Remember crop circles?
Back in the 1990s, they seemed to be everywhere. Mysterious, complex designs carved into wheat fields from Kansas to the U.K. Were they created by aliens? Was it all some sort of an elaborate fraternity prank? Despite a lot of investigations, no one was ever able to definitively determine who created them. But at some point, he circles just stopped showing up in fields.
It's a bit like that with the idea of "multiple personalities." For about a 20-year period beginning with the publication of the story of Sybill in the mid-1970s (a woman with supposed many personalities living in one body), psychologists began to embrace the idea that some small subset of mentally ill people were, in fact, harboring multiple personalities. And like crop circles, multiple personalities is an idea that is now mostly considered to be some unexplained aberration that may not in fact, exist at all.
One of the people most famously diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder) is an Ohio man named Billy Milligan. Milligan was arrested in 1977 for the rape of four women at Ohio State University. There was little question that he had committed the crimes. But when arrested, he claimed not to have any memory of the assaults, and he appeared to exhibit personality traits that could radically change from moment to moment.
A team of psychiatrists diagnosed him as having 24 different personalities, and he was eventually found innocent by reason of insanity.
But as the four-part Netflix documentary series Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan illustrates, that was just part of his story. From claims of severe childhood abuse (corroberated by family and friends) to a planned film project that would have seen director James Cameron direct the story of his life, Billy Milligan's story is two parts horror show and one part the American Dream gone sideways.
There is a good amount of evidence that he killed several people, although he was never charged in either case. And while Milligan had many supporters, there were also people who believed that he didn't have multiple personalities. Instead, he was just a charismatic sociopath who knew how to play the system.
The series doesn't provide a clear answer either way, but it does a solid job of telling a story that is almost impossible to believe in many ways.
The tragic and bizarre Billy Milligan is a very American story, and I am not sure that is a good thing.
Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan premieres Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021, on Netflix.
Review: 'Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan'
Remember crop circles?