The Shared Lives of Unusually Close Twins

Most of us, at one time or another, imagine what it would be like if there were another person just like us. Twins already know what this is like. They have the same family, the same childhood experiences, and in the case of identical twins, the same DNA, yet they are separate people who eventually build their individual lives. But some twins share more than others.

Shared Language: Grace and Virginia Kennedy

Grace and Virginia Kennedy were born in 1970. The twins suffered a series of seizures soon after birth, and their parents assumed they were left mentally handicapped. The two girls were not sent to school, but kept home with their grandmother (who spoke German and interacted with the children only minimally) while their parents worked. Grace and Virginia's mother spoke German and some English; their father spoke English. However, the girls spoke to each other in a language no one else could understand.

There are many cases of idioglossia, or private language, between twins or close siblings, but in most cases it dies out around age three or four as children socialize with people outside the family. The Kennedy twins, having been isolated from the outside world, continued their strange communication much later. In 1978, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin made a documentary about the Kennedy twins and their private language. He named it Poto and Cabengo, the names the girls used for each other. Only the first few minutes are available online.

Grace and Virginia were not organically disabled, but suffered from years of neglect. They were studied, analyzed, and sent to school (separately) for the first time, where they thrived. They learned English quickly and social skills slowly. When studied by linguists, their language turned out to be an extremely rushed mishmash of heavily-accented English and German. The family was hoping for a lucrative film deal at the height of their notoriety, but it was not to be. After the girls were sent to school and the novelty of their case wore off, the family retreated once again into isolation.

Shared Personality: Freda and Greta Chaplin

The case of Freda and Greta Chaplin of Yorkshire grabbed public interest in 1981 when the sisters were taken to court for harassing a truck driver they apparently had a crush on. The twins were inseparable: they dressed alike, lived together, moved in sync with each other, and not only finished each other's thoughts, but seemed to speak the same words together.

They also seemed to suffer from a shared mental illness, possibly erotamania, which manifested in their obsession with the truck driver, a neighbor who took them to court after fifteen years of trouble. Later there was speculation that they may be autistic. Freda's and Greta's odd behavior was the centerpiece of a 1994 documentary called The Twins, which is not available online except for this excerpt.

The sisters were inseparable until 2007, when Greta died of cancer at age 64. Frida stays away from the public, and is believed to be in a nursing home.

Shared Mind: Krista and Tatiana Hogan

Krista and Tatiana Hogan (NYT link) are craniopagus conjoined twins, which means they are joined at the head. The four-year-old girls have captivated the scientific community because of a link between their two brains that appears to connect the thalamus of one girl to the other. Neurosurgeon Douglas Cochrane calls this connection a "thalamic bridge," which may send sensory input from one brain to the other.

Image credit: Stephanie Sinclair/VII, for The New York Times.

The twins cannot face the same direction at once, but sometimes one sister will see, feel, or taste something and the other sister will react to the sensation. They are still too young for extensive tests, but will be monitored by scientists studying the brain for years to come.

Shared Body: Abigail and Brittany Hensel

Abigail and Brittany Hensel share more than most of us could dream of. They are dicephalic parapagus twins, joined at the torso in a manner that makes them appear to have one body and two heads. To be precise, there are two of their upper body organs, but their spinal cords join into one pelvis and one set of legs. They were born with three arms, but the rudimentary shared arm was removed. Soon after birth, their parents decided against a separation attempt, as any such operation would leave the girls severely disabled even if they both survived the surgery.

Each twin controls half of their shared body. Abby and Brittany learned to coordinate their movements precisely in order to walk, eat, and perform everyday activities. In 2006, they learned to drive by coordinating their movements and attention, although each had to take a separate test to get a license. The Discovery Health Channel produced a documentary on the twins, called Joined for Life. As of 2011, the 21-year-old Hensel twins were attending Bethel University in Minnesota and are staying out of the spotlight as they focus on their education.

Shared Celebration: Twin Days

Image by J. Kyle Keener/National Geographic.

Twins naturally occur in one out of every 80 pregnancies. Most twins share only as much as you would expect in siblings who are the same age -which is a lot. The things that twins share are celebrated every year in Twinsburg, Ohio during Twin Days. Twins from all over the world join together to socialize with other pairs who understand what it means to be a twin.

8 Surprising Uses for Peeps

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.


Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.


Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)


If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.


With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).


Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.


There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.


We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.


Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.


More from mental floss studios