On Feb. 26, police in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., had a mystery on their hands: Reclusive twin sisters Patricia and Joan Miller were both dead, one in a downstairs bedroom and the other in a nearby hallway, and no one knew why... or who to tell about it. The Miller sisters, 73, had no known relatives, no known friends, and nothing but a few clues about their glamorous Hollywood past to guide the detectives. So law enforcement officers asked for help. Here's what they learned about the "mysterious" identical twins:
What do we know about the Miller twins' lives?
They were born in Portland, Ore., but moved to the San Francisco area while still young. Their father, Elmon "Bud" Miller, was a dairy salesman, at least for a spell, and their mother, Fay Lang, played piano for the girls during their early showbiz career. Old friends and acquaintances say the twins sang and danced at national parks and for the troops at military bases, and in the 1950s, the girls appeared regularly on a weekly TV show called The Hoffman Hayride. The police found a photo of young Patricia and Joan sitting on Bing Crosby's lap. They had a brother who apparently died at war.
What happened after Hollywood?
"No one understands what led to the two glamorous women to recede from showbiz and hole up in their house for 40 years" in the tight-knit resort enclave of South Lake Tahoe, says Cassie Murdoch at Jezebel. Neither woman ever married, and their only known jobs were from 1979 to 1985, when Joan worked as a senior accounting clerk for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District and Patricia worked for the county social services office. Over time, they became increasingly withdrawn, socializing only with each other and politely avoiding conversation with neighbors on the rare occasions they were seen leaving the house.
How did they die?
Apparently of natural causes, within hours of each other. Neighbors noticed an ambulance at the house about a year ago, and there are some reports that the sisters were treated for dehydration or malnutrition. But both appeared free of obvious health problems when they were discovered by sheriff's deputies several weeks after their deaths. The cops have ruled out foul play, as there was no blood and no sign of forced entry or disarray. There was ample ventilation, ruling out a gas leak or carbon monoxide poisoning. "My perception is one died and the other couldn't handle it," says Detective Matt Harwood. "It appears purely natural, but we are still trying to piece it all together."
Did the police find any relatives?
Yes. Thanks to dozens of amateur genealogists, the cops tracked down a first cousin and two second cousins. The first cousin, in Portland, says he lost touch with the women years ago, as relatives died off. "They were just sort of the twins that no one had heard from in a long time." Harwood says that unless they find a will, the twins' personal items, like family furniture and photo albums, will be given to the cousins.
So... case closed?
"The discovery of next of kin provides some answers to the twins' mysterious end," says the AP's Cristina Silva, "but their puzzle is far from solved." The toxicology report, which won't be ready for at least two months, might provide some clues to how they died. But their seclusion and lack of paper trail means we may never know much more about their unusual life. Says Harwood, "All they had was each other, and that's actually the way they wanted it."