Wanda: the part of me that's a murderer

By Michael McLeod

This is a "Scales of Justice" article from, I think, the Globe. Details about Juanita's trial can be found at http://shinan.hongik.ac.kr/~brian/multiple.htm

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

Juanita Maxwell is a shy, soft-spoken mother of three -- not at all the kind of woman you'd expect to become a violent desperado.

Yet in 1979 she was accused to using a lamp to crush the skull of a defenseless old woman in a dispute over a ball point pen. The woman was staying in the Fort Myers, Florida motel where Juanita worked as a maid.

Last spring Juanita was arrested again, charged with robbing two banks of $5,000. What kind of criminal would hold up the bank where she had an account -- and do it in broad daylight?

That wasn't the work of Juanita, it turns out. Friends who were shocked by the crime were even more amazed at Juanita's defense; she insisted it was done by Wanda, one of at least six separate personalities that coexist within her.

Juanita suffers from a multiple-personality disorder, an illness that was confirmed by psychiatrists at that 1979 murder trial. She was found innocent by reason of insanity for the murder, confessed to by Wanda herself who had emerged on the stand at Juanita's trial.

Lee County Circuit Judge Hugh Starnes says, "It was as bizarre a thing as you'd ever seen in a courtroom. Here was a meek lady who suddenly burst into gales of laughter and was calm talking about the murder."

Juanita was committed to the state hospital. She was found mentally competent and set free in 1987. Following the 1988 robberies though, doctors realized she wasn't cured.

Psychiatrists now believe Juanita has at least six personalities who decided among themselves to remain hidden, even from her, so the doctors would release her from the hospital.

Who are these modern-day versions of Sybil?

Wanda emerges to protect Juanita whenever she feels threatened.

Jennifer, a flirt, claims she can control men.

Linda is a tough-talking, sarcastic woman whose nature is combative.

Trisha, the tomboy, boasts she can do anything a man can.

Ann, a matronly, middle-aged woman, loves to make tollhouse cookies.

Annie, a gentle child, plays with stuffed toys.

Juanita's other selves first surfaced in childhood when she was beaten and sexually abused, a pattern common among those with a multiple-personality disorder. Psychiatrists say it occurs when a child under severe stress creates imaginary playmates, not for fun but out of desperate need.

Then the subconscious dynamic that prompts the multiple characters to help the child endure beatings -- or console him -- may do its job too well; the personalities live on into adulthood, often unknown to the victim.

At Pinalias County Jail in Clearwater, Florida, Juanita now awaits trial on the bank robbery charges. She sits on a hard metal chair, her hair in a bandanna and a denim jacket covering her prison clothes, talking about feeling guilty for crimes she can't even recall.

"I wake up thinking about the elderly woman," she says. "I wish I could bring her back or talk to her and tell her how sorry I am. I wish I could take her body and cut open my vein and let my blood pour into her."

Juanita cups her face in her hands and sobs. Soon she is shifting from character to character ...

A stubborn pout is quickly replaced by an animated orchestration of arched eyebrows, pursed lips, sly grins. Coquettish Jennifer appears, tomboy Trisha comes out, then Linda, who says with a sneer that it's easy to fool doctors.

Then Wanda emerges. The most violent of Juanita's personalities is surprisingly far shyer than Juanita. Why did she commit crimes? At times Wanda herself doesn't know.

Psychiatrists feel that Wanda took out years of built-up frustration on the old woman, who had borrowed a pen from Juanita. Later Wanda committed robberies because Juanita needed money to visit her children. Juanita's attorney says he'll have her plead not guilty, once again by reason of insanity. But she was discharged from the state hospital before. Says Linda contemptuously, on how they got themselves out; "We just gave the doctors what they wanted. They wanted us gone. Zip. We disappeared."

After a lifetime of ignoring her alternate personalities, Juanita is now beginning to communicate with them,the first step toward a cure, according to psychiatrists.

"Now I'm becoming part of the group. I used to think they were monsters. Now that I'm getting to know them I realize they're not so bad," Juanita says.

But whether Wanda is bad enough to keep all of Juanita's identities in prison is a legal decision that's yet to be decided.

Uploaded Sunday, June 08, 2003 1:37 pm Updated 11:38 6/8/2013

More articles about Juanita:

Woman with Two Identities Absolved of Murder
A Crime Against Herself, Juanita&'s Bank Robbery
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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