In 1980, when Robert Shafran arrived for his first day of college at Sullivan County Community College in New York, he was confused and overwhelmed by people he had never met warmly greeting him with hugs and high-fives, and, strangest of all, calling him Eddy. The reason behind the odd reception emerged when he met his new roommate Michael Domitz.
It turned out that Michael’s roommate from the previous year was Eddy Galland, a young man who not only looked exactly like Robert, but walked, talked, and acted like him as well. The two men were exact copies of each other, so after Michael learned that Robert was born on the same day as his old roommate and that, like him, he was adopted, he decided the two of them had to meet.
“He had the same grin, the same hair, the same expressions — it was his double,” Domitz says in Tom Wardle’s new documentary “Three Identical Strangers”, which won a special jury award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Soon after their meeting each other, Robert and Eddy realized they were brothers separated at birth, both born July 12, 1961, in Long Island, and then adopted by different families. Their story made the local news, which brought about another twist. Shortly after the story came out, David Kellman of Queens made contact with the twins. He also looked, talked, and acted exactly like the two brothers. The long lost twins were in fact long lost triplets.
The three boys had a great deal in common, from their taste in food to the brand of cigarettes they smoked. They all clicked instantly.
“The initial meeting was just complete surrealism,” Robert says in the documentary. “But then once we got together there was a joy that I had never experienced in my life, and it lasted a really long time.”
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The triplets moved in together and transferred to the same courses at college.
This happy reunion wasn’t the end of the story, however. The most significant twist was yet to come. After doing some research, the boys soon came to realize that their separation had been deliberate as a sinister social experiment by Peter Neubauer, a psychiatrist in New York. In fact Dr. Neubauer was responsible for the separation of dozens of newborn twins, scattering them among similar families to study their upbringing. The doctor used the children to explore the theory of ‘nature vs. nurture’.
Neither the doctor nor the adoption agency ever informed the adoptive family of each boy that they were separated triplets, only that their child was part of a developmental study. Dr. Neubauer had chosen the families because they each had a daughter around two years old at the time of adoption, but had varying levels of wealth.
The triplets were then monitored closely throughout their lives. Once a year each family visited Manhattan’s Child Development Centre, which has since merged with The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, for assessment tests. Psychologists filmed and logged these assessments, as well as interviews with the boys and their families.
Claire Kellman, David’s adoptive mother, revealed in the documentary that he sensed something was missing.
“David began talking very early. I remember him waking up and saying, ‘I have a brother.’ “We would all talk about his ‘imaginary brother,’” she said. “It later emerged all the boys exhibited symptoms of separation anxiety during infancy, but that only made sense in hindsight.”
After the boys found each other, their families were furious with the psychologists, but there wasn’t much they could do about it, as apparently there was no law prohibiting Neubauer and his team from running their cruel experiments.
Sadly, Eddy took his own life at the young age of 33, after suffering from severe depression. Robert and David are currently seeking an apology from The Jewish Board, as well as compensation and all the official documents from the study to be released. The Jewish Board refused to take part in the documentary, but has since released a statement via the Washington Post:
“The Jewish Board does not endorse the study undertaken by Dr. Peter Neubauer, and is appreciative that the film has created an opportunity for a public discourse about it,” a spokesperson said. “We hope that the film encourages others to come forward and request access to their records. The Jewish Board had no role in the separation of twins adopted through Louise Wise.”
Nancy Segal, a psychologist, and author of an upcoming book called Accidental Brothers, met Dr. Neubauer before he died. She told the Times: “What struck me most was he showed absolutely no remorse for what he had done. He still felt he had done the right thing.”
Segal added that Neubauer’s study found that “genes have a more pervasive influence than we thought” and that most of the separated twins involved in the research “ended up being extremely alike”.