Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan

Netflix’s original programming is a mixed bag. What they do best is true crime. Netflix’s latest true crime docuseries is one of the weirdest and most disturbing yet, Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan. It tells the twisted tale of serial rapist Billy Milligan who initially claimed to have ten alternate personalities. He later upped the ante to 24. Many are skeptical of Milligan’s claims. I am among them.

I vaguely remembered the Billy Milligan saga. It was a sensational news story of a male Sybil. Milligan made Sybil look like a piker: she only had 16 alters. Of course, she was played by Sally Field on teevee, and Billy’s story has yet to become a feature film as we learned in the final installment of this 4-part series. Milligan and his people got greedy and wanted $1.5 million for the film rights. James Cameron and Fox were only willing to pay $250K. So much for Leo DiCaprio playing this mook.

The story began in 1977 when convicted rapist Billy Milligan was arrested for raping 3 Ohio State students. Not long after his arrest, Milligan’s alters started popping up: a snooty Brit named Arthur claimed to run the show.

The alter that set off my bullshit detector was Ragen who was allegedly Yugoslavian. It was later established that Ragen spoke gibberish instead of Serbo-Croatian. Making things weirder was the claim that a female alter named Adalana was the rapist.

The case caused a sensation and Dr. Cornelia Wilbur was summoned to help the Ohio shrinks looking into Milligan’s claims. Dr. Wilbur had treated Sybil, which made her a rock star in the psychiatric firmament. Her expert testimony helped Milligan beat the rap with an insanity plea.

Milligan was in and out of various state mental hospitals for the next 10 years. Sometimes, he was under the care of doctors who bought his story, other times by skeptics. Some of the most interesting talking heads were those who knew him during that period. One of the attendants described the staff as split down the middle on Milligan’s 24 faces. Most of them never met a Milligan alter.

Milligan’s weird celebrity gave him a special status while institutionalized: he cooperated on a book project with Daniel Keyes. Keyes was one of the most gullible true believers who bought every detail that Milligan was selling.

Milligan was suspected of sexually assaulting some patients during his time in the Ohio system. The women later recanted their claims, but it’s unclear if they were capable of consenting. The filmmakers don’t go into that.

Milligan eventually escaped from his commitment and led authorities on a wild goose chase across the country. He was aided by his brother and a deeply gullible friend. Milligan is suspected of having murdered a man he was conning, but there was insufficient evidence to charge him. He was the luckiest unlucky man I’ve ever heard of.

The filmmakers present both sides but lean in the direction of skepticism as does Milligan’s sister, Kathy Preston. She’s the most interesting talking head in the series. She wants to believe her brother’s story but agrees that much of it makes no sense. That doesn’t matter now: Billy Milligan died in 2014.

I agree with Dr. Alan Jacobs who views the diagnosis of what was then called multiple personality disorder as medical trend hopping. MPD was the diagnosis du jour. I think the disorder exists, but it can be faked by a clever con man such as Billy Milligan. He was also a talented artist as you can see from the featured image, which purportedly depicts his alters.

Here’s the trailer:

One of the most disturbing things about the Milligan case is how the psychiatrists minimized his crimes. Rape is still not taken seriously enough, but then many thought of it as a sex crime, not a violent crime. We’re not there yet, but we’ve made progress. A serial rapist should have spent time in jail not become a celebrity.

Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan was produced by French filmmakers who miss some of the nuances of American life. They also never mention the impact the Hinckley verdict had on the insanity defense. Having said that, I give it 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B.

The last word goes to The Who: