The 13th Floor

The Chilling But True Story of “The Silent Twins”

I think we can all agree that twins are scary and weird. At least, that is what horror movies like THE SHINING and DEAD RINGERS and directors the Soska Twins have taught me. But one of the most truly bizarre cases of weird twins has to be that of the Gibbons girls.

June and Jennifer Gibbons were born on April 11, 1963 in Barbados, and moved to a small town in Wales soon after. The girls refused to speak to anyone. They only spoke to each other, and sometimes their younger sister Rose, in a made-up “twin” language. A psychologist once secretly recorded the girls talking, and discovered that they were speaking regular English at incredible speed. Living in a predominantly white town, the girls were frequently bullied, to the point where school administrators let them leave early to avoid torment. It didn’t work, and the girls eventually withdrew from school, and society.

In an attempt to socialize them, June and Jennifer were sent to separate boarding schools. They became catatonic and were reunited with one another. The girls soon turned to writing, both fiction and keeping extensive diaries. Their self-published novels were often filled with explosive violence and did not gain them any attention in the literary world. Instead, they turned to petty crime for excitement and attention. They were caught burning a building to the ground. In 1982, the judge sentenced them on sixteen counts of burglary and arson to Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security hospital for the criminally insane. Their refusal to speak, anti-social behavior, zombie-like movements, and extreme unity all contributed to the decision to have them committed. (Broadmoor was home to many infamous killers, including Ronnie Kray and the Yorkshire Ripper.)

While at Broadmoor, the girls were kept in separate wards but spent all of their social time together. Nurses often found them in their separate rooms, sitting in the same poses. On several occasions, the girls attempted suicide and attacked one another; they often took turns eating (one day one would eat while the other would abstain); and they were put on heavy anti-psychotic drugs that drained their desire to write. They eventually returned to their diaries, but did not write any more novels.

June and Jennifer had a strange, unhealthy co-dependent relationship. They couldn’t exist apart, but they couldn’t lead a normal life together. Jennifer, ten minutes younger, thought June was better looking and more intelligent than she was. June sensed this, and wrote in her diary: “She wants us to be equal. There is a murderous gleam in her eye. Dear lord, I am scared of her. She is not normal… someone is driving her insane. It is me.” She described Jennifer as “the dark sister robbing me of sunlight.” In her own journal, Jennifer wrote: “We have become fatal enemies in each other’s eyes. We feel the irritating deadly rays come out of our bodies, stinging each other’s skin. I say to myself, can I get rid of my own shadow, impossible or not possible? Without my shadow, would I die? Without my shadow, would I gain life, be free or left to die? Without my shadow, which I identify with a face of misery, deception, murder.”

Journalist Marjorie Wallace, who wrote an extensive biography on the girls, was having tea with the twins when Jennifer said she was going to have to die. When asked why, she responded, “Because we decided.” It would not be enough to live separately; they would always possess one another. One of them had to die so the other could live a normal life.

In 1993, the girls were finally granted a transfer to the more open Caswell Clinic. Upon arrival there, Jennifer looked ill. She was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead of acute myocarditis, a sudden, lethal inflammation of the heart. This is frequently caused by viral infection, drugs, or poison; no evidence of any of this was found in Jennifer’s case. The cause of her myocarditis has never been identified.

Wallace said that, after her sister’s death, June was both grief-stricken and relieved. “We were war-weary. It had been a long battle — someone had to break the vicious circle.” June now lives a so-called “normal” life. She speaks normally, lives independently, and looks to put the past behind her.

x