sometimes even jealous of them.
It was a perfect story for a human interest segment on the evening news: a family living through tragedy and disaster, managing to build a life for themselves in spite of so many obstacles. But the story wasn’t over. One day last June, Dee Dee’s Facebook account posted an update.
“That bitch is dead,” it read.