Film shines new light on LI triplets separated at birth

“Three Identical Strangers” updates the story of David Kellman, Robert Shafran and Eddy Galland.

New York, 1980: Three Long Island brothers, identical triplets separated at birth, rediscover each other at age 19. Their amazing similarities and joy in finding one another make them a good-news sensation.

Now: The three brothers — David Kellman, Robert Shafran and Eddy Galland — are being introduced to a new generation through a documentary film called “Three Identical Strangers.” The film, directed by Tim Wardle, won a special jury award at the recent Sundance Film Festival, and has been purchased by the distribution company Neon (“I, Tonya.”)

Much has changed since the curly-haired trio with megawatt smiles dominated the talk-show circuit.

Their dance with fame took a darker turn when the brothers discovered they had been unwitting participants in a secret human behavior experiment.

The brothers were born on Long Island and their mother gave them over to an adoption agency. They were deliberately placed into separate homes. The families knew the boys’ development was being charted. But neither the boys nor their adoptive parents knew about the other brothers, or that the true purpose of the study was to compare the triplets to measure the effects of heredity versus environment, nature versus nurture.

Fast-forward two decades to 1997 when the brothers first discussed the study publicly. One brother has died, and the anger and bitterness of the remaining brothers still burns over the wrongs they feel they suffered.

“How can you do this with little children?’’ asked Shafran in a Newsday article at the time.

With the premiere of the documentary, the remaining brothers, now 56, find themselves opening up about their lives again. They still say they shouldn’t have been separated and kept in the dark about one another. They should have been told.

“It was cruel; it was wrong,” Kellman told The Washington Post at the film festival.

What’s happened to them over the years?

Life. And death.

A year before the triplets reunited, Shafran had a brush with the law. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his part in a robbery in which an elderly New Rochelle woman was beaten to death. He was sentenced to probation.

Shafran was actually trying to restart his life when he enrolled in upstate New York’s Sullivan County Community College and found his identical brother Galland in 1980.

Michael Domnitz brought them together. He attended the college and was a good friend of Galland, who had left the school when Shafran arrived.

Domnitz asked Shafran the key question.

“Were you adopted?”

The answer led them to a pay phone to call Galland, of New Hyde Park. Domnitz remembers he was so excited he kept dropping the coins he was trying to slide into the pay slot.

That phone call paid off big-time. The third brother, Kellman, saw their story in the papers, and Long Island’s modern version of the Three Musketeers was formed.

The documentary shows the brothers still wowed by their discovery of one another, but disturbed by the unsettling secrecy of the study.

Nonetheless, they still want to read it.

The twin study, conducted by the late Dr. Peter Neubauer, has never been published. The materials remain under restricted access at Yale University until 2065. The brothers have received 10,000 pages of information, some of it redacted.

The study was overseen by the Children’s Development Center in New York, which has merged over time into the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. A spokeswoman for the Jewish Board said the brothers have been given the records that pertain to them.

The brothers, speaking through their publicist, declined to be interviewed until a movie release date is set.

Domnitz, for his part, said that when the brothers first met, they bonded so strongly that they started building their lives around each other. Having missed a shared childhood, the young men proceeded to create one. They acted like little kids together, and their on-camera antics enthralled the country.

These days, Domnitz noted, things are different.

In 1995, Eddy Galland, suffering from depression, committed suicide in his home in Maplewood, New Jersey. He was just 33, and he left behind a wife and a young daughter.

Shafran went on to become a lawyer.

In 2004, Shafran, then 42 and living in Brooklyn, was charged with drunken driving after police said he struck and injured three teenagers crossing a street in Bensonhurst. Shafran was sentenced to 140 hours of community service and a $500 fine, according to online public records.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and has two kids, Domnitz said.

Kellman is an insurance consultant who lives in Maplewood. Domnitz said he did not come to know Kellman as well as the other two brothers.

Four years ago, Kellman declared personal bankruptcy, according to public records.

The two remaining brothers still get together to play golf and “they see each other on holidays,” Domnitz said.

But they don’t smile as much, and when they do, it’s not that big, beaming grin they had as teens.

Part of that is aging, he said, and part of it is, well, all the rest.


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