It seems very apparent that within each and every one of us there resides some malicious fragment of ourselves, which has evil thoughts that flicker unbidden across our waking hours and malicious intents that we usually manage to push down into the dark depths of our psyche where they belong. But is it possible that these apparitions upon our subconscious have the ability to congeal and rise up to the surface, possessing us as surely as any mystical demon? There are cases out there that seem to point to this possibility, and to show that we may not totally be who we think we are, and that there are at times nefarious elements of our mind that have the ability to push up from the murk and to the front to carry out a variety of atrocities without our consent.
One psychological disorder that has become of interest in recent times is that of Multiple Personality Disorder, or also called Dissociative Identity Disorder. The disorder entails a person who displays at least two distinct identities living within the same person, with some extreme cases exhibiting up to 100 such individual alter egos. These personalities can display different voices, speech patterns, and accents, and can have different genders, ages, heights, weights, and even different knowledge and experiences. Often these personalities bubble up to take over the individual and leave the other personality or personalities with a blank as to what has happened, no memory of it, leaving them completely separate and divided. In some cases, the alternate personality seems to have trouble on its mind, and there have been a wide variety of cases of such alter egos engaging in less than civil behavior and outright crime seemingly unbeknownst to the main host.
One of the earliest widely reported cases of a multiple personality going bad concerns the death of 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan in 1946. The girl was kidnapped from a very well-t0-do family in an upscale neighborhood in Chicago, and the only clue left behind was a hastily scrawled ransom note demanding $20,000 in cash, with the odd condition that the note be “burned for her safety.” However, there were no forthcoming demands or conditions for the transfer of the money, only persistent phone calls demanding the money before abruptly hanging up. The girl’s increasingly desperate father, James Degnan, played a large role in trying to track his missing daughter down, even extensively appearing on radio programs to plead for her safety or for anyone, even the kidnappers, to come forward with some kind of further information, all to no avail.
Then tragedy hit. Authorities came up with the rather gruesome discovery of Suzanne’s horrifically chopped up and dismembered body, and it seemed that she had first been strangled and then cut apart with a hunting knife, with pieces of her body found in a variety of disparate sewers and catchbasins around towm. Chillingly, the killer had left behind a note scrawled in lipstick at the crime scene reading “For heaven’s sake, catch me before I kill more, I cannot control myself,” a message that would earn him the colorful nickname “The Lipstick Killer.” Police followed several leads in the case that turned up nothing, and it seemed the killing would remain unsolved.
At this point, a 17-year-old young man named William George Heirens, who had been in and out of incarceration for a variety of crimes, was brought in on an unrelated charge of burglary, but when authorities searched his dorm room they found, in addition to many pieces of Nazi regalia, several items that seemed to have belonged to Suzanne Degnan’s home so he was brought in for questioning on that case as well. During questioning, which allegedly relied heavily on police brutality as well as copious use of the truth serum sodium pentathol, it was discovered that he was responsible for at least 3 killings in the Chicago area, yet Heirens claimed that a man named George Murman was the one who had done all of the killing, but police could find no evidence of such a person and could not find them for questioning.
Despite this lack of progress, Heirens claimed that he was indeed a real person, that he had met “George” when he was 13 years old, and that he was a very bad man who liked to kill and rob for pleasure. Indeed, Heirens claimed that he was always blamed for George’s myriad crimes and misdeeds, and had always taken the rap for them. It soon became apparent that this “George Murman” was not real at all, but rather a multiple personality of Heirens, and police suspected he was deliberately trying to lay the foundation of an insanity plea. In the meantime, the press ate this confession up, referring to the mysterious Murman as “The Murder Man” and made Heirens out to be some real-life version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Despite Heiren’s adamant claims of his innocence he was finally sentenced to life in prison and there has been debate ever since as to the veracity of his confession, his guilt, and whether there was really an alter-ego behind the crimes.
There was also the case of a painter named Kim Noble, who was born in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. Noble was allegedly physically and mentally abused from an early age, and it is perhaps this stress that led to the splintering of her personality into various other identities. This led to problems down the line, with Kim repeatedly overdosing on drugs, causing her to be placed on several stints of suicide watch at mental hospitals. After finally finding some semblance of calm, she found herself with a job as a van driver, and during one of her jobs a multiple personality called Julie took control and intentionally plowed the van into a group of parked cars.
In the wake of this accident, after she was put in a mental hospital yet again, the true extent of her mental problems would be cast into the light when she would be diagnosed with schizophrenia. When she was finally released, she immediately got herself involved with a pedophile ring and apparently had second thoughts and tried to go to the authorities about it, after which she was threatened and eventually doused with acid and had her bed set on fire by nefarious parties unknown. The house was burned down and Kim managed to escape, but the weirdest part is that she did not remember any of this, with no recollection of the acid attack or pedophile ring and only a dim memory of standing outside watching her house burn down.
Indeed, Kim often complained of bouts of blackouts and missing time, during which she could remember none of what she had done. In 1995, mental health specialists diagnosed Kim as having dissociative identity disorder, and claimed that she had numerous alternate personas lurking within her, the most prominent one being a calm and confident woman called Patricia. Others were the somewhat sadistic trouble-maker called Julie, the Spirit of Water, an obese 15-year-old named Judy, the suicidal Rebecca, the hot headed and excitable Bonny, the one who had been involved in the pedophile ring named Hayley, the suave playboy Ken, the artistic painter Ria, and and many others, up to around 100 different personalities by Kim’s own admission.
These myriad personalities were found to exist quite separately from one another, with none of the others knowing what each other were doing, and with each one even having their own e-mail addresses to which the others didn’t know the passwords. Kim has claimed that she constantly has episodes of lost time and incidents such as finding her car parked far from home, having pizza deliveries that she didn’t order, mysterious phone calls, and constant, numerous puzzling misplaced items. None of the disparate personalities seem to have any memory of anything the other is doing when they take over. One of the personalities even bizarrely got pregnant and had a baby named Aimee without Kim even knowing what was going on, which managed to somehow go undiscovered by the others and was immediately taken into custody by child protective services when she was born. This would be contested and brought to court by no less than 3 of Kim’s alter personalities, who eventually won back custody of the child. Kim Noble appeared as Patricia on The Oprah Winfield Show, and has written a 2012 book of her experiences through ghost writer Jeff Hudson, called All of Me: How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing My Body.
Perhaps an even more well-known case is that of three students on the campus of the Ohio State University who were kidnapped, dragged to a remote location, and brutally raped over a span of 12 days in October of 1977. From the beginning the victims gave testimony that perhaps suggested more than one perpetrator, as one of them claimed that the man who had assaulted her had had a German accent while another described him as an all-American young man who had actually seemed like a nice guy, while yet another said that he had acted like “a 3-year-old girl.” As confusing as this all was, fingerprint analyses of fingerprints left at the scene, as well as the use of mugshots shown to the victims, led to the arrest of 22-year-old William Stanley Milligan, who was on parole and had a long rap sheet, having already done time at at Lebanon Correctional Institution in Ohio for rape and armed robbery in 1975.
An examination of Milligan by psychologists and psychiatrists came to the conclusion that the man suffered from multiple personality disorder, and that two of these identities had been responsible for the crime rather than Milligan himself, with him seemingly unaware that he had committed any of these atrocities at all. The multiple personalities responsible for the crimes were described as being an older communist man and munitions expert from Yugoslavia named Ragen, and a 19-year-old lesbian who referred to herself as Adalana. As a result of these bizarre findings, Milligan’s lawyers jumped on an insanity plea, and the claims of two multiple personalities of Milligan having committed these heinous crimes without his knowledge fueled intense media coverage and public curiosity of the strange case.
The whole weird trial would go to court in 1978, and amazingly the whole bizarre plea worked. Billy Milligan became the first person in the United States to ever be found not guilty on the grounds of multiple personality disorder, and instead of prison time he was sentenced to time in a state-run mental institution. During his time there, it was found that Milligan had no less than 24 separate multiple personalities inhabiting him, and was finally released in 1988 when it was ascertained that all of these various alter egos had merged into one. Billy Milligan would die of cancer at a nursing home in Columbus, Ohio on December 12, 2014 at the age of 59. Milligan’s rather bizarre life has been the subject of Daniel Keyes’s 1981 book The Minds of Billy Milligan, as well as a documentary program, and was the inspiration for M. Night Shyamalan’s film on evil multiple personalities, called Split.
A rather infamous case comes to us from the year 1979, when a 23-year-old hotel maid named Juanita Maxwell was arrested under suspicion of the murder of a 72-year-old woman in her charge by the name of Inez Kelley. The victim had died in a decidedly brutal manner, having been bitten, beaten, and choked to death, and Maxwell was the main suspect due to the presence of blood on her shoes and a scratch upon the face. When detained, Juanita denied having any knowledge of what had happened, and seemed to be totally baffled as to why there should be a scratch on her face or blood on her shoes.
Upon further questioning, it came out that Juanita was possessed by at least 6 other personalities within her. One was called Wanda Weston, a brash, fiery, boisterous vixen full of braggadocios, and a not a little flirtatious woman that was by all accounts the polar opposite of Juanita’s usually reserved and soft-spoken self. When Juanita went to court for her crimes in 1981, this “Wanda” was coaxed out from her and proceeded to brag about how she had bashed the elderly ladies head in with a lamp. So incredibly abrupt and convincing was this metamorphosis on the stand that onlookers were left speechless, and the judge would say of the startling transformation:
It was electrifying. I think everybody in the courtroom, whether they fully believed that she had multiple disorder or not, was stunned. It was as bizarre a thing as you would ever see in a courtroom. Here was a very meek lady of humble cultural origins, and she suddenly changed from that type of person to somebody who was going into gales of laughter, who was flirtatious, raucous and ribald, who was calm in talking about the murder. I remember that one of the psychiatrists testified that either she had multiple personality disorder or, if she was faking it, she deserved an Academy Award.
Juanita Maxwell was eventually found not guilty by way of insanity, but would go on to rack up a further criminal record with several bank robberies in St. Petersburg, Florida, which she would also blame on “Wanda.” She was then released for time served, all due to the mysterious Wanda. Was this a real entity existing separately within Juanita’s splintered mind? We may never know, but as of now Juanita is free while Wanda is seen as the criminal.
Another quite well-known and ominous case concerns convicted rapist Thomas Huskey, who between 1991 and 1992 raped and strangled to death 4 prostitutes in the Knoxville, Tennessee area. Called the “Zoo Man” due to his previous work as a zookeeper at the Knoxville Zoo, Huskey would claim that he had absolutely no memory of the horrific crimes he had supposedly committed, and both he and his psychiatrist said that they had been carried out by an insidious alter ego named Kyle, making the calm and soft-spoken Huskey himself innocent. The brash and fiery Kyle would occasionally come out during questioning, and fully and shamelessly admitted to the crimes. During these episodes, Kyle was the complete opposite type of person, had a different speech cadence, tone, and facial expressions, expressed deep contempt for his alter ego, and would demonstrate that he was left-handed when Huskey was not, which was seen as evidence that perhaps Huskey was not really guilty after all. During one of the sessions, the bitter and malevolent Kyle said of Huskey, who he seemed to hate:
You can call me a goddamn son of a bitch, as long as you don’t call me Tommy. You can’t get me and Tommy mixed up. You can’t get that goody-goody little son of a bitch mixed up with me!
The case went to court, where Huskey sought an insanity plea based on his insistence that he did not know what had happened and that it had all been “Kyle”’s fault, a defense that was at the time unprecedented in Tennessee history. The trial would drag on and become one of the state’s most expensive ever, with the longest deliberation in state history, before the jury finally gave up on it in 2005 when they reached a deadlock, continually failing to reach a consensus, and the charges were ultimately dropped. Huskey would be cleared of the 4 murders, but found guilty of other rapes he had committed beforehand. Although he is serving a 64-year sentence at the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tennessee, he remains totally blameless and unpunished in the 4 killings due to his multiple personality plea, and continues to deny any part in them. Was Kyle just a ruse to get off the hook or does he really exist in the shadows of Huskey’s mind? Who knows?
Not all such court cases go well for the accused. On September 20, 2005, a New Jersey man named Dwayne Wilson was arrested for the murder of one of his nephews, his niece, and his sister, when another nephew, who had also been stabbed but had lived, called the police. During the trial, Wilson’s attorney made the case that the crime had in fact been committed by Wilson’s alternate and very homicidal personality, “Kiko,” and that his client was innocent. Wilson allegedly did not remember any of the killings, and had been totally under control by the sinister Kiko. In the end, the plea did not work, and an unconvinced court sentenced him to 3 counts of manslaughter with a 30-year-sentence each, as well as an additional 10-year sentence for assault.
There is also the trial of Billy Joe Harris, who was arrested in Texas in 2011 on charges of sexually assaulting elderly and disabled women in the early morning hours, which earned him the nickname the “Twilight Rapist.” When he was brought in with plenty of DNA evidence to link him to the crimes, Harris claimed that it was not him but rather an alternate personality named “Bobby” who had committed the crimes. He claimed that he suffered from dissociative identity disorder due to childhood abuse, and that he was innocent of the assaults, a claim backed up by psychiatrist Dr. Colin Ross, who testified in court on his behalf.
During the trial, this “Bobby” emerged at several points, during which Harris would assume a different posture and a deeper voice. There was much skepticism, as not only was the defense attorney the one to administer the tests for dissociative identity disorder rather than a psychiatrist, but there were also various untruths uncovered about the defendant, including a recorded call to his girlfriend during which he bragged that he had put on a “good show” on the stand. This, plus the rather dramatic and seemingly theatrical appearance of “Bobby,” presented cause for concern, and it did not help that some psychologists were not buying the whole strange plea to begin with. One psychologist by the name of Robert Christopher Barden would say of the whole multiple personality plea and its use in this case thus:
There are a few pockets of people left who are doing this. The scientists I know condemn it to be the worst kind of junk science and dangerous to the public. Controversial and experimental theories should not be allowed to contaminate the legal system. There’s no magic to these tests. It looks scientific. It looks professional, but when you get down into it, it’s junk. It’s unusual for a psychiatrist to interpret a psychological test and it’s highly unethical for Mr. Cohen [the defense attorney] to give the tests.
In the end, Billy Joe Harris would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Equally as unsuccessful was the plea for a 40-year-old British Columbia man named Ernie Allan Hosack, who in 2012 brutally killed and dismembered his 54-year-old roommate, Richard Falardeau. When police arrived at the scene, they were treated to the macabre scene of Falardeau’s thumbs, anus, scrotum and testes stowed in a freezer, the torso in a suitcase, and the skull abandoned in a marshy swath near a busy freeway. When Hosack was brought in for questioning, he took on the persona of what he claimed to be his dead grandfather, who nonchalantly proclaimed “You could call it murder.”
The interrogation proved to be bizarre beyond words, with Hosack apparently taking on numerous multiple personalities and making a myriad of wild statements claiming to know the secrets to “terraforming the Earth” and light speed travel. Sometime during this cacophony of madness the dead grandfather himself appeared, taking on a noticeably deeper timbre and calling himself “Ernie goochie goochie coo,” who told authorities that the scattered parts of the body were “sent to different places in hell to be torn apart” and that he had gathered Falardeau’s soul. Alright then. Even when not in this alternate persons Hosack said some weird things, claiming to have made numerous wild inventions that had been stolen and which had “turned up on TV,” leading one investigator to proclaim that his statements were “replete with elements of paranoia.” Despite the move to blame the murder on a multiple personality, Hosack was found guilty and received a stiff prison sentence.
What are we to make of cases like these? In the end we are left wondering just how much veracity we are to put into such claims of aberrant multiple personalities and just how much it constitutes any sort of legal defense at all. Are these people just merely masters of manipulation and skilled in theatrical acting performances? Is this indicative of some side effect of another mental condition such as schizophrenia? Or is there really some alternate persona lying down within these people’s psyche which is capable of lashing out without their host’s knowledge? At the moment mental health professionals and legal specialists are divided on whether the condition really even exists as described, let alone how much weight it carries in the prosecution of crimes. For now, we can only look at these cases and wonder just what is going on; whether the accused is the malicious perpetrator or some fragment of their personality that has surfaced to spread mischief, and whether there are parts of our psyche that can take on a mind of their own.