Three Identical Strangers

The triplets in happier times. (Photo supplied: Showmax)
The triplets in happier times. (Photo supplied: Showmax)


In 1980 New York, three young men who were all adopted meet each other and find out they're triplets who were separated at birth. But their quest to find out why turns into a bizarre and sinister mystery.


The story of Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran is an intriguing one. At first miraculous and joyful but as the story unfolds, it's clear that there were darker forces at work and it ends up being rather heart-breaking.

I first heard about this documentary when it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and so when I saw that it was finally available to watch in South Africa on Showmax I had to watch it immediately. I knew the story of the triplets but watching David Kellman, and Robert Shafran talk about their lives brings a whole new layer of heartache to this story.

It all started in 1980 when Robert Shafran started his first day of college and was mistaken for someone named Eddie. It turns out Robert and Eddie Galland were twins separated when they were babies and adopted into different families. It was a massive news story and all over the papers. And that's when a third brother was discovered. David Kellman saw the spitting image of himself in a newspaper and reached out to his two brothers. And that's when the media circus began.

At first, it was a joyous reunion for the three brothers, going so far as to open a restaurant together. At first, the fascination of three brothers being raised separately but being so very much the same overshadowed their differences and mental health issues.

It soon came to light that the triplets were the subjects of a psychological study to determine the age-old question of nature vs nurture. The study was run by psychiatrists Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard, under the auspices of the Jewish Board of Guardians and the prestigious Louise Wise adoption agency. The three babies were intentionally placed with families having different parenting styles and economic levels – one blue-collar, one middle-class, and one wealthy.

The adoptive parents were told that the regular tests and observations being done on their kids were just about babies who were adopted. They had no idea that they had each adopted triplets separated at the age of 6 months.

The story takes a darker turn when Robert leaves the restaurant business, and this sets off Eddie's mental health issues. He's diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and in the end, he takes his own life.

Throughout the documentary, Bobby and David tell their stories separately. When they are eventually brought together towards the end of it, even though they are amicable and pleasant, it's clear to see there is a distance between the two brothers. I keep using the heart-breaking when I describe this story because it truly is.

What starts as a happy story of brothers finding each other after 19 years ends in death and estrangement. Dr Neubauer and his ilk saw no problem with separating children and causing massive amounts of mental health issues for the sake of a science experiment. Hedy Page, David's elderly aunt, puts the whole bizarre, tragic tale into simple perspective: "Coming from the Holocaust, our family has a knowledge that, when you play with humans, you do something very wrong."