Netflix’s thriller ‘Echoes’ spotlights DNA mysteries in real-life identical twin crimes

Twins swapping personalities is the reason of the Netflix hit thriller show “Echoes,” however it’s a bit more obscure than the Hayley Mills classic. Michelle Monaghan plays indistinguishable twins who have exchanged places each birthday since they were kids into adulthood, deceiving spouses and youngsters. In any case, the curved custom turns out badly one year when they end up as prime suspects in a homicide, confusing a nearby cop who can’t sort out who made it happen.

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.”

“Echoes” on Netflix follows twins who swap identities, leaving a trail of mystery and crime.
Michelle Monaghan as Leni McCleary in "Echoes" on Netflix.
Michelle Monaghan as identical twin Leni McCleary in “Echoes” on Netflix. While the show may be highly dramatized, in real life, twins committing crimes – together or separately –  isn’t uncommon.

Twin Crimes

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.

Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead confessed to killing their mother.
Georgia-based twin sisters Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead were charged with killing their mother in 2010.
Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office

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.

Yoan Gomis and Elvin Gomis
Yoan Gomis and Elvin Gomis were both held in custody while French police tried to determine which one was guilty of rape. Yoan Gomis eventually confessed to being the guilty party.
"A number of crimes are complicated by these genetic relation issues," Ambeau said.
“A number of crimes are complicated by these genetic relation issues,” Ambeau said.

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 THT Digital 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.”


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