SEASON 01 | EPISODE 01
Everyone in Brittany Philips’ life was worried about her daughter, Alyssa. Brittany was always talking about her child’s health issues, and complaining that she couldn’t keep food down—but it didn’t add up with what people were seeing. Still, no one quite knew how to intervene. It didn’t help that Brittany was a bulldozer, bullying anyone who disagreed with her and always causing maximum drama.
Season 2 delves deep into a chilling case that exposes the shocking realities of Munchausen by Proxy and how it can show up. Unlike the charismatic manipulator in Season 1, Hope Ybarra, Brittany didn’t need charm; she used force to get what she wanted. She wasn’t fooling anyone, but it still felt like no one could stop her.
Host Andrea Dunlop:
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The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s MBP Practice Guidelines can be downloaded here.
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Andrea Dunlop: [00:00:00] Nobody should believe me is a production of large media. That’s L A R J Media. Before we begin a quick warning that in this show we discuss child abuse and this content may be difficult for some listeners. If you or anyone you know is a victim or survivor of medical child abuse, please go to munchhausen’s support.com to connect with professionals who can help
Andrea Dunlop: people believe their eyes. That’s something that actually is so central to this whole issue and to people that experience this, is that we do believe the people that we love when they’re telling us something. If you questioned every thing that everyone told you, you couldn’t make it through your day. My older sister has been investigated.
Andrea Dunlop: Over suspicions of abuse brought by the doctors who were treating her children. I’m Andrea Dunlop. This is, nobody Should Believe me. [00:01:00] I am a mom. This is that a tickle meal. I am a novelist. I am the author of three books, including most recently, we came here to forget, which is inspired by my family story.
Andrea Dunlop: My sister has been investigated for muncha, munchhausen by proxy, child abuse on two occasions that I’m aware of. Though I wanna be clear that she has never been charged with a crime. I’ll get into a little bit more detail about my family’s involvement in the first investigation in a future episode. The second investigation concerned her younger child, whom neither I nor anyone in my extended family has ever met, because we’ve been estranged from her for over a decade.
Andrea Dunlop: The extent of my involvement in the second investigation was to share truthful background information with a detective who reached out to my family and several other relevant authorities. Everything that has happened with my sister has had a huge impact on my life, and this podcast is really [00:02:00] about me looking for answers.
Andrea Dunlop: The stories I’m gonna be sharing about my sister in this podcast concerned my lived experience with her and mostly happened prior to her having children. I’m not a medical professional. And any opinions that I share in this podcast are just that my opinions informed by research and my own experience.
Andrea Dunlop: We’re gonna be getting into all of the nuances of this in future episodes, but I wanted to start you off with a working definition of Mechan by proxy because there is so much confusion around this term. We used the term Munchhausen by proxy a lot in this podcast because it is the most well known of the terms used for this.
Andrea Dunlop: But munchhausen by proxy actually encompasses two different things. One is the act of medical child abuse, which involves a parent or caregiver fabricating, exaggerating, or inducing illness in their child. The second is fictitious disorder imposed on another. Which is the DSM term [00:03:00] for individuals who commit medical child abuse in order to obtain emotional gratification.
Andrea Dunlop: So even though this is a mental illness, it is rarely diagnosed and it’s never diagnosed in the absence of a, a conviction for medical child abuse. Even in the most famous case of our era, the DD Blanchard case, she was never officially diagnosed with infectious disorder imposed on another or munchhouse, and by proxy, she was also never charged with a crime.
Andrea Dunlop: When I started writing my third novel, we came here to forget. I really quickly realized that it was going to be about sisters, and then I started getting into the topic of me house and by proxy more directly, and realized that it just felt very urgent for me to write about. And I think that a huge part of that was because I was working through my own feelings about that while I was getting ready to become a mom.
Andrea Dunlop: When I first came across Hope You Barr’s Case, it was in Deanna Boyd’s reporting for the [00:04:00] Fort Worth star Telegram. There were just these uncanny similarities about really hopes life and the story of her family that struck me right away as being so similar to my sister and my family’s story when I was pregnant with my first child.
Andrea Dunlop: The specter of these investigations into my sister just hung really heavily on me. And in addition to that, you know, her absence for my life during this time was really palpable. She’d been outta my life for many years by the time my daughter was born, and after some of the things that she’d done, which I’ll get to, I felt really strongly that she needed help.
Andrea Dunlop: Because of that, she cut me and my entire family off. After the second time she was investigated, I set out to learn everything I could about munchhausen by proxy. In attempt to come to grips with what had happened in [00:05:00] my family as most people would. I went online and I found the website of Dr. Mark Feldman, who is a professor at the University of Alabama and one of the foremost experts in the world on Munchhouse and by proxy and other factitious disorders, and I reached out to him.
Andrea Dunlop: The American Psychiatric Association since 1980 has recognized factitious disorder as an ailment when the person induces or faints illness in themself, and that’s called either factitious disorder or imposed on self, or more commonly munch housen syndrome. When the person is feigning, exaggerating, or inducing illness in another person, that’s still a factitious disorder, but we refer to it often as much has by proxy.
Andrea Dunlop: And then malingering is when a person does it, not for emotional gratification, but more to acquire tangible [00:06:00] goals like money, disability, payments, or other rewards like evasion of criminal prosecution or evasion of military service. So there’s subtle differences, but they’re important because in some sense, MunchOn by proxy is paramount because it’s a form of child abuse.
Andrea Dunlop: The others are not. Until you understand the psychology behind it a little bit in that, you know, folks that have MunchOn. That psychopathology, they get a dopamine rush from the attention that they get for having a medical issue. So it can be seen like an addiction. So when you understand it in those terms, it’s a lot easier to understand the why.
Andrea Dunlop: It’s a maladaptive coping mechanism that people [00:07:00] use to get attention that they feel they need and can’t get otherwise. Why a particular person develops it that is more of a mystery than what it actually is, or like how it functions. So all I knew was that my big sister had lied to me about something really serious, and that is a very hard thing to wrap your head around.
Andrea Dunlop: I’ve spent the last decade of my life trying to make sense of my history with my sister. And it is complicated and it’s complicated to talk about. The truth is there is so much about our shared history that I will never know, and I find myself still trying to make sense of memories that don’t make any sense.
Andrea Dunlop: There are some incidents where I do know definitively that [00:08:00] she lied. And those are the memories that I can share with you. Many others I can’t. So I was reading everything I could get my hands on about Munch housing by proxy. At the time I was doing interviews on the topic, I was talking to a lot of experts, and throughout all of that, you know, I found that this story of Hope YouBar and her family just really stuck with me.
Andrea Dunlop: I just had this very strong feeling that I could get to the bottom of. Something that I needed answered for myself by talking to Hope and her family. I started trying to get in touch with Hope’s family members. I knew she had three siblings. I reached out to Robin Butcher and she just happened to be [00:09:00] living at the time, about an hour and a half.
Andrea Dunlop: South of me, so she was actually the first person that I sat down to talk to face to face.
Andrea Dunlop: You ready? I’m ready. My producer, Tina and I, who both live in Seattle, drove south to the Tacoma area where Robin was living at the time.
Robin: She’s so Nice. You too. I’m such a hugger, me too.
Tina Nole: A dog. She’s a perfect, she’s a dog.
Andrea Dunlop: So what was hope like growing up?
Robin: She was like the perfect sister. You know? She was the perfect student.
Robin: She was the oldest and she had all the responsibility in the house, and she never let that bother her. You know, like parents put a lot of weight on their kids, especially a mom of four dinners and getting us in the shower and the laundry, and that was all hopes kind of. Responsibility and she just carried it.
Robin: It wasn’t like at the end of the day she goes, I shouldn’t have to do this, or Why do I have to make dinner? She just [00:10:00] did
Andrea Dunlop: As I was talking to Robin, that feeling that I’d started out with of hope’s life and family being a parallel to my own was just deepening in this really extraordinary way. I really wanted to talk to the rest of her family and just fill this picture out, and so I was able to get in touch with her father, Paul Butcher and her younger brother, Nick Butcher, who both live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Andrea Dunlop: My name is Paul Butcher. I’m the father of Hopi Bar. We didn’t really notice anything, uh, any issues whatsoever when, before anything started happening. And, and it was, everything was cool. Hope’s younger brother Nick really looked up to her during their childhood. So Hope was the oldest of the four of us.
Andrea Dunlop: We were really, really close, especially as I got into high school. Um, and that’s really where my relationship with Hope [00:11:00] had grown a lot. She was the first person in my family that had gone to college. Mom and dad were always really proud. She did really well. She was doing well in her life, and it was kind of an inspiration for me.
Andrea Dunlop: I could talk to her about what she had gone through, how she got to where she’s at, and lean on her for kind of a resource. Because I wanted to go to school. I wanted to eventually be able to help take care of mom and dad and, and do all of that stuff again, Robin hope’s younger sister.
Robin: You know, she participated in all of our stuff, my brother and my sports events, and she would take us, she would be our taxi, our chauffeur, and she still had such a exuberant social life.
Robin: You know, she had friends and she was in clubs and she was in marching band and jazz band. She paid the um, saxophone and then she played the clarinet in marching band. You know, and she could play the piano and her and my mom shared that commonality I could never learn. You know, she just was very outgoing.
Andrea Dunlop: I’m just sitting here smiling because I think talking about this part, it reminds me so much, you know, [00:12:00] my sister was so fun. She had this incredibly lighthearted personality. She was magnetic, she was smart. She always had a ton of friends. She had this really close circle of friends from band. Um, she played the French horn.
Andrea Dunlop: I looked up to her in terms of, you know, just in the way that little sisters look up to big sisters. She just seemed to have things, you know, more figured out. She always had boyfriends. She’s incredibly warm. Um, very smart and so funny. So silly people. Loved her pretty green eyes. Really. All-American girl next door.
Andrea Dunlop: Sounds like hopeless. Really similar. So striking to me. That’s scary. Yeah, it’s, it’s almost like it’s a, it’s a little eerie. There was certainly a definitive moment where I lost my sister, you know, 10 years ago. I remember really vividly having. What may turn out to be the final conversation that [00:13:00] I have with her in my life.
Andrea Dunlop: But at the same time, I also felt like I lost her little by little in my memory, there’s a person who is this funny, vibrant person with all of these interests. Someone who’s a swimmer loves horses, and who was the partner in crime to all my childhood adventures. Someone who was this loving, warm person and she just disappeared little by little over the years and her strange behaviors just escalated.
Andrea Dunlop: Here’s hope. You Barr’s father Paul Butcher who told me about an incident that happened to hope in high school. So, you know, really wasn’t until about 16 when she fell outta bed on a, we just toweled her floor and she fell on the tile floor and hurt her back, supposedly, like she couldn’t walk. And [00:14:00] she was, uh, you know, she was in a wheelchair for a couple months and.
Andrea Dunlop: Thinking back, this was probably the first sign of some things amuck, but being young parents ourselves, we just kind of blew right through it and rolled her around in the wheelchair and she was in the band. And, uh, so we. Went to Texas Stadium, the football team was playing in playoffs and the band was out on the field.
Andrea Dunlop: And we rolled her out in her uniform out onto the field and my boss got to roll her back and we were doing wheelies and everything. And uh, and it was a good six months, eight months of heavy caregiving. Heavy, you know, heavy, heavy love, and, uh, for all of us. Um, And finally she got better. But, uh, there was no rhyme or reason.
Andrea Dunlop: Two or three doctors say there’s nothing wrong with her. There’s no reason she shouldn’t be walking. My sister had the same thing at the same age, [00:15:00] not from falling outta bed, but she had, when she was 16, she was really active, had always been healthy. She was a swimmer and she had this mysterious back injury and it wouldn’t go away.
Andrea Dunlop: And she was wearing this big plastic brace. She convinced doctors to do surgery on her. I wanna clarify here that. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know how many of my sister’s ailments that she had in high school and beyond were real, and how many were fabricated. She had a series of surgeries on her back and knee that look different to me and my family.
Andrea Dunlop: Now looking back, knowing what we know, there is one incident that stuck with me because we did have evidence. When she was in high school, she started losing her hair. Obviously that is like the sort of nightmarish thing for a teenage girl. My mom took her to the dermatologist, uh, to have a look at it and [00:16:00] dermatologist pulled my mother aside and said, She’s not losing it, she’s shaving it.
Andrea Dunlop: That was a very definitive like, oh, we know that she was faking that. I think my parents tried to get her to go speak to a therapist at the time, and she just sort of blew ’em off. You know? She was always able to explain these things away. She always had an uncanny ability to just sort of like move forward.
Andrea Dunlop: My parents have gone through all that same thing of like, In the light of what happened after, but you know, so much of what doctors base everything off of is what the patient’s reporting their pain to be. Right. Again, Robin,
Robin: so the seizures in high school and then the, you know, the, the paraplegia that came along with that, and then her miraculous recovery came about her senior year.
Robin: So her goal was to be able to walk across the stage. So she managed to be able to regain her ability to walk just in time to be able to walk across. The stage and graduate, [00:17:00] and then she was walking in. Then she went to college.
Andrea Dunlop: Yeah. It was really similar with my sister actually. It was, there are things that I think for my parents, they can look back even further for me.
Andrea Dunlop: Definitely high school is where, yeah, she started having. All these problems with her knee, with her back. She had a couple of surgeries, and even then it’s just, you know, the doctors were basing what they were doing off of what she was saying.
Robin: That summer they packed her up and they brought her to school over in El Paso, Texas, and it was this very typical taking your child to the university.
Robin: My mom and dad went and. Helped her pack into her dorm and she was doing great, you know, very typical things. She was participating in band, obviously. She also picked up jujitsu and was taking classes at night to be able to, you know, defend herself. And she was all of a sudden just thriving [00:18:00] again in school.
Robin: And then, uh, my mom, Got a call that hope it had a seizure at school. They had found her in her dorm, um, on the ground. And so my mom of course, rushed down there and mortified that her daughter is so far away and needing her. And so she got her back on her feet, got her back into school, made sure everything was fine.
Andrea Dunlop: Then when she was in college, she’d met her husband to be Fabian Ybarra, and they had actually had their first child while Hope was still in school.
Robin: She managed to have this baby and she supposedly had complications, broke her tailbone. So my mom was there nursing her back to health, you know, with this new dad and this new mom.
Robin: And the new dad didn’t know how to take care of a child and they shared funny stories. He peed on them. The first diaper change, and still at this point, she was a couple years into her schooling, she was going to become a, a veterinarian. [00:19:00] She decided now as a new mom that she couldn’t do that because she was, had to take care of the family and so she changed her program and got her degree in chemistry, and so then they got married, a great, beautiful wedding and had another child after that.
Robin: Very typical family she was working is a chemist, he was a school teacher. They were raising their now two children. They had a home. Just the, I could say the All American dream. Even at this point, everything we have been through, nothing said something wasn’t right.
Andrea Dunlop: It really seemed like hope had everything someone could want, including a happy marriage and beautiful family.
Andrea Dunlop: When we spoke to Fabian Ybarra in Fort Worth, he had a somewhat different take on things.
Fabian Ybarra: I don’t think we were. In love. I think we’re just trying to make it work. After like the second year, my son, I think [00:20:00] that’s when it started. Something clicked, I believe, when my first daughter, the middle child, when she was born.
Fabian Ybarra: That was, that’s when you saw everything
Robin: changed And they had a two-story house and seven months along, hope, uh, fell down the stairs and went into preterm labor. And so here, this baby was born, um, 28 weeks. She was a pound and a half, or you know, some ridiculously small weight and she spent months in the nicu.
Robin: And so here we are now, a family dedicated to taking care of hope and her family and her kids, and she’s power throughing everything, and still being a developed mom and wife and managing it all so well. That’s whenever you could start to see that things were changing a little bit with hope. I can’t even say that she lost her light at that point, but that’s whenever things, that’s what sets the rest of things into motion.[00:21:00]
Andrea Dunlop: After Hope had her second child with Fabian, she later told her family that she was pregnant with twins. This detail of the pregnancy with twin girls really stuck with me because we’d had an identical situation in my family. Where my sister told us that she was pregnant with twins. So when I was in my twenties, she was with a partner and she got pregnant.
Andrea Dunlop: You know, they were engaged. So it was a really. Exciting thing. It was like a really happy piece of news. And she told us that she was having twins and they were, you know, twin girls. And I was living in New York at the time. I was, I. Saw her when I was home for Thanksgiving, and I was so excited. I knew their names.
Andrea Dunlop: We bought gifts. Uh, my parents and I, we were [00:22:00] all out of town. I think we were out of town together. We were in Las Vegas and my sister called us. She, she was about six months pregnant at the time, so pretty far along, she called us. And she said that she was going into labor early and she was going to the hospital and my parents like scrambled to get a flight home.
Andrea Dunlop: She was calling and giving us updates and I was having these long conversations with her and she was saying, they’ve got me in the hospital, they’ve, I’m, you know, they’re holding me upside down so the babies stay in kind of like a little bit gallows humor about it. And um, and then she lost the babies.
Andrea Dunlop: And I was so sad. I was so sad for her. I was so excited to be an auntie and I really felt that grief of like losing those two little girls. And then things started to unravel really [00:23:00] quickly. I think it was my dad who called me and said, you know, there’s something about all of this that’s not adding up and.
Andrea Dunlop: I spoke to the friend who my sister had told me, took her to the hospital when she was losing the babies. That friend told me she had the understanding that my sister’s fiance had been the one to take her to the hospital, and that they’d been there together when she lost the babies. That was impossible because he was living in Tennessee at the time.
Andrea Dunlop: And unbeknownst to me at that moment was no longer her fiance. When I got his version of events many years later, he told me that he’d had doubts throughout the pregnancy and eventually. Surmised that she had probably never been pregnant at all, which is the conclusion that we’d all eventually come to.
Andrea Dunlop: I did confront her on this once during my final conversation with her that I had, which was during the first [00:24:00] investigation into her, and I asked her how she expected me to believe her when she’d lied about something as serious as an entire pregnancy. She didn’t deny it. But said Indigently. I don’t know why you’re bringing that up now.
Andrea Dunlop: This fact of the fake twin pregnancy is the most striking similarity between my sister and Hope, and I asked Robin about it. Do you remember finding out that the pregnancy hadn’t been real?
Robin: So I remember her losing the twins and us coming in morning with her. My sister’s belly was very real. I saw the ultrasounds, I held them.
Robin: My sister was pregnant in that moment in my mind.
Andrea Dunlop: So when my sister was pregnant, purportedly with twins, I put my hand on her belly and felt the baby kick. And I now know [00:25:00] that that wasn’t real, but my experience was real. And I don’t even know what to do with that.
Robin: The twins that she lost were Alexandria and Alexia.
Robin: So my, my son’s name is Alexander. After the twins that come to find out, never, they never existed. It took us probably a couple months, we realized that the babies weren’t true. We’ve mourned these babies. The final deciding factor is my mom found the urn, um, and she opened up the urn and it was empty.
Robin: That to my mom was enough closer to realize that my sister was not telling the truth about anything.
Andrea Dunlop: For me, the thing that I could never do and that I do not foresee having an opportunity to do in my life is to sit down with my sister and say, I can help you. [00:26:00] But that’s true that I could help her. Like one of the things I’ve really wrestled with in this. Podcast that I didn’t really even realize I was holding onto is this hope that I’ll do this and that she’ll hear it and say, I’m exhausted.
Andrea Dunlop: I wanna come home. Help me Come home.
Andrea Dunlop: In the next episode we’ll do a deep dive into hope you Barr’s Case and talk to her family about what it was like to try to unravel all of her lies. If you’ve been listening to this podcast and some of the details sound very familiar to you from your own life, or someone that you know, please visit [email protected].
Andrea Dunlop: We have resources there from some of the top experts in the country, and we can connect you with professionals who can help. If you are curious about this show and the topic of Munch Chasm by proxy, follow me on Instagram at Andrea Dunlop. If you would [00:27:00] like to support the show, you can do so at patreon.com/nobody should believe me, and if monetary support is not an option for you right now, you can also rate and review the podcast on Apple and share on your social media.
Andrea Dunlop: Word of mouth is so important for podcasts and we really appreciate it. Nobody should believe me is a production of large media. Our lead producer is Tina Noel. The show is edited by Lisa Gray with help from Wendy Nay. Jeff Gahl is our sound engineer. Additional Scoring and music by Johnny Nicholson and Joel Schock.
Andrea Dunlop: Also special thanks to Maria Paolos, Joel Noel and Katie Klein for project Coordination. I’m your host and executive producer, Andrea Dunlop.