Most of us in the true crime world are familiar with the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and the murder of her mother Dee Dee. Dee Dee had Munchausen by proxy, and Gypsy Rose survived the abuse that her mother dished out, but that wasn’t the case for five-year-old Garnett Spears who was murdered by his mother Lacey Spears in 2014 after years of abuse and unnecessary medical procedures.
What is Munchausen by proxy?
WebMD defines Munchausen by proxy as “a psychological disorder marked by attention-seeking behavior by a caregiver through those who are in their care.” Basically a caregiver, usually a parent, either makes up symptoms or induces the symptoms in order to get attention and sympathy.
Signs of Munchausen by proxy
- A history of illnesses, injuries, or hospital visits.
- Symptoms that don’t fit a disease or match any test results.
- Symptoms that improve while at the hospital but worsen while the child is at home with the parent.
A pattern of lies
Before we get to the events of today’s post, we need to go back to Garnett’s mother Lacey Spears’ childhood.
Lacey was born in 1987 in Decatur, Alabama, which is part of why I’m interested in this case. I live not far from there. But Lacey did not have a good childhood.
Her father was mostly absent but when Lacey saw him, they would argue. And her mother was cold and completely unaffectionate toward Lacey. And if you know anything about childhood trauma and attachment disorders, you know this is a recipe for disaster.
Here we have a young girl who desperately wants love and attention from her parents, but she wasn’t getting it, so she had to replace the missing piece in her life with something else. And when she was a child it was dolls. I know. So creepy. Even creepier is the fact that Lacey basically treated the dolls as her children and was basically inseparable from them. She treated them like they were her own children.
This is a running theme throughout Lacey’s life. She so desperately wanted to be a mother, perhaps to compensate for the failure of her own mother. She even took to calling any adult woman in her life “mom.” Weird, I know.
By the time Lacey was in high school, she had stopped carrying the dolls with her, but that wasn’t enough to make her classmates like her. Lacey was unpopular because she had a pathological lying habit. We all know people like this. She would lie about things that didn’t matter and make up fantastical stories for attention.
When Lacey was 14, she told her friends that she was pregnant, but they didn’t believe her. And then when she showed up at school a few days later saying that she had an abortion, they didn’t believe that either.
I should note here that Lacey accused her parents of physical and sexual abuse, but no charges were ever brought against her parents despite the claims being reported to authorities. I’m not saying that she was or was not abused in that way. I try to always believe victims, but when a person lies as often and as easily as Lacey did, you have to wonder if these allegations were true or a ploy for attention.
Obsession with children
When Lacey finished school, she started working at a daycare in Decatur. There were parents there who were uncomfortable with Lacey’s attachment to their children, but she was never fired. Lacey eventually moved on to a private babysitting situation in addition to working at the daycare. She ensured that her entire day was filled with caring for children.
In 2006, Lacey began babysitting Christy Burnham’s son Camryn. Christy was a single mother with no car, so free babysitting was a godsend to her. But Lacey began keeping Camryn longer and longer every time she watched him. Christy basically had to beg Lacey to bring Camryn back.
And Camryn would always come back to Christy with an ear infection. Was Lacey responsible? Remember the ear infections because it comes up again.
Once at a park, a woman approached Christy and Camryn and referred to Camryn as Lacey’s baby. So she had been telling people at the park that Camryn was her own child.
In 2007, Lacey took Camryn for a weekend but didn’t return him on Sunday, like she and Christy had arranged. She turned up on Monday with Camryn. This was the last straw for Christy who stopped letting Lacey keep Camryn.
After Camryn, Lacey began to babysit Autumn Hunt’s son, Jonathon on weekends. She would post photos of Jonathon on MySpace with creepy captions like “A Mother’s Love Is Unexplainable.” Reminder, Jonathon is not her child. A friend saw these photos and told Autumn about them. Autumn confronted Lacey who tearfully apologized.
As an adult, Lacey progressed from watching other people’s children to having a child of her own. She began looking for a man to get her pregnant. I don’t think Lacey ever wanted a real relationship with any man. She just wanted to get pregnant.
She met a police officer named Blake, and she went on a few dates with him. They never had sex.
Then she started seeing a neighbor named Chris Hill. He said that all Lacey cared about was sex so that she would fall pregnant. And she did get pregnant. Chris wanted to get married and raise their child together, but Lacey claimed that Chris wasn’t the father. She would later assert that it was Blake, but that isn’t true. The baby was Chris’s.
Garnett Spears was born on December 3, 2008. What happened in the five years before Garnett’s death is so horrible that it is difficult to even imagine.
Lacey constantly posted photos of Garnett on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Two days after Garnett’s birth, Lacey brought him to the hospital saying that he had a fever and an ear infection, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so they were sent home. But then a few weeks later around Christmas of 2008, Lacey rushed Garnett to the hospital claiming that he wouldn’t eat anything and was vomiting. Doctors never saw any symptoms.
In 2009, Lacey took Garnett to a pediatrician almost every day. None of these doctors ever saw Garnett display any of the symptoms that Lacey described. Eventually, doctors would become suspicious about these phantom symptoms, and every time that happened, Lacey would just find a new doctor.
Somehow (and this blows my mind) Lacey convinced a doctor to perform surgery to install some kind of device to prevent him from vomiting. A drastic move especially considering this doctor had never seen the symptoms that Lacey claimed Garnett experienced. She also convinced a doctor to install a feeding tube. Again, no proof he needed it.
Plenty of family and friends saw Garnett eating normally, but one friend said that she saw Lacey punish Garnett for eating. Yikes.
During the first year of his life, Garnett had 23 hospital stays for vomiting, nausea, ear infections, and even perforated eardrums.
In 2012, Lacey moved to Florida to live with her grandmother probably because she had seen every doctor in her area and needed new people who didn’t know Garnett’s history.
It was during this time that Lacey started a blog to document Garnett’s illnesses and journey. The blog is still live if you want to check it out. She claimed on the blog that Garnett’s father was Blake, the man she had been on two dates with and never slept with. And it seems like this newfound attention online only served to escalate Lacey’s dangerous attention-seeking behavior.
At the end of 2012, Lacey and Garnett who was four at the time moved to a commune in New York. I’ll be honest and say that I do not really understand this move. Sources say she wanted a better life, but I think maybe she had run out of doctors again.
By all accounts, Lacey and Garnett liked their new home. Garnett seemed happy and healthy. A doctor even suggested removing Garnett’s feeding tube. Lacey didn’t like this idea.
In January 2014, Lacey called a friend at the commune to ask for a ride to the hospital because Garnett was having a seizure. So this friend rushes over, but Lacey doesn’t really seem to be in a hurry. She noticed that a bag of milky white liquid was attached to Garnett’s feeding tube.
Once at the hospital, Lacey seemed more concerned with taking photos of Garnett than trying to help him. Doctors could tell that Garnett wanted to throw up but he couldn’t because of that surgery. I’m no medical expert, but isn’t vomiting an important thing to be able to do? Say you were poisoned for example. If you can’t vomit that up, you would die.
Garnett was at the hospital for a few days. All of Garnett’s levels were fine and doctors didn’t see any reason to keep him at the hospital any longer.
Before they were released, Garnett is seen on security tape laughing and looking fine. Then Lacey takes him to the bathroom, which is not on camera. When they return Garnett is visibly ill. I mean I can see how much he wants to vomit. It’s hard to watch honestly.
At this point, doctors ran blood work again, but now Garnett’s sodium level was 182, which is miles higher than when he was admitted and higher than the dangerous sodium level of 160. The sodium was causing his brain to swell, and by the time doctors got his levels back to a normal range 24 hours later, Garnett was brain-dead.
Then Lacey took hundreds of pictures of his dead body. Like, what?
Lacey called the friend who took them to the hospital and asked her to get rid of that bag of white liquid. This woman was no dummy though and she went right to the police with it. It was a high-sodium mixture. In addition to this damning physical evidence, Lacey had been googling the dangers of high sodium levels while Garnett was in the hospital.
Lacey was arrested of course, but she pleaded not guilty. She was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Lacey gave a bonkers interview to 48 Hours. She basically says that all she wanted to do was establish a medical history for Garnett, which I’m not even sure what that means.
I find Munchausen by proxy so interesting. Seriously, if you haven’t read/watched Sharp Objects, you should go do it now.
Let me know what you think of this case in the comments and let me know if there are any cases you would like me to cover in the future.