When we are kids, a lot of us — especially only children and adoptees — fantasize about having a long-lost twin. We like the idea of there being someone “just like us” that can be our best friend.
As we hit our teenage years, those fantasies tend to fade away and be forgotten. But for 3 teenagers, they would learn that the dream of long-lost siblings would be a lot more than just a fantasy.
Off to College
In 1980, 19-year-old Bobby Shafran was on campus for his first day of college at Sullivan County Community College in New York. However he’d been expecting his day to go, it was nothing like what actually happened. For some reason, he was greeted with overwhelming positivity by his peers
Despite never having met any of them before, he got hugs and kisses from several students. On top of that, everyone who greeted him was calling him “Eddy.” Bewildered, Bobby made his way to his dorm room and, as he was getting settled in, he got a visit from a stranger…
The visitor, named Michael, had attended college that previous year with a guy named Eddy Gallan. Eddy had told him that he wasn’t going to be back at school that year and when he’d heard from other students that Eddy had returned, he had to check it out for himself.
“As soon as this guy turned around, I was actually shaking,” Michael said. He could tell that the guy in front of him wasn’t Eddy but the resemblance was too strong to be a coincidence. “The color from my face dropped because I knew it was Eddy’s double.”…
You’re a Twin!
Michael immediately asked Bobby if he’d been adopted and if he was born on July 12, 1961. Bobby was taken aback — Michael was right on both counts. Michael told him that he had a twin brother. When word got out about Bobby and Eddy being twins, it received a lot of attention from the press. It was through that media coverage, that the story got even more incredible.
When a guy named David Kellman saw Bobby and Eddy on the news, he was astonished to see that the 2 guys reunited after being separated at birth looked exactly like him. In an instant, he found out that he had 2 brothers…
Even though they had come from very different backgrounds, the triplets hit it off with each other immediately. They had similar tastes in sports, women, even cigarette brands. They enjoyed each other’s company so much, they moved in together.
Their camaraderie became the subject of media fascination. They made the media rounds, appearing on all the big-name talk shows and even appeared in an episode of Cheers and had a cameo in the film Desperately Seeking Susan at Madonna’s personal invitation. They were able to parlay their position into starting a New York restaurant named Triplets…
But the joy and publicity of their reunification covered up an ugly truth. When the triplets became the subject of a documentary called “Three Identical Strangers,” the investigators digging into their past found that their separation at birth hadn’t been an accident at all…
The boys had been placed in the foster care of the Louise Wise Agency. Astoundingly enough, it was all part of a study by the Manhattan Child Development Center. They were then separated into 3 very different families as part of an experiment…
Under the guise of normal adoptive follow-up, all 3 kids were monitored, filmed and documented by a psychologist named Dr. Peter Neubauer. Dr. Neubauer directed the study with the intent of testing the influence of nature versus nurture.
A Little Late
To learn that they’d been separated and kept ignorant of each other’s existence served as little consolation for the difficulties that they’d had. Each of the triplets had extreme behavioral difficulties beginning in their youth, starting with banging their heads on their cots…
“It Was A Different Time”
Dr. Neubauer died before the triplets learned about the study but his now-elderly assistant defended the experiment. In an interview given for the documentary Three Identical Strangers, the assistant defended the study essentially saying that different times had different ethical standards when it came to such things.
“They’d Be Split Up Anyway”
Before he died, Dr. Neubauer defended the study in an interview with Newsday. He claimed that the triplets would have been separated regardless of if the study had been conducted, because it was the policy of Louise Wise Services at the time…
What An Opportunity
Dr. Neubauer and his team were very happy to hear about the policy. “When we learned about the policy, we decided it gives one an extraordinary opportunity for research,” he said. They had hoped for the possibility of twins being brought to the foster service. When they found out about the triplets, they leapt at the opportunity before them.
But it wasn’t a “no hard feelings” kind of situation as far as the triplets were concerned. David in particular deeply resented the way he and his brothers were treated. “They refer to us as participants,” he said. “We weren’t participants [in the study]. We were victims.”…
All three boys had symptoms of separation anxiety during infancy but none was hit harder than Eddy, who had a lifelong battle with depression. Ultimately he was overwhelmed by his struggle and killed himself at the age of 33. What hurt even more about it was they had apparently had a hereditary disposition toward mental illness that the triplets were never told about.
Shortly after his death, Bobby and David let the restaurant they had formed together. Bobby went on to become a lawyer and David an insurance consultant. In the time since the documentary has come out, the two remaining brothers have been calling for the organization behind it to take responsibility…
Not So Distant Past
It’s not like it happened a long time ago — it happened in modern times,” David said. “They can’t play God and they did,” said Bobby. “And for that, they should do something.” He and David are seeking the release of the records from the study, an apology, and monetary compensation.
Louise Wise ceased operations in 2004 and the Manhattan Child Development Center, which performed the study, has since merged with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. They have resisted the two remaining brother’s requests. The results of the study have long be housed at Yale University and they have rejected all requests over the years to unseal them.