The 21 Faces of Sarah
By Jill Smolowe.
Reported by Barbara Dolan/Oshkosh and Andrea Sachs/New York.
A jury must decide whether a woman claiming to have
multiple personality disorder was sexually assaulted
Copyright Time Inc. Magazine Company and Compact Almanac
LAW, Page 87
The events leading to the opening this week of one of the nation's
most extraordinary sex-crime trials began with an encounter last June
beside a fishing hole in Wisconsin's Menominee Park. Mark Peterson, 31, an
Oshkosh grocery worker, wandered up to a group gathered on the bank and
sat down beside a 26-year-old woman who called herself Franny. Over the
next several minutes, as Peterson watched, her personality underwent
several profound changes. Would you like to go dancing? he asked. Others
who were present have since testified that they told Peterson the woman's
true name was Sarah (her last name is being withheld). They explained that
she suffered from multiple-personality disorder (MPD), an ailment
involving several distinct "personalities" that take turns dominating the
Peterson nonetheless called Franny two days later and asked her out.
According to the woman's pretrial testimony, they drove to an Oshkosh
coffee shop, where Franny told Peterson about Jennifer, another
personality, whom she described as a "20-year-old female who likes to
dance and have fun." When the couple got back into Peterson's car, he
summoned Jennifer and asked her, "Can I love you?" She answered, "O.K."
(Later Jennifer would say she thought this was an invitation to go
Peterson stopped near a park, lowered the seat back and initiated sex.
During intercourse, another personality, that of a six-year-old known as
Emily, suddenly intruded. Peterson told Jennifer to tell Emily to keep
their activities "a secret." Instead, Franny and Emily "told" Sarah, the
predominant personality. Sarah subsequently phoned the police to report
that she had been sexually assaulted.
Did a crime actually take place? The 12 jurors who will hear evidence
this week in Room 214 in the Winnebago County circuit courthouse in
Oshkosh will break unusual legal ground in reaching a decision. Until now,
the handful of U.S. criminal cases that have involved multiple-personality
disorders have centered on sufferers who had committed crimes. They later
maintained that they either were not responsible for their actions by
reason of insanity or were incompetent to stand trial. For the first time,
the testimony of a victim claiming to have the disorder could send someone
else to prison for as many as 10 years. Sarah's claim is that she was
mentally ill and as a result was unaware of having sex with the defendant.
Thus, she says, she was sexually violated.
Investigation of the alleged crime has sometimes evoked scenes from
The Three Faces of Eve. During a one-day pretrial hearing, three of
Sarah's 21 personalities were sworn in separately. In each instance, she
closed her eyes, paused, then opened them to speak and act as different
people. At one point, Sarah was given a glass of water by the judge. Later
another personality did not remember having taken the drink.
Two of the main issues before the Wisconsin court are whether Sarah
was mentally ill at the time of the sexual act, and whether she was able
to appraise Peterson's conduct. A third issue is whether Peterson knew of
Sarah's condition; it is a crime in Wisconsin to engage in sexual
intercourse with a person you believe to be mentally ill and who cannot
assess your conduct.
The most difficult challenge for prosecutors may be persuading the
jury that Sarah's ailment is genuine. MPD is so difficult to diagnose that
estimates of the number of U.S. cases vary wildly, from 7,000 to as many
as 16,000. The American Psychiatric Association did not recognize the
disorder as a legitimate mental illness until 1980. "Multiple-personality
disorder is a very, very rare condition. Because of TV talk shows, it has
become the disease of the month and the plea of the year," says Dr. Darold
Treffert, director of the Fond du Lac County Health Care Center, who is
expected to testify for the defense. "It's a condition that's fairly
easily induced in a very suggestible patient."
Therein lies the core of Peterson's defense. "I'm not convinced that
[Sarah's] mentally ill or deficient," says his lawyer, Edward Salzsieder.
As to the issue of consent, he argues, "If she appears to be perfectly
normal and we have sexual contact between consenting adults, there's
absolutely nothing wrong with it." Salzsieder maintains that the defendant
had no idea that Sarah was mentally ill. At the time of his arrest,
though, Peterson admitted to the police that he knew Sarah had several
personalities and said that young Emily was "peeking" during their sexual
Winnebago County district attorney Joe Paulus believes he can
demonstrate that Sarah was mentally ill and therefore victimized.
Peterson, he charges, "learned about her disease, then called upon the
personality that most wanted to have sex. He even told the manipulative
personality [Jennifer] to keep it their little secret."
While the testimony of Sarah and her various personalities promises to
be riveting, Salzsieder may attack her credibility as a witness. That
issue is causing considerable debate among experts. Within the legal
system, says John Parry, director of the American Bar Association's
Commission on the Mentally Disabled, "there's a great deal of disbelief
about this disorder, a concern that people are faking."
Dr. Frank Putnam of the Maryland-based National Institute of Mental
Health counters that people with the disorder are no less honest than
anyone else. But, he warns, "they may have trouble with memory of some
facts, since amnesia is one of the complications of this condition."
Peterson's trial, however, is one that no one else is likely to forget.
The Many Women on the Witness Stand:
Washington Post: 11/08/1990
Multiple Personalities Give
Accounts in Rape Trial
By Cynthia Gorney
Washington Post Staff Writer
OSHKOSH, Wis., Nov. 7
On the stand, her hair parted neatly on the left, her hands resting
comfortably on the chair arms beside her, the witness answered the
prosecutor's questions, one by one. She said she was born in Seoul, Korea.
She said she did not know her natural parents. She said she came to this
country as an infant, that she was 27 years old, that she was raised in
Iowa City by adoptive parents, and that from the time of her childhood she
had heard the sound of voices that seemed to be arguing inside her head.
"Sounded like battling, I couldn't understand," the witness said.
"Occasionally I would hear a voice that would sound like it was somebody
right next to me, talking in my ear."
In the courtroom the television cameras had been pulled from the front
row - turned off, as the judge had ordered, and set on the floor so the
witness would not see them and feel alarmed. The spectators pushed
together on the courtroom benches, a few of them perched on folding chairs
brought in to offer extra seats; the line to get in had begun to form at
sunrise for a seat on Day 3 of the trial, the day the woman called S.
In the line the spectators had argued, offering opinions of their own:
He had raped her, he had not raped her, he had taken advantage of her, he
knew what was wrong with her, how could he possibly have known? "This is
not a circus," Judge Robert Hawley had announced when court began this
morning, gazing down through his glasses at the crowd on the benches.
"This is a very sensitive case. There may be some bizarre behavior that
you have not witnessed before."
The spectators nodded and were quiet. Some of them balanced writing
tablets on their laps and took notes. District Attorney Joseph Paulus
stood before his witness, his voice conversational. "Do you have any
personal knowledge as to the events in the park?" he asked.
"No," his witness said. "I do not."
"Who would be in the best position to talk about the events in the
park that night?" Paulus asked.
"Franny," the witness said.
"Would it be possible for us to, uh - " Paulus paused - "meet Franny,
and talk to her?"
"Yes," the witness said. "Now?"
"Yes," Paulus said. "Take your time."
The witness closed her eyes. The courtroom was utterly quiet. The
witness's chin dropped gently to her chest, and for perhaps five seconds
she sat without moving, a slender young woman in a short-sleeved cotton
sweater and calf-length pale blue skirt.
She lifted her head again, and opened her eyes.
She looked at Paulus with interest, taking him in.
"Hel-lo," she said.
"Franny?" Paulus asked.
A hundred people, in the Oshkosh courtroom with the blinds pulled down
to keep away the distraction of the morning sun, leaned forward to listen
to the voice that had just introduced itself as Franny. For two days,
psychiatrists and mental health workers had been filling the record, in
this spectacularly unusual rape trial, with explanations of a psychiatric
illness called multiple personality disorder. "Split personalities," was
how the attorneys summarized it the morning the trial began, as they
pulled from the jury panel the seven men and five women who now form the
jury pool in State of Wisconsin v. Mark A. Peterson, a felony sexual
Peterson, a married 29-year-old grocery worker, is charged with
violating a Wisconsin law that makes it a crime knowingly to have sex with
a person mentally unable to assess his or her own conduct. He has never
denied having a sexual encounter last June with the woman who later
brought charges against him, but his defense attorney has argued from the
outset that Peterson did not believe the woman he had sex with - a woman
these articles have referred to as "S.," to protect her privacy - was
This morning, for the first time, Paulus put her on the stand.
She had come to court as "S.," and walked briskly to the witness
chair. She had taken the oath from Hawley, her right hand raised. She had
spoken precisely and clearly, saying "Yes," or "No," or "I don't recall,"
in a clipped voice that betrayed no emotion at all. She had said her
adoptive father was killed when she was 20, and that she and her mother
found his body; he had been repairing an automobile at home, she said, and
the jack apparently slipped. The car had crushed him.
"I knew that he was dead," S. had said evenly. "I went inside and
called the police."
Paulus had asked for no further details on her father's death, and
when he asked about her childhood she had said only that there was much
she did not recall; she was certain there had been abuse, S. had said, but
she was not sure what form it had taken. "I know it was physical from my
father, and mental from my mother, but I am not sure of what nature."
Now Paulus began the process the spectators had lined up outside to
watch: he had promised to summon some of S.'s 46 personalities, and Franny
was the first.
Paulus stood, watching the young woman who sat blinking before him.
"Good morning," she said. "Or good afternoon - which is it?"
Her voice lifted - not dramatically, but enough to put a new lilt into
the ends of her words. Her eyebrows and face seemed to work more
vigorously, as though someone had given a tiny tug on a string attached to
the top of her head. Her carriage, the set of her shoulders, looked
"It's, uh, morning, actually," Paulus said. "How are you today?"
"I'm fine," the young woman said. "How are you?"
Paulus said he was fine too. "I was just talking to (S.) moments ago,"
he said, using his witness's legal name, "and I'd like to talk to you
about what happened June 9 of 1990. But before we do that, the judge has
to talk to you."
From the bench, Hawley looked down at the young woman's dark hair.
"Franny," he said, "I'd like you to raise your right hand for me,
Steadily, his face impassive, Hawley swore Franny in. "So help you
God?" he said. "Yes," she said, and looked at Paulus. Paulus asked her
what she and her downstairs neighbors - S.'s downstairs neighbors - had
been doing the night she met Peterson.
"We fished," the woman said. "We took turns. Well, John was there - I
think Jamie was there ... Jennifer was there, but I don't think she caught
Paulus did not ask who John and Jamie and Jennifer were; according to
his own opening statement and the testimony of his psychiatric witnesses,
they are separate identities among S.'s scores of personalities. Had
Peterson come by, Paulus asked? His witness said yes. Could she remember
what they had talked about?
"Most of it was small talk," she said. "I recall telling him that we
were many, there were many of us in the body. I said we were multiple,
that we shared the body. I told him about some of the others."
Paulus wondered whether he had reacted.
"He didn't seem surprised," the woman said.
Paulus and his witness talked for a while about what happened that
night - how she gave Peterson her telephone number, how he came to her
house two mornings later and invited her for breakfast, how she agreed to
have coffee with him and talked with him at the restaurant about her
multiple personalities. When they got in his car, she said, Peterson asked
her about one of the personalities she had already described to him.
"He asked, 'May I talk to Jennifer, the one who likes to have fun?'"
the witness said. "And I said, 'Of course.' So I went away. And I assume
Jennifer came out.'"
"Do you have any personal knowledge of what happened after that?"
"No," the witness said.
"Do you think we could talk to Jennifer today?" Paulus asked.
"Yes," the witness said. "Now?"
"Sure," Paulus said.
The young woman closed her eyes. Her head dropped again, just for a
moment. When she opened her eyes she coughed, looking momentarily
confused, and looked at the judge. In a voice so small it almost squeaked,
she said, "Excuse me, could I have a drink of water, please?"
Hawley handed her a cup. "Hi, Jennifer," Paulus asked. "How are you?"
The woman's eyes opened a little wider, and she smiled. "O-o-okay," she
"You know me, don't you?" Paulus asked. "What's my name?"
Her voice high, she fairly sang it out: "Joe!" she cried.
Paulus asked if she remembered the judge, and the defense attorney.
"Hi," the woman said. Paulus waved his hand toward the jury. "Remember I
told you in my office two days ago that you were going to come down to
court and tell about what happened?" he asked. "I told you there'd be a
jury of people who would listen to what you had to say."
The woman studied the jury. "A bunch of people who decide," she said.
"That's right," Paulus said. "These people, right here."
"Hi," the woman said, and waved. Several jurors, looking uncertain,
lifted hands to wave back. "I want to talk to you about a time when you
were in a car with Mark Peterson, and you asked Franny to go away - "
"Who?" the woman asked.
Paulus pointed toward Peterson. "The man right there," he said.
The woman looked at Peterson, who looked back, his face blank. "Oh,"
she said. "Yeah."
"How is it that you came out that day, when you were in his car?"
"He asked for me," the woman said, in a tone that indicated the answer
should be obvious. "So Franny came and got me."
"What did you think when you saw this man you didn't know in the car
with you?" Paulus asked.
"Nothing," the woman said, her voice still light and quick. "He seemed
like a nice enough man."
Paulus asked what the man had done as they were driving on the road
together. "He put his hand on my leg," the woman said, "and said, 'Can I
love you, Jennifer? Can I love you?'"
Paulus asked what she thought that meant.
"Well, when you love somebody, you like them an awful lot," the woman
said. "And you care about them. And you take care of them. And you're nice
"And what did you respond?" Paulus asked.
"I said, 'Yes,' " the woman said.
Paulus wondered what happened next, and the woman said he touched her -
"started feeling my boobs," she said. "And down there. Where you're not
supposed to touch, Emily says."
Emily, according to earlier testimony by S.'s therapists, is a
personality who is approximately 6 years old and sometimes eats crayons
that the other personalities are then obliged to spit out.
"He stopped the car," the woman testified. "And he slid the front seat
back, and he told me to take off my shorts - so I did."
Paulus asked her why she thought he wanted her to take her shorts off.
"I dunno," the woman said.
"Why did you take them off?" Paulus asked.
Sounding impatient now, the woman spoke faster: "Because he told me to."
She said he took his own pants off, and that he climbed on top of her.
She said she did not understand what he was doing, that it hurt, but that
did not say anything. "I couldn't," she said. "His shoulder was in my
She couldn't talk very well, Paulus asked?
The woman began to cry a little. "He kept slobbering all over me," she
said. She said Peterson told her that it felt good, and that when he said
that she knew what she was supposed to do. "I seen it on TV," she said.
"People wiggling like that. And when a person says it feels good, the
other person is supposed to say it feels good. So I put my arms around
his back, and I said, 'That feels nice.' "
Paulus asked her whether it had.
"No," she said. She sounded perplexed. "But you're supposed to say
that, aren't you? It was on TV."
Copyright 1990 The Washington Post
Sarah and the Many Voices Inside;
By Cynthia Gorney, Washington Post Staff Writer
Wisconsin Woman Tells the Story of Her Multiple Selves
November 10, 1990
OSHKOSH, Wis. - Two blocks from the courthouse, waiting for the
verdict, Sarah was smoking a cigarette. She held her arms oddly, a stiff
angle to the elbows, and when the reporters came in she smiled and sat
carefully in a dining chair in the middle of the room. She had invited
three reporters, summoning them as a group to the small hotel where she
had decided to spend Thursday afternoon, and she received them in the
sober dress of a promising young executive - stockings, smooth gray
blouse, navy pin-striped suit.
"Castration," Sarah said, with precision. A reporter had just asked
for her view on a suitable punishment for Mark Peterson, the unemployed
grocery store bagger charged with raping her in an Oshkosh park. "Life in
prison," Sarah said.
She was asked to elaborate.
"What he did was unforgivable," Sarah said. She had put on eyeliner,
neatly, upper and lower lids. Her hair was combed smooth and straight to
her shoulders. She said she did not object to being described in some
detail, as long as the description was not unkind; "terrible" was the word
Sarah used, and she laughed.
"Don't say I look terrible."
She said it was all right to put her first name in the newspaper, even
though she believed herself to be a rape victim. "The name Sarah," a
reporter said, sounding uncertain. "Are we talking to Sarah now?"
"Actually," Sarah said briskly, "I'm not sure if she - Franny? Are you
For an instant she sat, her eyes open, her gaze fixed a short way off.
Her eyebrows lifted. A fleeting animation swelled her face. "Yes, dear!"
she cried. Then the eyebrows lowered again, and she nodded. "She's here,"
Did you believe it?
From his bench, Judge Robert Hawley faced the jury
Thursday morning, reading aloud from the printed instructions he had
prepared to guide their deliberations. "Second-degree sexual assault, as
defined in Section 940.225 (2) (c) of the Criminal Code of Wisconsin, is
committed by one who has sexual intercourse with a person who suffers from
a mental illness which renders that person temporarily or permanently
incapable of appraising his conduct," Hawley read, "and the defendant
knows of such condition."
He read clearly, enunciating each word, the papers held before him in
both hands. He told the jurors they must disregard any testimony stricken
from the record. He said the burden of proof rested entirely with the
state. He said it did not matter whether the woman named Sarah had in any
way consented to sexual intercourse; what the jurors must determine,
Hawley said, was whether Sarah was mentally ill on June 11, 1990, the day
Mark Peterson and Sarah - or Jennifer, or Franny, or Emily, or Leslie, or
Leona, or any of the other names that Sarah gave to what she described as
dozens of alternate personalities - had sex in the front seat of his car.
Did you believe it? On Main Street, in Oshkosh, in the Daun-town Cafe,
an older man sauntered gaily Thursday morning toward a booth of younger
women. "Can't help myself," he cried, as he leaned forward to wink
suggestively at them. "I'm just one of those dual personality guys."
The women laughed and poked him in the arm. "I think they ought to
give her an Academy Award," someone said at another table. "There's an
idea for you, Tony," a third man said. "If you ever get caught with
another woman, just tell your wife you've got multiple personalities."
There were multiple personality jokes in the courthouse pressroom too,
and reporters turning uneasily to each other the day the extraordinary
Sarah took the stand and appeared to shift in and out of personality on
request: What did you think? You buy it? The experts had insisted, when
news people called them for comment, that State of Wisconsin v. Mark A.
Peterson was not forging law on the question of multiple personality
disorder; the jurors were simply obliged to decide, they said, whether
Peterson knew Sarah was mentally ill before he drove her from her
apartment and seduced her in an Oshkosh park. "National Enquirer story," a
University of Wisconsin law professor snorted, as he disposed of yet
another request for comment on the Multiple Personality Rape Case. "Not
the kind of thing you guys should be covering."
But of course the courthouse halls were crisscrossed with television
camera wires, and two motion picture people took notes from the front
rows, and when spectators arrived outside court on Wednesday at 7 in the
morning, they found a lengthy line already waiting to get in. A court of
law is a place of public display, and the 27-year-old woman who brought
charges against Mark Peterson was promising a display so memorable that
District Attorney Joseph Paulus screened his jury pool Monday by asking
for a show of hands from those who thought it too bizarre to contemplate.
"You will get the chance to observe her transform from one personality
to another," Paulus said. "It is somewhat dramatic, and most unusual. Is
there anyone who feels they could not be a part of that process?"
To no one's surprise, no hands went up. From the day last August when
the Winnebago County prosecutor's office first drafted the criminal
complaint against Peterson, this case had stirred interest and argument
about a good deal more than a date-rape report and a subsection of the
Wisconsin criminal code. If the allegations were true, then ordinary
people in one Midwestern city were about to watch a courtroom
demonstration of something that might without undue hyperbole be called
the splitting of a human mind. And if the allegations were true, then
Peterson had managed almost literally to do what men and women have for
decades made the subject of raw anger and raucous jokes: Deliberately,
planning it, figuring it out beforehand, he had reached into a woman of
great self-control and pulled out a woman with none.
From the Beginning
"I know from Leona that I was at least multiple since I was a baby,"
Sarah said. "She remembers being with me in the orphanage - arriving
there. She was the first one."
The psychiatrists who now diagnose multiple personality cases
frequently believe severe childhood trauma causes the young mind to split
apart to protect itself. Did Sarah know whether she had been traumatized
"For one thing, I had no maternal or paternal care of any kind," she
said. "I was not touched or picked up, except to be fed or changed. And
Leona reports - Leona is an empath ... "
"She can sense the emotions of the insiders, and of myself," Sarah
said. "She reports that I was a very angry, lonely, sad and confused baby.
And the reason she finally emerged was as a comforting presence. She could
not communicate at the time."
Sarah's voice was extremely firm and clear. "I know that my father was
probably a soldier, Caucasian of some sort," she said. "My mother was
Korean. That a neighbor brought me to the orphanage."
Here she stopped, and gazed at her knees and breathed. When she spoke
again, her voice was unchanged. "That round-eyed, half-breed babies are
not accepted in countries like that, at least in that country, and that
had I remained there I probably would have been killed, murdered or ended
up in prostitution, forced prostitution, drugs, slavery, something like
that. Bad. That they want to keep the race pure."
There were reasons, Sarah said, that she did not elaborate during the
trial on the particular troubles of her upbringing. "For my parents'
sake," she said, meaning the Americans who adopted her and raised her in
Iowa City. "Not all of it was their fault. There was a lot of confusion,
because they did not realize what they had in me. And because I believe my
father was ill and could not help himself." Her father's illness appeared
to her to be manic depression, she said. "They did not realize I was
multiple," Sarah said. "All they knew, for all I know, was that they had a
child they couldn't cope with."
When she was 20, Sarah said, her father was crushed to death when the
jack collapsed under a car he was repairing. Sarah and her mother found
the body, she said, and she believes a personality named Evan was created
to manage the emotion of the discovery. "Justin and Richard came about
when I went to a private school," she said. "So did Ginger. That one was
formed specifically to take in the sexual abuse that I suffered at the
private school, and from the hands of a 32-year-old that I did not know."
"No," Sarah said, her voice still firm. "A stranger. And to learn to
like it, in order for the body to cope with it."
Was there any possibility, she was asked, of talking to Ginger?
"No," Sarah said quickly. "The last time she went on a bender, she
nearly killed the body. I'm on medication that does not mix with alcohol.
She nearly killed us. I ended up in the hospital. As a punishment, and to
protect the body, Leona took her down very deep into my mind, and dropped
her in some sort of a well and left her there, with a massive headache.
She cannot come out unless Leona brings her out, and I strongly recommend
that not be done except under a doctor's supervision, with Thorazine close
by." The reporters nodded and put writing on their note pads. There was a
moment's silence. "Would it be possible," a reporter asked, "for us to
meet one of your male personalities?" "Which one?" Sarah asked quickly.
"How about Evan? Do you have any Marlboros? Evan believes Marlboros are
the only real cigarette. Typical male. No offense meant."
The reporter said none was taken. "L&Ms are the best I can do," he said.
"I'll see what I can do," Sarah said. "I can ask them out. They don't
know you. Whether or not they come out is entirely up to them. Perhaps if
Sheila calls them out."
Sheila Carmichael, the county victim's assistance coordinator, went to
look for a pack of Marlboros. "Evan is 19," Sarah said. "He is mainly
meant to cope with crises. He went to college with me, where we got an
associate of arts degree in law enforcement, and he wants very badly to be
a cop. But he realizes that as long as we are multiple, we cannot."
Carmichael came back with the Marlboros. "Okay, Evan, let's get
ready," Sarah said. She upended the package and tapped a cigarette into
her palm. "Can you stand so that he can see you?" she asked Carmichael.
"Sure," Carmichael said, and moved closer. Sarah closed her eyes.
"Can you call him?" she asked.
"Evan," Carmichael called, wheedling a little, as though coaxing
someone from the next room. "I got something for you. Marlboros."
Sarah opened her eyes. She looked at the cigarettes. She looked up at
Carmichael. Heartily, with a voice that now had chest in it, she cried,
"Bless your heart! How you doing?"
"I'm doing fine," Carmichael said. Sarah held up the cigarettes. "Can
I have one? Are these mine? Hot damn."
"Evan," Carmichael said. "These people are from several different
newspapers. Tom Richards, he's from the Post-Crescent."
Sarah lunged across the table to shake hands, and then gazed down at
herself. "Oh, God," she said. "I'm wearing a dress. I hate it when that
She looked at her feet, and started. "What the hell are those?" she
"Pumps," Carmichael said.
"Jesus Christ," Sarah said. She lifted one heel. "They're ten feet off
Naming the Crime
The criminal complaint itself, written in dry police officer's prose,
has about it the tone of unnerved sobriety that marked nearly all of the
four-day trial. "While driving in the car, Sarah was still experiencing
the 'Franny' personality. Mark A. Peterson then asked Franny if he could
talk to Jennifer, at which time the 'Jennifer' personality appeared. Sarah
described the 'Jennifer' personality as a 20-year-old female who likes to
dance and have fun. Sarah indicated that neither her 'Franny' personality
nor her 'Sarah' personality were present after the 'Jennifer' personality
appeared. Therefore, neither 'Franny' nor 'Sarah' had personal knowledge
of what subsequently transpired."
Mark A. Peterson, according to the complaint, had introduced himself
on the evening of June 9 to a woman fishing at an Oshkosh park. The
complaint declares that the woman identified herself as "Franny," and that
Peterson was told, both by the woman and by a neighbor who was fishing
with her, that the woman had "multiple personalities and a mental
disorder." Following these warnings and additional information about the
woman's many personalities, the complaint charges, Peterson took the young
woman out in his car two days later and waited until she had turned into
"Jennifer" before proposing that they have sex. Edward Salzsieder,
Peterson's attorney, asked Sarah on the stand about what happened next.
"You did not like the sex?" Salzsieder asked.
Sarah, in the voice she had introduced as Jennifer's, asked
Salzsieder what he was talking about.
"The sex," he said.
"What's that?" Sarah-Jennifer asked. Sarah-Jennifer, Sarah-Sarah had
already explained, is 20 and shows up at the sound of rock music. She very
much likes to dance, Sarah-Sarah had testified. But she does not know
about much of anything else.
"Didn't the two of you have sex?" Salzsieder asked.
"I dunno," Sarah-Jennifer said, her voice rising. "What's sex?"
It was a moment of such utter illogic that Salzsieder stopped for a
moment, looking at the witness, collecting himself. In the courtroom he
was a plodder, with his ill-fitting jackets and his hair awry over his
forehead; for the first two days he carried his notes and files to the
defense table in a cardboard box that read "Schweppes Seltzer" on the
side, and there he would sit, bent over his legal pads, while the younger
prosecutor in the good dark suits brought witness after witness to the
stand and then chatted amiably with the television reporters during
recess. Salzsieder was defending a rapist whose alleged victim was
testifying that she put her arms around him and told him it felt good, but
he appeared to be making no headway at all.
"Did you tell him before you got to the park that you were multiple?"
"I'm not multiple," Sarah-Jennifer snapped.
"Did you tell him you were seeing a doctor?" Salzsieder asked.
"No," Sarah-Jennifer said.
"Did you tell him you were in treatment with a therapist?" Salzsieder
"No," Sarah-Jennifer said.
When the exchanges like this were complete, Paulus would get up and
propose to the jury that it was obvious Sarah's personalities had no
mental illnesses; they were her mental illness, or at least the plainest
symptoms of it. The argument began to suggest a passage from "Through the
Looking Glass": Every time the judge entertained motions outside the
presence of the jury, Salzsieder would reason that his client had sex with
Jennifer, that Jennifer was "in touch with reality" that even if Sarah
didn't know what she was doing in the front seat of Peterson's car,
Some personality along the way had arranged for a tubal ligation too,
either Sarah or Jennifer or one of the others; Jennifer herself had let
that slip under Paulus's questioning, and Salzsieder kept trying to
convince the judge to let him inquire further about that, or the hints
that during one period in her life Sarah had gone out as the alcoholic
Ginger and picked up men in bars while becoming, as Sarah-Sarah testified,
But the judge would have none of it. "The rape shield law prevents any
questioning of that type," Judge Hawley would say, citing state law
preventing the introduction of evidence about a rape victim's past sexual
history. Hawley himself evinced no change of expression each time he
swore in a new Sarah; her head would sink,
she would look up again, her
eyes would fly open, and out of her mouth would come a voice whose
inflection and language were different from the one just before.
Not very different, though - just different. After a few minutes the
difference would flatten, as though the vocal cords were abandoning the
effort. Her vocabulary stayed consistent from one personality to the
other, and toward the end of her testimony much of the courtroom had
fallen into a kind of hypnotic confusion of grammar, with attorneys and
reporters variously referring to her as Jennifer, or Jennifer-and-Franny,
or Franny-and-Emily, or "them."
Along the open courtroom benches, where the seats were so jealously
guarded that Hawley had warned that anybody going to the bathroom might be
displaced by someone in line outside, the onlookers thrashed it around.
"She consented," said a retired restaurant owner named Dennis Hughes. "She
gave him her telephone number."
"But Jennifer didn't give him her telephone number," said a retired
businessman named Dan Sullivan. "Franny did."
"Same person," Hughes said.
"Not really," Sullivan said.
"When I hear a Sousa march, my foot goes tap, tap, tap," an elderly
man said. "Does that mean I have an additional personality?"
"Want to see me do it?" asked a woman in the back row. "Watch. I'll
reemerge as Jennifer. I'm a good actress. I could do that."
"You Can Ask Me"
When she is Evan, Sarah explained to the reporters, she uses the
toilet sitting down. But she hates it. "It's just annoying," Sarah said,
in the voice she introduced as Evan. "I have to sit down. I tried it
standing up, and I missed the john."
Was there a reason for this?
"It's the way the body is built," Sarah-Evan said. She sounded
What if she were sick, she was asked, but not the way the doctors said
she was? What if some ordinary guy from the courtroom back row thought her
sickness were a frantic and brilliantly realized need for public
attention? What if her entire court testimony, not to be overly rude about
it, was one, long, mad stretch of theater?
A reporter wondered if this was a question best handed off to Sarah.
"You can ask me," Sarah said. "Sarah."
So Sarah answered.
"The majority of people are totally unaware of MPD, or its nature,"
she said. "Even doctors and psychiatrists are only recently beginning to
acknowledge this as a legitimate disorder. They have been unable to
recognize it. I would not expect the average layperson to understand it,
because I believe it's a difficult concept to accept, even for me. But I
She was certain about this?
"Oh, yes," Sarah said. She had put out the Marlboro. Her arms still
had the odd tense angle to them, as though she were recovering from
surgery. "Oh, yes. No doubts."
The prosecution-introduced psychiatrists who examined Sarah over the
past year, both in Oshkosh and at the medical centers where she was sent
for confirmation of the multiple personality diagnosis, testified that her
personalities appear to have varied in number from 18 to at least 46.
Some of these are "fragments," the doctors said, holding only certain
emotions, and some of them, like the ones that pushed burning cigarettes
into the backs of her hands, are self-destructive. On the stand, as Paulus
examined her, Sarah testified that she sometimes entered into contracts
with personalities whose behavior she needed to control; she had given her
car keys to her neighbors so that Ginger would not drive drunk, she said,
and for a time she kept her hands bandaged because the personality called
Shadow kept jamming her hands through glass windows.
She kept small signs by her apartment windows, according to the trial
testimony, that read, "Do Not Break These." This was not Sarah's
testimony; it was Peterson's. Peterson said he was in her apartment when
he saw the signs. He was at her house when he learned everything he was to
know about Sarah's illness, Peterson testified; he did see her change
personality, as he said to the police in his statement, and he did have
knowledge that she engaged in sex with him as someone named Jennifer. But
he said all this knowledge came after the sex act, not before.
"I thought I was having sex with Franny," Peterson testified.
When he first heard about Jennifer, Peterson testified, he thought she
was another person entirely. He said Sarah, whom he thought was called
Franny, was talking about someone named Jennifer in the cafe where they
spoke before they drove off and had sex in his car.
"A possible promunctuous person," Peterson said, referring to Jennifer.
"What?" Paulus asked.
"Promunctuous," Peterson said. "Bold."
"Promiscuous?" Paulus asked.
"Whatever," Peterson said.
He gave his testimony placidly, his head slightly cocked toward the
lawyers' tables, without looking at the jury. He said that much of what he
had said in June in the police affidavit he signed was wrong - "screwed
up." He said he never heard Sarah's neighbors warn him early on that she
was, in Paulus's word, "mental." He said Sarah never explained to him
before their drive to the park that she was, in her word, "multiple." He
said his co-workers were "mistaken" when they testified that Peterson told
them he had engaged in sex in his car with a 20-year-old named Jennifer
who had seemed unusually innocent and who "turned him on."
He said that after he brought Sarah home and learned about her mental
disorder, he left the house quickly because he "had to get ready to get to
"You weren't due at work for three hours," Paulus said.
"I had to freshen up," Peterson said. "I couldn't go to work smelling
like some bull in a pigpen."
Before supper on Thursday, when the jury had been debating for a few
hours, they called the judge to ask for a copy of the police affidavit
Peterson had signed. The affidavit was sent to the jury room. Cameramen
went out to dinner; reporters slouched across the tables in the pressroom;
outside, in the nearly deserted courthouse parking lot, it started to
"Verdict!" someone said.
When the judge read the verdict Peterson looked ahead, with no
discernible expression on his face. The judge polled the jurors, one by
one: You find him guilty, the judge repeated, all of you, each and every
"I don't want to say he was lying, but he was all contradictory," one
of the jurors said afterward. "Personally, I believe that she is very sick
woman, and I do not myself believe that she has MPD. ... But we didn't
need to recognize MPD. We just needed to recognize that there was, and is,
Peterson tried to walk quickly from the courtroom, but the cameras
were faster than he was, and when he broke into a trot the cameramen began
trotting too, and calling his name. The lights were brilliant in the
darkened hallway. "Come on, Mark," somebody shouted, and when he turned
around he was standing in a corner, his arms crossed in front of his body,
with all the cameras at him and his back to the courthouse walls.
"Could this happen to anybody?" somebody yelled.
"Oh, definitely," Peterson said. "It could, again, anybody can, if
they're not aware of this person. Somebody else could be the next one."
"Mark!" a reporter shouted. "Do you feel sorry for anything?"
"What's there to feel sorry about?" he asked.
The microphones came forward, closer to Peterson's mouth.
Did he think she was lying?
"You be the judge," Peterson said. "Do you think she was?"
Copyright 1990 The Washington Post
The Six Faces of Sarah
By David Grogan
Bear Witness to a Sexual Assault
People magazine: November 26, 1990
When she took the witness stand during a rape trial in Oshkosh, Wis., this month, the slender, dark-haired victim identified herself as Sarah, age 27. Sarah, the woman explained to the court, is "the name of the body" which is inhabited by as many as 46 different personalities she calls insiders. Although she had no recollection herself of meeting a 29-year-old grocery bagger named Mark Peterson, Sarah testified, she was convinced he had violated "the body" by having sex with the naive and fun-loving personality known as Jennifer. "[The insiders] told me," Sarah said. "And I believed them."
After a bizarre trial in which Sarah and five of her other personalities testified for the prosecution, a jury convicted Peterson of second-degree sexual assault. The case was an unprecedented test of a Wisconsin law that makes it a crime to have intercourse with a mentally ill person if the victim cannot understand the consequences of his or her conduct and the accused knows of the condition. A married man with no previous criminal record, Peterson faces up to 10 years in prison.
Sarah testified that she has no control over what happens "when the insiders take over," but has learned in psychotherapy how to summon and converse with some of them. During the three hours she was on the stand, prosecutor Joe Paulus asked her to call up five other personalities. Each time, she closed her eyes and bowed her head; seconds later she would take on an altered facial expression and speak in a different voice. Judge Robert Hawley directed that each of Sarah's personalities be sworn in separately.
Franny, a maternal insider who says she takes care of the "children within," testified that she was fishing in the park with friends when Peterson approached her and asked her out. Two days later, Franny testified, she "bumped Sarah to a dark place" and went with Peterson to a local cafe. Over coffee, Franny recalled, she told Peterson about the insiders, and on the way home he asked to talk to Jennifer, a naive 20-year-old personality who loves to dance to rock and roll.
At Paulus's request, Jennifer replaced Franny on the stand. After waving to the jury, she testified in a high-pitched voice that he drove her to a park and "poked a hole in me with this thing...I put my arms around him and said it was nice. Mark said, 'Time to pull out. I don't want you pregnant.' "
"Do you know what pregnant is?" Paulus asked.
"Yes," answered Jennifer. "A guy puts his finger on your belly button and a baby comes out."
Another personality, 6-year-old Emily, asked for and was given her teddy bear when she was called to testify. She confessed to Paulus that she was "peeking" when Peterson was "wiggling with his butt" on top of Jennifer.
"Can I tell a joke?" asked Leslie, a wiseacre insider, before taking her oath. Reminded of the seriousness of the occasion by Paulus, Leslie instead told the court about discovering semen in the girl's shorts later that morning. Recalled to the stand, Franny spoke of her anger when Jennifer and Emily explained what had happened. "I trusted that man and he did harm to the body," she testified. "Sarah started to shake when we told her."
The startling testimony of Sarah and her insiders left some courtroom observers incredulous. And defense witness Darold Treffert, a psychiatrist who was an adviser to the movie Rain Man, described multiple personality disorder as the "UFO of psychiatry" and questioned its validity as a diagnosis of mental illness. But Chicago psychiatrist Bennett Braun insisted the disorder is all too real and is almost always a result of severe child abuse at the hands of someone "who is both abusive and loving in an unpredictable and inconsistent fashion."
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Sarah was an orphan adopted when she was 8 months old by American parents who raised her in Iowa City, Iowa. "I don't recall much of my childhood," she testified. "I know there was abuse, physical from my father and mental from my mother." From the age of 4, Sarah began hearing voices babbling inside her head, and by the time she was an adolescent, she was subject to severe mood swings and amnesia. "I felt compelled for some reason to put a blanket over my head," she said, "and hide in a dark place." When she was 21, the trauma of finding her adoptive father crushed beneath a van he'd been repairing exacerbated her precarious mental condition.
Medication to combat her severe anxiety and depression did not seem to help. After moving to Oshkosh with her mother in 1986, Sarah, unable to hold down jobs as a dishwasher or a bakery sales clerk, went on Social Security disability. While remaining friendly with her mother, she moved in 1989 into an apartment of her own, sharing it with her cat, Monster, and poodle, P.J. Last February she was diagnosed as suffering from multiple personality disorder. Braun, one of the foremost experts in the field, says only a handful of Sarah's insiders exhibit a full range of emotions, consistent behavior and memories, and the rest are fragments of personalities. Through therapy she learned that some of the insiders were friendly, while others could threaten her very survival. Ginger was an alcoholic who would drink and drive. Shadow, one of several male insiders, was violent and full of rage at having to take on Sarah's childhood pain. He smashed her hands through windows and cut her arms. Patty and Justin put cigarettes out on her hands.
Meanwhile, Sarah was befriended by her downstairs neighbors Gerald and Ruth Reeves, who were with her the day her insider Franny encountered Mark Peterson. Ruth Reeves testified that she and her husband had explained to Peterson that Franny's real name was Sarah and that she had a mental handicap. Yet Peterson asked her out for dinner and, when she declined, took her phone number. Two days later he appeared at her door early in the morning, and Franny agreed to go for coffee with him. Gerald Reeves reminded Peterson that the young woman was mentally ill and vulnerable. Later that morning, Reeves was with Sarah when Franny and Emily told her "that a bad thing happened to Jennifer." Outraged, Sarah reported the incident to police and was taken to the hospital for examination.
Though skeptical at first about prosecuting the case, Paulus decided to proceed after meeting with Sarah and talking with psychiatric experts. "The key was that Peterson knew about her illness," Paulus says. "He had been warned, and he manipulated it." Though Peterson contends the sex was consensual and has vowed to appeal, Paulus sees the verdict as a landmark victory. "We accomplished something for mentally ill people," he says.
Sarah is still undergoing treatment with no immediate hope for a full cure. Shortly after the trial, she told a reporter she was anxious "to get back to normal." But, she added, she is not quite sure what that really means.
—David Grogan, Civia Tamarkin in Oshkosh
Multiple Personality Starts as Defense
New York Times: December 2, 1990
Against the Unendurable
To the Editor:
"A man was convicted," you report from Oshkosh, Wis. (Nov. 9), "of sexually assaulting a woman whom doctors described as having 46 personalities." As a psychiatrist working in multiple personality disorder, I have followed the coverage of this trial with concern, more for what was not said than for what was. At a time when intense professional attention is being given to the study of multiple personality and dissociation, it is important not merely to fascinate readers with the more bizarre aspects of multiple personality disorder.
From recent American studies of hundreds of cases, it has become clear that nearly all the victims of this condition are living monuments to people's inhumanity to children. In those cases in which years of deliberate physical or sexual abuse, or both, in childhood have not been uncovered, it is generally only a matter of time before they are.
Multiple personality disorder is now seen as an evolutionarily sound childhood response to prolonged, horrific trauma. The extent and nature of the trauma draw from the child's mind the response: "This torture is not happening to me. I am not here. Someone else will take my place."
The normal human capacity to dissociate, seemingly strongest during just the period when much of this torture takes place, the grade-school years, becomes abnormally intensified in multiple personality disorder. This allows prolonged denial of the past, but leaves the individual acutely vulnerable in the future, often to just the kind of repetition of abuse the victim in the Oshkosh trial suffered.
Multiple personality disorder is no doubt at least as fascinating to its therapists as to the rest of the public. We have come to know it as a psychiatric disorder with identifiable signs and symptoms in childhood, when it starts, and in adulthood, when it is usually first diagnosed.
This disorder ravages its sufferers in ways that lead to impaired daily functioning, with such problems as amnesia, physical complaints and disturbed sleep, to name a few. These individuals often turn to substance abuse to relieve symptoms, yet there is little evidence that mind-altering substances produce any lasting therapeutic benefit. Nor do prescribed psychiatric medications.
However, specifically trained professionals are treating this disorder effectively by predominantly verbal therapies. RICHARD KAISER, M.D. New Canaan, Conn., Nov. 12, 1990
Circuit Judge Robert Hawley overturned Mr. Peterson's Nov. 8 conviction on sexual assault charges because the defense had not been allowed to have a psychiatrist examine the woman before trial. Prosecutor Joseph Paulus said he asked that charges against Mark Peterson be dismissed after consulting with experts on multiple personality and determining that a retrial would be harmful to the woman.
In addition, there had been perjury by Paulus' chief witness. He lied when he said that he had explained Sarah's multiplicity to Peterson. Paulus knew that his chief witness had been having sex with Sarah -- or with Ginger, if Sarah said no -- on a regular basis for over a year. He charged Peterson because it was a hot media item. The real crime was committed under the guise of enforcing the law and protecting the vulnerable. Truth & Justice has more on this story and DA Paulus' corrupt record.
NO RETRIAL OF MAN IN WISCONSIN RAPE
Special to The New York Times
Published: December 20, 1990
MILWAUKEE, Dec. 19— A prosecutor has decided not to retry an Oshkosh man who was convicted last month of sexually assaulting a woman believed by doctors to suffer from multiple personality disorder. The conviction was thrown out by a judge this week.
In a letter to the trial judge, District Attorney Joseph A. Paulus of Winnebago County said the ordeal of a second trial might cause the woman's condition to deteriorate.
The Circuit Judge, Robert Hawley, signed an order in Oshkosh today dismissing the charge of second-degree sexual assault against Mark A. Peterson, 29 years old. The judge ruled on Friday that Mr. Peterson should be given a new trial because a defense psychiatrist had been barred from examining the woman before the trial. Concerns About Personalities
Mr. Peterson was charged after having sexual relations with the woman in his car in an Oshkosh park on June 11, 1990. He was accused of sexually assaulting one of the personalities, age 20, while another personality, age 6, watched. Experts testified that neither personality was able to give consent.
Mr. Peterson had been convicted under a Wisconsin statute that prohibits sexual intercourse with a mentally ill person if the accused is aware of the victim's condition and if the illness impedes the victim's ability to understand the other person's conduct.
Mr. Paulus said in his letter to the judge that he had consulted with three doctors who told him it would "not be in the best interests" of the woman to go through another trial.
The doctors said the woman's condition "would likely worsen if she were to go through the preparation and strain of another trial," Mr. Paulus wrote.
The authorities said the number of personalities found in the woman had increased to 46 from 18 between the incident that led to the charges in June and the November trial.
The case grew increasingly troubled after Mr. Peterson's conviction. Among the developments was an allegation by a county employee who had counseled the woman that a crucial prosecution witness had a sexual relationship with the woman.
But prosecutors said today that the new evidence and allegations had played no role in their decision.
Mr. Peterson's lawyer, Mary Lou Robinson, said prosecutors had acted "overzealously, thoughtlessly and insensitively" in the case.
Newsline interviews Dr. Nancy Perry, "MPD expert"
Commentary on the trial and its consequences
Violation and Virtuality By Sandy Stone. Another look at the Sarah case; and an online persona, invented by a singlet, taking on a life of its own.
Click here to buy "My Name Is Legion" Fictionalized account of the trial and its aftermath by Sheila Martin Berry.
Email | Guestbook | FAQ |
Astraea home |
Back to where you were