In the early weeks of 1979, the writer visited Billy Milligan frequently at the Athens Mental Health Center. As the Teacher spoke to him of the past, describing what the others had seen, thought and done from the beginning, they all—— except Shawn, who was deaf—listened and learned their histories.
Now answering to the name of Billy, the Teacher became increasingly confident. Though he still switched from time to time when he wasn’t talking to the writer, Billy felt that the longer he could remain fused, and free of the hostility and fear that led to the mix-up times, the sooner he would be able to hold himself together and start a new life. Money from the sale of his paintings would enable him to start a new life after he was cured.
Billy read, studied medical books, exercised in the gym, jogged around the building and painted. He sketched Arthur and painted Danny, Shawn, Adalana and April. He bought molecular models at the university bookstore and studied chemistry, physics and biology on his own. He bought a citizens’ band radio and started broadcasting at night from his hospital room—talking to other CBers about combating child abuse.
After reading in the local newspaper that My Sister’s Place, the Athens organization for battered women, was having difficulty paying bills and might have to close, he donated a hundred dollars. But when they discovered who the money was from, they refused his contribution.
On January 10, a little more than a month after his transfer to Athens, Billy opened a bank account in the name of the
Foundation Against Child Abuse and deposited a thousand dollars. It was part of the five-figure payment he had received from a woman in Columbus who was planning to open an art gallery and who came to the Athens Mental Health Center to buy the painting of the lady with the sheet music in her hand, “The Grace of Cathleen.”
He then had a bumper sticker printed, black letters on a yellow background:
HUG YOUR CHILD TODAY
PLEASE HELP STOP CHILD ABUSE—BILLY
Billy talked often with the young female patients. The nurses and mental health technicians knew that the young women were playing up to him, competing with each other for his attention. Nurse Pat Perry noticed that Mary, a former anthropology student, came out of her depression when Billy was around and talked to her. Billy admired Marys intelligence, often asking her advice, as she asked his. He missed her when she was discharged in January, but she promised to come back to visit him.
When he wasn’t talking to Mary, Dr. Caul or the writer, the Teacher would find himself bored and irritated by the confinement, and he would drop down to the level of Danny, David or the unfused Billy. It was easier for him to relate to the other patients this way. Some of the staff who had become close to Billy noticed that when he was Danny or David, he had a special empathy for other patients. He knew when they were upset, hurting or feeling fear. When one of the young women would leave the open ward in a state of panic or hysteria, Billy could often tell the staff where to find her.
“David and Danny are the parts of me that have empathy,” the Teacher explained to the writer. “They can feel where the hurt is coming from. When someone leaves and is upset, it’s like a beacon around where they are, and Danny or David will just point in the right direction.”
One evening after dinner, David was sitting in the living room when suddenly he imagined one of the female patients rushing toward the stairway railing outside the ward door—a steep three-floor drop down the center staircase. Ragen, who always thought David was weird for thinking these kinds of things, realized that what David was seeing was probably happening. He took the spot, dashing down the corridor and up the steps, slamming open the door and running out into the hallway.
Katherine Gillott, the mental health technician who had been sitting in the office near the exit, jumped up from her desk and ran after him. She reached the corridor in time to see him grab the girl, who had already gone over the railing. He held on and pulled her up. When Gillott brought her back inside, Ragen slipped away . . .
David felt the pain in his arms.
In addition to the general therapy he had been giving Billy from the beginning to strengthen his control of the consciousness, Dr. Caul used hypnotherapy and taught his patient autosuggestion techniques to help alleviate tension. Weekly group therapy sessions with two other multiple personality patients enabled Billy to understand more about his condition by seeing its effects on other people. His switching was less and less frequent, and Caul felt his patient was improving.
As Billy the Teacher began chafing at his restrictions, Dr. Caul systematically extended his privileges and freedom, first allowing him to leave the building with an attendant, then letting him sign himself out, as other patients did, for short walks—but only on hospital grounds. Billy used this time to test the pollution levels at various points along the Hocking River. He made plans to attend classes at Ohio University in the spring of 1979, to study physics, biology and art. He began to keep a chart of his moods.
In mid-January, Billy pressed Dr. Caul to extend to him the privilege many other patients had—of going into town. He needed to have his hair cut, to go to the bank, to see his lawyer, to buy art supplies and books.
At first Billy was allowed to leave the grounds only when accompanied by two hospital employees. Things went well, and soon Caul decided to allow him to leave with only one attendant. There seemed to be no problem. A few college students, recognizing him from his pictures in the newspapers and on television, waved to him. It made him feel good. Maybe not everyone hated him for what he had done. Maybe society wasn’t totally against him, after all.
Finally Billy asked that his therapy take the next step. He had been a good patient, he argued. He had learned to trust others around him. Now his doctor had to show him that he was trusted as well. Other patients, many of them with more severe mental illness than his own, were allowed to go into town unattended. He wanted the same privilege.
Caul agreed that Billy was ready.
To make certain there would be no misunderstandings, Caul checked with Superintendent Sue Foster and concerned law-enforcement officials. Conditions were set: The hospital was to notify the police in Athens and the Adult Parole Authority in Lancaster each time Milligan left the grounds unattended or’ returned to the hospital. Billy agreed to abide by the rules.
“We’ve got to plan ahead, Billy,” Caul said. “We’ve got to consider some of the things you might face out on the street alone.” ,
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s think of things that might happen and how you might respond. Suppose you were walking down Court Street and a female saw you, recognized you and just walked up to you and slapped the hell out of you right across your face without any warning. Do you understand that’s a possibility? People know who you are. What would you do?”
Billy put his hand to his cheek. “I would just step aside and walk around her.”
“All right. Suppose a man walked up to you and called you a dirty name, called you a rapist, and then punched you, knocked you down on the street? What would you do?”
“Dr. Caul,” Billy said, “I would just lie there rather than go back to prison. I would just lie there and hope that he would go on and leave me alone.”
Caul smiled. “Maybe you’ve learned something. I guess we re just going to have to give you the chance to show you have.”
The first time Billy went to town alone, he felt a mixture of headiness and fear. He crossed the streets carefully at comers so that the police wouldn’t cite him for jaywalking. He was aware of the people who passed him, praying that no one would come up and attack him. If anyone did, he wouldn’t respond. He would do exactly what he’d told Dr. Caul.
He bought art supplies and then went into Your Father’s Mustache barbershop. Norma Dishong had called ahead, alerting the manager and staff to the fact that Billy Milligan was coming to have his hair cut. People there greeted him with “Hi, Billy,” “Hows it going, Billy?” and “Hey, you’re looking good, Billy.”
Bobbie, the young woman who cut and styled his hair, spoke to him sympathetically and refused to accept payment. He could come in at any time, she said, without an appointment, and she’d cut his hair free of charge.
Out on the street, several students, recognizing him, waved and smiled. He went back to the hospital feeling terrific. None of the terrible things Dr. Caul had prepared him for had happened. Everything was going to be all right.
On February 19, Dorothy visited her son alone. Billy taped their conversation. He wanted to learn more about his childhood, to understand why his father, Johnny Morrison, had committed suicide.
“You built your own image of your father,” Dorothy said. “Sometimes you would ask me questions and I’d answer them to my best ability, but I never tore him down. I never told the sad things. Why hurt you kids? You built your own image, and that was your dad.”
“Tell me again,” Billy said. “About the time in Florida when you gave him every bit of money you had so he could go on the road, and there was nothing in the house but a can of tuna and a box of macaroni. Did he come back with the money?”
“No. He went on to the borscht circuit. I don’t know what happened there. He came back with his—”
“The borscht circuit? Is that a show?”
“It’s up in the mountains, the hotels in the Jewish section of the Catskills. He went up there to do his work—his show business. That was when I got the letter from his agent saying, ‘I never believed you’d do this thing, Johnny.’ I don’t know what happened up there. When he came back, he was more despondent than ever, and it went on this way.”
“Did you read his suicide note? I heard from Gary Schweickart that it had all the names of the people—”
“There were names of some of the people he owed money to. Not any of the Shylocks; he didn’t name them. But I knew they were there, because I’d go with him—I sat in the car when he went to pay them off—and each time it was a different place. He had to pay off gambling debts. At first I thought I was accountable for those gambling debts, but I wasn’t gonna
pay them. I didn’t make the damned debts. I helped out as much as I could, but I couldn’t take it away from you kids.” “Well,” Billy snickered, “we had a can of tuna and a box of macaroni.”
“I went back to work,” Dorothy continued, “and then we had a little bit more. I bought the groceries by that time, and I kept on working and supplying the home. That was when I cut off giving him my salary. I’d give him the money for the rent, and he’d go off and pay only half of it.”
“And gambled away the other half?”
“That, or paid off the Shylocks. I don’t know what he did with it. Confronting him with it, ‘I never got the straight, honest truth. One day the loan company was going to take the furniture. I told ’em, ‘Go ahead and take it.’ But the guy couldn’t do it because I was crying, and here I was pregnant with Kathy.”
“It wasn’t very nice of Johnny.”
“Hey,” Dorothy said, “that’s it.”
After two and a half months in the Athens Mental Health Center, as Billy lost less and less time, he pressed Dr. Caul to take the next promised step in his therapy—a furlough. Other patients—many showing less improvement than he—were allowed to spend weekends at home with relatives. Dr. Caul agreed that his behavior, his insight, the long period of stability, indicated that he was ready. Billy was allowed to take a series of weekends at Kathy’s house in Logan, twenty-five miles northwest of Athens. He was overjoyed.
One weekend, Billy pressed Kathy to show him a copy of Johnny Morrison’s suicide note, which he knew she had gotten from the public defender’s office. She had resisted showing it to him up to this point, afraid it would upset him, but hearing Billy talk of Dorothy’s suffering, what a rotten father Johnny Morrison had been, Kathy became annoyed. All her life Kathy had worshiped Johnny’s memory. It was time for Billy to know, the truth.
“Here,” she said, tossing a bulky envelope on the coffee table. Then she left him alone.
The envelope contained a letter to Gary Schweickart from the Office of the Medical Examiner in Dade County, Florida, along with several documents: four separate pages of instruction addressed to four different people, an eight-page letter to
Mr. Herb Rau, reporter for the Miami News, and a two-page note, found tom but subsequently pieced together by the police. This appeared to be part of a second note to Rau, which had never been completed.
The instructions concerned payment of outstanding debts and loans, the smallest of which was twenty-seven dollars and the largest one hundred eighty dollars. A note to “Louise” ended with “one last joke. Little Boy: Mama whats a werewolf? Mother: Shut up and comb your face.”
The note to “Miss Dorothy Vincent” began with instructions for payment of debts to be made from his insurance, and ended: “My final request is to be cremated—I couldn’t stand your dancing over my grave.”
The photocopy of the letter to Mr. Herb Rau of the Miami News was unreadable in spots, indicated here by asterisks:
Mr. Herb Rau Miami News
Writing this is not an easy task. It might seem the cowardly way out, but as my entire world has collapsed about me there is nothing left. The only hope for temporary security for my 3 children, James, William and Kathy Jo can be derived from what little insurance I have. If it is possible, can you see that their mother, Dorothy Vincent, does not get her hands on it! She is mixed up with a crowd that hangs around where she works, Place Pigalle on Miami Beach, that will gladly share it with her! Procurers, Shylocks, etc. These are the people she has broken up the home for, and believe me I did all in my power to hold it together.
The story is sordid enough— The children I love with all my heart, & the fact that they are bom without the benefit of marriage, is something she wants to use as a “gimmick” to get some publicity she thinks will further her career! As follows— Since before our first child was bom, I tried several times to get her to marry me, (this is after she accused me of making her pregnant when we 1st met,) but she always found one excuse after another to avoid it. (all this and the following can be proven by a deposition given my lawyer M.H. Rosenhaus of Miami) I introduced her to my family as my wife and so that when the baby arrived I had planned to go to some small town, marry her
and legitimatize the baby. By this time I was so much in love with the little boy ***
Again she found one excuse after another— “Somebody might read the marriage column that knows us” etc— Well eventually the second boy arrived & for the 1st 2 weeks it was touch & go whether he lived or not, but God was with us & he is now fine & healthy— As if that were a warning I suggested marriage again. By this time she had other excuses, and was getting entirely out of line— Drinking continually, disappearing from the club, & when she was in these conditions the children weren’t safe with her. More than once when she hit the children it was with her arm instead of the flat of her hand— I had to threaten her with a beating to get her to stop. Believe me my life was a living hell. It began to show up in my work— I was slipping fast— I knew if this kept up I would eventually kill her— I wanted * ** but she begged me to have patience. We put the children in a wonderful nursery in Tampa, Fla. went on the road and agein with me she was able to work decent Night Clubs & Theaters. Then the little girl was on the way.
We came back to Miami, and after the 3rd baby was bom she hired a woman to take care of the children and on her oath she wouldn’t mix with the customers. I let her go back to the Place Pigalle to sing— It was no time at all before she was back in the same groove drinking and fighting continually ill until she collapsed and was sent to the hospital with the first stages of Hepatitis. She almost didn’t make it— she was under constant care of the doctor for several weeks after leaving the hospital when she came back and said the doctor (Saphire of N.M.B.) told her it would be good for her to get back to work to ease her mind as the expenses were mounting up & also a cocktail now and then wouldn’t hurt her! I was against the idea so without telling me, she signed a contract, back at the Pigalle. Well, work had slacked off at the hotels so we talked it over & I decided to go up to the Mountains (N.Y.) for a few weeks to work! We had never been separated before and of course at the time I didn’t know the type of people she had been cultivating—the pimps, Lesbians, shylocks, etc.— These to her had become a symbol of “sharp” living. When I came home & saw the type clothing she was buying—Mannish looking shirts—the severe suits—certain type toreador pants that seems to be a signal between these type women—Well I blew my top. From then on it was a living hell—
Her continued drinking put her back into the hospital for a hemroid operation & in view of the fact that her liver that by this time was beyond repair they couldn’t operate—she was there for weeks— I traveled 150 miles a night so I could be with her during day visiting hours, painting the home etc— she was planning even then to break up our home so she could be with her new type of life. The day of her operation when she started to come out of it, still under the anesthetic, she thought I was somebody else. Her admissions were sickening, it was like a degeneration of an unknown class— I tried to stop her by telling her it was me (she was in a ward) but again it didn’t quite penetrate, and she started boasting how she played me for a “sucker” all these years— I never mentioned this to her because of the children, and I begged the ***
Well, when she started to get better, I mentioned the marriage again and she said she had talked to a priest and she claimed he said “you don’t have to worry about that.” They are “Children of God”— this to me does not sound plausible, but as I have aforementioned she wants to build this into a “gimmick.” She went so far as to sue me for divorce so it would hit the papers & without warning had a “peace bond” which she tried to have served on Xmas day so I could not be with the children—and on New Year’s Eve my little girl was celebrating her second birthday she refused to let me see her & then called me on the phone to tell me what a wonderful time they were having at her party—
Mr. Rau, You can inquire of the show people in M B. as to my sincerity & loyalty to this woman, but it is more than I can shoulder— You know the Nite Club business down here is a woman’s world & she has been instrumental in causing me to lose 2 jobs— You can guess how, she has continually bragged if I fight for the children she can have me run out of Miami— She has disappeared from 1 to 3 days at a time— and I am at the point where I can’t face life & see what these children will face— I tried this once before & failed, but this time I hope it will be a success. In order to protect the children I would have to put up with her and I would rather pay for my sin with the Almighty than go through that. As a last request, please have this looked into by the various agencys that can protect my children.
And may God Have Mercy on my Soul
Billy was stunned by his fathers suicide letter. He read it over and over, trying to be skeptical about it, but the more he read it, the more he wanted to know Billy later told the writer of his attempt to check it out.
Before he left his sisters house in Logan, Billy phoned the Florida Bar Association to track down Johnny Morrison’s lawyer, only to discover that the lawyer was dead. He called the hall of records and found there was no record of a marriage license for Johnny Morrison or Johnny Sohraner.
He kept making calls until he reached the former owner of a nightclub at which Johnny had worked. The man was retired now but had a boat in Key Biscayne and still brought seafood to the club. He said he had known that someday one of Johnny’s kids would be asking about him. He’d fired Billy’s mother from the nightclub, he said, because of the caliber of people she was bringing in. Johnny had tried to keep her away from the people she was associating with, but it was an impossible task. He said he had never seen a woman push a man around like that.
Billy said he found somebody else—a man who had worked at the Midget Motel and who remembered his father. He recalled that the phone calls during that Christmas holiday had depressed Johnny. It seemed to fit with Johnny’s claim in the note that Dorothy had been calling him, taunting him.
When he returned to the hospital, he began to lose time again. Monday morning he called the writer to ask that their appointment be postponed.
The writer arrived on Wednesday, and knew immediately that the Teacher was gone. He was facing the unfused Billy. They spoke for a while, and the writer, hoping to recapture the Teacher’s interest, asked Billy to explain the radiotelephone he had been working on. As Billy fumbled for words, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the voice strengthened, the language became more articulate, and the discussion became more technical. The Teacher had come back.
“Why are you so upset and depressed?” the writer asked.
“I’ve been tired. I’m not getting any sleep.”
The writer gestured toward the book from the Cody Electronics and Radio School. “Who’s been working on that equip-‘ ment?”
“That’s the reason this thing was built, because Tommy’s been here most of the day. Dr. Cauls been talking to him.” “Who are you right now?”
“The Teacher, but in a very depressed state.”
“Why did you leave? Why did Tommy come?”
“My mom, and her husband now. And her past. I’m at a point where not a whole lot matters to me. I’m so tense. I took a Valium yesterday and slept the whole day. I was up all last night, until six o’oclock this morning. I wanted to get away . . . I was upset about the parole board. They want me back in Lebanon. Sometimes I feel I’d rather let them take me back and get it over with. Somehow I’ve got to get them to leave me alone.”
“But unfusing isn’t the answer, Billy.”
“I know. I’ve seen myself struggling day to day, trying to achieve more and more and more. I try to do all the things every one of my personalities did, and it’s very tiring. I’ll be here painting a picture, and as soon as I finish it and put it away and wipe my hands off, I’ll pull down a book, turn my chair around and take notes, read for a few hours. Then I’ll stop and get up and start working on this radiotelephone thing.”
“You’re pushing yourself too hard. It doesn’t have to be done all at once.”
“But I’ve got such a drive to do it. I’ve got so many years to make up for, and so little time. I just feel I’ve got to push.” He got up and looked out the window. “Another thing: I’ve got to confront my mother eventually. I don’t know what I’m going to say to her. I can’t act the same as I did before. Everything’s different now. The parole board, my upcoming sanity hearing, and now reading my father’s suicide letter—it’s very hard to stay in one piece. It tore me apart.”
On February 28, Billy called his attorney and told him he didn’t want his mother present at his commitment review hearing the next morning.