Billy Milligan: The criminal with 24 personalities who inspired “Split”, the film by James McAvoy

William Stanley Milligan, better known as Billy Milligan, was arrested in 1977 for the crimes of kidnapping, robbery and the rape of three women in the Ohio campus area. His case was handled like any other, however, during a psychiatric evaluation for his defense, Milligan revealed that he had not committed any crime, rather it was ‘Ragen’ who had stolen the money and ‘Adalana’ who had raped the women. This greatly impressed the jury, because while they were waiting for him to reveal where the culprits were, at the end of the evaluation it was confirmed that the 22-year-old had eight additional alternatives inside his body, which in the end turned out to be 24. That is why in 1978 he was found not guilty by reason of insanity on the basis of multiple personality disorder, what is now called Dissociative identity disorder.

In case of Billy Milligan shocked America so much, it even inspired one of Hollywood’s most successful thrillers, ‘Fragmented‘, which stars actor James McAvoy, who, by the way, turns 43 this April 21. Upon its release, the film caused controversy, as the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation published a statement debunking the stereotype of dangerous patients in the Dissociative identity disorder and said that it gave a false notion of what this psychological suffering was.

Who was Billy Milligan, the criminal of the 24 personalities?

Billy Milligan was born in 1955 in Ohio, and died on December 12, 2014. His childhood was quite complicated, as he was the victim of serious physical and sexual abuse and torture inflicted by his stepfather, which, according to the doctors who evaluated him, were the cause of his personality fragmenting into 10 (and later, as many as 24) separate personalities who had little knowledge of each other’s actions.

Some time later, at the age of 22, Billy he became a full-fledged criminal, engaged in continuous armed robberies and rapes.

In late October 1977, students on the Ohio State University Medical School campus in Columbus were in shock. In a twelve-day period, three women – a nurse and two students – had been kidnapped, forced under threat of death to cash checks at nearby banks, and then raped.

The police patrolled the area and arrested a suspect, it was none other than Billy Milligan, who was studying at that university campus and whose fingerprints had been found on the car stolen from one of the victims. Since her arrest, the officers noticed strange behavior as it was as if Billy I was talking to different people.

Once at the trial, one of the prosecutors in charge also witnessed the strange behavior, as he showed different ways of speaking, different accents, different ways of sitting in the chair, moving and gesturing.

After being confined in the Ohio prison, his defense requested psychological tests, which determined that he suffered from acute schizophrenia and a Multiple personality disorder. This disorder is detected when there are two or more personalities in the same person, caused as a defense mechanism against trauma generated by abuse in very young people. The person fragments her psyche in order to cope with the trauma.

Billy was convicted of his crimes, but, after confirming that he suffered from multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder, he was acquitted of all guilt, making him the first man to be acquitted of a crime on the basis of confirmed psychological disorder. However, he was in a series of psychiatric hospitals that verified the 24 personalities that he had.

Billy Milligan He died in 2014, aged 59, from cancer while in a nursing home.