In April of 1963, a pair of beautiful and perfectly normal twins, June and Jennifer Gibbons, was born at a military hospital in Yemen. They were not any different from normal babies.
However, when they started speaking, their parents realized that the girls were very different from the rest of the children their age. They didn’t talk like normal children. The twins had developed a language of their own that only they were able to both speak and understand. Regardless of their surroundings or people, they only talked to each other in their code language and were strangely inseparable: hence the ‘silent twins’.
As they grew up, the girls too realized they were different. They were the only black girls in their elementary school which caused them to be a target of constant bullying. This increased their dependency on each other even more. As they grew up, they downright refused to communicate with anybody else and mirrored each other’s actions at all times. They’d even pretend to be each other to the extent that one always felt ‘possessed’ by the other twin.
The blessing became a curse
The twins never left each other’s side and spoke only to each other in their language. Because of the twins’ lack of speech and refusal to interact with other children of their age, their parents took them to a speech therapist, Ann Treharne. The fourteen-year-old twins refused to speak up, even in front of Treharne but agreed to be recorded when and if left alone.
Much later, Treharne revealed that June wanted to speak up during their meeting, but Jennifer didn’t allow her to do so. While Jennifer sat there with an expressionless demeanour, she had forced her twin to act the same.
When nothing convinced the girls to open up, their parents sent both of them to two different boarding schools. This was done in hope that once the twins were on their own — without the influence of the other twin — they would slowly succumb to their environment and open up to other people. The parents hoped that the girls would finally be able to discover their own selves and live their life like other girls — like ordinary people.
Needless to say, this didn’t work either. When separated, both June and Jennifer withdrew entirely into their shells and became almost lifeless — as though their body refused to function without the other twin.
Owned by the evil twin
Seeing no progression in the twins’ health, they were reunited shortly. Once they found themselves in each other’s company, the silent twins distanced themselves, even from their parents. They refused to talk to them, except via handwritten letters.
With writing as the only form of communication they allowed themselves, the twins developed an interest in creative writing. At the age of sixteen, they took a mail-order writing course and worked on getting their short stories published. However, their stories too turned out to be as disturbing as their behaviour. Most of their tales revolved around spine-chilling crimes committed by young adults.
After investing a couple of years in writing crime stories in their bedroom, June and Jennifer longed to live their stories. Eventually, they indulged in petty crimes, drugs, and alcohol, which resulted in their arrest in 1981. They were then transferred to Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security mental institution where the twins lived for twelve long years.
Unlike their parents or teachers at school, the members of the hospital facility did not go easy on them — not at all. They were subjected to daily doses of antipsychotic drugs, during which Jennifer’s mental health progressively declined.
A decade later, the twins were transferred to another clinic in Wales, a unit with much lower security. However, when they arrived at the destination, the doctors realized that Jennifer was utterly unresponsive. Within a few hours, she was declared dead at the young age of twenty-nine. Upon inspection, it was revealed that there was an unexpected inflammation of her heart that had caused her sudden death.
With Jennifer’s unforeseen death, June let go of her desire to stay silent. She started speaking as though she had been doing so all her life. As much as the death of her twin grieved her, June felt relieved that her silent twin no longer dominated her.