A happy story of triplets uniting soon turns tragic when they find the sinister truth behind their separation
The triplets were a part of an experiment to resolve the age-old debate of Nature vs Nurture
In 1980, Robert Shafran entered college and found out that making friends was easier than expected. The 19-year-old was so popular that students were just flocking to be around him. "Guys were slapping me on the back, and girls were hugging and kissing me," he recalled. Everything was perfect for the first day of college except for the fact that people kept calling him Eddy.
Michael Domitz, his new roommate, was able to clue him into what the whole situation was about. A year before Robert joined the college, Domitz was sharing a room with a person named Eddy Galland at the Sullivan County Community College located in upstate New York. Eddy transferred to another college after a year. The two men did not just have the same face but they had the same build, hair and even the same expressions. Eddy and Robert looked too similar to each other for it to be a coincidence.
Everyone in the college noticed that Robert looked exactly like Eddy but they all assumed that Eddy was back at Sullivan County. Domitz is the one who noticed that the two young men were born on the same day, July 12th, 1961, and were both adopted. He did not waste any time with trying to get the two to meet.
When Eddy and Robert finally met, they realized that they talk and laugh the same way, had identical birthmarks and both of them had IQ scored of 148 (above 140 is considered as genius). Both of them were college wrestlers and even had the same techniques. They both liked the same films and could even quote the same lines. The pair of them even managed to lose their virginity at around the same time. "It was just wild, surreal," says Robert in the present.
The hospital records finally proved what everyone could see with their own eyes. The young men were identical twins. the extraordinary reunion story got picked up by newspapers and TV shows but things were about to get crazier for the twins.
A student at another college in New York, David Kellman, saw pictures of Eddy and Robert in the newspapers and managed to track down the Galland family. He called them on the phone and began the conversation with, "You’re not going to believe this..." He told the family that he looked exactly like the "twins" with a 5ft 9in build, dark complexion and curly hair.
According to the Louise Wise adoption agency in Manhattan, the twins were actually triplets and they were originally part of a rare set of identical quadruplets. The 4th baby died during childbirth. The agency also said that the brothers, Robert, David and Eddy were born in that order and within 27 minutes of each other. They were separated soon after they were born in Long Island, New York.
This incredible story is the subject of the documentary, Three Identical Strangers, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26th. The documentary chronicles the joyful reunion of the brothers and then delves into something much more sinister when the triplets find out that they were the subjects in a sociological experiment.
"Once we got together, there was a joy that I had never experienced in my life and it lasted a really long time," Robert says. Madonna even gave the triplets a cameo role in her film, Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985. They also took acting lessons and appeared in the hit comedy series on TV, Cheers.
The brothers decided to transfer to the same college and all three took international marketing. They even shared an apartment together in New York. They worked as waiters in restaurants and then opened up their own restaurant later in life called Triplets with some help from David's adoptive family.
Everything was hunky dory for the triplets but there were people who had a lot of questions, especially the adoptive parents of the boys. They were obviously happy that the boys found each other but they were also angry that they hadn't been told that the brothers were triplets. The adoption agency refused to give any sort of explanation on why the triplets were separated and why the adoptive parents weren't told about them.
Researchers who were investigating the case found some weird stuff with the whole process. The adoption agency specialized in finding homes for babies that came from single Jewish women.
It was discovered that the agency took advice from a psychiatrist and then introduced a strange policy of separating twins and triplets because otherwise, they would have to fight for the adoptive parents' attention. The adoptive parents of the triplets were told that the brothers were all a part of an intensive child development study and that it had to definitely continue as a condition of the adoption process. They all agreed because it was very difficult to find Jewish babies to adopt.
Initially, the agency said that the parents of the babies were chosen randomly but then it emerged that each of the families who adopted the triplets also had daughters who were 2-year-olds at the time of adoption. These girls were also provided by the same agency and this brought up even more questions. The agency kept insisting that they did not plan to target the adoptive families but when the story of the triplets emerged, it only confirmed the suspicions of many people.
Turns out, the triplets were in the center of a secret and legal study that was conducted by Dr. Peter Neubauer who was a psychoanalyst and ran the Manhattan's Child Development Centre. He had apparently wanted to explore the long-running debate of Nature vs Nurture and to find out how much of who we are as people is shaped by our genes and also to what extent the environment played a factor. The perfect opportunity came along when he realized that siblings who are separated at birth were the perfect guinea pigs.
His research was funded by America's National Institutes of Health and he also had the complete cooperation of the adoption agency.
The adoptive parents did not know but for almost 12 years they would take their sons to Manhattan every month to go through intelligence, behavior and personality tests.
Every stage and every moment of their lives was logged and psychologists would spend ridiculous amounts of time watching the boys play with their toys or talk to their sisters and parents. Sometimes these psychologists would visit their homes but would never tell them that they had identical brothers living within 100 miles of them.
Despite all the secrecy, one of the triplets always felt like there was more to the story. David's adoptive mother, Claire Kellman said: "David began talking very early. I remember him waking up and saying: “I have a brother.” We would all talk about his “imaginary brother”. It later emerged all the boys exhibited symptoms of separation anxiety during infancy, but that only made sense in hindsight."
Dr. Neubauer strategically placed the boys in Jewish homes of vastly different social classes so that he could observe the effects of the socio-economic environment on them. Living in Scarsdale, Westchester County, Robert's father was a doctor and his mother was a lawyer. Eddy's family was middle-class and lived in suburban Long Island. His father was a teacher. David lived in the working-class area of Queens.
When you look at this situation in today's standards, the behavior of the researchers is appalling and even unethical to a certain degree. Adoption agencies were recommended by the New York state to keep siblings together only in 1981. Agencies still kept separating siblings even after the recommendation because it was just that, a recommendation.
The debate continues to this day but we can all safely say that both Nature and Nurture have a huge impact on the development of a human being. People definitely agree that the triplets should have never been separated in the first place.
What happened to the triplets should be used as a warning for what might happen if siblings are separated at birth.
The restaurant that the brothers started did extremely well in its first year but then things slowly started falling apart. Out of the three of them, David was the most sensible whereas Eddy was the one most likely to lose his temper. The brothers slowly started arguing about work responsibilities and Robert quit to go train as a lawyer. Eddy started showing signs of depression and unstable behavior which ultimately led to him committing suicide at the age of 33. He left behind a wife and daughter. David finally closed the restaurant and became an insurance consultant.
We will never know if the tragic death of Eddy was due to the emotional fall-out that he faced from the separation the brothers went through but what we did find out was that the brothers all had a history of behavioral problems. The brothers said that they had a family history of mental illness and this information was kept from the adoptive parents.
Dr. Neubauer died in 2008 and said that he did the right thing till the day he passed on. The brothers beg to differ and did not like the thought that they were unknowing pawns in his experiment. Till date, no one has apologized to the remaining two brothers who are now 56-years-old.
"They refer to us as participants," David Kellman said last week of the organizations responsible for separating him and his brothers apart. "We weren’t participants. We were victims."
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