WHO DID ANN ROPER STAB?
The 911 operator took the call at 3:34 a.m. on April 29, 1991.
"Did he cut you with the knife?" she asked a frantic-sounding woman.
"Always. He puts it up in my face."
The operator dispatched police to the northeast Phoenix apartment of Ann and Dennis Roper, then returned to the line.
"Ann, where is he in the house right now?"
"He's sitting here yelling at me."
"It sounds like she put the phone down," the operator told a colleague. "This might be all in her imagination. I haven't heard a thing other than her talking. . .Ann, are you there?"
Ann's husband, Dennis, picked up the telephone.
"She stabbed me," he moaned. "She stabbed me twice. Please help me. She stabbed me. She wants to kill me. I'm bleeding."
Seconds later, Phoenix police officers James Wagner and Toby Dunn arrived at the apartment. Bleeding badly from his midsection and right arm, Dennis Roper opened the door. His wife of almost five years was sitting in the bedroom, holding a five-inch-long kitchen knife in her right hand.
Fire department paramedics rushed Dennis to a hospital as police arrested 53-year-old Ann Roper. Officer Wagner recalled Ann as being "intoxicated and uncooperative" during the ride to jail. He remembered her blurting out, "If I get ahold of another knife, I'll kill another man. That's all they deserve. I want to be in jail all my life."
It was touch-and-go for Dennis for a time, but the 39-year-old former psychiatric nurse survived a collapsed lung and a major loss of blood. Prosecutors at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office filed a complaint against Ann Roper on a charge of aggravated assault. She remained incarcerated for six months at the Maricopa County Jail, until a judge ordered her released pending trial. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
But the case isn't the garden-variety tragedy it may have seemed at first. Ann Roper is claiming mental illness as the basis of her defense--her husband's mental illness.
Dennis Roper has been diagnosed as suffering from multiple personality disorder, a mysterious illness in which an individual can possess two or more distinct personalities. Dennis Roper says he may have had as many as 18. The personality dominant at any particular time determines how the individual behaves, like "Sybil" of movie and book fame.
Ann Roper's defense is that she stabbed Dennis in self-defense when one of Dennis' violent personalities--a tough guy named Warren with a New York accent--threatened her life. Prosecutors don't buy that. "There is no evidence that the defendant is a battered woman," deputy county attorney Jo Ann Garcia contended in a pretrial memo. "On the contrary, she appears to be the batterer in this case."
Public records in Arizona and Florida do reveal a history of mutual violence that landed both wife and husband in jail several times for assault in the years before the April 1991 knifing. The outcome of the case still is in doubt 16 months after the stabbing. That's because of an unresolved issue that the Arizona Supreme Court is scheduled to consider in a few weeks.
Prosecutors contend that Arizona's Victims' Bill of Rights keeps Ann Roper's lawyer from seeing Dennis' psychiatric records. Her lawyer, however, says those records are crucial to Ann's defense--which would dissect Dennis' unhealthy mental state and prove the existence of the violent "Warren" against whom she defended herself.
Dennis Roper expresses great anxiety as he awaits the next step. (Ann Roper declined an interview for this story.) He raises his shirt and shows the spot on his painfully thin torso where his now ex-wife allegedly stabbed him. "I don't want to see her in prison for this," he says, "but she's gonna have to live with it for the rest of her life." @rule:
@body:Experts believe multiple personality disorder is a survival mechanism that often stems from severe childhood trauma and abuse. But few illnesses are more frequently greeted with skepticism in clinical and legal circles.
Many inside the criminal justice system view MPD as a trendy excuse by desperate defendants who claim, "I didn't kill all those people; one of my 'personalities' did."
Californians Alfred French and Bryan Shechmeister--a psychiatrist and a defense attorney, respectively--wrote of MPD last year in a law journal: "The very notion of multiple individuals inhabiting one body violates our sense of person and smacks of the crudest sort of demonology."
The American Psychiatric Association didn't sanction MPD as a distinct psychotic disorder until 1980, around the time doctors diagnosed Dennis Roper as a "multiple." These days the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 7,000 Americans suffer from MPD, though no one knows for sure.
MPD found a niche in the nation's courts in 1977, when Billy Milligan became the first defendant to be acquitted of a major crime--the rapes of three Ohio State University co-eds--by reason of insanity. Milligan allegedly exhibited 24 separate and uncontrollable personalities.
Trial judges typically rely on mental-health professionals to say whether someone genuinely is suffering from MPD. Sometimes, however, the pros get fooled. In the early 1980s, Los Angeles' infamous "Hillside Strangler," Kenneth Bianchi, convinced several shrinks for a time that he had multiple personalities. He didn't.
Although MPD sufferers have usually been the perpetrators, a 1990 Wisconsin rape case was one of few in which the victim's MPD was the paramount issue. The convicted defendant alleged that one of the woman's 46 personalities had consented to have sex with him. Several jurors said they hadn't been convinced that the woman suffered from MPD. But they said it appeared she was mentally ill and that the defendant should have left her alone. Prosecutors dropped the case after a judge ordered a retrial.
Dennis Roper seems unaware of his unusual status as an alleged MPD-suffering crime victim. "I've been on a hellish treadmill all my life," he says, "and this is just something else to deal with."
@body:"This is me, Dennis," Dennis Roper says at the start of an interview at his north Phoenix home. The only personality that comes across is that of a meek, bright, vaguely effeminate man.
Dennis says he hasn't held a full-time job since 1987, when he worked for a short time at a Christian bookstore and at--of all places--a psychiatric unit. He gets by on Social Security disability checks and with the help of his elderly housemate, a woman who asked not to be identified.
But Dennis is not completely disabled by his mental problems. He attends church regularly and studies the Bible. The results of his woodworking and needlepoint projects are scattered around his home: A beautiful wall clock he painstakingly constructed hangs in the dining room, and the handsome cabinets he built for his CD and cassette-tape collection (classical music and Barbra Streisand are favorites) sit in a hallway.
A guest asks Dennis about the status of his many personalities. Lost in thought, he takes a long drink from the guest's glass of water, oblivious to the mistake for more than an hour.
"I'm still not totally put together, but I'm getting better," he says. "It's a long struggle, because they never want to die."
Dennis is a talker. He recounts minute details about what he ate on a certain day, what music he was listening to, what the weather was like. His explanations for difficult events in his chaotic life have a certain symmetry: He depicts himself as a well-meaning but disturbed man against whom ex-wives and authorities long have had a vendetta.
Born into a working-class family in Dearborn, Michigan, Dennis Roper grew up with one sister. He says his late parents were alcoholics who saw little of each other.
Dennis has told doctors of being sexually abused at the age of 8 by a friend of his mother's. He tells New Times of being gang-raped by four peers at an Episcopal home for boys.
"Trauma, trauma everywhere I turned," Dennis says of his early days.
Public records indicate he was hospitalized at 16 for "hysterical paralysis." Despite his nagging mental problems, however, Dennis says he earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Arizona State University.
"I thought I was a walking piece of schizophrenia," he says. "I figured that if I stayed one step ahead by helping people, I would never be labeled crazy again."
Dennis worked for years as a psychiatric nurse at several Valley hospitals. But he couldn't escape the prison of his troubled mind, and he required hospitalization several times in the 1970s and 1980s.
Not surprisingly, Dennis' love life was as confused as the rest of it. His first marriage ended in the mid-1970s after four years, records indicate, in part because he was unable to perform sexually with his wife.
That apparently changed with his second wife, Daryl, whom he married in 1977. The couple had a daughter in 1980. But Dennis' mental woes continued to overwhelm him. In June 1982, he attempted suicide with an overdose of pills. That October he overdosed again, and checked himself into a local hospital for psychiatric treatment.
Back home a few weeks later, he spoke obsessively to his wife about an "avenging God." He scribbled his depiction of that God on his apartment wall--it looked like a snarling cat. Then he stuck a fork into it. He spread his own blood on a letter to his therapist.
"He has stated his intent to kill a stranger, to beat up his therapist," her petition stated in part. "I feel that if he is not treated, he will hurt either himself or someone else."
At the hospital, according to a psychiatrist's report, Dennis said "he wants to kill his wife and daughter when he is released. . . .He also admitted to a history of homosexuality and of an urge to seduce homosexuals and beat them up."
A psychiatrist evaluated him for the judge: "He has a history of constant depression, anxiety, overreactivity and obsessive-compulsive acts. . . .He is a danger to himself and others."
Dennis denies he ever threatened his family members. But he says his personalities were emerging en masse during his 23-day commitment at the county hospital. "I had hid them really well for years, including from myself to a degree," he says. "I was trying to kill myself to get away from myself."
Dennis struck up a friendship at the county hospital with fellow mental patient Art Facio. "He seemed jolly and it was hard to believe he was so suicidal," Dennis recalls. "And his wife was so caring when she visited."
Hospital officials released both men around Christmas 1982. The Facios and Dennis kept in close touch on the outside. But a few days into 1983, Art Facio drove to South Mountain, parked his car and killed himself.
Facio's widow, Ann, later would become Dennis Roper's third wife.
@body:Daryl Roper filed for divorce from Dennis in early 1983. Around this time, psychiatrist Stuart Gould started to treat Dennis; their relationship continues today. Dennis was a popular figure around Gould's office, says Beverly Worthing, a medical assistant who met Dennis there in the early 1980s. "I've always enjoyed talking to Dennis and his personalities--all of them," says Worthing, who spoke with New Times after getting permission from Dennis. "They were all very nice to me, even the more troublesome ones."
Dennis' personalities included Patrick, Cliff, the Guru, Cora, Darrin, Charles, Warren and others. They ran the gamut: sadomasochistic, overtly homosexual, matronly. So did the accents: Irish brogues, Southern drawls, Brooklynese.
"Warren was the most powerful one," Dennis says. "He was a part of me who could get people to back off when they were threatening. People tell me he spoke in a low tone with a Brooklyn accent. He sounded like he wasn't scared of nothing."
In January 1984, Dennis again faced psychiatric commitment after he allegedly threatened to kill ex-wife Daryl and physically attacked Dr. Gould.
"[Dennis] struck my arms and legs, scratching my arms, saying he would kill me," Gould wrote in an affidavit to the court. But for reasons that remain unclear, the county hospital's Dr. Manuel Suguitan concluded that "further evaluation of Mr. Roper is not appropriate" and Dennis went home.
During this time, Dennis still had contact with his young daughter. But in mid-1985, according to Phoenix police reports, he assaulted Daryl. Dennis was convicted in a Phoenix city court of the charge and was put on probation. (He says he hasn't seen his child since 1985.)
"I've never had a chance because of my condition," Dennis says, maintaining his innocence in this and the numerous other assault cases that would follow.
@body:Little exists in the public record about Ann Roper. Art Facio was her second husband. She is the mother of three grown children from her first husband. The children live out of state and apparently have little contact with her.
Ann's friends speak of her warm and caring nature, while acknowledging that she is an alcoholic with a history of getting involved with deeply troubled men.
"She's very giving and she gives good advice," says Julie Hinz, who met the Ropers at a Phoenix church in the late 1980s. "But she's a co-dependent. She really thought she loved Dennis and that she could help him."
Dennis Roper says Ann did wonders for him after they met. "I would have been dead if it wasn't for her," he says, not noting the irony. "We were like two kids in a storm, just keeping each other going. She became friends with all the parts of me. She'd keep telling me, 'You're gonna find out who you are.'"
Dennis Roper and Ann Facio became inseparable. In 1986 he became a born-again Christian; Ann followed suit. A pastor married the pair on October 5 of that year. "He told us we were the two most damaged people he'd ever seen," Dennis recalls, "but that when we healed, we were going to have a really powerful healing ministry. I thought the Lord had directed me to the woman He wanted me to marry."
A few months after the marriage, according to Dennis, Ann started drinking again. "One night we whipped up some Black Russians," he says. "It went downhill from there."
Dysfunctional isn't a strong enough word to describe the Ropers' marriage.
"I had hurt my back on our honeymoon and that started it," Dennis says. "When she started to drink again, she'd approach me sexually and I would tell her, 'You remind me of my mother. If you want to love me, love me when you're sober.'"
Dennis adds that he and Ann never consummated their marriage.
Court records as far back as 1987 document the physical violence between the Ropers. That year police charged Dennis with assaulting Ann. After the conviction, a judge ordered Dennis to attend counseling sessions with other men convicted in domestic-violence cases.
"But I already was getting counseling from Dr. Gould," Dennis complains. "It was a waste of time to hear all these men blabbing."
After a June 1989 conviction for again assaulting Ann, court documents show, Dennis promised in writing not to "hurt or harm" her anymore. But nothing changed when the couple moved to Florida to tend to Ann's ailing mother. Dennis spent 11 days in jail there on yet another assault charge that led to yet another misdemeanor conviction.
His explanation for his assault convictions stretches credulity.
"She would get so drunk that she'd walk into walls and things and there would be bruises," Dennis says. "The police would slap handcuffs on me and I'd end up in jail. I've always tended to drift toward sad-sack women and then get punished for it."
Still together, Dennis and Ann returned to Arizona in late May 1990, where the physical abuse continued. But records show it wasn't a one-way street.
On June 1, 1990, Phoenix cops responded to a call from the couple's home for the umpteenth time. Dennis told police, according to an incident report, that Ann had been beating on him all day because he wouldn't have sex with her.
Dennis had scratches on his face and arms, "as carved by a fingernail," the report says.
The officers asked Ann if she'd hit her husband.
"Yeah, well, look at what he did to me," she responded, showing the cops what they referred to in their report as "old" bruises. "He's not a man--he's a bitch. He can't even fight back."
This time the police booked Ann on a charge of assaulting Dennis. She remained in jail for three days. Events by now were careening toward the April 1991 clash that almost took Dennis Roper's life.
@body:In November 1990, Phoenix police arrested both Ropers on charges of assaulting each other. Dennis had suffered a large cut on the bridge of his nose in the brawl, while Ann had dried blood on her lips. The couple was "extremely intoxicated," according to a police report.
People who knew the couple say the escalation of violence was inevitable. But they differ about who's to blame.
"I see Dennis as a victim--of life and of his connection with Ann," says Beverly Worthing, the medical assistant who met Dennis at his psychiatrist's office. "A lot of his problems happened when these other personalities would come out because of stresses. Ann was a binge drinker and he couldn't cope with her when she got violent."
Worthing has a novel explanation about why Dennis pleaded guilty to acts of domestic violence: "It may not have been him who pleaded guilty. It could have been one of his personalities."
To the contrary, Julie Hinz--who knew the couple from church--blames Dennis for the dangerous level of craziness that ruled the Roper household:
"About everybody who has gone through a live-in situation with Dennis has had to deal with his violence," says Hinz, who now lives in Ashland, Ohio. "He had her self-esteem so low that she would just drink and drink and bad things would happen. He just cannot accept responsibility for his own actions and inabilities."
@body:Dennis Roper was undergoing intensive counseling for MPD in the weeks before the April 1991 stabbing. He still was going regularly to his longtime psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Gould. And he also had sought help from his pastor, Kurt Cotter.
"I had never dealt with multiple personality before," Cotter recalls, "but when a hurting person calls me, I help. I would see him completely transform into someone else. He could close his eyes and say, 'I want to talk with Patrick or Warren,' and it would happen. He told me Warren was the head honcho."
Dennis also was close at the time to Cotter's mother-in-law, Kathleen Rutt. Rutt told investigators of an incident that had taken place a few days before the stabbing.
Hearing a commotion in the room where her son-in-law was counseling Dennis, Rutt walked in and saw Dennis holding a pair of scissors over Cotter in a menacing way.
"I saw Dennis raise his hand as if to stab Kurt," Rutt recalled. She said she yelled out, "Satan, I bind you in the name of Jesus!" and that Dennis fell to his knees and started crying like a child. Still on his knees, Dennis started "acting like a homosexual," Rutt said, flicking his tongue suggestively. Finally, he was Dennis again.
"We had been working on integrating his personalities," Kurt Cotter says. "When a personality is going to die, it fights back and strikes out at people. Still, I think part of Dennis wants to stay in the bondage of his personalities."
Dennis Roper says he doesn't remember threatening the pastor with the scissors. "Warren had come out and Kurt had gone into his exorcism routine," Dennis says. "By the time I came back to myself, I saw this angry man holding me down and sticking his finger in my face. His mother-in-law was babbling in tongues behind me."
Julie Hinz says Ann Roper telephoned her around this time. "She was crying and Dennis was screaming in the background," Hinz says. "Then Dennis grabbed the phone from her and started raking her over the coals. I never got a chance to talk with her."
Boozing and bickering dominated the night of the stabbing.
"She kept goading me and goading me," Dennis says. "When she does that, I freeze. I said, 'I'm onto that. Are you planning to put me in jail by morning? I want to know.' She had me no matter which way it went."
Dennis says he called a church friend, turned on some easy-listening music and sat in a rocking chair. Then, he says, it happened.
"Boom, this thing goes through my chest," he says. "I remember standing up and pulling the knife out of me and handing it back to her and saying, 'Why are you doing this?' I'm not sure how my arm got cut. She must have slashed at me. I remember her looking at me like a dog with rabies--I hate you, I hate you.'" An alcoholic prone to blackouts, Ann now claims to have no memory of stabbing Dennis, but says that Warren was dominant in the hours before the near-fatal stabbing.
Assistant public defender Curtis Beckman contends that Dennis Roper was "manifesting one of his violent personalities" that night: "Ann Roper was protecting herself against her psychotic, violent, knife-wielding husband on April 29, 1991." That, Beckman argues, is what led Ann--as drunk as she apparently was that night--to dial 911. Dennis insists Ann called 911 after she stabbed him and then lied to operators about what was going on. And he's just as sure that Warren wasn't out that night. Experts note, however, that MPD sufferers generally don't know when a personality has taken over.
"They're trying to say she stabbed me out of self-defense," he says, "but I did not hit her, I did not strike her. I wasn't asking for any of this."
The Roper case soon created a stir on several legal fronts. A key issue has been whether Ann Roper's attorney has the right to pore over Dennis' medical records to help establish her self-defense argument.
Prosecutors have tried to deny her lawyer access to these records, citing the 1990 amendment to the state's constitution known as the Victims' Bill of Rights. The amendment protects crime victims by allowing them "to refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request by the defendant. . . ."
Superior Court Judge Robert Gottsfield--then presiding in the Roper case--heard from both sides in a pretrial hearing last November. The most important witness turned out to be Phoenix psychiatrist Thomas Thomas.
Dr. Thomas testified about the fragmentation of the "core" person into separate personalities. He said it may be impossible for a person with multiple personality disorder, such as Dennis Roper, to observe an event and then to accurately relate it on the witness stand.
Gottsfield agreed. "The victim's mental illness could have adversely affected his ability to perceive, recall or accurately relate what occurred on the day in question," the judge ruled, ordering prosecutors to turn over Dennis' medical records to the defense. The defense had asked for those records in order to prove Dennis' instability and to cast doubt upon his credibility as a witness.
Prosecutors balked. They asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling. But writing for a unanimous court, Judge Philip Toci said Ann's rights as a defendant overrode the Victims' Bill of Rights, and her defense was entitled to Dennis' records. The import of that decision goes beyond this case. In his decision, Toci cautioned that the amendment "should not be a sword in the hands of victims" to keep the accused from mounting a legitimate defense. Citing the "enormous ramifications" of the appellate ruling, prosecutors have taken the matter to the Arizona Supreme Court. The high court is expected to rule next month. The Roper case then will return to Superior Court for trial or plea bargain.
Dennis has continued to have brushes with the law. Last April a Phoenix city court judge put him on two years' probation for his role in a November 1991 fight with the grandson of the woman with whom he now lives. Though Dennis pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal damage, he blames the grandson for a "temper problem" that allegedly led to the clash.
Summarizing his life with ex-wife Ann, Dennis says, "It was a mistake for us to get married. And I wasn't the perfect husband. But she's going to have to live with the shame of what she did to me for the rest of her life."
Ann Roper was released from jail to a center for battered women. Her friend Julie Hinz holds out hope that Ann may find a better life if she isn't sent to prison.
"When I visited her at the jail, I saw someone who was emotionally dead," Hinz says. "But she has something to offer the world, she really does. And when this is over, at least she'll know that Dennis--all the Dennises--will be out of her life forever."
STUDENTS OF CRIME... v9-02-92
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.