As the father of a pair myself, I find myself endlessly fascinated with identical twins. It’s just one of those things that remains both relatively common and infinitely mysterious. Contrary to popular belief, producing identical twins doesn’t run in families or certain races. (Which is true of the tendency for certain women to drop more than one egg, the mechanism that produces fraternal twins, hence the confusion.) Certain theories exist, but scientists still really can’t say why a human zygote splits. As far as we know, it is a completely random biological event that happens in roughly 3 out of every 1000 pregnancies. Early on in my fatherhood, I had the epiphany that my kids actually disprove the typical conception of cloning (pun intended). Because although they are more or less genetic duplicates, they exhibit so many differences, in personality and even biology (one wears glasses, the other needed braces), that the notion of undifferentiated human copies is rendered kind of silly to me. Sure, it might be possible, under the strictest of laboratory conditions, to create duplicate fetuses but unless you control every possible environmental variable they would begin to diverge from the moment of birth. Then again, perhaps the idea of multiple iterations of the same person, with only slight differences is even creepier…
(For one “weird fiction” variation on this concept, check out my story “The Ana Log” as presented by Pseudopod.)
Apologies for the roundabout path I am taking to my point, but because this is Wondercabinet, and not your average navel-gazing blog, and because I saw a news report today about a woman charged with murder for deliberately driving herself and her identical twin sister off a cliff in Maui in the middle of a heated argument (both had assumed identities and troubles with the law), I’d like to investigate one of the lesser examined aspects of twindom, which is their tendency to break bad in tandem.
Imagine if you will a normal individual with a little angel ego and a little devil id on each shoulder. Some people do tend to listen exclusively to one or the other but on average it’s a fair fight with an unpredictable outcome. Now imagine two individuals, who don’t really feel like individuals all that much because another human almost exactly like him or her exists in the world and not just in some uncanny, Dostoyevskian, doppelgänger kind of way but a literal ditto, with whom he or she has likely spent the vast majority of their lives. Now picture the wicked echo-chamber that must result when the ids of both whisper the same insanity into all four of their ears. Peer pressure doesn’t begin to describe it. Below I present ten of the most interesting examples.
- Four years ago, I wrote about the disturbing case of Swedish twins Ursula and Sabina Erikkson, which the BBC covered in a short documentary called “Madness in the Fast Lane.” That heaping handful of weirdness has never been explained to anyone’s liking and so it retains the top spot on this list. Anyone interested in the full story should check out that earlier entry.
- Although the phenomenon and prevalence of so-called “twin speech” is largely overblown, certain startling examples do exist. Among the strangest is the case of “Silent Twins” June and Jennifer Gibbons, born in Wales in 1963. Their tendency to only speak and be intelligible to each other was exacerbated by severe speech impediments. Social isolation and nascent schizophrenia eventually led to both lashing out at society via arson, vandalism, and petty theft. Ultimately committed to England’s Broadmoor Hospital, they each wrote and published a single novel. They also evidently made a secret pact: one had to die so the other could live a normal life. Mere hours after their release in 1993, Jennifer died of (I shit you not) a sudden inflammation of the heart muscle after leaning her head on her sister’s shoulder. She was only 29 years old and the precise cause remains a mystery.
- Reggie and Ronnie Kray’s life of crime began after they derailed their promising boxing careers by getting dishonorably discharged from the English army. Soon they were putting their pugilist skills to use running a protection racket. One was gay and the other was not, but this difference didn’t stop them from eventually becoming Britain’s most notorious gangster duo, aided in part by what some people described as a telepathic ability to anticipate each others movements, in fights and shady business dealings alike.
- In 2010, honor students and former Girls Scouts Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead stabbed their mother multiple times before dragging her body into the bathroom and drowning her. The reason? She yelled at them for oversleeping on a school day. Both plead guilty and were sentenced to 30 years in prison. I am left to assume they are kept in different cells, and that they don’t do much oversleeping anymore.
- Stephen and Robert Spahalski shared much more than their DNA. Both were killers but oddly enough they committed their crimes in secret, unbeknownst to each other. Only their MO differed: Stephen was partial to knives, while Robert preferred to strangle his victims.
- It turns out there’s some truth in the old saw about identical twins being immune to prosecution when non-DNA evidence is lacking. The perpetrator of a 2009 heist in Berlin absconded with five million dollars worth of diamonds but left behind a sweaty leather glove. DNA tests led to Hassan and Abbas O. (last name undisclosed under German law) but because they couldn’t conclusively prove which one was the culprit, neither was ultimately charged.
- Whether 48-year-old twins Edwin and Edward Berndt are guilty of killing their mother or just being abnormally callous remains undetermined. All police know is that they found the pair at home with her body still on the floor in the living room three months after she had died. Both were eventually deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.
- After shooting up a party and killing two in 2006, Donte and Dante Hall were set to become to first ever identical twins sent to death row. But separate trials resulted in different sentences. One got life and one got death (still pending on appeal).
- Sunny and Gina Han were identical twins from South Korea who became co-valedictorians of their high school class. Money troubles after a move to Southern California led to both becoming professional thieves, but in a bizarre twist, when Sunny brought charges against Gina, the latter enlisted the help of two accomplices to kill her. The plot was ultimately foiled but Gina still got 26 years. I wonder if Sunny ever visits.
- The story of Croatian twins Sara and Dajana Grković follows a more predictable trajectory. They fought often over which of them was more attractive, but when Sara eventually stabbed Dajana the motive was simple jealousy over a guy.