Though you may not have heard of June and Jennifer Gibbons, you’ll soon learn why they were called the Silent Twins, and why everyone is fascinated by their story.
The Gibbons twins were born 10 minutes apart in a Royal Air Force hospital in Aden, Yemen, in 1963. They were quiet-natured children who seemed well-mannered, but strangely, they didn’t speak until they were 3 years old. Though they didn’t speak, they often look at books, drew pictures, and wrote little notes. Even after they were 3, though, they were famously tight-lipped.
Their father, Aubrey, was in the Royal Air Force and the family moved around a lot, which didn’t help the children become adjusted. They turned more inwards toward each other as each school would result in new bullies and torment due to their odd nature, lack of speaking, and skin color.
By the time they were almost teenagers, the twins stopped talking to their parents and would refuse to be in the same room as them or their three siblings. They would walk in synchronicity together, turning at the same position, mocking each step, and when someone looked at them, they froze like deer caught in headlights.
Their odd behavior was becoming a constant strain on the family’s emotions. People around the neighborhood backed off from the entire family; the twins had no friends and showed no interest in letting anyone else into their strange world.
It became too much for their parents and the twins were sent off to Eastgate Center for Special Education in 1977, a few days after their 14th birthday. There, they were tested on their behavior and education, which showed that while they were socially inept and mildly depressed, they were shockingly independent.
The oddest discovery was how the twins acted when they didn’t know they were being filmed: “The most stunning example of June and Jennifer’s bizarre behavior was provided by a videotape of the two made with a hidden camera. Thinking they were unobserved, the girls cavorted, laughed and talked happily with each other,” People magazine wrote in a story about the twins in 1986. And yet their weekly therapy sessions were a failure because the girls simply refused to speak.
They left the school a couple years later and moved back in with their parents and immediately, they burrowed themselves in their room. Their mother, Gloria, would deliver their mail and slid it underneath their door, leave a tray of food outside of it, and yet they never spoke to her or anyone else in the family.
Yet their parents would hear them talking or laughing or fighting behind the closed door. No one knew what was truly happening between them, as they screamed and fought, and then giggled in the privacy of their bedroom.
Writing was their main focus and they wanted to be famous authors. June wrote a novel, Pepsi-Cola Addict, while Jennifer wrote one called Discomania. By now the twins were 17 years old and becoming full-on delinquents when they weren’t writing.
They routinely got in violent fights with each other, and after some legal trouble that ended with an injured fireman and over $200,000 in damages, they were sent to Britain’s high-security psychiatric hospital, Broadmoor. It was one of the largest and most dangerous maximum security mental hospitals throughout Europe.
Their time at Broadmoor has been summarized at The Lineup:
“At Broadmoor, the doctors found June and Jennifer to be deeply disturbed, even dangerous. The two took turns eating, one indulging one day while the other starved. And though they were split up and housed in cells on opposite ends of the hospital, nurses often found them eerily frozen in the same distinct poses. This went on for 11 years. Until doctors agreed to transfer the twins to Caswell Clinic, a lower-security facility in Bridgend, Wales.”
While at Broadmoor, an interviewer and journalist by the name of Marjorie Wallace met with the twins weekly. She was writing a book about them and the twins were happy about it, giving her their journals and poems and such. However, as the time went on, a darkness grew between them.
June wrote in her journal: “We have become fatal enemies in each other’s eyes. We feel the irritating deadly rays come out of our bodies, stinging each other’s skin. I say to myself, can I get rid of my own shadow – impossible or not possible? Without my shadow, would I die? Without my shadow, would I gain life, be free or left to die? Without my shadow, which I identify with a face of misery, deception, murder.”
This went on for over a decade. Finally, the twins were going to be transferred to a less secure hospital where they would serve another year and then be released into the public.
Wallace went to visit the twins one last time at the Broadmoor hospital, and something very strange happened.
This is from Wallace during an interview with NPR:
“I took my daughter in, and we went through all the doors and then we went into the place where the visitors were allowed to have tea. And we had quite a jolly conversation to begin with. And then suddenly, in the middle of the conversation, Jennifer said, ‘Marjorie, Marjorie, I’m going to have to die,’ and I sort of laughed. I sort of said ‘what? Don’t be silly. You’re 31 years old. You know, you’re just about to be freed from Broadmoor. Why are you going to have to die? You’re not ill.’ And she said, ‘because we’ve decided.’ At that point, I got very, very frightened because I could see that they meant it. And then they said, we have made a pact. Jennifer has got to die because they said the day that they left Broadmoor, the day that they were free from the secure hospital, one of them would have to give up their life to really enable the other one to be free. I later found a little [note] that they’d written, which was (reading) that two is your laughing, that two is your smiling and now I’m dead, that too is your crying.”
The day they were transferred, Jennifer died of a swollen heart. The were loaded into a van, and as the van left, Jennifer slumped onto June’s shoulder and went into a coma. She was pronounced dead at 6:15 that evening.
There were no symptoms of foul play, no poison in her system, and still, doctors have no exact reason for her death. However, Wallace thinks that she simply willed it. They were 31 years old.
The family was devastated. They knew their lives would never be the same, nor would June’s.
One of their sisters said, “They should never have been locked up in Broadmoor. I know they did wrong but they didn’t kill anyone. It totally ruined their lives. If it had been me, I would have sued Broadmoor. I would not have let them get away with what they did. But it was my parents’ choice and they always said that it would not bring Jenny back.”
The family has since moved on in peace, including June.
June now lives near her family in the town of Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales. When asked about the hospitalization’s impact on the family sister, June’s sister, Greta, said, “(June) has never married or had children or fulfilled her ambition to be a writer.”