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Flora Rheta Schreiber, 70; Wrote ‘Sybil’ Study and Also Authored ‘Shoemaker’

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Times Staff Writer

Flora Rheta Schreiber, author of the best-selling study of grande hysterie the world came to know as “Sybil,” died of a heart attack Wednesday at a hospital in New York City.

Miss Schreiber, 70, also drew the word portrait of a Philadelphia murderer, “Shoemaker.” The profits from that book once were ordered to go to a victim.

A professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and a close friend of psychoanalyst Cornelia B. Wilbur, who cured “Sybil” of her 16 clinically distinct and separate personality disorders after 11 years of treatment, Miss Schreiber rose to prominence from her 1973 dispassionate study.

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The host for these separate personalities, “Sybil,” (a pseudonym for the Columbia University student who turned over her consciousness to each personality) was a shy and withdrawn woman unlike the alternately raging, sophisticated and even male characters who lurked within her.

As described by Miss Schreiber, Dr. Wilbur determined that her patient had developed the separate identities when she was a child to help her deal with an abusive mother. She would bring forth a separate character to deal with each of the traumas her mother provoked, thus relegating the problems.

Once “Sybil,” described by psychiatrists as “a brilliant hysteric,” discovered why it had been necessary for her to become a male handyman (Mike or Sid) or an accomplished pianist (Vanessa) or a proficient cook (Mary), she was able to integrate the parts of each back into herself, becoming whole again.

“Sybil,” sometimes confused with the book and film “The Three Faces of Eve” about a housewife with a similar disorder, was made into a two-part NBC-TV movie in 1976.

Miss Schreiber, in a 1975 interview with The Times, said she was pleased “Sybil” had been so successful with readers.

But more important, she said, was the interest it generated in the subconscious.

“As a society we seldom take that subtle inner look. Perhaps we should dare to face our inner selves.”

“Shoemaker,” about Joseph Kallinger, a shoemaker who killed three people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, was published in 1983.

It was intended to show “it’s even more important to prevent the development of psychosis that leads to crime than to get tough with criminals after the event,” Miss Schreiber said while researching the book.

Sued by Victim’s Family

But Miss Schreiber was sued by the family of one of Kallinger’s victims under a so-called Son of Sam law in New Jersey that required money owed to a criminal or his representatives as a result of his crimes go to the victims.

A judge ruled that the family was entitled not only to the 12.5% promised to Kallinger for his cooperation but also money earned by Schreiber and her publisher.

An appellate panel reversed the decision after publishers argued that it violated First Amendment freedoms.


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