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The Minds of Billy Milligan

Samriddhi Mathur
January 29th, 2022 · 5 min read

Remember the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Multiply that with 12. That is how many personalities resided in Billy Milligan’s mind. Woah right? Although there were even more of them (that were later identified), these 24 are the more prominent ones that we encounter in the book. These personalities, strangely enough, remained hidden from the world or even his close ones until Milligan was in his mid-20s.

But let’s take a step back and talk about Multiple Personality Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder(DID, now) before we get into the book. It’s a condition that causes splitting of the human mind into several pieces, pertaining to different reasons, the major one of which being childhood trauma (commonly encompassing physical, psychological, and sexual abuse). All these personalities could be extremely different from each other that develop as a coping mechanism to the abuse; we’ll learn more about these things as we go deeper into its complexities.

Why Milligan was different?

It started with a lawsuit filed against Billy Milligan. He was arrested for the rape of a girl in a medical college. Throughout the interrogation, Milligan kept saying he doesn’t remember committing the crime. He wasn’t denying them. All he was saying was that he doesn’t remember about it. That was the first clue for his defense attorneys. It was also interesting because almost no one ‘accused’ filed for an insanity plea before. The word about Milligan’s plea got out and, started getting all the media attention. It divided the people between ‘supporters’ and ‘against’ for if Milligan should be held with charges for the crimes committed by his alter personalities. On one hand, the victims of his crimes demanded justice but, on the other, sympathies arose for him as he was said to be a victim of the disease himself. According to a research paper by Sarah K. Fields from the journal of Law and Policy - January 1994

“ One reason for incarcerating or detaining the perpetrator is to protect society. Although the innocent personalities would also be burdened, one could argue that the duty to protect society - and hence free it from the burden of potential danger to an innocent victim - from the dangerous personality is greater than the duty to keep the innocent personalities from being burdened by incarceration or detention. When comparing the rights of the many in society who are at risk from the dangerous aspect with the injustice of imprisoning an innocent aspect, the danger to the group at large is apparently greater than the unfairness to the few personalities.”

The defense attorneys then decided - to introduce Milligan to psychologist Dorothy Turner when he tried to kill himself in the cell to make him fit for the hearing.

More about the personalities-

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Dorothy started with simple questions like - his social security number; Billy tried to remember it but, he didn’t know what it was. It was David who was present at Dorothy’s clinic. The second youngest of all, he was splitted from Billy’s mind as a bearer of all the pain. Whenever Billy’s stepfather Chalmer tried to hurt him, it was David who took over the spot and bore all the pain. There were so many grievous incidences stated in the book that further indicated the splitting that had happened inside his young mind. David, while talking with Dorothy, mentioned the people that exist inside him, the voices that he hears inside his head, all in his childlike manner. She figured that David was only eight years old. He, being only a child, gave a lot of information about other personalities and what kind of roles do they play. The personalities had the rule to keep their multiple personalities a secret from the world. On the next visit, Dorothy asked him some questions, when he said he didn’t recognize who she was and refused to give her any information. This was how Dorothy had started to recognize the behavior change and started identifying his multiple personalities step by step. But for Billy’s insanity plea she had to discuss everything she observed and gathered about him with his lawyers and present them before judge ‘Flowers’. She asked for David’s permission to disclose his condition to Judy(attorney), that’s when she heard the British accent for the first time. It was Arthur; The studious, well-read one whose dream - was to become a doctor someday. He was the one who kept Billy asleep all this while to - prevent him from killing himself. Arthur being aware of all the personalities, had started to read and learn more about it (DID), and somehow gained the ability to control ‘the spot’ (whoever’s on the spot holds the consciousness), and hence established the ground rules that everybody agreed to follow. The time Billy spent in prison - was taken over by Regan; The one: who keeps everybody safe from any potential danger, and the second person after Arthur, whom everyone else obeyed. He had a strong physique which he gained by intense physical work and practiced rifle shooting and; a temper that only calmed on the command of Christene. Christene was the youngest - only 3 years of age; Regan had a soft spot for little Christene and did everything she demanded of him. Other than these mentioned personalities, some weren’t allowed at ‘the spot’ at all; mainly because- they didn’t obey Arthur’s rules and got all of them into trouble; they were called - the undesirables (as they didn’t bring any useful quality to the table). When it had started to get clear that nobody had committed the crimes that Billy was convicted for, Arthur’s suspicion intensified with the undesirables. But it was again, at the same time, difficult for him to believe that someone escaped from his control and took the spot.

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According to legal service india, “If the accused suffers from the condition of DPD, the onus is on them to establish that ‘the alter’ that was in control when committing such crime was insane at the time. So according to this approach, the ‘defendant’ whose soundness is to be accessed is not the host personality but the ‘alter’ that did the crime. So even if the host personality did not know about the alter committing offences, it would not matter because ‘the alter’ is on trial and not the host personality “.

The story of Billy Milligan is an unfortunate series of events that led to the splitting of his soul into several pieces with minds of their own. It’s unfortunate because - the disease made him very popular for all the wrong reasons; It was unfortunate because - there was not much awareness of the disease and many people believed that he was faking it. Anybody who hadn’t seen Billy through the switches refused to believe it was even real. However by that time, Billy was getting treatment from the same facility as Sybil but, the vast fragmentation of his mind made it very difficult to fuse back together. Milligan’s plea did get accepted in the court and, Milligan continued to live in the facility where the author of the book met him regularly to write his biography. He said talking to the writer helped him know his other personalities better. The book binds the criminal justice system and mental illness quite well.

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