January 08, 1979 12:00 PM

Columbus, Ohio was greatly relieved in October, 1977 when police arrested William S. Milligan as the “campus rapist” who had stalked Ohio State University. Three coeds had been abducted, driven to the country, robbed and raped. In constructing Milligan’s defense, his lawyers were puzzled by their client’s memory lapses and constant references to “other” selves. Psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur was asked to examine the defendant and came to a bizarre conclusion: Milligan, she said, possessed 10 separate personalities—including one as a lesbian named Adelena who, in an ironic twist, was the personality who had committed the rapes. Dr. Wilbur’s diagnosis was not challenged, not least because other credentials and experience. It was she who treated Sybil, the young woman with 16 personalities who inspired a best-selling book and a TV movie. On the basis of Wilbur’s testimony and that of six other psychiatrists, the judge found Milligan not guilty by reason of insanity. Now 23, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Wilbur, 70, who describes herself as a “born psychiatrist,” studied at the University of Michigan and New York Medical College, and has a private practice in Lexington, Ky. She talked to Dennis Breo of PEOPLE about the baffling illness, known technically as “psycho-neurosis, hysteria, disassociative type, multiple personalities.”

What is a multiple personality?

It is a descriptive diagnosis for individuals who present themselves as “other” persons with “other” names and “other” personalities, and who have amnesia about the “other” states. Diagnosis is difficult since patients tend to conceal their amnesia, even when they are aware of it, as part of their defensive system. Some simply think that time is discontinuous—that blackouts are normal.

How did you become an expert on multiple personalities?

As a physician in Omaha during World War II, I acquired something of a reputation for working with hysterics. That’s why Sybil was first sent to me in 1945. I knew she was a hysteric—she had all the classical symptoms—but I had no idea she was a multiple personality. That insight didn’t come until 1954, after I had completed my training in psychoanalysis. It took me 11 years to achieve fusion of Sybil’s personalities, but we’ve learned a lot since then.

What causes a multiple personality?

They are almost without exception severely battered children, and the battering usually includes sexual abuse. Sybil was sadistically abused by her mother. Billy Milligan was apparently raped by his stepfather and hung up in a barn by ropes. [The stepfather has denied the allegation.] That’s how Tommy, one of Milligan’s personalities, became an escape artist. When you’re a child and a towering parent figure terrorizes you, the reality is intolerable on a conscious level. You can’t express rage, because that will invite greater punishment. So the rage is parceled off to an alternate personality. Sybil had Peggy Lou to handle her rage, and Billy has a personality he named Ragen, who is violent, and another, David, who cries.

When does an alternate personality take over?

There are specific cues that will trigger the changes, and the core personality can do nothing about it. Sybil once saw a bolt of tartan fabric and that brought on Peggy Lou, one of her personalities who had argued with Sybil’s mother over a plaid dress. Once Peggy Lou took over, she holed up in a fleabag Harlem hotel for a week. A multiple personality, or MP, always has an “inner self helper,” who looks after all the alternates and whom the therapist can use in trying to fuse the personalities. Vicky did this for Sybil and she was a great help to me in integrating the 16 selves. In Billy’s case we don’t yet know who that helping personality is.

What kind of people are MPs?

They are bright, talented, creative—every single one I’ve encountered. It is their sensitivity and brightness, combined with the severe battering they receive as children, that makes them a multiple personality. I’ve worked with 23 of them now, and the lowest IQ was 110, or above average. Billy Milligan is 140, which is near genius. Sybil is 170, and another girl I treat is 185.

How many people are there with multiple personalities?

I think there may be as many as 5,000 in this country. Therapists are beginning to bring them out of the closet. Women outnumber men four to one, but that may result simply because some men in jail for violent crimes are undiagnosed.

How do you treat a multiple personality?

Treatment consists of delineating the severe emotional conflicts and helping the original personality recall and resolve these conflicts. In most cases, as I said, one personality knows all about everything and can be used by the psychiatrist as a co-therapist. Vicky helped control Sybil, who under hypnosis finally found wholeness by admitting she hated her mother.

Why is hypnosis helpful?

With it, the physician can discover the original personality and the alternate personalities and their specific problems. The more complex and serious the psychological conflicts, the greater the number of personalities that develop.

Was Billy Milligan aware of his role as the “campus rapist”?

The individual born into the world as William Milligan has no knowledge of such acts. His body was being used by an alternate personality at the time. Amnesia is absolute in cases of multiple personality. Billy could not know he was performing the acts nor know that they were wrong.

How is his personality subdivided?

It is split into at least nine others—two of which are female—ranging in age from 3 to 23. Each personality has its own distinctive style, handwriting and talents. As a 3-year-old girl, Christene, Milligan communicates through childish drawings, but as a young man, Allen, age 18, he produces accomplished art work displaying great talent. Billy formed three personalities to handle his repressed rage: Arthur, 22, an even-tempered intellectual with a British accent—God knows how he got it—plus the crybaby David, 3, and Ragen, 23, who has a Czech accent and shares the same birthday with Billy. Ragen shows aggressive, assertive behavior.

How did these personalities come into play when Milligan was jailed?

First David, who can only moan and pound his head against the wall screaming “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” to ward off his stepfather’s alleged assault, was creating a ruckus that bothered the jailer. He used a strait-jacket to quiet David, who offered no resistance but continued to cry softly. When the jailer escorted David to the elevator for a trip four floors down to the lobby, 15-year-old Tommy took over. Like Houdini, he slipped out of the straitjacket before the door opened. Then, under questioning, Ragen took over and tried to explain things. Ragen was the personality I talked to first. He told me about the rapes.

What did he say?

It was interesting. Ragen and all the other male personalities said they had no interest in sex at all, that it was dirty and cruel. Other evidence suggests that Milligan in his dating relationships had been impotent with women. Still, he was curious about sex and since his male personalities are all impotent because of the sodomy he says he suffered, he formed a female alternate—a lesbian named Adelena.

What were the circumstances of the rapes that Adelena committed?

He had a gun, but I understand there was no physical violence. In fact, one girl said that had she met Milligan under different circumstances, she might have wanted to go out with him.

How does Milligan live from day to day?

His core personality, the waking self, is Billy. But he has spent most of the last few years sleeping because he is depressed and suicidal, and the alternates keep taking over to prevent Billy from killing himself and them. “Every time I wake up,” Billy said, “I’m in trouble. I wish I were dead.” It’s touching how the alternates try to look out for each other. Ragen asked me, “What’s going to happen to Billy?” I told him, “Well, he may have to spend some time in jail.” Ragen replied, “What, put the girls in a man’s jail? No, no, I won’t let that happen to them. I’ll kill them first.” Arthur, the intellectual, is most concerned about the “younger ones”—Danny, Christopher, David and Christene. Allen, 18, the artist, is the most sociable personality, and incidentally the only one to smoke. Allen did much of the talking during the last six months of Milligan’s court-ordered psychiatric evaluation.

What is Milligan’s future?

If he had gone to jail, he would either have committed suicide or been murdered. But if he gets the proper therapy and is put on vocational rehabilitation, his personalities can be fused and that IQ can be put to use. Sybil was fused in 1965, and has not had one hysterical episode since. The first hysterical patient I treated was back in 1938. I have received Christmas cards from her every year since, telling me that she remains happy and well. With all we have learned, I think a patient like Billy Milligan can be fused into one personality in three years.

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