Have you ever seen a documentary that changed your life? Food Inc. made people reconsider their eating habits and Making A Murderer urged people to question the American justice system. Pair the right message with some talented filmmakers, and documentaries can be a force for good in the world.
One 2018 documentary impacted anyone who watched it, but one New Jersey woman sensed a personal attachment to the story. Unable to shake the film’s message from her head, she pursued a mystery in her own life and found out a shocking truth about her past.
Michele Mordkoff had always known that she was adopted. Her parents had told her in detail about how they went to pick her up from the agency and how happy they were to finally bring her home.
However, on a summer’s morning in July of 2018, Michele was browsing her phone on her way to work when she scrolled past an article describing a new movie that had just come out. The story made her wonder about her past.
The docudrama, Three Identical Strangers, told the story of three young men who, during their time in college, discovered that they were all brothers, separated by their adoption agency. They’d been raised without any knowledge of each other.
These triplets’ adoptive parents hadn’t even known about the other brothers’ existences. Apparently, the adoption agency, Louise Wise Services, had secretly kept them apart for all their lives. But why?
The triplets, the movie revealed, were unknowingly part of an experiment by the late psychologist Dr. Peter Neubauer who wanted to study the effects that different economic status, locations, and other major life factors would have on the same DNA.
When Michele read all about the movie, the triplets, the agency and the experiment, her heart began to race. She had been adopted from that agency — and her year of birth in the early ’60s was close to that of the triplets!
Wondering if she had any siblings whose existence had been hidden from her, Michele contacted journalist Lisa Belkin, who had previously investigated the obscure agency.
With Belkins’s help, Michele took a DNA test to find any possible mystery relatives out in the world. She anxiously waited a few weeks before the ancestry test results were finished.
The genetics company had connected her to someone with a full DNA-match, meaning they were an immediate family member — that was sibling territory. But there was no picture or full name to be found, only some initials: A.K.!
Driven by an overpowering sense of curiosity, Michele jumped on Facebook and searched for Kyle Kanter, a name that’d come up in her family tree. She searched through his friends for hours — and then hit the jackpot.
There, on her computer screen, was a name written in bold letters: Allison Rodnon Kanter, from Calabasas,
California. All the way on the other side of the country. Her initials matched the DNA profile, but her profile picture, below, struck Michele the most.
“I saw myself in her face,” said Michele in her interview. “I then checked her birthday and it was May 12th, 1964.” It was the same date as her own. “I just lost my footing and dropped to the floor.”
“It’s crazy,” said Michele’s son, Andrew, about his mother’s discovery. “I knew she was adopted, but hearing the word twin is just a whole other thing. It makes her a different person with a different background and a whole other family out there.”
Of course, just knowing she had a twin wasn’t enough. So, on August 10th, Michele and Allison were finally going to meet face to face. Lisa Belkin documented the unbelievable event. “I feel like it’s my birthday,” Michele said the day of.
At a hotel in New York City, Michele and Andrew waited anxiously for her twin sister to walk into the door, not knowing what to expect or how they would feel about each other. Finally, Allison walked through the door.
Despite having never met, sharing stories, or seeing each other before, the women clicked with each other instantly. From their physical features to their hair and clothes, nobody would doubt for a second that they were twins. They were sisters.
After comparing their appearances, Michele and Allison fell quiet for a moment, overwhelmed by each other’s presence. “We don’t even know what to say to each other,” Allison laughed. “But it’s a good thing,” Michelle added.
Though at first they kept the conversation light, they soon posed the question on everyone’s mind: what about their birth parents? Michele was adopted at 5 months old on October 14th, and Allison just two days later. “That’s so messed up,” Michele sighed.
“I keep thinking, how could [the adoption agency] do this to people?” Allison said. “They were playing with fate, I don’t understand it.” Michele agreed. “I know, they completely screwed us over. We could have been the twins!”
Still, the women planned to make up for lost time. “I can’t wait to get to know her,” Michele said. “Other than the birth of my children, this is the best day of my life.” Allison echoed the sentiment. “It still feels almost unreal. But after today, I know it’s true.”
Word of the twins’ reunion made it back to Tim Wardle, the filmmaker behind Three Identical Strangers. “I’ve been struck by how instinctive, magical, and moving genetic reunions can be,” he said.
He continued, “this isn’t to denigrate non-genetic 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.”
So far in January of 2019, Michele and Allison are the only twins who have found each other due to Three Identical Strangers, but the investigations into Louise Wise’s history aren’t over yet. Meanwhile, DNA tests keep solving mysteries. Take these two friends from Hawai’i, for instance.
It was the 1960s, and Walter MacFarlane and Alan Robinson were entering Punahou middle school in Honolulu, Hawaii. Walt and Alan, whom everyone called “Robi,” quickly became friends for life.
The boys did everything together. They both played on their high school football team, enjoyed playing cribbage, and loved being outdoors. But common interests weren’t all that brought them together.
While Walter never knew his father, Robi never knew either of his biological parents because he had been adopted when he was just a baby. Naturally, because of this, the boys felt a connection on a deeper level.
Despite their age difference of nearly 15 months, the boys were absolutely inseparable. Of course, while they were close they each had other circles of friends, too. It was only natural that they would grow a little bit apart.
As time passed and the boys grew up, things continued to change. “He was the party-er. I never went to or did any partying in high school,” said Walter, who continued to seriously pursue athletics.
Robi was always a little less athletically inclined. When he stopped partying and settled down to clean up his act, he began attending aviation school and later became a pilot for Aloha airlines — not a bad job for someone with a lust for adventure!
Still, Walter and Robi remained friends, as they would always care deeply for each other, even if they were living completely different lives. It may seem hard to imagine, but they kept their friendship up for six whole decades!
As Walter aged and became a father, he loved and appreciated the friends and family he had, but he couldn’t help but be curious about the father he never met. So, for Walter’s birthday, his kids gave him a gift that could finally give him some answers…
His daughter, Cindy Macfarlane-Flores, gave him a DNA test. She and her siblings helped Walter take the DNA samples and sent them to the company where they would be matched with others. “So then we started digging into all the results he started getting,” said Cindy.
One of the top matches shared a lot of DNA with Walt and even had an identical X-chromosome. It turned out… Walt had a half-brother! It was then that he noticed the half-brother’s username and nearly fell out of his chair.
The mystery brother was registered under the username “Robi737.” Of course, it immediately reminded Walter of his childhood friend Alan, whose nickname was Robi, and who had become a pilot flying Boeing 737s.
Walter wanted to believe it, but he thought it was too good to be true. Could it really be that he and his childhood best friend were related? Or was it something bigger, like fate bringing them together?
You see, Robi had also turned to Ancestry in order to find his birth parents. “I had a younger brother that I lost when he was 19, so I never had nieces or nephews. I thought ‘I’ll never know my birth mother, will I ever get to meet anyone from my family?’”
When Walter suspected that Robi was indeed the match with the identical chromosome, he ran to the phone and called him up. When he asked if Robi was Robi 737, his suspicions were confirmed: they were half-brothers all along!
“It was a shock,” Walter said. It was an astounding realization that the friends shared the same birth mother, but everything finally fell into place. It made sense to them now why they looked so alike, why they had always felt a special bond…
Walter and Robi met up right after the shocking discovery but neither could believe it was really true. Yet, when they looked down at their arms side by side they knew it was true. “Yea it was a shock, definitely and then we thought about it and compared forearms,” Robi said. “Yea hairy arms, that did it!” Walter added.
After the initial shock wore off, the brothers couldn’t help but reminisce about their youth. “It was so funny because you know when we played for Punahou, we were both first string and we’re brothers, playing side by side,” Walter said. He’s the tackle, I’m the end, and we never knew, you know.”
“We’d go to Punaluu to go free-diving and fishing,” Robby said. “I’d be making noise in the water splashing around, and he’d be teaching me how to do it right. He’d always come out of the water with the biggest string of fish and I had the smallest.”
The discovery happened just before the holidays, so Walter and Robi gathered their families together to share the incredible news. “This is the best Christmas present I could ever imagine,” Robi said. “It really is a Christmas miracle, and we’re just so happy that we found each other,” Walter added.
The brothers were completely overwhelmed by the news and are still getting used to the fact that they now have each other as more than just friends. They have plans to spend their retirement traveling together and catching up for lost time, as friends, and as brothers.