It’s always a little uncomfortable to be confused for someone else, and even more bizarre to come face to face with your lookalike. For 19-year-old Robert Shafran, meeting his doppelganger after a strange first day at a community college in New York State meant coming to terms with his past and grappling with a reality that would change the course of his life – and the lives of others – forever. The far-from-ordinary tale of love and sorrow, mystery and suspense will leave you wondering what exactly you’d do in Robert’s shoes. Read about how he met his bizarrely similar lookalike, how the two reacted to each other and the shocking truth they discovered afterward.
Robert Shafran was an incoming sophomore at a college in Upstate New York when one day, people he had never met began to approach him on campus. Male and female students he didn’t even know greeted him warmly, hugging and kissing him as if they were childhood friends.
Who were these people? Was it a prank? Was he in some kind of alternate universe? The questions abounded. Struggling to understand what was going on, Robert Shafran returned to the safety of his dorm room. There, his new roommate approached him with a very peculiar question.
Robert Shafran’s new roommate was a person by the name of Michael Domitz. When Michael first saw Robert, he was taken aback. It turned out his previous roommate, who had transferred to another college, scarily resembled his new one.
And he didn’t only resemble Robert, who goes by Bobby – he was literally his spitting image. Michael said his last roommate, Eddy Galland, “had the same grin, the same hair, the same expressions — it was his double.” But how could this be? Was Bobby unknowingly taking part in some devious prank?
Baffled, Michael stared at Bobby intently. He then proceeded to ask Eddy a set of questions to try to make sense of what was going on. Those two questions were if he was adopted and whether his birthday was July 12, 1961. Even more baffled, Bobby answered yes to both questions, wondering where they were headed.
Everyone has weird college experiences and memories they’ll never forget, but this exchange between Michael and Bobby is an example of destiny in action. If it’s all starting to sound like an episode of Black Mirror, just wait.
Once it became apparent to Michael Domitz that his two roommates were too similar for it to just be coincidence, the two men immediately called Michael’s previous roommate, Eddy. They had to ask him if he knew what was going on.
After the call, Michael and Bobby jumped in a car and drove four hours to Eddy’s home in Long Island. One can only imagine that went on in Bobby’s mind during that drive, and what kinds of questions he was asking his new roommate. Soon enough, he’d come across something that would really blow his mind.
When Bobby and Eddy finally met they just stared at each other. Every time Bobby tilted his head, Eddy did too. And then Eddy would move, and Bobby would follow. It was like they were “looking in the mirror,” according to one observer.
“It was like the world faded away, and it was just me and Eddy,” Bobby recalled from the day he met his lookalike. The meeting gave a new meaning to the phrase “seeing double,” but as the pair would soon find out, the future had yet another mind-boggling discovery in store for them.
It wasn’t long before Bobby and Eddy paused their basking in the delight of seeing one another that they began wondering what was going on. Was this a dream? Obviously, this can’t be a coincidence, but every possible explanation seemed unreal.
Starting to make sense of the situation, Bobby and Eddy began to think. They both had the same birthday, and both know they were adopted. They decided to look into their adoption records to find answers. But those answers would only lead to more questions.
When Bobby and Eddy looked into their adoption records, it hit them: The two former complete strangers were actually twins. Flabbergasted, the two long-lost twin brothers suddenly felt like they had an eternity to make up for.
As they started to get to know eachother, Bobby and Eddy learned that they shared some striking similarities. They talked and laughed the same way, and had identical birthmarks. The twins even shared an IQ score of 148. But why didn’t anyone tell them they were twins? Why would their adoptive families hide such a thing?
The pieces of the puzzle were starting to connect. Shortly after bobby and Eddy’s first meeting, their unbelievable story began to circulate. They even made the local paper. But the consequences of that article would only add a log to the fire of this saga.
Thousands of people throughout New York were reading about the two teens, who were just yesterday ordinary students. All his life, Robert “Bobby” Shafran felt like a unique individual. All his life, until he met his twin. But things were far from over.
After twins Robert Shafran and Eddy Galland made the paper, things got even more science-fiction like. Shortly after the story was published, the Galland household got a surprising phone call. The caller was a young man by the name of David Kellman.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Kellman said. Apparently, he had documents proving that there was more to the twins’ story than what they originally suspected. In fact, he had information they just couldn’t believe.
According to David Kellman, there was another long-lost twin to be found – Kellman himself. He had documents from a Manhattan adoption agency to prove that he, Bobby and Eddy were in fact triplets. At this point, how could they not believe it?
According to the documents, Bobby, David and Eddy were born within 27 minutes of each other. And there were more striking similarities between the three: They all liked the same cigarette brand, favored Italian food (though they were raised in Jewish homes) and dressed similarly. It was obvious the three were in fact triplets. So what exactly happened?
Bobby, David and Eddy were in shock. Eager to make up for lost time, the siblings really took their time to get to know each other. They couldn’t believe what was happening but it was such a life-changing discovery that they just couldn’t ignore it.
Not only could they not ignore it, but it was a big enough of a deal that they had to embrace it. Everything else in their lives – school, work, etc. – just seemed trivial. The next move the newly discovered triplets would make would change the course of their lives forever, and as a result, they’d learn even more about their bizarre situation.
It’s safe to say most siblings don’t live with one another past a certain age, but these triplets didn’t get a chance to share a house before that age in the first place. So the three decided grabbing a beer together every few weeks, like normal siblings do, wouldn’t suffice in their quest to get to know each other.
They transferred into the same major, international marketing, and moved into an apartment together. As the saying goes, the only true method of getting to know a person is to live with them. But the madness didn’t end there.
After having moved in together, Robert, David and Eddy thought they might finally have some peace and quiet since this whole affair started to get to know each other. They were wrong. Peace and quiet isn’t something that follows meeting your two long-lost siblings overnight.
Having been discovered by the media, which salivated all over the story, the triplets became iconic. Stories about Bobby, Eddy and David turned them into a pre-internet viral sensation to be reckoned with. Going viral can lead to good things, and for the triplets, it led to a gig they’d never have expected to land.
Having a twin is special, becoming a twin overnight as a teen is mind boggling. Becoming a triplet overnight, apparently, can make you a celebrity. One day, the triplets were spotted on the street in New York City by director Susan Seidelman.
“You’re the guys! Will you be in my film?” she asked. That film was Desperately Seeking Susan. The trio said yes, and appeared alongside none other than Madonna in a scene of the movie. It was fun, sure. But there’s still more to this story. Something just didn’t feel right to the triplets.
There inevitably seems to be a supernatural aspect to the story of triplets who were separated at birth reuniting by mistake – discovering there had been two other people who were identical to them roaming the earth for the 19 years they were alive, and they didn’t even know it. Except one did… or, at least, he always felt it.
“David began talking very early,” his adoptive mother, Claire, said. “I remember him waking up and saying: ‘I have a brother.’” The family would all talk about David’s “imaginary brother.” When David found his real brothers, it was glorious for all of them. But the more they learned, the creepier it all became.
After the excitement died down and people began to understand what was going on, the began to wonder why it was happening. Did their biological parents know the triplets would be split up? Did their adoptive parents?
Bobby, Eddy and David eventually asked these tough questions as well. They enjoyed their time together so much – and who could blame them – that they started to wonder how they were separated in the first place, and why.
The triplets were born to a teenage mother on July 12, 1961 in a Long Island hospital. That much information was easy to find by scraping through adoption records in the beginning of their fact-finding quest.
Another detail, the trio learned, is that they originally had a fourth companion in their mother’s womb. At first a gang of quadruplets, the fourth brother died at birth. As for the three remaining brothers, well, let’s just say someone had been watching them. For a very long time.
In their discovery mission to figure out what was going on, the triplets dug deep into adoption records and other documents – everything they could get their hands on. They conducted the research together, and discussed their findings to make sense of them.
Eventually, one of the siblings recalled something very peculiar about his childhood. When he brought it up with the other two, they realized it was something they had experienced throughout their youth as well. Faceless, nameless adults, they remembered, regularly payed them visits when they were growing up.
As it turned out, every stage of each brother’s life was recorded and logged. From the moment each first learned to ride a bike to their preteen years, Bobby, Eddy and David became accustomed to visits from strangers. Those strangers seemed to be researchers of some sort.
The researchers spent hours watching them boys play with toys and asking them probing questions. Similar to what you’d expect to read in a dystopian novel, they spent hours questioning the trio’s parents as well. But what was the purpose of these interrogations?
In their search for answers, the increasingly troubled triplets learned something about their adoption that was particularly fishy, and, coupled with the visits they grew accustomed to as children, they had to find out what was happening.
When the brothers were put up for adoption, they were placed in three different kinds of families. Each family was financially distinguishable from the other: One working class, one middle class and one upper-middle class. Was this coincidental?
In the summer of 2018, the chilling documentary Three Identical Strangers premiered, in which Bobby Shafran and David Kellman invited cameras into their private lives to share their insane story with the world. The third brother, Eddy, sadly took his own life in 1995, but older footage of him is included in the film.
Director Tim Wardle’s documentary sheds new light on the case. In the film, Wardle aims to build on the brothers’ research and finish what journalist Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker started in the 90’s, when he attempt to unravel the mystery. One of the film’s revelations points to a shady, and potentially nefarious scheme that led to the trio’s separation.
As much as the triplets were up to the task of figuring this out, there came a point at which they required help from professionals like Wright. At some point, the three discovered their families were each told their child was going to be part of a developmental study – but, according to the parents, they weren’t told what the study was intended to learn or prove.
Every month for 12 years, unbeknownst to each other, the families visited the doctors leading the study for each boy to undergo intelligence, behavior and personality tests. As has been pointed out, these boys were Jewish. But that wasn’t all.
When the triplets finally learned who was responsible for separating them, the story only got more complicated. They discovered the Manhattan adoption agency responsible for finding the them a home was Louise Wise Services, which was founded in the early 20th century to find homes for Jewish orphans and help Jewish single mothers.
The question here is, was the now-defunct group involved in the study? Even if they weren’t active participants, did they know about the twisted social experiment that saw Bobby, David and Eddy ripped apart from their siblings at birth?
As the triplets eventually learned, Louise Wise Services not only knew, but was involved in the whole thing. The organization partnered with psychiatrists who were working on a “Twin Study,” which involved separating identical twins and triplets, putting them in different home environments and studying their development.
Eddy, Robert, and David were three of their test subjects. The goal of the study, headed by Dr. Peter Neubauer, was to observe how people with the same DNA react to growing up in different environments. The study was conducted so mysteriously that it was hidden from the public eye. And things got even shadier after that.
Dr. Neubauer and his band of psychiatrists apparently didn’t want anyone to learn anything about their sci-fi-esque study until long after their deaths. And considering the outrage it provoked, it’s not difficult to see why.
The results of the study have never been released. Neubauer died in 2008, and all of his records were placed with Yale University and restricted until 2065. It has to be maddening for Bobby and David, who have spent years searching for answers. But just wait until you read what Neubauer had to say about the experiment before his death.
Dr. Nancy Segal, who has written about the triplet’s story, met Dr. Neubauer before he died. Her major takeaway is jarring. “What struck me most was he showed absolutely no remorse for what he had done,” she recalled. “He still felt he had done the right thing.”
Natasha Josefowitz, who was Dr. Neubauer’s research assistant, has said that studying the children was “an opportunity,” adding that in the late 1950s “this was not something that seemed to be bad.” But how did it affect the triplets?
The Twin Study had a devastating effect on the triplets. No one has ever apologized to the brothers, who are now 56, but the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, which sanctioned the experiment, has started a dialogue with Bobby and David.
“They refer to us as participants,” David said, referring to the groups involved with the study that tore him from his brothers. “We weren’t participants. We were victims.” Even more chilling is that they weren’t the only ones.
Considering the Twin Study was a research project dedicated to studying twins and triplets, it follows that the famed trio wasn’t the only one separated at birth by Dr. Neubauer and the gang. And it wasn’t.
There have been several dozens of documented cases of siblings separated at birth through the Louise Wise Services. No one, however, except the scientists who orchestrated the study, knows exactly how many other sets of twins and triplets are out there. And there’s even more evidence being discovered every day.
Another film released in 2018 sheds even more light on the shady practices of the Louise Wise Services through the story of Howard Burack, who was also an unwilling, unwitting participant of the “Twin Study,” and others.
At first, Howard was unable to locate his long-lost twin. The staff at the agency told him they could not release his sibling’s name until he too requested his records. But when a man named Doug Rausch received an unexpected call from someone at Louise Wise, everything changed.
In 2000, Louise Wise Services was in the process of going out of business. A former employee there, who was dying from cancer at the time, felt like she couldn’t go to her grave without helping some of the twins her employer had kept in the dark.
“She goes, ‘I’m not supposed to do this. I can get in a lot of trouble, but I’m going to do it anyway,'” Doug Rausch said. “She said, ‘Well I have some news for you. You have an identical twin brother.’ Doug said he literally almost drove off the road. That twin brother was Howard.
Vivian Bregman, an adoptive parent of twins separated by Louise Wise, said the organization told her vaguely that the child she wished to adopt was taking part in a “child development study.” The message was clear: Let Louise Wise continue the study, or forget about adopting the child.
“What they did was they told the families that this baby is in an adoption study. ‘If you want the baby, we would like to continue studying the child,’ [they said.] And, of course the families would do anything,” The Twinning Reaction director Lori Shinseki told ABC News.
Much like the visits that plagued the triplets in their youth, other twins in the study reported bizarre, intrusive tests and questioning by researchers were routine. Eventually, at age 11 or 12, Howard Burack told them to cut it out.
“I was always kind of a shy kid and you know, you have people asking you questions and asking you to do stuff. It was a little bit horrifying,” he said. None of the families understood what the researchers were studying.
As it turned out, what Dr. Neubauer was studying was the ever-present question of whether genes determine our fate, or whether our upbringing and environment shapes us into who we are – the concept of nature vs. nurture. It’s at the heart of psychology as a discipline.
Neubauer won’t be around to derive an answer to that question based on the findings of the Twin Study. At least this tale’s original protagonist, Bobby, found and spent time with his brothers. He has quite of a story to tell for it, too.
Sources: NPR, Vice, The Mirror