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Silent Twins, A True Story

In movies, dramas, and novels, Twins have long been encircled by mysteries and oddness. Another thing that these twins sometimes appear to exceed our understanding of this mysterious world as we think about it. There are some special qualities about twins that lie just out of the thinking of those of us who have no such brother or sister, and this is incorrectly understood, frequently even by the twins themselves. There have been several mysteries of twins with strange qualities or oddness to tell, and maybe one of the weirdest and strangest is the heartbreaking story of two girls, The Silent Twins who managed to confound and amaze everyone they met with their eccentric ways and enigmatic lives.

Birth of Silent Twins

On April 11, 1963, the twins June and Jennifer Gibbons were born in Aden, in the Middle East, to parents Gloria and Aubrey Gibbons, who were from the Caribbean nation of Barbados, shortly after which the family immigrated to Haverfordwest, in Wales. The twins had to face serious hardship from the beginning, as they were the only black people in their area, and so they faced consternation, avoidance, and even downright hostile racism, none of which was assisted by the fact that they hardly chatted to anyone else but each other and when they did it was fast and virtually unintelligible to everyone around them. They were also known for mirroring each other’s behavior and actions, frequently even finishing the actions that the other started, and would walk everywhere following each other in flawlessly synchronized steps. The bullying and harassment they encountered due to their race and a common air of oddness were reportedly so bad that they would often be sent home from school early.

Communication Of Silent Twins

It was maybe this annoying environment that contributed to their increasingly immediate withdrawal from the outside world. Their way of talking to each other got even more unusual until it was an indecipherable mishmash that not even their parents understood, a kind of strange secret language that only they and their youngest sister Rose could understand. They did not talk to anyone else but each other and sometimes Rose, ignoring their mother and father and their other siblings, further separating themselves, and people called them the nickname “The Silent Twins,” and sometimes also the “Zombies.” Their confused parents sent them to a string of therapists, but it did no good, and no one could solve out what was bad with them. Out of exasperation, the father attempted sending them to distinguish boarding schools, realizing that being distant would draw them out of their shells, but this had a different effect, causing them to close off into a sort of unresponsive vegetative state or torpor, in which their bodies were “as stiff and heavy as a body.”

Re-Union

The Silent Twins': Crime and Punishment of Black Girls
Pic: Shadofnoir

Upon being reunited, they cheered up but went about their odd manners once again, and started to spend large amounts of time locked away in their room writing rather dark and ominous fictional stories, a hobby which they would continue in later years, with them ultimately even writing some novels that were published to little fanfare. Another pastime was for them to play with dolls, for which they would establish detailed fantasy worlds and write biographies for, morbidly comprising even the particular date and technique of death for each doll. During this tense time, the two twins also started to display a rather dark side to their relationship, displaying indications that they had a decidedly love-hate relationship, sometimes intimate and at other times fighting so violently that they would throttle, scrape, and suffocate each other. In one incident June attempted to kill Jennifer by drowning her, and they would fearfully write of this in their diaries, with one such entry by Jennifer chillingly reading:

We have become disastrous enemies in each other’s eyes. We feel the terrible fatal rays come out of our bodies, painful for each other’s skin. I ask myself, can I get rid of my own shadow, impossible or not possible? Without my shadow, would I perish? Without my shadow, would I earn life, be free, or left to die? Without my shadow, which I recognize with a face of misery, deception, murder.

Nonetheless, these horrifying episodes always soon passed by, and the silent twins would be the best of friends again, jabbering away in their alien tongue, which was later found to be a rapid-fire variety of Barbadian slang and English. During this time, they would talk to no one, and would not even interact with their parents or other siblings except Rose, accepting their meals or anything else on trays set tentatively outside the room. It was through this time of self-imposed exile within their room and rising hostility towards each other that they started to get rather violent. In their teen years, the twins began attempting alcohol and marijuana committing minor crimes like shoplifting or burglary, but this soon advanced to more severe violations when they began setting fire to buildings, comprising a tractor store and a technical college, and committing in other random acts of destruction. This would all get them into quite a bit of trouble, culminating in them being detained and sent away at the age of 19 to a psychiatric facility in Berkshire, England called Broadmoor Hospital, which was controversial considering its reputation as a maximum security facility for the criminally insane, and where things would get even weirder still.

As soon as they came the silent twins had specialists stumped. No one had ever glimpsed anything quite like it. They were unresponsive and sluggish and would go crazy if anyone attempted to separate them. Not long after they arrived June went into a catatonic state and attempted to commit suicide, and Jennifer angrily lashed out at a nurse in animalistic anger. Even when they did eventually try to communicate with staff their speech was yet a stream of outlandish gibberish.

During their time here there were many abnormalities with the twins. Sometimes they would take turns eating, which is to say that one would force herself as the other one eschewed any food at all, whereupon they would shift for the other to starve as one ate their fill. More spookily still, although they were put into different cells in totally different areas, nurses and doctors would frequently enter their cells to discover them frozen into poses, sometimes very unique or bizarre ones, that were the same even though they had had no connection with each other. They also indicated an unerring, almost incredible ability to know what the other was doing or feeling at any given time.

12 Years

This would go on for 12 years, during which time they became confident that they were never going to have a regular life unless one of them eventually died. It was during their time at the Broadmoor Hospital that they would catch the attention of London Sunday Times reporter Marjorie Wallace, who would spend a good amount of time forming a bond with the girls and investigating their case, as well as bringing the strange story to public awareness. After countless talks and combing through their diaries and writings, Wallace would contend that the two girls felt that they wanted to break their strange bond to be free. To this end, they would allegedly make a pact in which one of them would forfeit herself so that the other one would become unfettered from their psychic link, unusual behaviour, and never-ending process of loving and loathing each other.

In 1993, on the very day that the two were to be transferred to a softer security facility called the Caswell Clinic, in Bridgend, Wales, Wallace contends that Jennifer approached her and prophetically told her, “I’m going to have to perish. We’ve decided.” The whole ride to the new locale saw Jennifer in a kind of trance, and quickly after that, they were transferred she unexpectedly crumpled to the floor for no obvious reason. Despite all actions to save her life, Jennifer Gibbons laid her head down in her sister’s lap and perished at the age of 31. June would later claim that her sister’s last words to her had been, “At long last, we’re out.”

Although it was inferred that Jennifer had perished of a sudden inflammation of the heart named acute myocarditis, it has always stayed elusive and nobody could quite figure out how this had happened, as she was young and in good health, with no history of heart issues, and there were found to be no drugs, alcohol, or any sort of poison in her system. June would say of the death, “I’m free at last, liberated, and at last Jennifer has given up her life for me.” To this day the death stays a mystery, and Wallace has said of it and June’s adjustment to it thus:

I’ve spent many years now wondering about the dilemma of Jennifer’s death. Now, I don’t think there is a justification for that except for Jennifer inclined herself to perish. After I learned about Jennifer’s casualty – it was about two or three days later – I went down to visit June. And I found her surprisingly unchanged, really, and very able to talk. She spoke very simply about the dispute between her horrible grief at losing the person closest in her life and her – the independence that Jennifer had given her. And she just said, when Marjorie said, would you go to Haverfordwest and would you fly a pennant over Haverfordwest and say that June is reasonable and well and at last come into her own? So there she was a few days later, both grieving and mourning, and at the same time, telling Jennifer gave up her life for me and now I have to go on and live for the both of us.

In the days after her sister’s unusual casualty, June Gibbons indeed did start to show a change. She started to speak commonly and would speak with others, conversing even. She would be freed of psychiatric care and go on to come to be a normal member of society, and maintained her writing career, although it never really took off. Her family would also stay bitter over their detention in such an alarming and intense facility as Broadmoor, saying that it had wrecked their lives and led to Jennifer’s death. June now leads a peaceful life in Wales. As for Jennifer, she is laid to rest under a headstone that holds the haunting message:

We once were two
We two made one
We no more two
Through life be one
Rest in peace.

The story of June and Jennifer Gibbons is as awful as it is odd. What kind of connection was this and what did they share in the isolated world they crafted for themselves? What caused Jennifer’s demise and did it truly set June free? The bond between twins can be an odd and problematic thing, and here with the Silent Twins we have one of the stranger cases there is, with answers we will likely never know.

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