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Crime News

Famous Real-Life Cases Of Suspected Munchausen By Proxy

A new TV show has the condition in the spotlight, but these mothers fabricated and even induced illnesses upon their children for attention. 

By Gina Tron
7 Facts About Child Abuse and Prevention

Caution: Spoilers Ahead!

The long-awaited HBO adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s book Sharp Objects stars Amy Adams as reporter Camille Preaker who returns to her tiny Missouri hometown of Wind Gap to investigate the murder of two children. Being back home means she has to reconnect with her creepy mother, who apparently has Munchausen by proxy, a condition identified in the 1970s when a caregiver fabricates health problems of the person they are caring for with the intent to gain sympathy and attention. 

Actress Sophia Lillis, who stars in "Sharp Objects" as the younger version of Camille, told Schon Magazine that her character's mother has the syndrome.

"It is a bit scary to think about," she said. "It was a hard experience for my character to deal with this mother who doesn’t really feel, who doesn’t really love her.”

The eight-part series is produced and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée of “Big Little Lies."

Munchausen by proxy is both a mental illness and a form of child abuse that seems to primarily affect women. "Sharp Objects" may be fiction, but the following suspected famous cases of Munchausen by proxy prove that reality can be more tragic.

Debbie Mathers

One of the most famous cases of Munchausen by proxy is the rapper Eminem. A social worker accused Eminem's mother Debbie Mathers, who Eminem has rapped in the past about wanting to kill, of having the disease in 1996 during juvenile court proceedings for Eminem's younger brother. In his 2002 song "Cleaning Out My Closet," Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, describes himself as a victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome:

"Witnessing your momma popping prescription pills in the kitchen,
Bitching that someone's always going through her purse and sh-t's missing,
Going through public housing systems, victim of Munchhausen's Syndrome
My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn't,
'Til I grew up, now I blew up, it makes you sick to ya stomach."

[Getty Images]

While it's never been confirmed that Eminem is a victim of Munchausen by proxy but his allegations are reminiscent of some aspects of "Sharp Objects" plot. Debbie Mathers has denied allegations of abuse from her son, and even sued Eminem for defamation in 2000. Seven years later, she co-wrote "My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem: Setting the Record Straight on My Life as Eminem's mom," in which she claims that Eminem fabricated his terrible childhood.

More recently, in 2014, Eminem tried to figuratively reconnect with his mom for video for his song "Headlights," which is shot entirely from his mom’s perspective. The lyrics appear to be directed at her, "You're still beautiful to me, cause you're my mom."

However, they still appear to be estranged. 


Lacey Spears 

To her online supporters, blogger Lacey Spears was a loving mother caring for a sick son named Garnett. The blog, entitled “Garnett’s Journey is still live, but it hasn’t been updated since 2012. “Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it,” the website’s banner declares. She chronicled her son’s supposed illnesses on Twitter and Facebook.  

[Photo: Westchester County Police]

At just nine weeks out, Garnett had a stomach surgery to prevent him from throwing up. Spears said he suffered severe ear infections and projectile vomiting. Doctors couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t keep down food.

As a infant, doctors found his sodium level was found to be dangerously high, and by nine months old Garnett had surgery insert a feeding tube into his abdomen, "48 Hours" reported.

Dr. Mary Sanders, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Stanford University told "48 Hours" that it is likely that Spears had Munchausen by proxy.

At age five, Garnett died after a fatal dose of sodium, a dose that prosecutors say Spears gave him by putting table salt through his feeding tube. He died at a hospital in Valhalla, New York after his brain suffered extreme swelling from the sodium. She was sentenced to 20 years to life for second-degree murder in 2015. The judge went easy on her because he said he believes that Spears suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Spears denies any wrongdoing.

Dee Dee Blanchard

Dee Dee Blanchard had been lying about her daughter Gypsy Rose’s ailments since she was a baby. Over the years, she subjected Gypsy Rose to unnecessary surgery and medication after fabricating that Gypsy Rose couldn’t walk and required a wheelchair and that she suffered from leukemia, muscular dystrophy, and mental retardation, amongst other ailments.

In a shocking turn of events Dee Dee was found murdered in her Missouri home on June 14, 2015, face down in her mattress and surrounded by a puddle of blood.

The investigation of her murder exposed the lies about Gypsy Rose’s illnesses and revealed that Gypsy Rose was very much a hostage of her mother’s deception. Dee Dee pretended that her daughter was sick to garner sympathy, donations, free trips and even a house and professionals have speculated that she had Munchausen by proxy.

Gypsy Rose pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of her own mother. She is currently serving  a 10-year sentence for the killing. Because her mother often made Gypsy Rose appear younger than her actual age, when she was arrested police, and even Gypsy Rose, were unaware of her actual age but it was estimated to be between 19 and 23, according to local media in 2014. She was 23. Her boyfriend Nick Godejohn is still awaiting his trial for the first-degree murder of Dee Dee. Prosecutors have called Gypsy Rose the mastermind. Her boyfriend allegedly did the stabbing.

The case was the subject of a 2017 HBO documentary, "Mommy Dead and Dearest".

“I was taking medication that she said was cancer medicine,” Gypsy Rose recalled in a prison interview for the documentary. “She would shave my head and say, ‘Well it’s going to fall out anyway, so let’s just keep it nice and neat.’ I just went on blind faith that a mother knows best.”

The documentary chronicles how Gypsy Rose tried to run away from home before her mom’s murder but was only captured. She felt like, because of her mother’s lies that she had the mental capacity of a child, that nobody would believe her claims of abuse.

“Over here, I feel like I’m freer in prison, than with living with my mom. Because now, I’m allowed to … just live like a normal woman,” she told ABC News earlier this year. She now has long hair, no feeding tube and no wheelchair.

Blanca Montano

This Tuscon, Arizona mother was convicted of child abuse and sentenced to 13 years behind bars for child abuse in 2013 for the 2011 poisoning of her infant daughter.

[Photo: Tucson Police Department]

Prosecutors accused the mother of intentionally making her baby sick, infecting her infecting her with fecal matter and other bacteria to garner the attention of the baby’s father. She even poisoned the child as the infant was hospitalized. Suspicious, hospital staff placed a hidden camera in the hospital room, which captured the mother in the act, KTTU in Tucson reported. Doctors diagnosed Montano’s infant child with nine different rare infections. Those doctors suspected that Montano suffered from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, according to a 2011 ABC News report.

Dr. Marc Feldman, a psychiatrist at the University of Alabama and author of the book "Playing Sick? Untangling the Web of Munchausen Syndrome, Munchausen by Proxy, Malingering, and Factitious Disorder,” told ABC News that Munchausen is not a mental illness.

"It is a form of abuse, just like sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse – it's just a variant."

Once Montano was banned from visiting the hospital, the baby's condition improved.

Montano has maintained her innocence.

Marybeth Tinning

Marybeth Tinning buried all nine of her children between 1967 and 1985. Not one child lived past the age of four. It was only after the death of her ninth child, four-month-old Tami Lynne, that Tinning became the subject of a criminal investigation. After a lab test revealed that the child was killed by suffocation just days before Christmas 1985, police launched an investigation into the death of the child’s eight siblings who Tinning claimed died from seizures, going blue, and cardiac arrest, depending on the child. Six autopsies were executed after Tami Lynne's death in 1985, but never any signs of abuse, though they were labeled suspicious. Police were never able to pin any deaths on Tinning, besides the death of Tami Lynne.

She was convicted of second-degree murder for Tami Lynn’s death in 1987 and she is currently serving life in upstate New York, according to the Times Union in Albany. All of her efforts to get paroled have been denied.

“After the deaths of my other children … I just lost it," Tinning told the parole board in 2011, according to the Times Union. "(I) became a damaged worthless piece of person and when my daughter was young, in my state of mind at that time, I just believed that she was going to die also. So I just did it."

It’s not clear if she was ever officially diagnosed with Munchausen by proxy.

Up until 1985, doctors apparently attributed the premature deaths of Tinning’s children to bad genes. However, the sixth child Michael, to died in her care wasn’t related to her by blood. He died in 1981, four years before any investigation was kickstarted. She apparently also poisoned her own husband, Joseph Tinning, in 1974 who was hospitalized with barbiturate poisoning. She had slipped pills into Joseph's grape juice but he declined to press charges, for some reason.

[Photo: New York State Department of Correctional Services]

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