The heartbreaking story of the triplets who were separated at birth as part of a sinister social experiment

The heartbreaking story of the triplets who were separated at birth as part of a sinister social experiment

On July 12th, 1961, four boys were born to one mother in an incredibly rare occurrence of quadruplets. One of the babies sadly passed away, but the other three turned out to be perfectly healthy, and would all grow up to have outgoing personalities, be popular at school, and demonstrate considerably higher-than-average intelligence.

Their names were Robert Sharfran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman; and, for the first 19 years of their lives, they never knew about one another's existence.

separated at birth triplets Credit: YouTube/Sundance Institute

Shortly after their birth, each triplet was adopted by a different family; with none of the adoptive parents being informed that their child was actually one of three surviving brothers. As a condition of their adoption, the boys had to be taken to Manhattan’s Child Development Centre once a year in order to have their intelligence, behavior, and personality monitored.

For the entirety of their childhoods, the boys lived within a hundred miles of one another, but never knew that there were two other kids in the world who looked and acted just like them.

However, it was clear from the beginning that something wasn't right about the triplets.

"David began talking very early," said his adoptive mother, Claire Kellman. "I remember him waking up and saying: 'I have a brother.' We would all talk about his 'imaginary brother'. It later emerged all the boys exhibited symptoms of separation anxiety during infancy, but that only made sense in hindsight."

But David would have to wait nearly two decades to meet his not-so-imaginary brothers - and, by that point, they had already found each other.

separated at birth triplets Credit: YouTube/Sundance Institute

The first step towards the brothers becoming reunited was Robert's decision to attend Sullivan County Community College in New York. On his first day there, many people seemed to recognize him, and kept referring to him as "Eddy". Thinking he just had a doppelganger out there, Robert asked his roommate for more information and was eventually led to Eddy Galland.

Robert and Eddy arranged to meet up and quickly discovered that their uncanny resemblance to one another was not just coincidence. After some comparing of backstories, they realized that they had both been born on the same day in the same hospital, and had both been adopted by different families.

And, once the local news got word of a real-life incident of long-lost brothers being reunited, they had to run a story.

It turned out that, not only were Robert and Eddy physically identical in almost every way, they also had the same exceptionally high IQ, enjoyed the same films, played the same sports, and - most surprisingly - lost their virginity at the same age.

It was only after David saw the newspaper story on his brothers that he realized that he, too, was related to the pair.

separated at birth triplets Credit: YouTube/Sundance Institute

When they first reunited, things were good for a while. They opened a restaurant together (aptly named "Triplets"), spent time catching up with one another, and, most significantly, tried to investigate why exactly they had been torn apart in the first place.

They discovered that they had been part of a legal experiment conducted by New York psychiatrist Peter Neubauer, who had separated dozens of twins and triplets in order to examine the effects of nature vs nurture. Unsurprisingly, they were distraught to hear that they had missed out on a lifetime of knowing one another for the sake of a scientific test.

"They refer to us as participants," said David. "We weren’t participants. We were victims."

And, indeed, the impact that the separation (and subsequent reunion) of the brothers had on each of them was significant.

After a while, the brothers realized they weren't entirely alike after all. David stood out as being the most level-headed of the three, while Eddy was known to be hot-headed and liable to mood swings. Their restaurant business went downhill as the three quibbled over responsibilities, and Robert eventually quit to become a lawyer.

Then, tragically, at the age of 33, Eddy took his own life. He left behind a wife and a young daughter.

The two remaining brothers - now aged 56 - have recently become the subject of a documentary titled "Three Identical Strangers", which goes into depth about the triplets' experiences, opinions, and troubles. They have never received an apology for what they went through.