It’s the “Parent Trap” – gone bad.
Twins swapping identities is the premise of the Netflix hit thriller drama “Echoes,” but it’s a tad darker than the Hayley Mills classic. Michelle Monaghan plays identical twins who have switched places every birthday since they were kids into adulthood, tricking husbands and children. But, the twisted ritual goes wrong one year when they find themselves as prime suspects in a murder, puzzling a local cop who can’t figure out who did it.
While the show may be highly dramatized, in real life, twins committing crimes – together or separately – isn’t uncommon. And figuring out who did it can be extremely complicated.
“Identical twins have identical DNA – that’s an impossible comparison at the genetic level. One is in fact the other, there’s no way to differentiate between the two because the entire genetic code is the same,” Jarrett Ambeau, a criminal defense trial attorney and expert in forensic DNA interpretation told The Post. “There’s a real serious issue at the genetic level with identifying identical twins and even siblings in terms of genetic material left at a crime scene.”
Oftentimes, twins commit crimes in cahoots. In June, twin sisters from northern China, Mouhong Zhou and Mouwei Zhou were arrested and investigated for swapping passports. Mouhong was married to a Japanese man, but, due to a denied visa, couldn’t leave China. So she swapped identities with her sister via her passport and left China more than 30 times before getting caught, while her sis impersonated her while fleeing to Thailand and other countries, according to police as reported by the South China Morning Post. The sisters may face jail time for the shenanigans.
In 2010, Georgia-based twin sisters Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead, then 16, tried to fool investigators into thinking they’d stumbled on the crime scene of their dead mother. In actuality, they were the killers.
Dooming identical DNA
Sometimes it’s a case of only one twin being guilty. In 1992, Alabama siblings Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe allegedly plotted with a handyman to kill Betty’s husband, Dr. Jack Wilson. The twin sisters were arrested and faced separate murder trials, but in September of 1993, Lowe was acquitted of murder after testifying she did not conspire to kill her sister’s husband. Wilson, meanwhile, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
More recently, in 2004, two women were abducted and assaulted by two men in Boston. One of the men pleaded guilty to the attacks in 2012, but the second man remained at large. Cops found a suspect, Dwayne McNair, through traces of DNA, but he had an identical twin. Testing available at the time couldn’t differentiate between the two, but police were eventually able to secure additional evidence that led to indictments against McNair in 2012. In 2018, he was convicted of eight counts of aggravated rape and two counts of armed robbery and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The case was a hallmark one. Ahead of the trial, prosecutors discovered a new DNA testing, called second-generation genome mapping, that could distinguish between identical twins, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. This process enables scientists to trace the genome of each twin to find mutations in cells and determine who is who, and, in turn, guilty.
There was an eerily similar case in the south of France in 2012. Six women were reportedly raped by one man. DNA evidence pointed to two identical twin suspects, Yoan and Elvin Gomis. When victims were asked to identify their attacker, they couldn’t differentiate between the twins, and the DNA was no help either thanks to their identical genetic makeup. Both men were held in custody for 10 months, before Yoan Gomis finally confessed to being the guilty party.
Yoan’s lawyer at the time, Vanessa Cerda, told the Daily Mail that there were no hard feelings between the brothers and that Elvin wasn’t upset that Yoan took so long to confess.
“[He] absolutely does not hold it against him,” she said. “It is all part of the mystery of the twins.”