Three Identical Strangers is a shocking watch. Tim Wardle’s documentary, released earlier this year, tells the story of three 19-year-old boys who discover they are identical triplets, separated at birth and adopted by different families. But the revelations don’t end there. As it turns out, the boys were unwittingly part of an unethical scientific study conducted by their adoption agency, Louise Wise Services.
The late psychologist Dr. Peter Neubauer designed the study so that when newborn twins or triplets were admitted to the agency, dozens were separated and placed in families of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Under the guise of monitoring their emotional development, Neubauer studied the separated twins periodically throughout their childhoods.
The official goal of the study was never disclosed, and no one involved was ever informed of their participation. Three Identical Strangers raises disturbing questions about identity, nature versus nurture, and the moral boundaries of science.
Just a month after the film’s theatrical release, Wardle was contacted by Lisa Belkin, a journalist who had previously investigated the controversy around Louise Wise Services. Belkin said that a 54-year-old woman from New Jersey, Michele Mordkoff, had seen Three Identical Strangers, recognized the name of the adoption agency, and been inspired to explore her birth parents’ history as a result. As a part of this process, Mordkoff took a DNA test. She discovered she had a “close family match” with a woman living in Calabasas, California. It was her twin sister, Allison Kanter.
When Allison and Michele decided to meet for the first time, Wardle was there with his film crew. Today, his short film, Two Identical Strangers, premieres on The Atlantic. The documentary depicts Allison and Michele’s emotional reunion.
“She is a stranger to me, but she’s also a part of me—I mean, we shared a womb,” says Michele in the film after she meets her twin for the first time.
“I’ve been struck by how instinctive, magical, and moving genetic reunions can be,” Wardle told The Atlantic in a recent interview. “This isn’t to denigrate non-genetic/adoptive relationships, which can also be wonderful, but there’s something extraordinary and almost transcendent about observing the interaction between two people who have never met before but share the same DNA. It defies rational explanation.”
To Wardle’s knowledge, Michele and Allison are the first twin pair to be reunited as a result of seeing the film. “I always knew that there were likely other separated Louise Wise twins out there,” he said, “but I never imagined another pair would find themselves so quickly after the release of the film, or that I would know about them finding each other before they met in person. I was thrilled that Three Identical Strangers could have such a positive legacy, helping to reunite twins after decades apart.”