Psychologists say that there are few among us who have the capacity for hurting others, and that could be explained by a mental issue called dissociative disorder, which allows the criminal to suspend empathy for his victim.
The pathological version is a personality defect akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, often created by traumatic episodes in childhood, which can produce the perfect recipe for media coverage that leaves people breathless for more lurid details. While some had criminal records and past arrests records, others were a surprise to authorities. Here are the stories of just a few listed.
Criminal Thomas Huskey
Elephant Man Killer: Thomas Huskey of Knoxville, Tennessee, became known as the Zoo Man or Elephant Man among prostitutes in Knox County. He often picked them up and had sex with them on a remote lane near the interstate. They called him the Elephant Man because he said he and his father tended elephants at the nearby zoo. Sometimes he took the women to a secluded area near the zoo for sex too.
In 1992 a woman told police he had robbed and assaulted her. She took a detective to the back road where it happened – and there they found Huskey with another naked woman. The detective tried to build a case against him but couldn’t get victims to testify.
Not long after, a hunter found a woman’s body close to the secluded location close to the interstate. Police searched the area and found three more sets of remains, and most of the women were known prostitutes. They went to Huskey’s house with a search warrant and found damning evidence: rope similar to what was used to strangle the women as well as jewelry that might have belonged to the victims. It seemed Huskey’s guilt was certain.
Then the case took a strange turn.
When investigators questioned Huskey he appeared to be a mild-mannered, if somewhat dimwitted man, but an alter-ego emerged, calling himself Kyle. Kyle had a rough, raw personality that described the rapes and murders in detail – and he was left-handed, while Huskey was right-handed.
As he was questioned further, more personalities appeared, including one with a British accent called Dax, and a delicate, effeminate man named Timothy. Nobody knew whether to believe Huskey had multiple personality disorders or was faking the whole thing, and that’s where the jury faltered. After a lengthy process in 1999, jurors could not come to a conclusion on Huskey’s guilt or innocence, so the murder trial ended in a hung jury. He is, however, in prison until after 2050 for assaulting several women.
Criminal William Heirens
Lipstick Killer: William Heirens was a teen in Chicago’s suburbs in the early 1940s when he began stealing, he said, to reduce tension. He roamed the streets while his parents fought, amassing a trove of stolen items including guns and furs that police found when he was arrested at age 14 for carrying a gun. When Heirens was serving time in a juvenile facility run by monks he was identified as exceptionally bright, and encouraged to apply to a college program for gifted students.
While a student at University of Chicago, Heirens allegedly broke into the homes of wealthy residents. Two single, divorced women were found murdered in their homes, and there was a message scrawled in lipstick on the wall of one victim’s home, saying “catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself.” But conflicting accounts of eyewitnesses were not enough to track down the murderer.
In January 1946 a kidnapper took the six-year-old daughter of an official in the Office of Price Administration, which handled wartime rationing and was involved in the local meatpacker’s strike. A ransom note demanding $20,000 was left in the home and a ladder was discovered under the girl’s bedroom window. The mayor of Chicago received a similar note from the killer.
Before the family could pay the ransom, the little girl’s body was found in pieces, scattered in storm drains and sewers around the area.
Police arrested and interrogated the janitor for the building where the girl lived, beating him, but he didn’t confess. In fact, the Belgian-born janitor couldn’t speak or write English well enough to be the author of the ransom note. Two teens admitted to the murder and calling the girl’s family with fake ransom demands but were found to be lying about the crime.
Months later Heirens was caught in a burglary and apprehended by police in a dramatic chase that allegedly concluded with a police officer knocking him unconscious by dropping flower pots on his head, a scene right out of a Laurel and Hardy movie. He was abused by police, including given sodium pentathol to elicit a confession, and subjected to a lie detector test soon after a surgical lumbar puncture. At some point Heirens spoke of a man named George, an alter-ego, who forced him to commit crimes. Newspapers seized upon the sensational angle of the alleged multiple personality and broadcast it widely. Heirens confessed to the girl’s murder and those of the two women to avoid a possible death sentence. He spent the rest of his life in prison.
Years later investigators delved into the Heirens case and laid bare the many false charges and brutal tactics of Chicago police. Evidence they uncovered pointed at an Arizona man with a criminal record who had been in Chicago at the time of the murders Heirens was convicted of.
Criminal Billy Milligan
Billy Milligan: Despite having a “boy next door” name and face, Billy Milligan terrorized women at Ohio State University with a string of serial rapes. It was the 1970s, and he’d already been jailed for rape and robbery once when his new victims described their assailant in curious ways: he acted like a three-year-old girl, one said.
His defense attorney successfully argued that Milligan’s personality disorder, then called schizophrenia, was grounds for an insanity defense. It was the first time a person in the U.S. was found not guilty on the grounds of multiple personality disorder. He was held in prison on gun charges then sent to mental hospitals until such time he might recover the ability to be tried. While in the mental hospitals, Milligan was examined and doctors determined that his 14 personalities included a Yugoslavian communist, a young child, a lesbian named Adalana, an Englishman named Arthur who had scientific and medical knowledge, and Tommy, an escape artist.
Milligan’s life story has been published and a movie about him optioned.
Criminal Lemuel Smith
Lemuel Smith: Born and raised in Amsterdam, New York, Smith was a one-man crime spree with many victims that rampaged through the upstate region for decades. His first known victim was kidnapped and beaten in Maryland in the late 1950s, although he was a suspect in an earlier case near his home. He was imprisoned for 10 years but began amassing new victims rapidly upon release, including two women who were raped and kidnapped on the same day in 1969.
Within a month of his release from prison in 1976, two people were murdered near his home, and three more attacked shortly thereafter. That summer a woman’s brutally mutilated body was found in another city. Police were able to stop Smith and arrest him while he was in a vehicle with a woman who accused him of raping and kidnapping her – which probably spared her life.
It took police some time to tie Smith unequivocally to the string of murders but they did. In the process, he claimed to be controlled by the spirit of his dead younger brother. Psychiatrists confirmed his likely schizophrenia but did not attempt to spare him from trial or prison by claiming insanity.
Smith’s last victim was a female prison guard who disappeared during work at a maximum security prison in New York. When her body was found, it had a bite mark similar to a previous victim of Smith’s. On this evidence he was convicted yet again (in a trial that uncovered corruption among guards that included smuggling for prisoners) but spared the death sentence.
Criminal Sara McLinn
Sara McLinn: In a classic case of blaming an alter-ego for a hideous crime, 21-year-old Sara Gonzalez McLinn attempted to use multiple personality disorder to escape charges of murder in Lawrence, Kansas. She had been living with 52-year-old pizza shop owner Harold Sasko when she spiked his drink with drugs and butchered him in his living room in 2014. Afterward, she wrote the word “Freedom” on the living room wall in his blood and fled in his car to Texas and Florida, where she was captured.
While the jury acknowledged the likelihood of childhood trauma and rape playing into McLinn’s overall personality issues, they did not accept her defense attorney’s plea for a 25 year sentence in a mental health hospital, instead giving her the “Hard 50” life sentence in state prison after gruesome details and images of her victim were displayed for the court.
McLinn had claimed an alter-ego, Alyssa, had committed the murder.