June and Jennifer Gibbons
(born April 11
; Jennifer died in 1993), identical twins
who grew up in Britain, are a curious case involving psychology
June and Jennifer were the daughters of West Indian immigrants
Gloria and Aubrey Gibbons. Gloria was a housewife and Aubrey worked as a technician for the Royal Air Force
. Shortly after their birth in Barbados
, their family moved to Haverfordwest
. The twin sisters were inseparable, and had speech impediments
that made them difficult for people outside their immediate family
to understand; they did not mix a great deal with other children. School was traumatic for them: they were the only black children
in the school, and faced racism
; eventually they were so tormented
by their peers that the school administrators had to send them home early each day to give them a head start. Their language became even more idiosyncratic
at this time, and became unintelligible
to outsiders. They spoke to no one except each other and their little sister Rose, and became even more isolated. They would complete each other's sentences and often seemed to communicate with no more than a glance or a facial expression
When they turned 14, after a succession of therapists had tried unsuccessfully to get them to communicate with others, they were sent to separate boarding schools in an attempt to break their isolation. This was a disaster: the pair became catatonic and entirely withdrawn when parted.
When they were reunited, the two spent a couple of years isolating themselves in their bedroom, engaged in elaborate play with dolls. They created many plays and stories in a sort of soap opera
style, reading some of them aloud on tape as gifts for their little sister. Inspired by a pair of gift diaries at Christmas 1979, they began their writing careers. They sent away for a mail order
course in creative writing
, and each wrote several novels. Set primarily in the United States
and particularly in Malibu, California
, an excitingly exotic locale to romantic girls trapped in a sleepy Welsh town, the stories concerned young men and women who become involved in strange and often criminal behaviour.
In June's Pepsi-Cola Addict, the high-school hero is seduced by a teacher, then sent away to a reformatory where a homosexual guard makes a play for him. In Jennifer's The Pugilist, a physician is so eager to save his child's life that he kills the family dog to obtain its heart for a transplant. The dog's spirit lives on in the child and ultimately has its revenge against the father. Jennifer also wrote Discomania, the story of a young woman who discovers that the atmosphere of a local disco incites patrons to insane violence. They wrote in a unique personal style, often with unwittingly amusing word choices.
Crime and hospitalization
Their novels were published by a vanity press
called New Horizons, and they made many attempts to sell short stories
to magazines, but were unsuccessful. A brief fling with some American boys, the sons of a U.S. Army
serviceman, led nowhere. Desperate for recognition and fame (and perhaps publicity for their books), the girls committed a number of petty crimes
, which led to their being committed to Broadmoor Hospital
, a high security mental health hospital. There they remained for 14 years. Placed on high doses of antipsychotic
medications, they found themselves unable to concentrate; Jennifer apparently developed tardive dyskinesia
. Their medications were apparently adjusted sufficiently to allow them to continue the copious diaries they had begun in 1980, and they were able to join the hospital choir, but they lost most of their interest in creative writing.
The case achieved some notoriety due to newspaper coverage by author Marjorie Wallace. The girls finally became known in America, when they were introduced to the reading public via the Sun, a tabloid which gave a brief but accurate account of their story, headlined "Genius Twins Won't Speak" (an apparent reference to their having tested above average intelligence when being considered for Broadmoor).
According to Wallace, the girls had long had an agreement that if one died, the other must begin to speak and live a normal life. During their stay in the hospital, they began to believe that it was necessary
for one twin to die, and after much discussion, Jennifer agreed to be the sacrifice (Wallace 2003). Within hours after their release in 1993, Jennifer died of sudden inflammation
of the heart (reported initially as viral myocarditis
). There was no evidence of drugs or poison in her system. To this day, Jennifer's death remains a mystery.
After Jennifer's death, June gave interviews with Harper's Bazaar and The Guardian. She became more communicative and was able to speak with other people. She lived at home with her family in Haverfordwest apparently until 2005, when she began living with her partner in a nearby town. She contemplates resuming her writing, although she describes her early books as "all over the place" and not very good. After Wallace's book appeared, Pepsi-Cola Addict became a valuable collector's item, and the novel has been reprinted several times.
- Oliver Sacks, Bound Together in Fantasy and Crime New York Times review of The Silent Twins, October 19, 1986.
- Jennifer Gibbons, 29, 'Silent Twin' of a Study Announcement of Jennifer's death in the New York Times, March 12, 1993.
- Marjorie Wallace, The tragedy of a double life, London: The Observer, July 13, 2003
- Hilton Als, A life of my own, The New Yorker, 2000.
- Dark Ride, A french website containing an image of the sisters