Remembering a murder and a man with multiple personalities

head shotThis post by Mike Staton.

She sat in the chair at the last table in the detective bureau. Her hands shook as she raised a hamburger to her mouth. No, that’s not exactly accurate. Her whole body shook, as if she’d been on the cusp of a seizure. Except she wasn’t having one. She was in the custody of the Lancaster Police Department for shooting and killing her boyfriend.

It’s been 35 years since I walked into the bureau and saw that terrified girl, alone in the back of the room, trying to eat a bland hamburger. I don’t remember her name. I don’t even remember her hair color or the exact clothes she wore. But I do recall she was pretty with long hair and long legs; it must have been the summertime… she wore tight jeans and a revealing top, but I can’t tell you the type of top – halter or tube. I just know the girl’s nerves were shot and I thought she might shake herself right out of the chair.

I'll never forget the way the young girl trembled inside the Lancaster Police Department's detective bureau. Just a few hours before she'd shot and killed her boyfriend.

I’ll never forget the way the young girl trembled inside the Lancaster Police Department’s detective bureau. Just a few hours before she’d shot and killed her boyfriend.

When I sat down in the chief detective’s office just off the main room, I got the story of the girl’s plight from the supervisor, Ron Balser. I’d worked hard over the years to nurture a professional relationship with him, and he’d come to trust me as a reporter who would treat him fairly. In the ’80s as a reporter in Central Florida, I’d had horrendous professional relationships with police and sheriff’s departments. We’d been advised by our lawyers to make sure we didn’t put ourselves in a position where fake evidence could be planted in our cars and used to arrest and charge us; we were about to run a series detailing law enforcement corruption and were being threatened if we ran it. See, I’ve been exposed to both good and bad police officers, and Balser was one of the good ones.

The girl, in her late teens or early twenties, had been involved in a ugly fight with her boyfriend. Earlier, he’d been charged with drug-related offenses and had failed to appear at a court hearing. She’d been angry with him for bailing on the hearing. He’d been high and threatened her. Afraid he’d hurt her, she’d grabbed a pistol and shot him. I can’t tell you how many times… too many years have passed, but enough that he died in their Lancaster, Ohio apartment.

Back in the '70 part of my newspaper beat was covering the police building in downtown Lancaster, Ohio. I worked hard to develop trustworthy sources.

Back in the ’70 part of my newspaper beat was covering the police building in downtown Lancaster, Ohio. I worked hard to develop trustworthy sources.

Balser pulled some Polaroid photos from his top desk drawer and shared them with me. I was a bit shocked at what they depicted – the girl and her lover having sex, X-rated selfies ‘70s style. The photos obviously wouldn’t be used as evidence, but they did illustrate a tragic end to a rough romance. A night of bed romping – and a day or two later gunshots and a life snuffed out.

The news surrounding the Ferguson, Missouri police department got me thinking about my days covering police departments and sheriff’s offices. In the wake of the death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department has come under intense criticism and scrutiny for being almost entirely a white force patrolling a 70-percent black city. In many cases nowadays, videos document shootings of suspects by police who say they believe their lives were in danger. For example, not long after the Michael Brown death, two St. Louis police officers shot and killed a mentally ill suspect wielding a small knife.

The PR24 nightstick first used by Lancaster police gave them some additional options for subduing suspects. I did a feature story on it for the local newspaper.

The PR24 nightstick first used by Lancaster police gave them some additional options for subduing suspects. I did a feature story on it for the local newspaper.

As I watched the video of the knife man, I found myself wondering when police across the country started thinking they needed to go immediately to lethal force to bring down suspects, some unarmed like Brown, others holding small knives. That made me think back to a feature story I did when the Lancaster police adapted the PR24 police sidearm baton. My police sources extolled the virtues of the weapon as a means to disarm suspects holding weapons like knives. The PR24’s marketing materials said its striking capabilities included thrusting, twirling and striking along with various Jujitsu-style takedown and grappling techniques. That seems like a fine weapon for disarming a mentally ill guy holding a pocket knife or an unarmed man charging a patrolman.

I can really think of only one occasion back in the ‘70s when Lancaster police exchanged fire with suspects; a bank robber leaving a branch fired at police through a glass door. I don’t recall the outcome, except I can say the officers weren’t hurt and the suspect wasn’t killed. Not to say there weren’t other incidents… I just don’t remember them.

Billy Milligan was arrested in the late '80s and charged with raping women in the Ohio State campus area of Columbus. He was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.  He'd had run-ins with the Lancaster police who were very familiar with him.

Billy Milligan was arrested in the late ’80s and charged with raping women in the Ohio State campus area of Columbus. He was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. He’d had run-ins with the Lancaster police who were very familiar with him.

I do recall sitting in Balser’s office one morning drinking coffee with him and discussing the Columbus police case of Billy Milligan. He was quite notorious in the late ’70s. Arrested for three rapes on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, his defense lawyers pleaded insanity. Psychiatrists diagnosed Milligan with multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder). His lawyers claimed two of his 24 alternate personalities committed the crimes without Milligan being aware of it. He was the first individual acquitted of a major crime by this reason; instead, he spent a decade in mental hospitals.

At various times, Milligan lived in Lancaster and the police were quite familiar with him. Psychiatrists blamed the splintering of Milligan’s personality on sexual abuse by a stepfather. According to an award-winning book – “The Minds of Billy Milligan” – written by Daniel Keyes in 1981, Milligan was suspended from junior high school because he went into trances and wandered around Lancaster. Lancaster High School officials expelled him in 1972. He helped plan a Lancaster drugstore robbery in early 1975. Soon after, Lancaster police arrested him; he pleaded guilty to robbing the other men and the store. Milligan was sentenced to at least two years in prison and paroled in April 1977. The campus-area rapes began six months later.

For therapy, psychologists had Milligan do paintings. This one is of some of his personalities inhabiting his mind.

For therapy, psychologists had Milligan do paintings. This one is of some of his personalities inhabiting his mind.

That day in his office Balser said Milligan was a devious manipulator. Balser didn’t think Milligan suffered from multiple personality disorder. I don’t know if he still feels that way. I read Keyes’ book during a New Year’s trip to Key West in late December 1982. Based on what I read, I’m convinced. For example, one of the rape victims said Milligan was quite nice and that he acted like a three-year-old girl. A young girl was one of his personalities.

To conclude, my days as a reporter covering cops in Lancaster, Ohio, was quite fun. When you do a good job of gaining the trust of detectives and patrolmen, you get to see the underbelly of a small city. Many would share their frustrations from their jobs. And there were some fringe benefits, like sitting down with 20-something female dispatchers and flirting with them. Sometime I’ll tell you about the city auditor’s secretary; I took her up to Columbus on a movie date in the hours just before the Blizzard of ’78. Thankfully, we didn’t get stranded on the way back to Lancaster with just a few blankets and our bodies to keep us warm.

Hey, in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m an author. Book 1 in my trilogy is The Emperor’s Mistress; book 2, Thief’s Coin. The first two links are Amazon; the next two links, Barnes and Noble; the final link, my publisher, Wings ePress.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Emperors-Mistress-ebook/dp/B003YL4F0S/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

http://www.amazon.com/Thiefs-Coin-ebook/dp/B005KSL600/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1333470402&sr=1-1

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/emperors-mistress-michael-staton/1109995337?ean=2940014203524

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/thiefs-coin-michael-staton/1109950586?ean=2940014211222

http://wingsepress.com/

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27 Responses to Remembering a murder and a man with multiple personalities

  1. sstamm625 says:

    Interesting post, Mike! You’ve seen (and written about) a lot over the years. I heard a story on the radio this morning about police shooting a young black man in a Wal-Mart, because he was carrying a BB gun that Wal-Mart sells, that he’d picked up in the store. He was carrying it through the store, talking on his cell, and someone called 911 and said a man was in Wal-Mart with a gun. The police showed up and shot him. Things like this happen far too often.

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  2. Reblogged this on L.LEANDER BOOKS and commented:
    I’m reblogging this post from Writing Wranglers and Warriors. It is written by Author Mike Staton, former news reporter. The incidents he encountered and wrote about in his newspaper days were interesting. Give this a read and see if you don’t agree!

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    • Mike Staton says:

      Thanks, Linda. Maybe we’ll get more readers and an additional comment or two. Wish I knew why the text ended up black and now reversed white. Did nothing any different from the other times I posted. I looked at the “edit” function and didn’t notice anything that would allow me to make the text reverse.

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  3. Such an interesting post, Mike! I’m sure you have many others of your newspaper reporter days – hope we get to hear more. I know Multiple Personality Disorder has been the subject of many a ploy to keep suspects out of jail. Since I worked in the Mental Health field I saw firsthand how these people can act and if it’s real, it’s scary. I think the judicial system has a lot on their hands to determine whether or not someone has this disorder, but hopefully, justice is served, at least in some cases. These are people who should be under intense therapy, perhaps medicated, maybe in a Day Treatment program, and watched closely for signs of change. Thanks for sharing. I have reblogged this on my own blog for people to read.

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    • Mike Staton says:

      Interesting that you think too that multiple personality disorder has been used as a ploy to keep suspects out of jail. I know cops in Lancaster thought Milligan was faking it. For a while after his trial Milligan received treatment at the Athens Mental Health Center in Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University. It used to be an insane asylum. Now it’s a convention center-type facility where the university holds banquets, etc.; my youngest niece (when she was going to Ohio U) worked there as a hostess making money to help with tuition and books.

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  4. erinfarwell says:

    Great post, but a sad one as well, for the girl, for the boy in Ferguson, and so many more. I appreciate your sharing this with us.

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    • Mike Staton says:

      Yes, Erin. Don’t remember the girl’s name, so can’t find out what happened to her. Hopefully, she didn’t serve time, and is now living a good life. And I hope police and prosecutor in Ferguson don’t whitewash the Brown case.

      Like

  5. S. J. Brown says:

    Interesting post. I suppose your days as a reporter are still giving you material to write about.

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  6. Wranglers says:

    Interesting post Mike. I love hearing people’s stories and trying to figure out why they do what they do–probably why I enjoy being a psych nurse so much. Multiple personalities are very interesting, as are a lot of other behaviors that link back to early sexual abuse and other factors. I used to want to be a policewoman, but now am glad I am not I think. They have a hard job, and multiple motives for becoming policemen also. Your job would have been fascinating. Neva

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thanks, Neva. I think you’ve put the hammer squarely on the “nail” reason for why some folks like us become fiction writers. We do like to tell stories and get into the heads of our characters, initially revealing just enough to tease our readers into delving into our tales.

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  7. Doris says:

    In this fairly large city and working juvenile corrections at the time the gangs were moving in, I can say the officers were pretty stressed and over worked. However, most handled their interactions with the public and the offenders well. There were a few, we called them the ones with the ‘Wyatt Earp’ complex. They were right and had the power, in their minds. (I even tangled, verbally with a couple who wanted to circumvent the system)

    A very good post, and one that brought back some memories. Doris

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    • Mike Staton says:

      Thanks, Doris. I like your analogy of “Wyatt Earp” cops. You’d think the police academies would weed them out, but nowadays they seem to be accepted.

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  8. katewyland says:

    I attended a Citizen’s Police Academy last year and was “surprised” that the real people I met didn’t quite match up with the tv and movie portrayals. The officers were quite focused on keeping themselves and other officers safe. One of the things I learned is that if a suspect with a knife is within 20′, they can attack and injure an officer before he or she can draw and fire a gun. It only takes 2-3 seconds to cover 20′.

    Even though we’re in a low-crime suburb, many came from higher crime areas and have a low tolerance for threatening behavior. I hate the idea of shooting unarmed or mentally ill suspects, but the cops are hyper-sensitive these days.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      For me here’s what is sad. In Vegas, it’s so hot in the summer that I often can’t do my walking to keep in shape until 10 p.m. The sidewalks are angled at driveways, etc. so I will often do my walking on the road pavement near the sidewalk because it’s less stressful on my knees and ankles. If a police officer were to pull his cruiser up to me during my walk on the street, I’m going to be thinking: “OK, keep your hands out where he can see them; don’t do anything that he can misinterpret.” Thirty years ago I would have never had those thoughts. Maybe it’s the saturated 24-hours a day coverage of all-news networks, maybe it’s the videos that go viral on Twitter and Facebook, but — as you put it — hypersensitive officers make me nervous. It’s a different world we live in now compared to when I was a young reporter in Ohio. In this Age of Terrorism, we’re surrendering our civil liberties and militarizing our police departments — and we’re not feeling any safer. I guess that’s why more and more wealthy housing developments are gated communities.

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      • Mike Staton says:

        On the other hand, when the two police officers eating pizza in a pizza joint were gunned down by the crazy man and woman earlier this summer, there was a huge outpouring of support and love for the Vegas Metro Police Department. Lots of money was raised to help the slain officers’ families as well as the family of a civilian shot and killed by the woman in Walmart. Now there’s the other side of the coin that shows why cops are hypersensitive these days. It takes well-trained officers to tell when a threat is real; it’s interesting that many departments nowadays are having cops wear mini-video cameras. I can see such video footage being used in police academies someday to show students both the correct responses and when things go wrong.

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      • katewyland says:

        They’re not only worried about keeping safe, they’re also afraid of being sued. Our cops wear the mini-cams on their uniforms so they can show what went down and counter false claims if they have to. A totally different mindset from what I expected. They were uncomfortable when they discovered I was a writer.

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      • Mike Staton says:

        Another Vegas area incident comes to mind that shows the courage of well trained police officers in dangerous situations. This time it’s the Clive Bundy ranch earlier in the year where Vegas police set themselves up as a buffer between federal land management rangers and the militia groups. Good police work kept a potentially explosive situation from erupting into violence.

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  9. Wranglers says:

    Love this blog Mike. Thanks for sharing sime of the highlights of your job. I’m sure there are many more interesting incidents. How exciting. I’m on my phone, and the post looks great. I’ll look at it on my computer as soon as I can. Cher’ley

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  10. I love your opening with the girl in the police station shaking so much she could hardly eat a hamburger. In all the Ellery Queen and other mysteries I’ve read, I’ve never encountered a scene in which a suspect is eating in a police station. In fact, I thought at first the detectives’ bureau was just another odd name for a restaurant.

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  11. Nancy Jardine says:

    Fascinating memories, Mike. Newspaper reporting can be quite a hazardous, as well as an incredibly interesting, job. I guess each day was something like – ‘ the day’s beginning let’s see how it pans out?’. The multiple personalites guy freaks me out a bit too much when I see his painting.

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  12. Mike Staton says:

    Remember the 1957 movie “The Three Faces of Eve”? That movie starring Joanne Woodward was all I knew about multiple personalities disorder until Billy Milligan. She won a Best Actress Oscar for portraying three different personalities (Eve White, Eve Black and Jane). You’re thinking: how boring, right? Just three personalities… Billy had 24. 🙂

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  13. jerry larabee says:

    I am from Lancaster, O. I ran for the Office of Sheriff and was offered a bribe. I have a story to tell. Would you be interested in writing about it? It involves being arrested by the incumbent sheriff that I ran against for a charge that was not a crime. I was the first person ever to be arrested for over hearing a telephone call over my ham radio and TV set. The charges were bogus and nothing was illegal about it. This story is about corruption in Fairfield County, O. It is very intriguing story. E mail me, and I will give you my phone number.

    Like

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