The strange case of Billy Milligan's jigsaw psyche
This story appeared in the February 1979 issue of Columbus Monthly.
William Stanley Milligan paused outside the Franklin County Courthouse: the brisk December winds whipped around him. In subdued tones, he told reporters: “I’m not trying to make this sound like a sob story or anything . . .” But perhaps because of his case, he said, fewer parents would abuse their children.
It was a tidy conclusion to a bizarre story. Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jay C. Flowers had just found 23-year-old Bill Milligan not guilty by reason of insanity on nine charges of rape, aggravated robbery and kidnapping. A few hours later, Probate Judge Richard Metcalf would commit Milligan, who would be sent to the Athens Mental Health Center.
For the trial of a man accused as the locally notorious “university rapist,” in a case publicized nationally by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, Time magazine, CBS and other media, the proceedings were remarkably low-key. It was a trial by stipulation, with written statements read uncontested by both sides. Attorneys read the statements in dry, sometimes almost inaudible voices. The prosecution didn’t contest the plea of insanity. The defense didn’t deny that Milligan committed three of the four rapes he was charged with.
What the defense argued was that Milligan is not your ordinary rapist/robber/kidnapper. The contention of the defense, unchallenged by the prosecution, was that the real Bill Milligan, called an artistically talented man with the I.Q. of a genius, had not been present during the crimes. Instead, according to the testimony of psychiatrists, Milligan had been “asleep” for most of the last seven years, and the crimes actually had been committed by two other personalities who sometimes “take over and use his body.”
William Milligan, according to psychiatrists, has 10 personalities, spawned by alleged physical and sexual abuse during childhood.
A male relative of one of the rape victims calls the multiple-personality theory “bullshit.” He sat quietly through the trial, then later grumbled, “The media is making a folk hero of this guy. It’s the Sam Sheppard case in reverse.”
Indeed, the case had taken such a spectacular twist that the rape victims and the crimes against them were almost forgotten; the world was interested in Milligan’s psyche. The victim’s relative was not alone in his doubt, though; a number of prominent psychiatrists expressed concern, both over the public’s perception of the multiple-personality phenomenon generally, and specifically over the fact that this analysis had been used to have Milligan declared not guilty.
Legally, Milligan could be set free—after some required conditions have been met—if, in the future, psychiatrists judge him to be sane. The law provides for a series of hearings in Probate Court on his sanity; the first one for Milligan will probably be in March, 90 days after his initial hearing. The law mandates another review in two years, and further reviews at intervals of two years.
If at any time, however, psychiatrists where he is institutionalized believe him to be sane, they can send notifications to Common Pleas Court. If they receive no response, they can release him; if the court desires a hearing, one will be held in Probate Court, with Probate Court-appointed psychiatrists examining him. If they also find him sane he will be released.
Students of the human mind do not always agree, and the Milligan case—indeed, multiple personality in general—is a subject of no little controversy within the profession of psychiatry.
“Multiple personality is just a figure of speech. It’s nothing but a hoax,” says Dr. Thomas Szasz, a professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse. He is author of more than a dozen books, and he is one of the psychiatric profession’s leading and most outspoken critics. “How many faces does Laurence Olivier or Elizabeth Taylor have? We are all actors. But there is only one person,” he says. “We’ve gotten rid of English words like ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ ” he says, and replaced them with psychological terms that excuse criminal behavior.
Dr. Hervey M. Cleckley of Augusta, Georgia, popularized the concept of multiple personality when he co-authored a book, The Three Faces of Eve, about one of his patients. But Cleckley says he thinks the Milligan ruling could set “a very dangerous precedent.” The term “multiple personality,” he says, “may imply more than we actually mean.” He maintains that multiple personalities “should not be considered as separate people, but as fragments.” The person who displays such personalities “is really just one.”
“There is a temptation to avoid responsibility,” Cleckley says. “Often it’s like the little girl who gets caught stealing cookies and says, ‘I didn’t steal them, my hand did.’ ”
“It [the court’s decision] is really too bad in a way,” says Dr. Frederic Coplon, a Massachusetts psychiatrist who has treated and supervised cases of multiple personality. “It shouldn’t be any different from someone who commits a crime in a drunken stupor. It’s really the same thing. It [multiple personality] is just a dissociative state. But the personalities that emerge are part of a person’s personality. He may not be conscious, and he may not remember it. But if he’s committed a murder, he has a murderous personality inside of him.”
Szasz says, “Anyone who excuses him [a defendant pleading insanity] is an accomplice. But the press is usually responsible, too. Look at that article in Time [on Milligan]. They wrote it as if he had cancer or something, like it was fact,” rather than theory.
Time and several other publications also wrote it as fact that Bill Milligan’s former stepfather Chalmer Milligan had physically and sexually abused Bill when he was young. It was his abuse which psychiatrists see as the key to Bill’s later behavior; it therefore plays a pivotal role in the story of Bill Milligan and his insanity plea.
At the trial, written testimony from his older brother James, his mother, Dorothy Moore, and his sister, Kathy Jo Morrison, backed up Milligan’s claims that as a child he was physically and mentally abused by his stepfather. When interviewed by reporters, Kathy, who sat near Bill during the trial, seemed to fight for emotional control and said the years were “a horror.”
Chalmer Milligan, who lives in Lancaster and works nights at Western Electric in Columbus, maintains, “They’re just liars. I didn’t have time to do all those crazy things.”
According to Time, Bill Milligan’s stepfather threatened “to bury him alive if he told” of frequent sexual abuse. Other accounts had him actually buried alive and being “hung up in the barn by his fingers and toes.” Chalmer, however, says, “It was his mother who demanded I take him out there [to Chalmer’s father’s farm where the sexual assaults allegedly occurred] because he couldn’t get along with the other kids. I just went out there to mow the lawn.”
According to most authorities, multiple personalities are developed as an extreme defense mechanism by a subject unable to cope with his or her life—in Bill Milligan’s case, psychiatrists believe his inability to cope with or escape from the alleged abuse at the hands of his stepfather caused a development of nine additional personalities, making a total of eight male and two females, ranging in age from three to 23.
One of the experts called into the Milligan case is Dr. Cornelia Wilbur of Lexington, Ky., who examined him at Southwest Community Mental Health Center. One of Wilbur’s previous patients, who displayed 14 female and two male personalities, was the subject of the book and the made-for-TV movie Sybil.
Wilbur says that in a two-hour period, she saw four alternate personalities and Bill himself. The last was a brief interview. Wilbur recalls that the other personalities were worried that Bill was suicidal. They had to be persuaded “to let Bill wake up.” When that happened, Wilbur says, “Bill scuttled across the room, I’ve never seen anyone so frightened. He said, ‘Every time I come to, I’m in trouble.’ ”
Wilbur says that in multiple personality cases, “There is always amnesia.” She says that if before therapy the “core,” or original, personality remembers some of the acts of the other personalities or is aware of their existence, then “something is fishy.”
But Szasz, the critic of psychiatry, holds that psychiatric “diseases” are actually a response by the patient to the style of therapists. Of Wilbur, Szasz says, “She doesn’t find these personalities, she invents them.”
Dr. Emanuel Berman is a former Yeshiva University professor who has treated multiple personality and wrote his doctoral thesis on the history and meaning of multiple personality; even Berman, a firm believer in multiple personalities, wrote that sometimes, “The analysts themselves unwittingly shaped the manifestations they were supposedly observing. A therapist’s expectations may have unconsciously encouraged the birth of the personalities detected (Sybil may be a case in point).”
Such shaping is always a danger with an unusual psychiatric disorder. “The message comes across that this is very interesting,” says Dr. Frederic Coplon. Dr. Hervey Cleckley says that “hysterical personalities are like a child. When he does something that attracts attention, he tends to emphasize it.”
Coplon says that a multiple personality subject that he and Berman worked with “eventually formed a third personality because that’s what she thought we wanted her to do.”
Cleckley also says he thinks that “Many times, multiple personality is stimulated. The dramatics of the multiple personality tends to appeal to hysterical types. Many who have claimed multiple personality are not very impressive.”
Cleckley, who has received a number of letters from convicts claiming to have multiple personalities, says that often it’s very hard to distinguish between true multiple personalities and fantasies such as those related by subjects suffering from hysterical neurosis.
Of the more complicated and numerous personality structures, such as Milligan’s, Coplon says: “They are really the same thing” as a person with one or two other faces.
Coplon says that since everyone’s personality contains male and female elements, it’s logical that some subjects would have personalities of the opposite sex.
But Cleckley is also skeptical of anyone having five, 10 or 50 personalities. Although Eve later displayed another 19 personalities in further treatment with another psychiatrist, Cleckley says that he and Eve co-author Dr. Corbett H. Thigpen “were not familiar with those other personalities.” Almost 25 years since his famous case, Cleckley says, “I’ve never seen one with more than three personalities.”
The public story of Bill Milligan began in the Columbus press when Milligan was arrested on Oct. 27, 1977, in connection with several campus area rapes. Three of the rapes, all committed within two weeks prior to the arrest date, were remarkably similar. A woman would be approached near the OSU campus, taken at gunpoint to a rural area and raped. The rapist then forced the victims to use checks or credit cards to obtain cash.
The victim would later be released without further harm, but the rapist would take her name, and perhaps those of some relatives. He threatened retaliation if he was reported.
When police searched Milligan’s far eastside apartment on the 27th, they found handcuffs, a gun, a stolen Master Charge card and a jogging outfit. Those and other items linked him to several rapes.
Milligan’s mental state, however, raised severe doubts as to whether he was competent to stand trial. Dorothy Turner, a psychologist for the Southwest Community Mental Health Center, examined Milligan seven times between Jan. 31 and Feb. 16. According to newspaper reports, it was with Turner and Sam Fia, a physician’s assistant at the county jail, that Milligan’s alternate personalities first emerged. According to Time magazine, this occurred when Milligan answered a question by saying, “Billy’s asleep, I’m David.”
Turner has since declined to give specifics of the incident, citing professional ethics. Dr. Stella Karolin, a psychiatrist at the Southwest Community Mental Health Center, also examined Milligan on Feb. 16. Milligan’s mother and his current stepfather, Del Moore of Lancaster, were interviewed by Turner on Feb. 9, 1978.
A subsequent report based on their interviews found that “he [Milligan] has no genuine nor consistent understanding of his legal situation, nor of the charges against him. Moreover he is perceived as being unable to assist his attorney with his defense.”
The report also labeled the marriage between Bill Milligan’s mother and Chalmer Milligan as “stormy” and notes that the elder Milligan “reportedly drank heavily and was intensely jealous of his wife. He was reported to be very cruel to Mrs. Milligan and the children.”
On March 10, 1978, Milligan was seen by a large group that included attorneys from both the prosecution and the defense and Dr. Wilbur.
On March 14, Judge Flowers found Milligan not competent to stand trial. Two days later Milligan was admitted to Harding Hospital in Worthington, where he was treated and examined by Dr. George T. Harding Jr.
Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Bernard Yavitch says that in accordance with court procedure, Harding initially “was appointed by the court at our suggestion.” Yavitch says Harding was skeptical at first of Milligan’s reported condition. Yavitch adds, “He took a great deal of time. It was three and a half months before he reached a conclusion.”
While Milligan was under treatment in Harding Hospital, it was reported that his 10 personalities had fused. And on Oct. 6, 1978, Milligan was ruled competent to stand trial. For its work with Milligan, Harding Hospital received $2,500, which the court had previously earmarked for treatment. Harding, however, sent the court a bill for close to $9,000, but wasn’t successful in collecting more than the originally authorized sum.
More than a week before the Oct. 6 hearing, though, Milligan’s 10 personalities became news. Based on information from the defense, the press began to paint a sometimes unsubstantiated portrait of Bill Milligan.
It was regularly reported as fact, for instance, that Bill had a genius I.Q. of 150. Yet, in the written reports of tests administered by psychiatrists, the highest full-scale I.Q. registered by any of Milligan’s personalities was 129. Arthur, the intellectual among Milligan’s personalities, declined to take the I.Q. portions of his psychological tests.
And although in many instances, psychiatrists were relying solely on the testimony of Bill, his versions of childhood incidents were repeated in print as fact.
In fact, the whole “Billy Milligan image,” had it been orchestrated by a PR man, would have been considered a masterful success. Everyone seemed dazzled by the magnitude of the story, taken by the uniqueness of what was happening in their midst, the drama that was being played out in Southwest Mental Health Clinic, Harding Hospital and eventually in Judge Jay Flowers’s courtroom 9B.
Then, on Oct. 9, three days after Milligan was placed in jail to await trial, his attorney, public defender Gary Schweickart, claimed that the strain of confinement had once again caused Milligan’s personality to fragment.
One observer said later, “He still looked like the same person. But his expressions, everything about him was different. He was unnerved, scared.”
It looked like another competency hearing would be scheduled. But Milligan was allowed minor privileges in jail, and on Oct. 23, he was sent to the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital. A week later there was an abortive attempt to move Milligan to Ohio State University’s Upham Hall. Flowers signed a warrant on Oct. 30, and a doctor at Upham had apparently agreed to treat Milligan. But officials demurred; they cited security problems, and were perhaps leery of housing someone labeled as the “campus rapist.”
Milligan’s reported relapse added to the suspense surrounding the trial. Who would appear on that day in court? Would it be Bill Milligan or one of the alternate personalities?
That question and others were provocative enough to attract reporters from far-flung national media. Asked if that and previous coverage had helped his case, Schweickart proved himself the master of understatement: “Well, I don’t think it hurt.”
The trial was first slated for 9 am in Judge Flowers’s courtroom 7B. But it was rescheduled for 9B, a larger chamber seating about 70. Well before 9, cameramen hoping to photograph Bill Milligan or someone else associated with the trial milled in the ninth floor lobby.
Inside, reporters idly scanned morning papers, exchanged inconsequential tidbits and speculated on what time the trial would start. All glanced repeatedly at the door leading to the small bright-yellow concrete block room where William Milligan was being held.
Casually guarding the door was a pride of black-shirted sheriff’s deputies. Occasional raspy squawks from the deputies’ communicators punctuated the reporters’ chatter, which grew in volume as the delay continued.
But just past 10, Flowers, who had been disposing of other court matters, entered the courtroom. Almost simultaneously, Milligan was quickly escorted to his seat, next to lawyers Judy Stevenson and Schweickart.
Schweickart, a 1974 Capital University Law School graduate and a classmate of Stevenson’s, appeared born to the role of public defender, a stark contrast to the polished look of prosecuting attorneys Yavitch and Terry Sherman. Schweickart’s scuffed brown shoes looked suitable for hiking. His beard was full, if somewhat ill-defined, and his dark hair, which hung down unevenly over his forehead, rambled backward until it curled over his collar. Somehow one ear had found its way to surface, as if to better hear the proceedings . . . which moved along quickly.
After a couple of brief questions, Flowers ruled that Milligan understood the consequences of waiving his right to trial by jury. A more important, but hardly unexpected ruling, followed. Milligan was ruled to be entitled to be tried under the law as it existed at the time the crimes were committed.
A new law that went into effect on Nov. 1 has since changed some of the procedures for competency hearings, defenses and commitments in cases that involve insanity. Under the new law the defense must prove insanity by a preponderance of evidence. Under the old law, a greater burden was put on the prosecution to prove a defendant was not insane.
Yavitch says, “Yes, we could have found psychiatrists to claim he was sane. But all the defense had to do was to raise the question of insanity. The court had already indicated which way it was inclined to rule. The question was, do we fight a losing battle? Besides, I was impressed with the professionalism of the psychiatrists’ reports. And we had some witnesses [the rape victims] who were reluctant to testify if the trial was going to turn into a media event. I felt we had arrived at the truth, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”
After about 15 minutes, Flowers called a recess to permit the stipulations to be typed. The trial resumed at 11:30.
Finally, nearing noon, attorneys for both sides read the stipulations. Although the defense didn’t deny that Milligan committed three of the four rapes, it did deny that Milligan raped a woman on Aug. 29, 1977. Schweickart read a statement saying that none of Milligan’s personalities remembered such an incident. In that case (count one of the charges), a woman was forced into a car near Naghten and North High streets and forced to perform oral sex. She later failed to identify Milligan positively in a police lineup, saying only that he “looked familiar.”
It was the uncontested rapes that brought up some disturbing questions. According to psychiatrists, the rapes were committed by Adelena, a curious lesbian. The robberies were the work of the sinister Ragan. The money was then turned over to Arthur, who paid the bills.
But at least one victim made a point of stating there was no personality change during the rapes, and that the assailant did not speak with an accent (as Ragan does). In fact, the personality described didn’t seem to match any of those previously discovered by psychiatrists.
On more than one occasion during the rapes, Milligan claimed his name was Phil, and made a point of telling victims that he was Jewish.
According to psychiatrists’ reports, Milligan’s natural father was Jewish, his mother Catholic, and Chalmer Milligan was a Protestant who forbade the practice of either Judaism or Catholicism. That restriction was supposed to have had a markedly adverse effect on Bill. Yet, according to Dr. Harding, none of Bill’s personalities ever mentioned a religious identity.
Milligan also told the rape victims, among other things, that he was a member of the radical Weathermen, that he had just killed three people, that he was leaving for Algiers and that he had Huntington’s disease. According to one rape victim, he said he led a double life. In one identity he claimed to be a wealthy businessman who drove a Maserati and who had a large house three miles from the sea. He also told one victim that if she were asked, she should tell the police her assailant was Carlos the Jackal, the infamous terrorist, linked with assorted international incidents, including the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.
For Milligan’s defense, testimony from his brother, his mother and his sister backed up claims of physical and mental abuse by his stepfather. Bill, whose gaze often wandered to the gallery during the proceedings, seemed shaken and cupped his head in his hands when the incidents of sexual abuse were brought up.
The defense did not produce any medical or school records to verify Bill’s physical abuse. It did include, however, statements from teachers and psychiatrists about Bill’s odd behavior. And there was a sentence completion test that the school-aged Bill had taken. Schweickart read aloud a few ominous entries: “I can’t . . . do anything. My nerves . . . are bad. I hate . . . lots of people.”
And, of course, the defense case contained opinions of psychiatrists. According to Wilbur, “Multiple personality is a neurosis, not a psychosis.” (A psychosis is generally considered to be a more serious disorder.) “But sanity is a legal, not a medical term.”
A person with multiple personalities is not necessarily insane. In the book Sybil, Wilbur told her patient, “Yours is not the fragmentation of a schizophrenic but of dissociation. Don’t ever call yourself crazy, you are sane.”
All the psychiatrists’ reports said Milligan was legally insane.
Just past 12:30, Judge Flowers concurred. Milligan was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the other nine. Under a revision of law that took effect on Nov. 1, 1978, commitments of those found not guilty by reason of insanity are handled in the same manner as civil commitments. Hearings and hospitals are not a matter of public record.
Psychiatrists—some, at least—say there is a good chance Billy Milligan will be “cured.” One psychiatrist says, though, that the definitions of psychiatric “cures” are somewhat tenuous: “You can’t really tell unless you put him back in the same circumstances and see what happens.”
John Maher is a staff writer for Columbus Monthly.
A troubled 23 years
William Stanley Milligan’s life got off to a bad start and just kept getting worse.
Milligan was born on Feb. 14, 1955, in Miami, Fla. His father, John Morrison, was a comedian, and was 16 years older than Milligan’s mother, Dorothy. According to a report filed by Dr. George T. Harding Jr., medical director of Harding Hospital in Worthington, Morrison at that time was married to another woman, and was unable to obtain a divorce.
Bill Milligan’s delivery was performed without complications. But on March 22, 1955, he was admitted to Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Miami for treatment of continuous crying and vomiting.
In 1958, his father was hospitalized for severe depression. In October of that year, Morrison apparently committed suicide.
According to Harding’s report, soon after that, Dorothy, Bill, older brother James (now in British Columbia, Canada) and younger sister Kathy Jo (now a student at Ohio University) returned to Lancaster where the mother remarried Dick Jonas, a former husband. The marriage lasted two years.
In October of 1963, Dorothy married Chalmer Milligan, who adopted the three children. She was his fifth wife. Bill was 8 at the time of the marriage.
In school, Bill was a poor student who behaved strangely. According to teachers, by the time he was 12 or 13 he sometimes appeared to be in trancelike states.
Because of his odd and disruptive behavior, Bill was suspended from school. Dr. Harold Brown, who has since declined to comment on the case, examined Bill at the Fairfield County Mental Health Clinic and diagnosed him as having “hysterical neurosis with passive-aggressive features.” Brown also recommended that Bill be admitted to the children’s unit of Columbus State Institute. Milligan was a patient from March 23 to June 23, 1970.
In the spring of 1972, Milligan, then 17, dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy. He was discharged after one month, according to reports, because “he did not possess the necessary degree of adaptability for Naval life.”
In July of 1972, Milligan was arrested on charges of rape and sent to the Ohio Youth Commission. Milligan claimed the woman involved in the crime was a prostitute who demanded payment for a sexual act he did not perform.
After release, Milligan worked at Anchor Hocking and several other places, but couldn’t hold a job. According to Harding’s report, Milligan had a girlfriend at that time, but was unable to function sexually.
On May 27, 1975, Milligan was sentenced on charges of robbery. One robbery occurred at a Gray Drug Store in the Plaza Shopping Center in Lancaster, the other at a roadside rest along U.S. 33.
Milligan was sentenced to six to 25 years for the first offense and two to five years for the second. He claimed that in the rest stop robbery he was approached by two homosexual transvestites and that he panicked. According to an article in the Columbus Citizen-Journal, “After he [Milligan] was sent to prison, his attorney applied for shock probation. The Fairfield County Court granted it in the Gray robbery, but not in the other.”
At the Lebanon Correctional Institute, Milligan had difficulty sleeping, vomited frequently and suffered from blurred vision. According to Harding’s report, while at Lebanon, Milligan exposed drug dealings there and had to be kept in protective isolation for nine months.
According to Fairfield County Prosecuting Attorney James W. Luse, once released, Milligan quickly violated the terms of his parole by not reporting to a parole officer.
However, Milligan did manage to land a factory job, which he soon lost.
Following a reported argument between Milligan and his current stepfather, Bill jumped into his car and drove to Columbus, where he wandered about for almost a week before getting a job as a maintenance worker at Channingway Apartments on the far east side.
He was fired from that job on Oct. 2, 1977, for irresponsibility. Attempts to land jobs at other apartment complexes, such as The Cliffs, failed.
Increasingly worried, according to Harding’s report, Milligan began to take three or four 20-mg Biphetamine tablets to feel more alert, combined with vodka, gin or rum to feel better.
On Oct. 27, 1977, police arrested Milligan and, in a search of his apartment, found numerous objects linking him to the series of campus-area rapes, robberies and kidnappings.
Multiple personality, from Mary Reynolds to Billy Milligan
Multiple personality is a concept that has traditionally aroused a great amount of popular curiosity and no small amount of professional controversy.
The malady could probably be traced back to the days of evil spirits and oracles. But the first modern case is generally thought to be that of Mary Reynolds, a Pennsylvanian. Reynolds was discovered in 1815 and her case was reported in 1817. Reynolds displayed two very different personalities, which usually changed after extended periods of sleep of up to 20 hours.
While psychology was still in its wild, formative years, a number of dramatically-named multiple personalities were recorded. That list included Mrs. X, Miss Dignity, Killer Burke, the artist, the tinsmith, Tookie, Star, My Dearest, Patience Worth and Mlle. X.
In the early 1800s, there was even a multiple personality with a criminal bent, a Bavarian youth named Sörgel. According to reports, Sörgel “in one personality was quite pious and industrious. In the other personality he was insane, often violent and assaultive and one time chopped an old woodcutter to death and drank his blood.”
Although he never discovered any cases quite that graphic, Morton Prince pioneered work in multiple personalities around the turn of the 20th century. One of his subjects, Miss Beauchamp, a Radcliffe student who was diagnosed as having four personalities, was a particularly famous case. Her story also set the tone for future cases of multiple personality. It fascinated readers of the Ladies Home Journal, and served as the basis for a Broadway play.
Prince, who founded the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1906, thought that the study of multiple personalities might be the key to normal behavior patterns. But perhaps that was due to his own personality. In summarizing Prince’s work, a book published by Harvard Press noted Prince was “usually jaunty and assured,” but he “occasionally had bouts of depression.” Prince also adopted the pen name Fiona Mae Prince to express feelings he could not attribute to Morton.
Prince’s work with multiple personalities was, at that time, generally ignored or ridiculed. But a handful of cases continued to be reported.
In 1944, W. S. Taylor and Mabel F. Martin conducted an extensive search and found 75 cases that had been reported in American and European journals. They speculated that about the same number probably were recorded in journals they were not able to obtain.
Of the cases they did study, a great majority involved women. Forty-eight, or 64 per cent, had just two personalities. Another 12, or 16 per cent, had three faces. Fourteen had four or more personalities, with the most recorded being eight.
Then, in October, 1954, the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology printed “A Case of Multiple Personality” by Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley. The story of their patient, “Eve,” was written up in Newsweek and Life. In 1957, Thigpen and Cleckley published the now-famous book, The Three Faces of Eve. The story also became a movie that included an Oscar-winning performance by Joanne Woodward.
One face of Eve was a quiet-suffering, almost saintly woman. Her opposite was a mischievous fun-loving flirt. A third face was a more mature synthesis of these two disparate parts. Cleckley, offering an informal interpretation, says one “was very straight-laced and needed to get out and have a little fun.”
Cleckley says there can be no hard and fast rule about multiple personalities, but notes that opposites seem to be the rule in the cases I have read about.” He says that may happen because certain people, especially women, may need to “kick off their traces” and escape the social pressures and mores that they feel trapped by.
Since Eve, multiple personalities have by no means been common. They have been reported often enough, though, that psychological journals are reluctant to publish case histories, unless they are part of an analysis of several multiple personality cases.
But lately, cases of multiple personality have become much more complicated and spectacular.
Take Eve, for example. After her “cure,” Eve (later revealed as Chris Costner Sizemore) became despondent over, among other things, her cut of the attention and royalties. Her recent book, I’m Eve, (co-authored with Elen Sain Pittillo), details how she changed psychiatrists and manifested another 19 personalities.
And Sybil, a patient of Dr. Cornelia B. Wilbur (who consulted on the Milligan case), revealed 16 personalities, two of them male. Sybil’s story became a book and a popular TV movie.
Wilbur believes that Sybil’s psyche fractured because of the physical and sexual abuse Sybil allegedly suffered as a child. Since Sybil, Wilbur has seen about 25 cases of multiple personality, included cases where patients had 29 and 52 personalities respectively. Wilbur says the common link in all the cases was that all the patients had suffered abuse as children. But until Sybil, child abuse was seldom, if ever, used to explain multiple personalities.
Wilbur says that people with multiple personalities are almost always very bright and talented. They may also have their bad sides. Wilbur says “it’s not unusual” for male multiple personalities to be involved in even violent crimes. “We pick up a lot [of multiple personalities] in jail,” she explains. Females too may commit violent acts, but Wilbur says that because of the chauvinism of our society, “I’ve never known a [multiple personality] woman to be arrested,” unless it’s for passing bad checks.
She also thinks that each personality developed can be traced to a violent act in childhood, or an incident similar to such a traumatic event. In Milligan’s case, one event is thought to be an alleged beating of Bill’s mother by his stepfather Chalmer.
But other psychiatrists aren’t so sure that causes are that easy to find. Cleckley says that “finding causes is very speculative. It’s usually an accumulation of things over a long period of time.”
That’s not how it came across in the movie, The Three Faces of Eve, where the split was traced directly back to an encounter with death. But Cleckley says, “We didn’t mean to imply that kissing the dead grandmother was the cause, just a kind of trigger.”
Eve’s case also points out a rather discouraging aspect of multiple personality cases. Patients often keep on revealing new personalities. Dr. Frederic Coplon, a Massachusetts psychiatrist who has treated and supervised multiple personality cases, says that sometimes, unintentionally, “rather than helping the person integrate, we [therapists] are actually furthering the process of disintegration.”
The development of even more personalities seems a distinct possibility for William Milligan. After the trial, defense attorney Gary Schweickart said that one personality might not have come out during therapy. That is because the rapist used foul language when speaking to victims. With psychiatrists, none of Milligan’s personalities had shown a tendency to use harsh language . . . indeed they were repelled by it.
There are, however, more barriers to treatment than just additional personalities. Multiple personality patients may have severe, even suicidal relapses when they are finally stripped of their alter egos and forced to face the world.
But sometimes that day of reckoning can be long time in coming. By one account, Sybil’s therapy went on for 2,354 office sessions . . .