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The Silent Twins – Dead Quiet

Twins have long fascinated humanity. Being part of a relationship like that changes people. They sometimes have uncannily deep connections and insights on one another. All people go through life alone, in a way, but twins are slightly less alone than the rest of us.

Madness, on the other hand, is usually a very personal thing. Others cannot understand the thoughts and actions that the afflicted display. By definition, it is the loneliest state a human can be in, disconnected fundamentally from what some might call objective reality.

That is why the shared madness of June and Jennifer Gibbons is so captivating. Their connection started in the womb, and spiraled out into a truly mysterious tragedy.

Folie à deux

Psychosis, which sometimes goes by the street name – madness, is an isolating affliction. This isn't always the case. From the obscure recesses of the DSM-5 comes the possibility of shared psychosis.

Psychosis is a condition where the afflicted cannot distinguish between reality and delusion. Folie à deux is the commonly used name for a condition called Shared Psychotic Disorder. This means that one person, who is gripped by delusions, manages to 'transfer' their delusions to another.

Folie à deux is incredibly rare. Delusions can be transferred in a number of ways. The first is when a psychotic individual imposes their delusions on another. Otherwise, 2 psychotic people may become convinced of the same delusion, or a “stable” person is convinced by a delusional one.

Women are at a much higher risk of developing Folie à deux, statistically speaking. The risk is highest in neurotic, suggestible people. Usually Folie à deux occurs within a familial relationship where some prior personality disorder is present. Something like histrionic, or schizoid personality disorder.

The Silence Begins

June and Jennifer Gibbons were the third and fourth children of Barbadian immigrant parents. Their father was a Royal Air Force technician, and the twins were born while he was deployed in Yemen.

Born on 11 April 1963, the girls seemed like standard babies. They reached developmental milestones, and seemed on track to become healthy, happy kids. The trouble started with school.

From Yemen, the Gibbons family moved back to England before settling in Wales in 1974. Welsh people, as you might know, are racially European. The Gibbons family were the only people of color in the town of Haverforwest.

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being visibly different as a child will tell you that it sucks. June and Jennifer were bullied relentlessly by their peers. This kind of trauma can break anyone.

Soon the girls wouldn't speak to anyone but each other. They refused to read or write in school, having likely developed a deep distrust of the language of the peers who hated them.

At first, they spoke Bajan Creole to each other. Their family could still understand them, but the speed at which they spoke made it difficult. June and Jennifer weren't satisfied with that, so they invented their own language.

This language is what is known as cryptophasia - twin speak. Up to this point things were still rather normal. Twins creating their own secret language is actually very common.

The girls refused to speak to anyone else, save their younger sister. Which is a little less common.

The Silent Twins – Authors are Weird

One speech therapist who tried working with the girls, Ann Treharne, noted that she got the sense that Jennifer was the dominant twin. She went so far as to say that it seemed like June was 'possessed' by Jennifer.

Psychologists got involved in the strange teens. They tried separating the girls, sending them to different boarding schools. Which rendered them catatonic until they were reunited.

The twins mirrored each other's behavior, spoke their secret language, and played alone in their room for hours. None were invited into their life. Together they crafted elaborate narratives, acting out plays with their dolls and even recording some of their work as a gift for their younger sister.

June Gibbons commented on this period long after the fact:

“One day, she’d wake up and be me, and one day I would wake up and be her. And we used to say to each other, ‘Give me back myself. If you give me back myself I’ll give you back yourself.'”

One Christmas the girls received diaries as a gift. They were enchanted by the empty pages, and immediately began writing down their thoughts and stories. By their sixteenth year the girls were hooked on writing.

They took a mail-order creative writing course. That's right, things had to be physically mailed to you in the past, children of the internet-era.

June and Jennifer began writing novels together. Characters in their novels were always young, attractive, and criminally inclined. All of their stories were set in Malibu, California, and involved gruesome crimes.

June only published one novel during this time, The Pepsi Cola-Addict. The story was about a boy who was physically, emotionally, and philosophically addicted to Pepsi. He is seduced by his math tutor, before getting sent to a juvenile detention facility where he gets molested by a guard.

The book is apparently quite good. Although only 5 libraries in the world house copies of it.

Eccentric Twins Turn to Crime

After their success in publishing one novel, the girls grew tired of the freedom of the empty page. They longed for the plots they created for their characters to live out.

So the twins experimented with alcohol and other drugs. Chemicals didn't mix well with the unstable teens. In 1981, they were convicted of arson and committed to the Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

They had a rough time in the maximum security hospital. Doctors at Broadmoor had no sympathy for the Silent Twins. They pumped them full of antipsychotic drugs, and grilled them to get them to talk.

When compassion doesn't work, the answer must be a strong authoritarian hand, right? This is what June had to say about the 12 years they spent at Broadmoor:

“We got twelve years of hell, because we didn’t speak. We had to work hard to get out. We went to the doctor. We said, ‘Look, they wanted us to talk, we’re talking now.’ He said, ‘You’re not getting out. You’re going to be here for thirty years.’ We lost hope, really. I wrote a letter to the Home Office. I wrote a letter to the Queen, asking her to pardon us, to get us out. But we were trapped.”

The drugs broke their passion for creative writing, proving that the urge to write fiction is some form of psychosis. Jokes aside, the dosages were cartoonishly high and caused a lot of problems for the twins.

Jennifer developed a condition where she performed involuntary repetitive movements. Her eyesight became blurry.

Death Pact

The girls became convinced that one of them must die for the other to become normal. As though they had one soul, split into 2 bodies by fate. They discussed this sorry state of affairs, and the decision was made that Jennifer was the one that had to die.

The deal was that if Jennifer sacrificed herself, June would have to start speaking and lead a 'normal' life. June swore that it would be so.

In 1993, they were to be transferred to a lower security hospital. They were collected from their cells, and loaded into the hospital transfer vehicle. By the time they arrived at Caswell Clinic, Jennifer was unconscious.

Doctors tried to resuscitate her, but she passed away soon after arrival. The autopsy revealed that she died of a rare heart condition. Her heart became suddenly and terminally inflamed, making it unable to pump.

June was interrogated about the sudden, mysterious death of her twin. The two had been alone in the back of the ambulance, after all. She told doctors that Jennifer had been slurring her speech the day before, and claimed that she was dying.

June recovered from her madness. The journalist, Marjorie Wallace, who had been covering the story of the Silent Twins since the early 80s, visited June a few days after Jennifer's death. June was in an odd mood, and told Wallace:

“I'm free at last, liberated, and at last Jennifer has given up her life for me”

June Gibbons lives in Wales to this day. She is no longer monitored by psychiatric health officials. By all reports she has lived a happy, healthy life in the years since her sister's death.

Jennifer Gibbons was laid to rest in a cemetery in Pembrokeshire, Wales, with the epitaph:

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



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