A crime against herself
Bank heist suspect blames one of her 7 personalities

By Mark Journey; Karen Datko
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
October 7, 1988, Friday, City Edition

She was featured on 60 Minutes on September 29, 1991 in a segment called "The Trials of Juanita".

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
October 7, 1988, Friday, City Edition
LENGTH: 1647 words
HEADLINE: A crime against herself // Bank heist suspect blames one of her 7 personalities

CLEARWATER - Only one of Juanita Weston Maxwell's personalities robbed the banks, she says. All seven of them are paying the price.

Mrs. Maxwell, who suffers from an unusual personality disorder, is in the Pinellas County Jail on charges that she recently robbed two St. Petersburg banks. She says she doesn't remember committing the crimes.

"Wanda Weston," one of her seven personalities, is guilty, Mrs. Maxwell said in an interview at the Pinellas County Jail. She said that "Wanda" was trying to get money so she could care for Mrs. Maxwell's three children in Ohio.

"When Wanda did the robberies, she told me and my counselor that she did the robberies," Mrs. Maxwell said.

Mrs. Maxwell lost custody of the children after she was charged with murdering a 73-year-old Fort Myers woman in 1979. A circuit judge acquitted her by reason of insanity in 1981 and Mrs. Maxwell was sent to a state mental institution, said John Dommerich, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted her. He said Mrs. Maxwell's defense attorney argued that "Wanda," not Mrs. Maxwell, had killed the woman.

Mrs. Maxwell, 32, testified that she did not remember killing the woman, Dommerich said. But during the trial, "Wanda" calmly described bludgeoning and strangling the woman, he said.

Once again, "Wanda" has gotten Mrs. Maxwell in trouble.

Although "Wanda's" intentions may have been good, Mrs. Maxwell says, she has caused a horrible dilemma. If experts decide Mrs. Maxwell is sane, she could be convicted and sent to prison. If they say she is crazy, Mrs. Maxwell could be sent back to a mental institution that she says failed to help. Whatever the outcome, it could be a long time before Mrs. Maxwell sees her children.

But she doesn't blame "Wanda."

"I was just a basket case because I wanted to see my children so desperately," Mrs. Maxwell said. "She (Wanda) is the closest thing to me. She knows the pain I'm going through."

The other Mrs. Maxwells

Mrs. Maxwell's mental health counselor confirmed that she has spoken with seven personalities, including Mrs. Maxwell, who live in the defendant's mind:

Jennifer, described as "intellectual" and "sophisticated."

Linda, who tends to be a "pragmatist" or a "politician."

Ann, a "middle-aged lady who takes care of children."

Anna, "childlike. Her function is to cry."

Tricia, who likes to "put on blue jeans. She can do anything a man can do twice as well."

Then there is "Wanda" a "tortured child" who doesn't trust people. The counselor and Mrs. Maxwell's friends described Juanita as a kind, anguished woman who walks, talks and cries in her sleep. She may suffer from what psychiatrists call a "dissociative disorder," her counselor said.

"For the person, Juanita, it's almost like going under anesthesia for surgery," said Rita Bruno, Mrs. Maxwell's counselor at the Mental Health Services/South Pinellas. "She slips away and this person comes out. . . . She does not know 'Wanda' is coming."

That's what happened last month, Mrs. Maxwell says.

She was arrested in St. Petersburg and charged with using a shotgun or rifle to rob two branches of First Florida Bank of more than $ 3,000.

The first robbery occurred April 15 at the Madrid Square branch at 2145 34th St. N; the second on July 22 at the Pinellas Point branch, 2250 62nd Ave. S. No money was recovered.

Mrs. Maxwell's boyfriend, Badr El-Amin, wept when he saw pictures of her leaving one of the banks. He said he had no idea.

"I just fell out," he said. "I cried my heart out. . . . I love her dearly."

A Pinellas circuit court judge has ordered two mental health specialists to determine whether Mrs. Maxwell is sane.

"Juanita doesn't remember anything about her case," said James Pierce, the assistant public defender representing Mrs. Maxwell. "It'll be an insanity defense."

Pinellas prosecutor Bruce Pasfield said he will decide how to handle the case when he receives a diagnosis from the specialists.

"I don't think I've ever heard of a case where it's insanity because another personality did the crime," he said. "She could have multiple personalities. One of them apparently is very violent."

Mrs. Maxwell says "Wanda" is impulsive but not insensitive.

"She feels most of my pain," Mrs. Maxwell said. "In her mind, she was helping to get me to see the children."

'A tortured child'

Mrs. Maxwell said "Wanda" first appeared when she was a child to help her cope with terrible beatings from her mother. "Wanda" was born to help Mrs. Maxwell deal physically and emotionally with the pain, said counselor Bruno.

"'Wanda' is a tortured child," she said. "Wanda took all the pain, all the abuse."

Ms. Bruno said 97 percent of the people who suffer from multiple personalities were tortured as children. Successful treatment can take anywhere from three years to 10 years, experts say.

"The core personality fragments and creates alternate personalities," Ms. Bruno said. "In her case, the first alternate (was) Wanda Weston."

The other personalities began to emerge later, Mrs. Maxwell said.

"There are seven of us all together," she said. "All the personalities are there to do a specific job for me. . . . The 'multiples' know everything I'm doing, but I don't know what they're doing."

Ms. Bruno said Mrs. Maxwell does not know when one of the personalities is taking over. She said Mrs. Maxwell can "talk" to them individually. They can also talk to each other, sometimes in a group. Sometimes, Mrs. Maxwell says, she can hear them talking to each other but can't make out the words.

Jeri Ostrow, a Miami expert on multiple personalities, said that Mrs. Maxwell's description of her personality is consistent with that of patients she has treated.

Although some are aware that their bodies are being taken over by another personality, others, like Mrs. Maxwell, are not, Ms. Ostrow said.

"Whatever personality is out determines what the behavior is," she said. "She has no way whatsoever to control what's going on."

Sometimes the personalities surface upon request, experts say.

Defense attorney Pierce says he has talked to Mrs. Maxwell and "Wanda." Ms. Bruno, the mental health counselor, said she is acquainted with all seven personalities.

"It's the same voice," Pierce said. "It's just a change in the identity. You'll know when the change occurs because that personality will identify itself (by name). . . . You know who you're talking to."

'She's dangerous'

After her acquittal in the Fort Myers case, Mrs. Maxwell was treated for six years at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. Hospital officials refused to comment on the case. But Mrs. Maxwell said she thought the personalities had vanished when she was released in February 1987.

"I wasn't aware that the others (personalities) were there," she said.

One expert said this week that it is not unusual for alternate personalities to disappear when an individual's life becomes less stressful. That may have been the case with Mrs. Maxwell, said Bennett Braun, director of a dissociative disorders program at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

Braun, who has studied almost 300 people with multiple personalities, said psychologists can mistakenly think patients have been "cured" because the personalities seem to disappear. Once the patients are re-introduced to the pressures of the outside world, he said, the personalities may resurface.

After leaving the hospital, Mrs. Maxwell moved to St. Petersburg and tried to start a new life with her husband, Sammy Maxwell.

It didn't work. Maxwell couldn't find a job in St. Petersburg, so he commuted from Fort Myers on the weekends. The couple eventually grew apart, though they still are not divorced.

Later, Mrs. Maxwell met El-Amin, a religious man who works days at a nursing home and nights cleaning an office.

He said he gradually became aware of Mrs. Maxwell's personality disorder. El-Amin said he first noticed her talking in her sleep to her other personalities. Still, Mrs. Maxwell seemed in control, he said.

For her part, Mrs. Maxwell is bitter. She blames the mental institution for not treating all her "personalities."

"If I had adequate treatment," she said. "I wouldn't be sitting here for two bank robberies. . . . I spent all that time up there and never learned a lot about all my other selves."

Dommerich, the Fort Myers prosecutor, said Mrs. Maxwell may have multiple personalities, but she's still dangerous.

"I can't prosecute her again," he said. "But I certainly want to get her off the street because she's dangerous."

Uploaded Thursday, September 14, 2006 10:10:04 AM

More articles about Juanita:

Woman with Two Identities Absolved of Murder
Wanda, the part of me that's a murderer
Juanita& want honest work, fighting discrimination
Juanita& in 2006, not integrated, married & doing well
The Other Women Detailed 1989 article about Juanita&'s life in the Orlando Sentinel.

You may also be interested in this article: Multiple Personality, Crime & Defense

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