The Man with Ten Personalities

Experts unravel the psyche of an Ohio rape suspect

From TIME Magazine, Posted Monday, Oct. 23, 1978
Experts unravel the psyche of an Ohio rape suspect

Terror stalked the Ohio State University campus last year. Between August and October, four female students were abducted, forced to cash a check or use a bank card to obtain money, then driven to a rural area and raped. Acting on a mysterious phone tip and a mug-shot identification by one victim, police in Columbus arrested William Milligan, 23. At first the suspect seemed like a classic young offender: physically abused as a child, cashiered from the Navy after one month, constantly in trouble with employers and police. That familiar portrait changed suddenly during a psychological exam. When a woman psychologist addressed Milligan as "Billy," he replied, "Billy's asleep. I'm David." It was the first strong clue that Milligan suffered from a rare and dangerous disorder: true multiple personality.

Psychiatrist George T. Harding Jr. was called in on the case, along with Cornelia B. Wilbur, the psychoanalyst who melded the 16 personalities of a patient known as Sybil, later the subject of a book and television play. With Wilbur's aid, Harding came to a startling conclusion: Milligan had fractured his psyche into ten "people," eight male and two female, ranging from Christene, a vulnerable three-year-old, to Arthur, 22, a rational, controlled planner who speaks with a British accent and tries to repair the damage done by the other personalities.

According to the psychiatrists, Milligan's personalities use different voice patterns and facial expressions, test at varying I.Q. levels, and turn out different kinds of artwork. Ragen, 23, who speaks with a Slavic accent, is "almost devoid of concern for others." Danny and Christopher are decent, quiet teenagers, but Tommy, 16, who initiated the enlistment in the Navy, is depressed and has many schizoid characteristics.

Most surprising of all, for reasons the psychiatrists cannot explain, the personality that committed the rapes is a woman, Adelena, 19, who Milligan says is a lesbian. Allen, 18, is a sociable, talented artist and the only personality who smokes. David, 9, a frightened and abused child, may have made the call leading to Milligan's arrest. The police number was found on a pad next to Milligan's phone. Billy, 23, is the core personality -- guilty, suicidal and "asleep" for most of the past seven years. When Wilbur first summoned up Billy, Milligan jumped off his chair and said, "Every time I come to, I'm in some kind of trouble. I wish I were dead."

Milligan's multiple personality, like others, is a desperate attempt to handle conflicting emotions by parceling them out to different "people" and is associated with a severely warped childhood. The illegitimate son of two Florida entertainers, Milligan was three when his father committed suicide. His stepfather physically abused his mother and sodomized young Milligan, threatening to bury him alive if he told. As a teen-ager in Ohio, Milligan fell into trances and walked the streets in a daze. He was incarcerated twice, once for rape, once for robbery, and failed at every job he had.

While nearly everyone agrees that Milligan is seriously ill, there is some doubt about whether to bring him to trial. Earlier this month, Harding reported to the court that Milligan's personalities had fused to the point where he was competent to stand trial, and Judge Jay C. Flowers set a December trial date. Last week, however, Milligan came apart again. His Ragen personality emerged and handed Public Defender Gary Schweickart a picture of a rag doll with a noose around its neck, hanging in front of a cracked mirror. Three days later, Arthur was in control, questioning the attorney closely about what had happened and how the other personalities could be protected. Said Schweickart: "The stress of jail and confinement was too much." Psychiatrist Wilbur thinks the prognosis for Milligan is doubtful. So does Milligan. His Tommy personality turned out this poem: / I am sorry I took your time/ I am the poem that doesn 't rhyme/ So just turn back the page/ I'll waste away/ I'll waste away.

Uploaded Thursday, September 14, 2006 5:37:50 PM

You may be interested in what Billy and his people have to say for themselves:
A Statement by Billy Milligan

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

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