Identical StrangersBy Doreen R
Had this story took place in recent years, it would still be amazing but easier to understand. In an age where nearly our entire lives are splashed on social media platforms, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long. But this unusual story takes place in the 1980s, long before smartphones, Facebook, and Instagram. This tale started out interesting and, at times, heartwarming but quickly took a sad turn. We’re about to discover a tale of cover-ups, questionable ethics, and secret studies that none of the participants were even aware they were involved in. While this bizarre saga dates back to the early 1960s, it so continued to fascinate the public that an award-winning 20118 biography detailing the events reawakened the world’s interest and is once again making waves around the globe. Get ready to witness a story so bizarre it’s impossible to believe it not only happened, but there may be uncovered accounts yet to be discovered.
This account will reveal a mind staggering cover-up that began in New York City in the early 1960s and, as of today, has still not been resolved. We will explain how it affected those that were unwittingly involved. It will expose the media’s hunger for more information, which didn’t take into account the lives it was ruining.
Meet Robert Shafran
Robert Shafran was a typical teenager heading off to college. At age 19, Robert was a freshman at Sullivan County College, and vividly recalls his first day on campus. He was walking along the college’s grounds when people began approaching him calling him by the name ‘Eddie’.
Robert politely explained his name was Robert, but people thought he was joking around and continued to address him as Eddie. At one point, a couple of girls approached ‘Eddie,’ hugged him, and planted kisses on him. While he thought it was some sort of a prank, he didn’t take it too seriously. He did share his first day at college with his new roommate Michael Domitz.
Michael Shocks Robert
As Robert was recounting his bizarre first day at Sullivan County College, Michael was starting to understand what was going on. It was Michael’s second year at Sullivan, and he knew a lot of students that attended. He asked Robert what month and year he was born and if he was adopted.
Robert conveyed that yes, he was adopted, and he was born in July 1961. Michael then asked, ‘July 12’? Robert was caught off guard but said that was correct. He then proceeded to ask where he was born. Robert replied in NYC, and that’s when things took a crazy turn. Michael told him he knew a guy that dropped out of Sullivan the year before, that looked exactly like him.
Robert and Eddie Meet
That same week Michael takes Robert Shafran to meet his doppelganger, Eddie Galland. Eddie lived with his parents in Long Island. Eddie just happened to be home the evening that Robert knocked on his door. As a matter of fact, Eddie opened the door, and the two stared at each other in shock.
From the way Robert tells it, the boys just stared at each other at first, not believing their eyes. They were dumbfounded, to say the least, and weren’t sure of what exactly was taking place. According to Michael, who was standing on the side, as both boys were inspecting the other, they moved their heads in sync, and it was as if he was witnessing a man looking in a mirror.
Like Looking in a Mirror
While they were getting over their initial shock, Eddie and Robert were still comprehending that not only did they look exactly alike, but that they also had the same mannerisms. It was literally like looking in a mirror. Both bent and tilted their heads in the same fashion. It was truly mind-boggling.
The two got to talking and realized something wasn’t quite right. They quickly understood that they were twins that had been separated at birth. The parents of both boys were now talking and questioning what had transpired. Neither family was aware that the boy they had adopted at the age of 5 months was a twin.
The Media is Showing Interest
It didn’t take long for the story to reach the media. The various news outlets thought it was a great human interest piece as the story picked up momentum. They were being interviewed on local tv stations and being written about in the printed press as well.
Robert and Eddie were enjoying the attention and loved being in the public eye. They also reveled in their new discovery, and each welcomed the other into their lives. The twins loved the spotlight, but there are many twists and turns to this saga as we promised. The ‘twins’ were about to be shocked again.
Just as the story of the twins separated at birth was dying down, Eddie’s family got a phone call. On the other side of the line was a young man named David Kellman. What David proceeded to tell the Gallands floored them and they weren’t sure if to even believe what David was saying to them.
David was also adopted in NYC and also had the same July 12, 1961 birthdate that Eddie and Robert shared. Not only that, but he looked exactly like the twins as well. And this is where our staff began imagining some crazy cloning experiment gone wrong. The fact was that Eddie and Robert weren’t twins, but they were actually triplets, and David was their brother as well.
David’s Got Documents to Prove His Claim
David’s story, while shocking and unfathomable, was true. He even had the documents to support his claim. Although when the three young men met, that was all the proof anyone needed. They were identical in every way imaginable. The three were still reeling from what was happening.
David showed up with documents to prove that the three boys were born to an unwed woman who was unable to care for them and had put them up for adoption through the Louise Wise Adoption Agency in New York. They were all born on July 12, 1961, within 27 minutes of each other.
Triplets With Tons in Common
As the three young men were getting acquainted, they were surprised at how much they had common. All were raised in Jewish households, yet loved all things Italian, they had the same taste in women, they all loved wrestling, and they even dressed the same, and since it was the 1980s and it was the thing to do, they even smoked the same brand of cigarettes.
The three boys grabbed the opportunity to get to know each other. They grew closer, but so many questions were still unanswered. The families were now all in contact, trying to understand why these boys were separated. They were unaware of what was still to come.
The Media Goes Crazy
Daytime talk shows were gaining momentum in the 1980s, and it didn’t take long before David, Eddie, and Robert were making the rounds. The boys were wildly popular, and their story was both interesting and heartwarming. They were favorite guests, and viewers couldn’t get enough.
While researching this article, we found a considerable amount of press coverage on these men. Phil Donahue was the reigning host before anyone even heard of Oprah, and he interviewed the triplets on his show. To see how the boys answered Phil’s questions in unison was not only enjoyable but eye-opening as well.
The Triplets Went Viral, Even Before it Was a Thing
The media surrounding the boys wasn’t letting up. Similar to a viral story in the 21st century, that’s what the three were experiencing in the 1980s, which wasn’t a common thing back then. The media couldn’t get enough and wanted to follow the three young men around 24/7.
They were becoming media darlings and were going along for the ride as long as it lasted. They even made their Hollywood debut in Madonna’s film ‘Suddenly Seeking Susan.’ The trio was getting closer by the day, and before long, they knew they belonged together.
The Brothers Move In Together
Robert, Eddie, and David were growing closer. Only they understood what they were going through; no one else could even come close to understanding their unique circumstances. They decided to cash in on their fame as well. The triplets had plans for the future.
They decided that meeting regularly to catch up wasn’t cutting it for them and decided to move in together. Two of the three brothers had changed their majors to International Marketing and envisioned a bright future. But something was still missing; why had they been separated the way they had? That still hadn’t been answered.
Why Separate Triplets?
While the media frenzy was dying down, the question of what happened still remained. The families and the boys were wondering the same thing. Why weren’t the adoptive families informed that the son they were bringing home was, in fact, a triplet?
The families refused to let it go. They began digging and asking questions. All they knew when they started was that all three were born in a Long Island hospital on July 12, 1961. They initially uncovered that the unwed mother was carrying quadruplets, but the 4th child died at birth.
Digging Up the Past
While the families and the boys worked relentlessly to make sense of the story, they weren’t making much headway at first. However, one of the brothers shared a childhood memory that sparked something in the others. One of the brothers recalls visits to the house by adults who watched him, recorded videos, and took lots of notes.
The other two realized the same had happened with them. They all recalled the visits throughout the years but didn’t pay it much attention. Everyone assumed it was a follow up from the adoption agency. The parents figured it was just administrative follow-ups, and not much thought was given to it.
The Parents Remember the Visits
The parents began discussing the visits from what they thought was the adoption agency. They shared similar tales of how the visits went. They were grilled on when the boys learned to ride their bikes, when they began speaking, strange behaviors, and so on.
While discussing the visits, the boys started to suspect it was more than just ordinary checks on the family. The parents began to suspect something odd as well. The parents then realized that the boys were all placed in Jewish homes; one was working class, another was middle class, and another was placed with a well-to-do upper-middle-class family. This was now gnawing at them.
Trying to Lead Normal Lives
Now that the brothers were adjusting to their new reality and the press was calming down, it was time to move on. They even accepted the fact that they might never know what circumstances led to their being separated at birth, and they were learning to accept their fate.
They remained close, living together for a while, and in 1988 the brothers opened a restaurant in the SoHo area of NYC, aptly called Triplets. Their story alone attracted tourists and diners alike to the restaurant, and things seemed to be going well until they weren’t.
Depression and Suicide
It was the mid-1990s, and the story about the separate twins was a thing of the past. The triplets had been working through their anger issues and reconciling their fate; however, Eddie Galland was having a harder time than his two siblings.
Suffering from depression and mental illness, Galland sadly took his own life in 1995. This was the same year that writer Lawrence Wright wrote an article for the ‘New Yorker’ magazine, which detailed a psychological study on twins separated at birth.
Lawrence Wright Opens Pandora’s Box
In 1995, the year Eddie Galland committed suicide, award-winning writer and journalist Lawrence Wright wrote an eye-opening article that was published in the New Yorker magazine. The article detailed an unsettling and troubling study about twins and triplets that were separated at birth. The piece discussed, among other issues, the matter of ethics and morals in instances such as Rober, David, and Eddie’s case.
The article stated that the primary reason for the study was to answer the eternal questions surrounding nature vs. nurture. Wright went on to name Dr. Peter Neubauer and how he was determined to answer these questions. He had conducted the study through the Louise Wise Adoption Agency in the early 1960s. This was the same adoption agency that placed Eddie, Robert, and David in 1961.
The Incredible Story That Wouldn’t Go Away
In 2018 a documentary titled ‘Three Identical Strangers,’ directed by Tim Wardle, along with CNN Films, was released. The film reignited the incredible true-life story of the triplets and received well-deserved attention. The improbable story that first made headlines in 1981 was again garnering attention.
Sadly the producers of the documentary were also unable to get access to the full study and its results. But it did open the matter up again, allowing for those involved to get more details than they previously were able to attain. The film did shine a light on the study’s in-home visits, test, and videotaping sessions that the brothers recall being subjected to, while they were growing up.
The Film Reunited Separated Twins
Three Identical Strangers was a hit and received much attention. It shed light on Louise Wise’s controversial adoption practices and the study. The film earned numerous nominations and won several awards, including The Critics Choice Documentary Award and the Chicago Critics Film Festival Award, among others.
Because the film opened the door to these adoptions, others could research their own adoptions. 54-year-old Michelle Mordkoff was put up for adoption in 1964 and through the Louise Wise Adoption Agency. Michelle was seeking more information on her background. After doing the legwork, she also had a twin sister and was part of Neubauer’s study. Michelle was reunited with her twin sister Allison Kanter in 2018.
The Documentary Almost Didn’t Happen
Those involved in the documentary knew they were in for a rough time. There were three prior attempts to expose this troubling story. All prior projects on the same subject were shelved before they ever saw the light of day.
According to the director, Tim Wardle, he was constantly urged to drop the idea, but he refused to give in. Once he realized he had the cooperation of the remaining brothers, Robert and David, he knew he would succeed. However, earning the brother’s trust was crucial, and as seen in the film, Wardle accomplished this.
The Unspoken Message in the Film
Director Tim Wardle worked hard to keep the documentary factual and non-biased; however, the Jewish factor in the story couldn’t be overlooked. While the director can’t help but compare the study to Nazi experiments of multiple births, he tried vigilantly not to make it the focal point of his film. It got the conversation started, and many filmgoers mentioned the Jewish aspect of the film deserved more attention than it was given.
Viewers, however, were quick to point out the similarities that couldn’t be denied. The facts were evident, and there was no disputing them. To set the record straight, it was a Jewish adoption agency, the biological mothers were Jewish, and the children were placed in Jewish homes. Let’s not forget that the director of the study was an Austrian-born psychologist refugee who arrived in the US after WWII.
Louise Wise Adoption Agency
Let’s understand some of the facts of the triplet’s adoption. The unwed mother surrendered her triplets to the Louise Wise Adoption agency in New York. The three families that adopted the boys were told it would be a closed adoption and that no additional information would ever be supplied. The triplets were then situated in relatively close proximity to each other within a 100-mile radius.
None of the families were aware that they were adopting a triplet. By agreeing to the closed adoption, all were aware that there would be no communication passed between the biological parent and the adoptive parents. The only information that was supplied was that the mother was a Jewish unwed mother. During all the twin and triplet adoptions that took place at this agency in the 1960s, Dr. Peter Neubauer was involved.
Peter Neubauer’s Nature vs. Nurture Study
Dr. Peter Neubauer, born in Austria, was a clinical child psychologist who specialized in multiple births. He was responsible for the study that not only separated twins and triplets after birth but would also evaluate the effect of nature vs. nurture in the study. Neubauer worked with the Louise Wise Adoption Agency during the early 1960s. Dr. Neubauer passed away in 2008.
After the documentary’s premiere, more and more details of the experiment were being exposed. Many referred to Neubauer’s study as a ‘Nazi-life’ study. Considering Neubauer fled Austria and arrived in the US in 1941, the offending moniker seemed fitting. He quickly became known for his expertise in psychoanalysis of twins and triplets.
Yale University and The Jewish Board
After the passing of Dr. Peter Neubauer, the study and its results were supplied to Yale University and is under the auspices of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. In a statement supplied by the Jewish Board, the following was released: ‘The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services does not endorse the Neubauer study, and we deeply regret that it took place.’
The Jewish Board did offer a redacted version of Neubauer’s study that was nearly impossible to decipher and still left many open and unanswered questions. According to court documents, the full results of the study are being held at Yale University and will only be released in 2069.
Update on Shafran and Kellman
After the buzz surrounding the story in the 1980s died down the brothers moved on with their lives. Robert Shafran, now a lawyer, married Ilene and they had two children together. They continue to live in New York and currently reside in Gravesend, Brooklyn.
David Kellman works in the insurance industry and dabbles in annuities. He married a woman named Janet, and they had two children together. David and Janet are currently in the stages of a divorce. Kellman is in touch with his late brother’s widow and their daughter.
Medical Ethics Are in Question
This story garnered a lot of headlines, and that’s understandable. Initially, it was a feel-good story of three brothers reunited. But before too long, when more details were released, it turned into a question of ethics. The fact that this study was approved to begin with is what boggles the mind.
But if we look at history and we’re talking recent history, it’s not too surprising this study was allowed to happen. We all know of the horrific experiments on multiple births that took place during WWII, but in 2018 China was reportedly conducting their own study. It’s been reported that China was researching the modification of DNA in unborn twins.