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The brutal crime of Juanita's other half.

THE murder of Inez Kelly, an elderly guest at the Palmland Motel in Fort Myers, Florida, was a senseless and horribly brutal crime.

Juanita Maxwell, then just 23, was a maid at the motel when the mysterious murder took place.

In fact, Juanita had loaned the deceased woman a ballpoint pen shortly before her death.

When she knocked on Inez's motel room door to get the pen back, the old lady apparently said, "What pen?" and shut the door in her face. Juanita knocked again, but again the old lady slammed the door shut.

Several hours later, Inez was found dead on the floor beside her bed by another motel employee. A towel had been wrapped around her throat and her skull had been smashed in with a table lamp.

The prime suspect was immediately Juanita who was found in the adjoining room in a confused and groggy state. She had fallen asleep she said, but she was adamant that she knew nothing about Inez's violent demise.

But `Wanda' did. It seems `Wanda' was angry at the old lady's rude slight over the pen. According to Juanita Maxwell, this alter ego of hers first appeared when she was five years old.

On the face of it, `Wanda' caused Juanita nothing but trouble. It was `Wanda', not Juanita, who murdered 73-year old Inez Kelly on March l3 1979. `Wanda', not Juanita, who robbed a couple of banks in l988 clutching, according to one bank video, a sawn-off shotgun.

Then again, `Wanda' is perhaps the only reason that Juanita was able to survive her ghastly, abusive childhood. Juanita Maxwell suffered from multiple personality disorder, an extremely rare and very controversial complaint only formally recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in l980.

Many so-called multiple cases turn out to be fakes but genuine cases are almost always the result of repeated childhood trauma and sexual abuse.

And Juanita's alcoholic mother, Ossie Benjamin, beat her, whipped her, told her she was ugly and sexually molested her.

"I'd get so angry, so angry," Juanita recalls. "I thought I'd have to let it out... the demon. I always knew something was wrong with me."

Some experts believe that when reality is so very unbearable, the personality can splinter and create another self as a sheer survival technique, a means of escaping the pain.

Sufferers of multiple personality disorder have what are tantamount to blackouts; times when another self takes over. Juanita sometimes heard ringing in her head or had a violent outburst followed by amnesia.

Which takes us back to the senseless and horribly brutal murder of Inez Kelly in Florida.

If Juanita knew nothing about it, `Wanda' did. `Wanda' was much tougher than Juanita. She was the one who withstood her mother's violence and sexual abuse and endured being raped at age eight and being locked out of the house when her mother was entertaining men.

`Wanda' also took over when Juanita's mother tried to strangle her with a belt when she was 12. Later, Juanita crept back inside the house to take her revenge, but blacked out only to wake up later alongside the bodies of six kittens. All of their necks had been broken.

"Wanda came out and stopped me from killing my mother," Juanita observed, after some psychotherapy.

In later years, more personalities would emerge; all very different, right down to their religions. For example, Juanita is a Muslim but `Wanda' was a Baptist. `Anna' was a stammering little girl who loved stuffed toys. `Trisha' a dedicated jogger. `Jennifer' a flirtatious southern belle who liked sexy get-ups. `Linda' was intelligently bookish. And Juanita had at least two menstrual periods a month.

But was a split personality any kind of excuse or defense for murder? How, the defense argued, could Juanita be responsible if she honestly had no memory of what `Wanda' had done? Surely that made a difference?

Absolutely not, in the eyes of the prosecutors. They saw only the brutal murder of a vulnerable old lady and pushed their case forward to trial.

But to be legally sane in Florida, the law requires that a person both understand the nature of their crime and realise that what they did was wrong.

With a multiple personality or split personality, that's sticky. Although not to the prosecution. They had no doubt that Juanita/`Wanda' should be held fully responsible for her crime.

It fell not to a jury but to Lee County Circuit Judge Hugh Starnes to decide Juanita's fate.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 8, 1998
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