James McAvoy stars in Split (2017). John Baer/ © 2016 Universal Studios.
James McAvoy stars in Split (2017). John Baer/ © 2016 Universal Studios.

5 Criminals Who Claimed to Have Multiple Personalities

James McAvoy stars in Split (2017). John Baer/ © 2016 Universal Studios.
James McAvoy stars in Split (2017). John Baer/ © 2016 Universal Studios.

Accused criminals have used some wild excuses to explain away their crimes. Ethan Couch said he suffered from “affluenza.” Dan White blamed junk food (well, not exactly). But perhaps the most controversial defense to this day is dissociative identity disorder (DID)—previously known as multiple personality disorder.

There’s an enormous amount of suspicion surrounding dissociative identity disorder. Psychiatrists believe that people who suffer from this condition splinter their personality to deal with a trauma, often childhood abuse. By this definition, someone with DID could conceivably commit a horrific crime and not even know it—because one of their “multiples” or “alters” did it instead.

Skeptics believe criminals lie about having this disorder to avoid consequences, and it probably doesn’t help that characters in pulpy movies like Fight Club, Identity, and M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Split all have it. Still, some courts have accepted this plea, as three of these real-life cases show. But the other two prove that DID remains a highly contentious legal defense.


Most people trace the multiple personality defense back to Billy Milligan. Milligan was hauled into court in 1978 on several counts of rape, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping. His case soon garnered national attention when his lawyers pursued a plea of insanity, arguing that two different personalities had committed the crimes—not Milligan. This defense was highly unusual for the time, but it worked. Milligan was found not guilty, and the judge committed him to a psychiatric hospital. He escaped for four months in 1986, was released in 1991, and died from cancer in 2014.

Psychiatrists have suggested that Milligan had as many as 24 personalities, including a Yugoslavian munitions expert and a 3-year-old girl. Milligan’s life was also the subject of a nonfiction book, The Minds of Billy Milligan, which has long been in movie development. And if Leonardo DiCaprio has his way, he’ll be starring as Milligan.


Juanita Maxwell’s legal problems began in 1979, when she was charged with beating a 73-year-old woman to death. The murder occurred at the hotel where Maxwell worked as a maid and where the woman in question, Inez Kelly, lived. But Maxwell insisted that she hadn’t killed Kelly; her brasher personality, Wanda Weston, had. Whereas Maxwell came off as quiet and prim, Weston was chatty and bragged about smoking weed. She had no problem admitting on the witness stand that she had bludgeoned Kelly with a lamp, because the woman refused to return a pen. Maxwell’s transformation on the stand spooked onlookers, and the court found her not guilty by reason of insanity.

Maxwell was committed to a mental ward, with the full support of her husband, Sammy. Yet in 1988, soon after she was released, she landed in jail for robbing two banks in St. Petersburg, Florida. By that point, she had seven personalities, but Wanda was still pinned as the culprit of the crimes.


When Billy Joe Harris was arrested in 2011, police called him “one of the most wanted men in Texas.” Others knew him as the “Twilight Rapist,” for his early morning assaults on elderly and disabled women. His DNA linked him to multiple attacks and burglaries spanning two years and several counties. Harris insisted he was not a serial rapist, though; rather, it was one of his alters.

According to Psychology Today, Dr. Colin Ross testified in court that he believed Harris had dissociative identity disorder, with reservations. He said he questioned Harris’s insanely high scores on the screening tests for DID—which were administered by the defense attorney, not Ross—and had caught Harris in lies about his personal life. Clearly, everyone else in the courtroom had suspicions, too. Some jurors suppressed laughter when Harris became “Bobby,” another one of his alleged personalities, on the stand. Worse still, he was recorded in a phone call to his girlfriend bragging about putting on a “good show” in court.

The judge tossed out Ross’s testimony and the jury convicted Harris. He received a life sentence, which he has tried to appeal—so far with no success.


The case against Dwayne Wilson began on September 20, 2005, when his nephew, Paris, called the police. The boy explained that his uncle had stabbed him, his brother, his sister, and his mother in their New Jersey home. Paris was the only survivor.

When Wilson’s hearings commenced four years later, his lawyer argued that one of the defendant’s three personalities, “Kiko,” had actually committed the murders and that Wilson could not be held responsible for the crimes. But the judge rejected this argument and sentenced Wilson to 40 years in prison.


Thomas Huskey was known as “Zoo Man” among prostitutes in Tennessee, because he used to work in the elephant barn at Knoxville Zoo. But this whimsical nickname turned sinister when Huskey was charged with a string of murders. He confessed to killing four women, and was accused of raping and robbing two more. Police also recovered jewelry they believed Huskey had taken off his victims’ bodies as “souvenirs.” Huskey’s attorneys, however, insisted that their client had not confessed, kept trophies, or done anything wrong. The perpetrator was “Kyle,” his alternate personality.

The first jury to hear this case could not reach a consensus on the murder, and the prosecution eventually gave up those charges. But Huskey was convicted of the rapes he committed before the murders, and sentenced to 64 years in prison. The Knoxville News Sentinel called his case one of the most expensive in state history.

Keystone/Getty Images
The Terrible Crime at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin 
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright
Keystone/Getty Images

Some of the most horrific murders in Wisconsin history involved none other than famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was in the middle of building a home, which he named Taliesin, for himself and his mistress in Spring Green, Wisconsin. He had recently left his wife and six children for Martha "Mamah" Borthwick, whose husband Edwin Cheney had commissioned Wright to build a house in Oak Park, Illinois. Cheney may have a gained a Frank Lloyd Wright house, but he lost his wife—Mamah and Wright became close, even traveling to Europe together, sans spouses, in 1909. The Cheneys divorced in 1911; Wright’s divorce would take more than another decade to be finalized.

On August 15, 1914, Wright was away attending to the construction of Midway Gardens in Chicago when he got a terrible message. “Taliesin destroyed by fire,” it read, and that was all. For the time being, at least, Wright was spared the details: Their servant, Julian Carlton, had attacked Mamah, her children, and Taliesin workmen, pouring gasoline under the door and setting the home ablaze. When some of the victims broke windows and tried to escape, Carlton hacked at them from outside of the house with a hatchet.

The Ogden Standard, September 5, 1914
A news account of the tragedy, September 5, 1914
Library of Congress // Public Domain

While precise accounts of the crime vary, according to biographer William Drennan, Carlton first killed Mamah and her two children, 8-year-old Martha and 12-year-old John, while they were eating lunch on a porch, bludgeoning them with a hatchet. Once Carlton had taken care of them, he went to a dining room where the workmen were eating, locked them in, and set fire to the place.

In the end, eight people died—seven victims and the murderer himself. The victims included Mamah and her children, draftsman Emil Brodelle, gardener David Lindblom, handyman Tom Brunker, and Ernest Weston, the son of carpenter William Weston.

The murderer didn’t die right away, though. He swallowed hydrochloric acid soon after the attack, and died of starvation about seven weeks later. Despite being questioned, Carlton never did give a motive for his killing spree. There’s some evidence to suggest a series of disputes with the workers, however, and that Carlton had recently been told he was being terminated.

Taliesin as it looks today
edward stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As for the absolutely devastated Frank Lloyd Wright, he rebuilt Taliesin in Mamah’s honor. The land may have been cursed, however, because this second reincarnation of the house was also destroyed by fire. In 1925, a lightning storm apparently ignited the wiring, sparking a conflagration that eventually burned the house down. Not one to be deterred, Wright built Taliesin III on the same spot. Today, the home is open for tours and events.

A version of this story originally ran in 2011.

8 Animals That Have Been Imprisoned or Arrested

It might seem like a case of animals just being animals, but when eight donkeys in northern India recently ate nearly $1000 worth of greenery in their small town, they did four days in the big house. (Perhaps part of the problem? They ate expensive saplings that were planted right near the jail. Rookie mistake.) But whether they harmed property or people, were in cahoots with human outlaws, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, these eight other critters are proof that "crime" can sometimes be cuddly.


In 2015, officials in India arrested a pigeon they suspected was a spy. The bird’s body was stamped with a message written partly in Urdu—Pakistan’s official language—and what appeared to be a Pakistani phone number. It had landed in a village close to the country’s shared border with Pakistan, near the Kashmir region that’s claimed by both countries and has been the subject of multiple wars between India and Pakistan beginning in 1947. Though there was a ceasefire in 1972 (the current situation is that India controls 45 percent of Kashmir, Pakistan 35 percent, and China 20 percent), because both countries believe they have rights to the area, it's frequently the site of military clashes and infiltration.

So when a 14-year-old boy found the suspicious-looking pigeon so close to Kashmir, he turned it over to authorities. The officials took it to a veterinary hospital for x-rays, and though they couldn’t find any concrete evidence of foreign fowl play, they kept the bird in custody, recording it as a “suspected spy” in their police diary.

That said, not everyone took the news as seriously as the Indian police did: In the days following the bird’s arrest, Pakistani social media was flooded with memes depicting the feathered detainee as a slick 007 type, and amused internet users coined hashtags like #PigeonVsIndia and #IfIWereAPigeon.


In December 2016, a wild beaver must have decided that forest trees weren’t festive enough, because it wandered into a dollar store in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, to browse Christmas trees and decorations. Workers noticed the animal knocking items onto the floor, and called the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office.

Captain Yingling of the sheriff's office arrived on scene to prevent the "shopping" beaver from ruining the store. “The suspect attempted to flee the area but was apprehended by Animal Control,” the sheriff's department joked on their Facebook page.

Instead of allowing the beaver to finish up its holiday shopping, the St. Mary's County Sheriff handed the critter over to a wildlife rehab center. As for the police, they said the quirky incident just marked another day on the job: “As a law enforcement officer, you just never know what your next call may be...” they mused on Facebook.


In 2015, police in the Indian state of Maharashtra taught a foul-mouthed parrot named Hariyal a lesson in politeness after they “arrested” it for swearing at an elderly woman named Janabai. According to locals, the pet bird had picked up the rude habit from Janabi’s stepson, Suresh Sakharkar. The two were embroiled in an ugly property dispute, and the latter had reportedly spent the prior two years training Hariyal to spout epithets whenever the estranged relation walked past his house.

The situation escalated, and Janabi, Suresh, and his bird were eventually called to the police station. “Police should investigate and seize the parrot,” the embittered stepmother told Indian news channel Zee News. That said, Hariyal must have known he was in hot water, because he kept his beak shut. “We watched the parrot carefully but it did not utter a word at the police station after being confronted by the complainant,” a police inspector told reporters.

Instead of locking Hariyal up, officials gave the parrot over to Maharashtra’s forestry department, where he can presumably fly—and curse—freely for the remainder of his life.


While walking down the street in the West German city of Bottrop in 2015, a woman realized that she had attracted a furry stalker: a tiny red squirrel. The animal was chasing her and acting aggressively. Frightened and unable to flee the rodent, the woman called the police for help. Authorities captured the squirrel, “arrested” it, and brought it back to the station. There, they discovered that the critter was suffering from exhaustion.

Police helped nurse the squirrel back to health by feeding it honey, and a spokesman said the squirrel would be sent to a rescue center instead of languishing away in a cell for its stalkerish habits.



In 2004, a rogue monkey became infamous for terrorizing residents of the city of Patiala, in India’s northern Punjab region. The monkey was guilty of multiple crimes: It stole food from homes, ripped the buttons off people's shirts, threatened kids with bricks, and once even swiped someone’s math textbooks and calculator. To keep the marauding jungle creature off the streets, officials sentenced it to “monkey jail”—a now-defunct detainment center in Patiala that was reserved for ill-behaving primates.

The “monkey jail"—which appears to have operated from 1996 until the mid-2000s—was located in the corner of a local zoo. The 15-foot-wide barred cell was secured with chain-link fencing and wire mesh, and had a sign that read: "These monkeys have been caught from various cities of Punjab. They are notorious. Going near them is dangerous."

Punjab is filled with countless wild Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. Some of the animals have moved into cities and towns in search of food, as humans continue to destroy their natural jungle habitat. Others were once used as animal guards, or trained as performing monkeys, and were set loose by their owners once they turned violent. Particularly ill-treated or mischievous primates have been known to destroy property and pester—or even attack—humans. But since Hindus revere Hanuman, the monkey god, killing the creatures is verboten.

Wildlife officers in Punjab took matters into their own hands by opening the monkey jail. They responded to public complaints by capturing the creatures with trapping cages and tranquilizer guns. Once the monkeys were locked up, there was little to no chance of "parole."

As of 2004, there were 13 jailed monkeys, all imprisoned for harassing people or committing petty crimes. Patiala’s primate penitentiary was eventually closed, and authorities announced it was going to be replaced by “reform school" that's intended to train the monkeys to be less aggressive.


On New Year’s Day 2013, a cat took the heat for scheming Brazilian inmates who were likely either planning a jailbreak or attempting to communicate with outlaws on the outside. The white feline was slinking around the main gates of a medium-security prison in Arapiraca—a city in northeast Brazil—when guards noticed that its body was wrapped in tape. They apprehended the kitty, and discovered that it was carrying items including several saws and drills, an earphone, a memory card, batteries, and a phone charger.

Prison officer Luiz de Oliveira Souza told reporters that the cat had been seen entering and exiting the jail before. It had been raised by inmates, and was often in the custody of one of their families. However, officials couldn’t figure out which of the jail’s 263 prisoners had tried to use the feline for their own nefarious purposes: “It’s tough to find out who’s responsible for the action as the cat doesn’t speak,” a prison spokesperson told local newspaper Estado de S.Paulo.

Following the cat’s “arrest” and brief imprisonment, it was taken to a local animal shelter to receive medical treatment.


Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary

Unlike some animals on this list, Pep the dog was a very good boy. But in 1924, Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot allegedly sentenced the dark-haired Labrador to a life sentence without parole. Pep was taken to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, where officials jokingly gave him his own inmate number and mug shot. Reporters nicknamed the canine "Pep The Cat-Murdering Dog," as he was said to have killed the governor’s wife’s cat.

Thanks to all the media hype, Pep had quite the tough reputation. But a few years after the canine’s imprisonment, the governor’s wife, Cornelia Pinchot, set the story straight in an interview with The New York Times. Turns out, Pep had never murdered her pet feline; her family simply bred Labradors, and owned too many dogs. Pep, she said, was a gift to the prisoners to lift their spirits.

Today, researchers say that partisan journalists twisted the facts around, and that Pep was actually a beloved prison pet that freely wandered the hallways and was adored by all. As for the "life sentence without parole" part, the Lab was eventually moved to a newer prison; when he died, he was buried on its grounds.



In 2008, police in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas arrested a feisty donkey named Blacky after it bit a man in the chest, and kicked a second man trying to rescue him. Police apprehended the burro and locked it in the jail’s drunk tank. “Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed, no matter who they are,” said Officer Sinar Gomez.

Police said that the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner, Mauro Gutierrez, paid the injured parties’ medical bills and salary for the days they missed work. The boisterous burro served three days in jail, and Gutierrez settled the score by paying Blacky's victims.


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