Gypsy and her mama, Dee Dee, shared a pink mess of a room. Walls and bedspread: bright pink, clashing just enough to make your eyes sting. Plastic bags full of shirts, sweatshirts, and wigs wait along the walls. Gypsy's wigs. To the right of the bed, there's a collage around a photo of a pretty curly-haired girl with her infant daughter. The blankets were piled up on the bed, on top of Dee Dee. Dee Dee couldn't get out of bed. Her neck and back were slashed with a knife. Gypsy was nowhere to be found.
That particular crime-scene photo haunted my dreams for over a year as I made a film documenting the young girl who had her mother killed in the dead of night. I wake up most mornings with faint traces of blood in my mouth. When I'm dreaming about Dee Dee, I grind my teeth. My therapist keeps asking me why I am drawn to this type of work. I try to think back.
My fascination with the macabre started early. In high school, I could be found in my dimly lit bedroom devouring classics like In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter (while I was not mainlining Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I couldn't look away. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and I remember feeling bereft of excitement. I didn't smoke or chug 40s, but I did have an odd online habit that involved reading serial-killer origin stories late into the night. I wanted to figure out what defined evil, and whether a bad seed could be detected before he or she acted out in a violent, deadly way. Questioning these things made me feel less generic, (though I was completely generic).
It wasn't uncommon. According to a 2010 study, "Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial Killers?," women make up the majority of the true-crime audience for nonfiction. The study paints a fairly dark but unsurprising picture. As to why so many women gravitate toward these stories, "the answer may lie in fear of crime, as much research has shown that women fear becoming the victims of a crime more so than do men." The authors also write that "by understanding why an individual decides to kill, a woman can learn the warning signs to watch for in a jealous lover or stranger." I always felt I was doing research in preparation for something, but I didn't know exactly what. I knew that I wanted to know what to do just in case something ever happened to me. A man gets very close to you on the street, his eyes staring into you, seeing what you will do next. What do you do? You quickly dial a number, you put your keys in between your knuckles. A game plan: we all need one, and I had the false illusion that I had control. But evil comes in all forms.
I started investigating the Dee Dee Blanchard case in August 2015, two months after her untimely passing. It wasn't a typical case of matricide; it was something much more sinister. It was discovered after her death that Dee Dee had forced her then-eight-year-old daughter to pretend to be wheelchair-bound and mentally disabled to garner disability benefits from the government. It was shocking, but the question of why remained so much more interesting. How could someone do this to her child? I didn't start with the crime scene. The circumstances of a death can tell only so much about the life that preceded it. And at first glance, there wasn't much motive for anyone to end Dee Dee's life.