The DNA Dilemma of Identical Twin Crimes

It’s the “parent trap” gone wrong.

Twins Switching Identities is the premise of Netflix’s hit thriller “Echoes,” but it’s a bit darker than the Hayley Mills classic. Michelle Monaghan stars as identical twins who have traded places every birthday from childhood to adulthood, cheating on husbands and sons. But, the twisted ritual goes awry one year when they find themselves the prime suspects in a murder, baffling a local cop who can’t figure out who did it.

While the show can be highly dramatized, in real life twins committing crimes, together or separately, are not uncommon. And finding out who did it can be extremely complicated.

“Identical twins have identical DNA, that is an impossible comparison at the genetic level. In fact, one is the other, there is no way to tell the difference 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 is a really serious problem at the genetic level with identifying identical twins and even siblings in terms of genetic material left behind at crime scenes.”

"echoes" on Netflix follows twins who switch identities leaving a trail of mystery and crime.
“Echoes” on Netflix follows twins who switch identities, leaving a trail of mystery and crime.
Netflix
Michelle Monaghan as Leni McCleary in "echoes" on Netflix.
Michelle Monaghan as identical twin Leni McCleary in “Echoes” on Netflix. While the show can be highly dramatized, in real life twins committing crimes, together or separately, are not uncommon.
Netflix

twin crimes

Twins often commit crimes in collusion. In June, twin sisters from northern China, Mouhong Zhou and Mouwei Zhou, were arrested and investigated for exchanging passports. Mouhong was married to a Japanese man, but because her visa was denied, she was unable to leave China. So she swapped identities with her sister through her passport and left China more than 30 times before she was caught, while her sister posed as her as she fled to Thailand and other countries, police reported the South. China Morning Post. The sisters can face jail time for the pranks.

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In 2010, twin sisters Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead, then 16 years old living in Georgia, tried to fool investigators into thinking they had stumbled upon their dead mother’s crime scene. Actually, they were the killers.

Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead confessed to killing their mother.
Georgia’s twin sisters, Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead, were accused of killing their mother in 2010.
Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office

Condemning identical DNA

Sometimes it is a case where only one twin is guilty. In 1992, Alabama siblings Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe allegedly conspired with a handyman to kill Betty’s husband, Dr. Jack Wilson. The twin sisters were arrested and faced separate murder trials, but in September 1993, Lowe was acquitted of murder after testifying that 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 kidnapped 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 DNA traces, but he had an identical twin. The evidence available at the time could not tell the difference between the two, but police were eventually able to obtain additional evidence that led to the charges 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.

Yoan Gomis and Elvin Gomis
Yoan Gomis and Elvin Gomis were arrested as French police tried to determine who was guilty of rape. Yoan Gomis finally confessed to being the culprit.
"A number of crimes are complicated by these genetic relationship issues," Ambeau said.
“A number of crimes are complicated by these genetic relationship issues,” Ambeau said.
JACKSON LEE DAVIS/NETFLIX

The case was a hallmark. Before the trial, prosecutors discovered a new DNA test, called second-generation genome mapping, that could distinguish between identical twins, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. This process allows scientists to trace the genome of each twin to find mutations in the cells and determine who is who and, in turn, the culprit.

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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 suspected identical twins, Yoan and Elvin Gomis. When the victims were asked to identify their attacker, they couldn’t tell the difference between the twins, and the DNA didn’t help either thanks to their identical genetic makeup. Both men were in custody for 10 months, before Yoan Gomis finally confessed to being the culprit.

Yoan’s lawyer at the time, Vanessa Cerda, told the Daily Mail there were no hard feelings between the brothers and Elvin wasn’t bothered that Yoan took so long to confess.

“[He] He absolutely has nothing against him,” he said. “It’s all part of the mystery of the twins.”

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