Given the 7 billion living people on Earth, it stands to reason that people might resemble each other. The sentence, “You look like my cousin,” might have been directed at a number of us. But coming across someone who looks so similar to you that people can’t tell you apart? And then, what if this person had the same birthday? And was also adopted. And through the same agency. In fact, this person is not just a lookalike, but a biological twin. And then, imagine it’s not only a twin, but there’s a third person. Triplets. All of you prefer Marlboros, wrestle, and love Chinese food. This is exactly what happened to David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland, as recounted by Three Identical Strangers, a 2018 CNN Films documentary by English filmmaker Tim Wardle.
In 1980, Bobby started attending Sullivan County Community College in New York, and was shocked to find everyone greeting him like a friend. Fast forward, and not only did he and Eddy, his unknown, twin brother attend the same college, and see their story blow up on the news, but they were joined by a third sibling. Three siblings, one in an upper class home, one in a middle class home, and one in a working class home. Each with an older sister of the same age. This might be just a bizarre, even charming, story were it not for the sinister and strange details surrounding the adoption and childhood of these three individuals.
An unethical, secret psychological experiment
The Louise Wise Adoption Agency, as it turned out, deliberately placed not only Bobby, Eddy, and David in households of varying incomes, they also planted their sisters in those houses, too, as described by the LA Times. As part of an undisclosed study to tackle the “nature vs. nurture” debate, psychologist Peter Neubauer received money from some seemingly high-level, governmental source in order to conduct a secret study whose ultimate focus was on parenting style. When the men were children, researchers visited their house, conducted experiments, and recorded metrics for the study. None of their parents knew the true purpose of the visits.
The result was, in the case of the triplets, a childhood where each of them beat their heads against their cribs and went into psychiatric facilities because of the trauma of being separated at birth. Despite their joy at being reunited from age 19, living together before getting married, and starting a successful SoHo-based restaurant, Triplet’s, they suffered from bipolar disorder, and their upbringings proved more valuable to their survival than any heritable traits. Eddy committed suicide in 1995.
The experiment, described by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright for the New Yorker, was dubbed the Neubauer Twin Experiment. Because of Three Identical Strangers, in which Wright appeared, almost 10,000 pages of data from the unpublished experiment were released from Yale University, but have so far revealed no further information about the origins of the study, or any of the other people involved.
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