Rokeach had read a magazine which told of two women meeting up, both of whom claimed to be the Virgin Mary. When they met, the connection between their claims ended up causing one of them to come to her senses, finally curing her of her delusion.
Rokeach reasoned that if this had worked once, perhaps it might work again under similar circumstances. In 1959, he discovered the perfect subjects for his experiment - three men who all believed they were Jesus Christ.
The men were taken to a hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to be monitored underneath Rokeach’s care. Since there was only one real Jesus Christ, he believed that at least one or two of them, if not all 3, would quickly snap out of their delusions once confronted with the others. However, since all 3 men were diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, this did not turn out to be quite so straightforward.
During the initial meetings, there was a lot of anger from all 3 of the patients. All of them were hostile to the idea of another man making false claims, and not a single one of them was willing to accept the truth about his own identity.
Rokeach’s experiment had begun with the simple hope that these men would cure one another by their proximity. When it became clear that this would take place, Rokeach started to move into far more unethical territory.
His obsession with the notion of identity caused him to start manipulating his patients to try and force them to change. One such manipulation was to send a series of letters to Leon Gabor, one of the 3 patients since one of his freshest delusions had been that he was married to a woman called Madame Yeti Woman, who clearly did not exist.
Rokeach pretended to be Madame Yeti in the letters, giving him a number of suggestions, before finally challenging the idea that he actually was Jesus Christ. Rokeach’s reasoning had been that perhaps by using one of Leon’s own delusions against another one, he would manage to cure him. Unfortunately, that was not to be, and instead, Leon broke off all correspondence with Madame Yeti.
Rokeach also sent similar letters to the other two patients, but all of these attempts proved fruitless as well. In the end, Rokeach was not able to cure these men, and some believe that he may have even made their conditions worse since they spent most of their time arguing and physically attacking one another.
They eventually managed to get used to each other and to learn enough to avoid the topic of Christ when talking to each other. However, they were far from cured of their conditions.
Eventually, Rokeach came to the conclusion that his work had been unethical. He issued an apology in 1984, saying that “while I had failed to cure the three Christs of their delusions, they had succeeded in curing mine — of my God-like delusion that I could change them by omnipotently and omnisciently arranging and rearranging their daily lives within the framework of a ‘total institution’.”