Anyone who’s seen The Parent Trap has probably wondered what it would be like to find out you had a twin you didn’t know existed. Three men who grew up apart in New York in the 1960s and ’70s experienced something quite similar to Lindsay Lohan’s Hallie and Annie, but their story, chronicled in the new documentary Three Identical Strangers, is much darker than the plot of any Disney film: While their initial reunion occurred under happy circumstances, the men’s search for the reasons why they were separated at birth and adopted by different families ends with a shocking revelation.
“This was a really bad thing,” said Bobby Shafran, one of the triplets, in a new interview with People.
Three Identical Strangers premiered to raving reviews at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, where it nabbed the program’s Special Jury Award for Storytelling. It opens in theaters nationwide on July 13. Keep reading to learn more about the very true, very disturbing story it spotlights.
Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman were born to a teenage mother in Long Island, New York, in 1961. They were then placed in separate homes by Louise Wise Services, a high-end adoption agency. Bobby was adopted by upper-class parents, whereas Eddy and David went to middle-class and working-class families, respectively.
Dr. Neubauer sought to answer the timeless question of “nature versus nurture”; he wanted to know whether a person’s behavior was more affected by genetic makeup or by upbringing. That explained why the three brothers were adopted by families from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
The study was inspired by psychiatrist and Louise Wise Services consultant Dr. Viola Bernard, who believed adoptive twins and triplets would be better off in homes where they didn’t have to compete for attention.
And the triplets weren’t the only siblings involved in the study: An unknown number of multiple-birth babies in New York were separated from each other in the 1960s and ’70s through adoptions facilitated by Louise Wise Services. The separations occurred without the knowledge or consent of the birth or adoptive parents.
Records of the study were placed under a seal in the Yale University archives following Dr. Neubauer's death in 2008.