The Silent Twins―a strange case of June and Jennifer Gibbons who shared everything even movements of each other in their life. Being wildly eccentric, this pair developed their own “twin languages” that was unintelligible to others, and in the last, one is said to sacrifice her own life for another!
Twins are two offspring produced by the same pregnancy, or simply one of two children or animals born at the same birth. However, beyond these modern definitions, there are long-living legends that convey the stories of twins who sense each other’s pains and emotions from a distance.
We recently heard about the twins Ursula and Sabina Eriksson who shared their delusional belief and transferred hallucinations from one to other, influencing to commit a brutal murder.
Twins have also taken place in cultures and mythology as a symbol of good or evil, where they could be seen as having special powers and deep bonds.
In Greek mythology, Castor and Pollux share a bond so strong that when Castor dies, Pollux gives up half of his immortality to be with his brother. Apart from this, there are so many gods and goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology such as, Apollo and Artemis, Phobos and Deimos, Hercules and Iphicles and many more who were actually twins of each other.
In African mythology, Ibeji twins are considered as one soul shared between two bodies. If one of the twins dies in Yoruba people, the parents then create a doll that portrays the body of the deceased child, so the soul of the deceased can remain intact for the living twin. Without the creation of the doll, the living twin is almost destined for death because it is believed to be missing half of its soul.
While most twins leave behind their love, creativities and sweet memories through life, there are some who don’t show the same trait, putting human intellectuals under the shed of intriguing questions. One such case is the Silent Twins―the strange story of June and Jennifer Gibbons.
The Silent Twins – June and Jennifer Gibbons
June and Jennifer Gibbons were bullied and ostracized from a young age and eventually spent years isolated with only each other, spiralling deeper into their elaborate fantasy worlds.
When they reached their teen years, they began committing petty crimes and got committed to Broadmoor hospital, where stranger things about their relationship were uncovered. Ultimately, their intense and peculiar bond ended in one of the twins’ death.
The early life of June and Jennifer Gibbons
June and Jennifer were the daughters of Caribbean immigrants Gloria and Aubrey Gibbons. The Gibbons were from Barbados but moved to the United Kingdom in the early 1960s. Gloria was a housewife and Aubrey worked as a technician for the Royal Air Force. June and Jennifer were born on April 11, 1963, at a military hospital in Aden, Yemen, where their father Aubrey had been deployed.
Later, Gibbons family were relocated—first to England and then, in 1974, they moved to Haverfordwest, Wales. From the beginning, the twin sisters were inseparable and soon found that being the only black children in their community made them easy to be bullied and ostracized.
These behaviours were inflamed by the fact that the two girls spoke very fast and had little grasp of English, making it difficult for anyone to understand them. The bullying got so bad that this proved to be traumatic for the twins, eventually causing their school administrators to dismiss them early each day so that they might avoid bullying.
They gradually became more isolated from society, witnessing a bitter reality out of their home. Throughout the time, their language became more idiosyncratic and it eventually twisted into idioglossia – a private language adapted and understood only by the twins themselves and their younger sister, Rose. The cryptic language was later recognized as a mix of Barbadian slang and English. But at the time, their sped-up language was essentially unintelligible. At one point, the girls wouldn’t speak to anyone even their parents but themselves and their sister.
Even stranger that although they refused to read or write, the two girls continued to attend their school regularly. Perhaps it’s because, deep down, they both were surrounded with eternal loneliness!
In 1976, John Rees, a school medical officer administering tuberculosis vaccinations at the school noted the twins’ impassive behaviour and notified a child psychologist named Evan Davies. Within no time, the pair caught the attention of the medical community, especially psychologists and psychiatrists.
Rees, working with Davies and Tim Thomas, an educational psychologist who had been recruited to the Gibbons case, decided that the girls should be transferred to the Eastgate Centre for Special Education, in Pembroke, where an instructor named Cathy Arthur was put in charge of them. Aubrey and Gloria did not interfere in the decisions that were made for their daughters; they felt they had to trust the British authorities, who presumably knew better than they did.
Their experimental treatments tried unsuccessfully to get the twins to communicate with others. In the last, none of the therapists could figure out what was wrong with them, if anything at all.
When the twins were 14, they were sent to separate boarding schools as part of the treatment, in an hope their self-isolation will break, and that they will back in normal life. Unfortunately, things didn’t go with the plan, the pair became catatonic and entirely withdrawn when separated. They didn’t perk up until they were reunited.
The creative expressions of the Silent Twins
After reuniting, the two girls spent several years locked away in their shared bedroom which was their own fantasy world, engaging in elaborate plays with dolls. They created many plays and stories―where each doll had its own biography and rich life, and their interactions with other dolls―in a sort of soap opera style, reading some of them aloud on tape as gifts for their sister, Rose.
But all of these stories had one bizarre thing in common―the exact dates and methods of death for each doll were noted in the same way. To say, they created plays and stories set in their bizarrely strange world. For instance:
- June Gibbons: Aged 9. Died of a leg injury.
- George Gibbons. Aged 4. Died of eczema.
- Bluey Gibbons. Aged two and a half. Died of the appendix.
- Peter Gibbons. Aged 5. Adopted. Presumed dead.
- Julie Gibbons. Age 2 1/2. Died of a “stamped stomach”.
- Polly Morgan-Gibbons. Age 4. Died of a slit face.
- And Susie Pope-Gibbons died the same time of a cracked skull.
Novels and stories written by the Silent Twins
In 1979, for Christmas, Gloria gave her daughters each a red, leather-bound diary with a lock, and they began to keep a detailed account of their lives, as part of a new program of “self-improvement.” Their diaries prominently inspired them both to write. Then they began their writing careers. They wrote several novels and short stories during this period. These stories were primarily set in the United States, particularly in Malibu, California―likely due to the twins’ apparent obsession with America’s west coast.
Their protagonists were often young people who engaged in bizarre and often illegal activities. In June’s “Pepsi-Cola Addict” she writes story:
“Preston Wildey-King, 14, lives in Malibu with his widowed mother and sister. He is literally addicted to Pepsi, to the point that all his thoughts and fantasies are focused on it. When he’s not drinking it he’s dreaming about it, even creating art and poetry based on it. He is deeply in love with Peggy, but she dumps him after an argument over his Pepsi habit. His friend Ryan is bisexual and desires him. His math tutor seduces him, and when he’s sent to a juvenile detention center after robbing a convenience store he’s molested by a guard.”
Though the story was poorly written, the two sisters pooled together their unemployment benefits in order to get the novel published by a vanity press.
Jennifer’s “The Pugilist” chronicles the story of a physician who, in a last-ditch effort to save his son, kills the family dog in order to obtain its heart for transplant. The dog’s spirit lives on in the child and ultimately uses the body of the child to take its revenge against the father.
Jennifer also wrote “Discomania,” the story of a young woman who discovers that the atmosphere of a local disco incites patrons to insane violence. While June followed up with “The Taxi-Driver’s Son,” a radio play called Postman and Postwoman, and several short stories. June Gibbons is considered to be an outsider writer.
The novels were published by a self-publishing house called New Horizons. The Gibbons Twins also made numerous attempts to sell their shorter works to magazines, but were largely unsuccessful.
Love and hate – a strange relationship between June and Jennifer
According to most reports including of Journalist Marjorie Wallace―the only outsider who talked with the twins, read their each and every story, novel, book and diary, and experienced them very closely for decades―the girls had a very complex love-hate type of relationship with each other.
Emotionally and psychologically they were so bound one to the other that they could neither live together nor apart. They were inseparable, but they would also have excessively violent fights that involved throttling, scratching, or otherwise harming one another.
In one incident, June in fact attempted to kill Jennifer by drowning her. Jennifer later wrote this chilling quote in her diary:
“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.”
Despite everything, however, the girls remained inexorably intertwined, never separate. And they did had periods when they got along as always.
Unfortunately, Jennifer’s words remained to be a painfully accurate foreshadowing of what became of the Silent Twins.
The twins’ criminal activities and admission to the Broadmoor Hospital
When the girls were in their late teen age and began to mature, they engaged in typical averse behaviour found in nearly all other teenagers―experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, having flings with boys, and committing crimes. Though, these were mostly common crimes such as shoplifting and burglary.
Day by day, their behaviour and the whole situation became more serious. One day, the girls planned to start committing arson, setting fire to a tractor store. A few months later, they did the same thing to a technical college which turned into a devastating fire incident within minutes―it was this crime that dragged them in Broadmoor Hospital when they were 19.
Broadmoor Hospital is a high-security mental health hospital at Crowthorne in Berkshire, England, with a reputation for handling the criminally insane. Not long after their arrival, June would go into a state of catatonia and attempt to commit suicide, while Jennifer lashed out violently at a nurse. There hospital staff and doctors revealed another enigma of their secret life.
The stuff found, there were stretches when they would take turns eating―one would starve while the other would eat her fill, and then they would reverse their roles. They displayed an uncanny ability to know what the other was feeling or doing at any particular time.
Perhaps the creepiest stories are those from when the girls were separated and housed in cells in different parts of Broadmoor. Doctors or nurses entered their rooms only to find them catatonic and frozen in place, sometimes in bizarre or elaborate poses.
Bizarrely, the other twin would be in an identical pose, despite the fact that the girls had no way to communicate with each other or coordinate such an event.
The girls’ 11-year stay in Broadmoor was both unusual and unethical at some point―June later blamed this inexorably lengthy sentence on their speech issues:
“Juvenile delinquents get two years in prison…We got 11 years of hell because we didn’t speak… We lost hope, really. I wrote a letter to the Queen, asking her to get us out. But we were trapped.”
The girls had been placed on high doses of antipsychotics and found themselves unable to concentrate. Some state that Jennifer developed tardive dyskinesia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary, repetitive movements.
This is a poem June wrote in 1983 while she was at the asylum, in the full grip of hopelessness and despair, and under the influence of psychotropic drugs prescribed to ensure her compliance:
I am immune from sanity or insanity
I am an empty present box; all
Unwrapped for someone else’s disposal. I am a thrown away eggshell,
with no life inside me, for I am
Not touchable, but a slave to nothingness. I feel nothing, I have nothing, for I am Transparent to life; I am a silver Streamer on a balloon; a balloon which will fly away without any oxygen inside. I feel nothing, for I am nothing, but I can see the world from up here.
Eventually, they either adjusted to the medications or the doses were changed enough that they could continue to keep the extensive diaries that they had been working on since 1980. They joined the hospital choir, but neither produced any more creative fiction.
The final decision
Journalist Marjorie Wallace wrote a biography book named “The Silent Twins” on June and Jennifer Gibson’s life. According to Wallace, the shared identity of June and Jennifer became a silent war between good and evil, beauty and ugliness and ultimately life and death.
Wallace used to go to the hospital and visit them regularly at the time. In one interview, the twins said:
“We just want to be able to look each other in the face without a mirror.”
For them to look in the mirror was often to see their own image dissolve and distort into that of their identical twin. For moments, sometimes hours, they would feel possessed by the other, so profoundly that they felt their personalities switching and their souls merging.
We all know about the story of Ladan and Laleh Bijani, the Iranian conjoined twin sisters. They were joined at the head and died immediately after their complicated surgical separation. They believed the presence of the other would prevent them having separate careers, boyfriends, husbands or children – all the things for which as young women they longed.
But with June and Jennifer, it was not enough to be physically separated: wherever they were in the world, one would still haunt and possess the other. For the months before their transfer from Broadmoor, they had been fighting about which twin would sacrifice her life for the future of the other.
Marjorie Wallace said in one of her articles:
“We were having our usual Sunday afternoon tea in the visitors’ room at Broadmoor special hospital where they spent 11 years following a teenage spree of vandalism and arson. Their case had been complicated by their extraordinary behaviour, their refusal to talk to adults, their rigid or synchronized movements and their intense love-hate relationship.
Suddenly Jennifer broke the chatter and whispered to me and my then 10-year-old daughter: “Marjorie, I’m going to die. We’ve decided.” After 11 years in Broadmoor, the twins had finally been found a more suitable place for rehabilitation, in a new clinic in Wales. They were due for transfer and were looking forward to partial freedom. They also knew that neither would ever experience that freedom if they remained together.”
It was March 9, 1993, one day before the twins were going to be finally released from Broadmoor, Jennifer had slumped on June’s shoulder, but her eyes were wide open. Jennifer could not be awakened that evening, she died at 6:15 pm from sudden acute myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
In the investigation, the autopsy report mentioned a host of possible causes, from viral infection to drugs, poisons or sudden exercise, but there was no evidence of any one of these. In addition, Jennifer was only 29 years old and had no long-term heart conditions or such illnesses. To this day, the mystery of her death remains unsolved.
The sudden reaction of June to Jennifer’s unexplained death was of course grief-stricken, which forced her to write poems of deep mourning after long years and she felt keenly the loss of the person with whom she had shared her whole life.
Yet once the decision had been taken, the unthinkable had happened. She felt, as she described to Wallace when she visited her four days after Jennifer’s death,
“A sweet release! We were war-weary. It had been a long battle – someone had to break the vicious circle.”
June asked Wallace then if she could float a banner across the skies of her home town a month after Jennifer’s funeral. “What would it say?” Wallace asked. “June is alive and well and has at last come into her own.” June replied.
June – the remaining twin
Ten years later Wallace and June were at Jennifer’s graveside and June, much more realistic now, had still not wavered from the inevitability of her loss. She talks more naturally now, lives a quiet life near her parents and her sister.
According to reports, by 2008, June was living independently near her parents in west Wales, no longer monitored by psychiatrists and having been accepted by the community despite her strange and eerie past.
In 2016, the twins’ older sister Greta revealed the family’s disgruntlement with Broadmoor and the twins’ incarceration in an interview. She said that they blame the hospital for ruining the girls’ lives and neglecting the symptoms that led to Jennifer’s sudden death.
Greta herself expressed wanting to file a lawsuit against Broadmoor, but the twins’ parents Gloria and Aubrey refused, saying that nothing could bring Jennifer back.
Since 2016, there has been little coverage of the case, therefore, little is known about June and the Gibbons family, no further research or explanation comes up about the strange case of the Silent Twins.
In the end, only one of the Silent Twins remains, and the story can be summed up by one of June’s simple poem inscribed on Jennifer’s headstone:
We once were two,
We two made one,
We no more two,
Through life be one,
Rest in peace.
Jennifer is buried in a cemetery near a section of the Haverfordwest town known as the Bronx where cold dew and thick grass cover everything.
The Silent Twins – “Without My Shadow”