June and Jennifer Gibbons were twins that shared a very unique bond. They both refused to speak to other people, including their family. The girls desperately wanted to be individuals and be separated, but they couldn't seem to live without each other. They tried to vocalize their feelings for many years, but they knew that one twin had to die for the other to live.
Today's podcast starts off with a quote. “We have become fatal enemies in each other's eyes. We Scheme, we plot, and who will win? A deadly day is getting closer each minute, coming to a point of imminent death like hands creeping out against the night sky, intentions of evil, blood, a knife, a reminder....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?” This is a quote from the diary of June Gibbons.
June and Jennifer Gibbons were identical twins born April 11th, 1963. They grew up in Wales and became famously known as the Silent Twins. The twins were the daughters of Caribbean immigrants, Gloria and Aubrey Gibbons. Gloria was a housewife and Aubrey was a technician for the Royal Air Force. They couple also had a daughter named Greta and a son named David. In 1960 Aubrey went to live with a relative and he got a technician job and was able to move his family out a few months later. The twins, June and Jennifer, were born in a military hospital where their father had been deployed.
The family moved around a few times and it wasn't always easy. The Gibbons kids were typically the only black children in the community and they were ostracized. The twins seemed to be pretty traumatized by this and became completely inseparable and even spoke their own sped up language and no one else could understand them. It didn't necessarily start off as a language just for them, no one could understand the girls. They both had a speech impediment and everyone would make them repeat things over and over because they couldn't understand them. They decided to make a pact to only talk to each other and to stop talking to everyone else. The more people tried to force the girls to talk, the quieter they got. June and Jennifer stopped talking to their parents and their older siblings. The family could hear them talking to each other in their room, but they couldn't understand the words they were saying. The girls were different and the bullying got so bad at school that the administrators had to dismiss the girls five minutes early every day so they could avoid everyone. This only isolated the girls even more and eventually, they wouldn't talk to anyone else, except their younger sister, Rose.
The twins were pretty religious and they had a very specific ritual. June says, “We'd kneel down by the bed and ask God to forgive our sins. We'd open the Bible and start chanting from it and pray like mad. We'd pray to him not to let us hurt our family by ignoring them, to give us strength to talk to our mother, our father. We couldn't do it. Hard, it was too hard.”
June and Jennifer kept going to school, but they wouldn't read or write. In 1976, there was a medic at the school and they administered vaccinations to the kids for tuberculosis. This medic tried to converse with the girls and noticed how strange their behavior was and he and ended up notifying a child psychologist. The twins started seeing several therapists who tried to get them to communicate with others, but nothing worked and they were diagnosed as elective mutes. Now that there was a diagnosis, they decided to put the girls in special education when they were fourteen. The special needs teacher was told the girls didn't speak to others at all and it was believed that they couldn't speak English. The teacher secretly filmed the girls through a two-way mirror and she realized that the girls spoke when they were on their own if she left the room. The teacher put microphones in the room to record conversations. The language was unintelligible, but the teacher discovered that if you slow the tape down, the girls were in fact speaking English with a mixture of Barbadian or Bajan (BAjan) slang. This basically means they were speaking English and sprinkling in very distinct words that are unique to the Island.
The teacher actually noticed something else that was pretty interesting. She got an overwhelming feeling that June wanted to speak to her but every time it seemed like she might say something, Jennifer would shoot her a look with her eyes to stop her. The teacher said, “ Jennifer sat there with an expressionless gaze, but I felt her power. The thought entered my mind that June was possessed by her twin.” The girls did better at Eastgate than they had at their previous schools. They obviously refused to speak still, but they were at least attending therapy sessions. Family dinners were still rough and the muteness was driving the family mad. It began dominating everything and everyone. The girls' older sister, Greta, couldn't stand that her sisters wouldn't talk to her. She often left family dinners in tears and in 1978, the girls agreed to attend Greta's wedding, but they refused to join in the festivities or participate in anything.
When June and Jennifer had to eat at school, the girls would take teeny tiny bites and stare blankly ahead like they were in a trance. They wanted to be individuals and kept writing about this in their diaries. They felt that they could truly be themselves and talk, walk, and eat normal if they were split up. In 1977, when the girls were 14, the psychologists felt that it would be a great idea to separate the girls, so they told them that they would send one of them away, but the girls had to choose who it would be. This caused tremendous stress and they started fighting with each other. Jennifer dug her nails into June's cheek and June pulled a chunk of hair out of Jennifer's head. They were chasing each other around and screaming. The girls suddenly began talking and said they promised to speak if they were allowed to stay together. The next day, things were back to normal and the girls refused to speak again. In March 1978, Jennifer remained at Eastgate and June was going to live at St. David's Adolescent Unit. The therapists wanted to see how the girls survived on their own, establish who was really the dominate and controlling twin, and see if they could figure out their own distinct personalities. June stopped eating, getting dressed, and refused to get out of bed. On one occasion, it actually took two people to get her out of bed and they propped her body against a wall and she was completely stiff. The separation went so poorly that they had to give up. They struggled to be themselves, but they couldn't live without each other. June was sent back to Eastgate and in the winter of 1979, when the girls were sixteen, they both left the school.
Over the years, when Jennifer felt her sister trying to break away from their bond, she would say, “You are Jennifer. You are me. I am June. I am June.” Her sister would cry out in response. June explains that, “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.”
June and Jennifer spent several years isolating themselves in their bedroom and they would spend their time putting on very elaborate plays with their dolls. They created many plays or stories in a soap opera style. June and Jennifer recorded many of their stories on tape and they gifted them to their sister, Rose. The dolls allowed the girls to be imaginative and to create a world of their own where all the family members talked and interacted, just like they wished they could. The doll family did have it's deaths though. Apparently, the dolls would die and Rose was the official registrar of the doll world, so she recorded the cause of death. Here are few:
June Gibbons: Age 9. Died of leg injury.
George Gibbons: Age 4. Died of eczema.
Bluey Gibbons: Age 2 ½. Died of appendix.
Peter Gibbons: Age 5. Adopted, presumed dead.
Julie Gibbons: Age 2 ½. Died of stamped stomach (stomach flu)
Polly Morgan-Gibbons: Age 4. Died of a slit face and Susie Pope-Gibbons died the same time of a cracked skull.
June and Jennifer eventually got to the point where they couldn't eat or drink in front of people any longer, so they had their meals in their bedroom together instead of joining their family. June and Jennifer were gifted diaries for Christmas and they loved them. They sent away for a mail order course in the art of communication and they both used their diaries to write stories, poems, and novels. At age 16, the girls wanted to communicate with others and they tried, but just couldn't make it happen. This whole silent thing had gone on too long and it was hard to break the cycle. So, they continued writing because that's the only way they could express themselves and they thought their family would be proud of them if they could get their work published. June wrote a novel called Pepsi Cola Addict and it was about a high school hero who was seduced by a teacher, then sent to a reformatory where a guard forces the student to perform sexual acts. Most of the stories the girls wrote, were about young men or women who engaged in criminal behaviors. Jennifer wrote a story about a physician who was so eager to save his child's life that he killed the family dog to obtain it's heart for a transplant. The dog's spirit lives on in the child and gets revenge against the father. Jennifer also wrote a story called Discomania. This is a story of a young woman who discovers the atmosphere of a local disco causes violence in the patrons.
When the girls were 18, they felt that they may be ready to experience a world outside of their bedroom. They remembered a boy named Lance Kennedy who had also attended Eastgate and he had defended the girls when they were being bullied by other classmates. June and Jennifer hadn't been able to talk to Lance back then, but they wondered if they could now. They tracked down his family's address, but he had actually moved to Philadelphia. He had three younger brothers who lived at the house still: Jerry was the oldest, Wayne was closer to June and Jennifer's age, and Carl was the youngest. In April 1981, the girls ventured out of the house, took a taxi, and headed to the Kennedy house for the first time. When they got there, the house was empty and the door was unlocked. The twins went inside, made peanut butter sandwiches, broke a bedroom door, looked through the boys' clothes, and looked at the photos of Hawaii that hung on the walls. The boys' father and stepmother arrived home and saw the girls trying to escape. They tried to get the girls to talk to them, but they wouldn't. The parents felt really sorry for them and didn't know what to do, so they let them go. This wasn't the end of June and Jennifer trying to meet the Kennedy boys. They would spend about three hours getting ready each time and would do their makeup, wear short skirts, high heels, and brown wigs. They continued taking taxis to that area and eventually, they found the boys.
Soon after they met the boys and started hanging out, they began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. If they drank whiskey, they were able to speak. When they sniffed glue or lighter fluid, they were able to laugh and talk. They felt very relaxed. The youngest Kennedy boy, Carl, seemed to be interested in the girls as more than a friend. In June of 1981, Jennifer and Carl had sex in church after getting drunk and June watched. Then, 13 days later, June took a turn with the Kennedy boy in a barn. The girls were finally living and experiencing life for real, not just through their dolls. They believed they were in love with the Kennedy boys, but it doesn't seem like the boys felt the same way. They didn't really care about the girls and knew they were desperate for attention. At the end of the summer, the Kennedy family moved back to America. This sent the girls into a complete tailspin. They didn't know how to handle these new emotions and feelings, so they spent all their money on food and binged and purged. They continued to write in their diaries.
June wrote, “J. and I are like lovers. A love-hate relationship. She thinks I am weak. She knows not how I fear her. This makes me feel more weak. I want to be strong enough to split from her. Oh Lord help me, I am in despair.” “I'm in enslavement to her, this creature...who is with me every hour of my living soul.”
Jennifer wrote, “She should have died at birth. Cain killed Abel. No twins should forget that.” “J can't be my real twin. My real twin was born the exact time as me, has my rising sign, my looks, my dreams, my ambitions. He or she will have my weaknesses, failures, opinions. All this makes a twin-no differences. I can't stand differences.”
The girls had experienced what it was like to have friends for a short time with the Kennedy boys, now they were feeling rejected again. Even the local gang rejected the girls, so they decided to be their own gang. They committed a number of crimes including vandalism, petty theft, and arson. They stole bikes, rang people's door bells repeatedly, and broke into places. They smashed windows, stole books, drew graffiti, and ended up calling the police to confess to their crimes. They called from a payphone, hung up, and took off running before police arrived. The twins actually got bored with their crimes and wanted to try something bigger. June wrote in her diary, “I'm planning on making petrol bombs. A bottle, petrol, and paper, then hurl it through a window. I'm going to be the biggest arsonist around!” She also wrote, “All this week I've wanted to burn down the tractor store in Snowdrop Lane. I burned it down today-with the help of J., of course. It was the biggest night of my life. We climbed over a barbed wire fence. The sky grew blacker and it started to rain...All the while, my lovely glorious fire was licking its way through the roof, and the thick smoke filled the night sky. It was a picture which will live in my mind forever-oh what a sinful, evil, selfish mind. I know the Lord will forgive me. It's been a long, painful, hard year. Don't I deserve to express my distress?”
On November 8th, the twins smashed a window at Pembroke Technical College. There was a policeman patrolling the area and they actually heard the commotion, called for backup, and caught the girls when they were lighting the fire. They were arrested and when their room was searched, the police found the diaries that were filled with stories of the local fires and thefts. Two days later, the girls were sent to Pucklechurch Remand Centre and they stayed there for seven months while people tried to decide what to do with them. This actually ended up being torture for June and Jennifer. They had been confined together and they couldn't stand to be near each other any longer. They started fantasizing about the other's death. June wrote, “One of us is plotting to kill one of us. A thud on the head on a cool evening, dragging the lifeless body, digging a secret grave. I'm in a dangerous situation, a scheming, insidious plot. How will it end? I'm in enslavement to her. This creature who lounges in this cell, who is with me every hour of my living soul.” Everything about the girls is very conflicting. When they were together, they actually wanted to kill each other and dreamt of being alone. When they were apart, they couldn't function and wanted to die.
In 1982, a psychiatrist named William Spry was enlisted to be the defense lawyer for June and Jennifer and he was going to evaluate them. He didn't get anywhere with the girls in the first two visits because they refused to speak. He did get them to agree to a telephone call and they worked up to a meeting in person again. When they met up, one of the girls began to speak in front of William and a fight erupted between the girls. They started scratching each other and they tried to tear each other's eyes out. A nurse was sent in to break the fight up and the twins were diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorder and the psychiatrist believed the girls should be sent to Broadmoor which is a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. In May 1982, the girls were tried on sixteen counts of theft, burglary, and arson. They followed advice from their lawyer and plead guilty and were ordered to be detained at Broadmoor indefinitely.
Days after the twins arrived at the hospital, June became inactive and didn't have an interest in doing anything any longer. She attempted to take her own life and Jennifer ended up attacking a nurse. They were put in separate wards and were no longer allowed to be around each other for awhile. June stopped talking altogether and would just smile when she was asked questions. Jennifer attempted to communicate, but no one could understand her. She was given regular injections of an anti-psychotic drug that blurred her vision and it made it difficult for her to read and write. June was also given drugs, but hers were different. Their family rarely visited and the girls couldn't understand why they weren't released after they were 12 years into their sentence. They were just 19 when they were sentenced to Broadmoor and they both had dreams of getting married and having children someday. The doctors and social workers wouldn't let the girls out because they wouldn't speak, but when they went to the doctors and proved they could speak, they were told they weren't getting out. They completely lost hope and June even wrote a letter to the Queen, asking her to pardon them.
Jennifer started saying she could hear gun shots outside her window and was repeating Bible quotes. She became really paranoid and kept accusing June of destroying her life and thought she was spiking her drinks to kill her. The girls were put back in the same ward and it was a complete disaster again. They were fighting, kicking, biting, and scratching for eight months. They did love each other though and didn't really understand why they were behaving this way.
June and Jennifer were almost 30 years old when they were finally released from Broadmoor on March 9th, 1993. When they were told about the transfer, Jennifer said she would have to die because that's what the girls had decided. The girls felt that once they were free, one of them would have to give up their life to really set the other one free. The girls fought pretty hard over who was going to give up their life for the other. They were being sent to the Caswell Clinic which was a minimum security institution. When they were on the bus, Jennifer rested her head on June's shoulder and said, “At long last we're out.” Less than 12 hours later, she was dead. Jennifer's heart had been weakened by inflammation that hadn't been diagnosed. She had a rare disorder, but it's typically not fatal. June wrote the following in her diary that night, “Today my beloved twin sister Jennifer died. She is dead. Her heart stopped beating. She will never recognize me. Mom and Dad came to see her body. I kissed her stone-colored face. I went hysterical with grief.” June was released from Caswell a year after her twin died. She takes medication daily and is able to talk, but people still struggle to understand everything she says.
Now days, June goes by her middle name, Alison. She feels that she had so much bad luck when she was June and she needed a fresh start. She no longer writes stories because she has learned how to talk and communicate with people. She did write a poem for Jennifer's headstone though, “We once were two, we two made one. We no more two, through life be one. Rest in peace.”
Silent Twins: Without My Shadow (watched on YouTube)