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Twins reveal horror of being separated at birth — and for years after

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Twins reveal horror of being separated at birth — and for years after

Growing up, when Melanie Mertzel mentioned that she was an identical twin, strangers sometimes asked if she and her sister ever traded places like in the movie “The Parent Trap.”

“Mostly, I said ‘Yes,’” Mertzel, 55, told The Post, noting that it was easier that way.  “But now, at this stage in my life, I’ll them what happened.”

Her remarkable story — growing up separately from the sister she knew nothing about — is featured in the new book “Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart” (Rowman & Littlefield), by California psychologist Nancy Segal, out now.

Mertzel described the “horrific” manner in which she and her sibling, Ellen Carbone, became unwitting “guinea pigs” in a warped study led by the prominent psychiatrists Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard. The New York City physicians performed their hush-hush experiments on children given up for adoption between 1960 and 1978.

The new book“Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart” by Nancy Segal talks to several twins involved in the experiment.

They worked with the Jewish adoption agency Louise Wise Services, located on East 94th Street in Manhattan. The multiples were sent to different families without the knowledge of their biological mothers — and the adoptive parents were never told that their new infants had identical siblings.

According to Segal, who is a twin herself, “blind scientific ambition” fueled the doctors’ determination to settle the “nature versus nurture” question for good.

Neubauer and Bernard’s techniques, mostly carried out by psychology students who visited families in their homes, included comparing the IQs of the estranged siblings, monitoring their physical dexterity and dissecting their personalities through methods such as the Rorschach inkblot test.

“The idea was to get a complete picture of the child,” Segal said. “It’s an ideal experiment to study twins raised apart from birth, but to intentionally separate them is morally unacceptable.”

The scheme gained notoriety in 2018 with the release of the documentary “Three Identical Strangers,” which focuses on triplets Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran.

Louise Wise Services initially insisted the separation was due to the difficulty of placing three babies in one home. It later emerged that the boys were purposefully sent to different families — one blue collar, one middle class, and one wealthy — to see how they developed in the varying environments.

Each of the trio dealt with long-term mental health issues and Galland killed himself in 1995.

The brothers discovered the truth after two of them met as students and a third brother came forward after learning about the case in the media.

Mertzel and Carbone, meanwhile, were reunited by chance when Carbone’s aunt spotted her niece’s doppelganger at an IHOP in Brooklyn.

“I called up Ellen and was shocked by how much she sounded like me,” recalled Mertzel, who lives in Queens. The then-23-year-olds noticed they had the same laugh and that their gait and gestures were strikingly similar.

“It was surreal, crazy and exciting,” said Carbone, of Lyndhurst, NJ. “I’d always wanted a sister.”

Their shocked parents were largely fobbed off by the staff at LWS when they tried to get answers. The social workers admitted to Carbone’s mother that her daughter was a twin and suggested to Mertzel’s that the splitting up of the two babies was, as Segal writes, “for the best.”

The author describes how the Mertzels wanted to protect their daughter by keeping it a “family secret.” The Carbones were more relaxed about things, welcoming Mertzel for visits as the young women’s friendship developed.

But it hasn’t been easy. Mertzel revealed how she often feels jealous of twins who were raised together.

“I used to say that the person who should be the closest to me, is a stranger to me,” she said. “Sometimes, I’d say to Ellen, ‘I wish I’d never met you so I didn’t know about this.’”

Ellen Carbone and Melanie Mertzel in 1989 when they were united at 21 years old.
When Mertzel and Carbone first met, they were amazed by their physical similarities.
Stephen Yang

As for the study, the duo compared notes about having each been visited by groups of researchers before, as Segal said, “aging out” of the program at 12.

“I didn’t like them coming as I just wanted to be with my friends,” Carbone recalled to The Post. Conversely, Mertzel said: “As the third child in the family, I enjoyed it because of the attention.”

The Queens-based sister described how their suspicions were aroused since both had been subjected to the tests. “We thought something was up.”

They later found out that their moms and dads had consented to the research, mostly under duress. As Segal puts it, the parents were aware of the “strong implication” that LWS might halt the adoption process if they failed to comply.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Mertzel and Carbone unearthed the sinister reason they’d been pulled apart. One of their relatives showed them the book “Identical Strangers,” upon which the 2018 documentary was based, that examined the inner workings of the Neubauer study. The psychiatrists’ experiment had originally been uncovered in 1995 by an investigative journalist working for The New Yorker magazine.

“I feel like they messed with Mother Nature,” Mertzel said.

Despite the best efforts of reporters in the mid-1990s, the facts remained murky, particularly because the institutions involved in the scandal — including the Jewish Board of Guardians, now the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, where Neubauer served between 1951 and 1985 — lawyered up and dodged questions.

Allison Kanter (left) and Michele, 3 months after being reunited.
Allison Kanter (left) and twin Michele Mordkoff were overjoyed to find each other. Sadly, Mordkoff passed away in June.

The results of the study, which, Segel writes, has since drawn comparisons to the notorious twin experiments by the Nazis under Josef Mengele, were never published. That was a decision made by Neubauer, who defended his methods until his 2008 death at the age of 94, as he allegedly predicted that public opinion would find them disturbing.

His records are sealed at the Yale University Library until Oct. 25, 2065, a date likely picked since most of the twins would have died by then. Only if the youngest subjects lived to the age of 99 would they be able to see their data. However, some 100,000 pages had been released by 2018. To the twins’ frustration, the information was heavily redacted and inconclusive.

More than 60 years after the research began, it’s impossible to know precisely how many twins and triplets were separated. Based on her own research, Segal believes there are at least 23 cases.

The fallout has taken its toll on Mertzel and Carbone, who work in the administration departments of two different hospitals. They concede that their interaction has been “complicated” as they’ve struggled to come to terms with the past.

Allison (left) and Michele as young girls growing up apart.
Kanter (left) and Michele as young girls growing up apart.

“Somebody suggested the reason we have difficulties and arguments as adults is because we never got the sibling rivalry and fighting out of our system as young children,” Carbone told The Post.

Mertzel added: “What they did was just horrible.”

Meanwhile, Sharon Morello, who was separated in 1966 from her identical twin (not named in Segal’s book as she declined to participate) when they were newborns, told The Post: “We were lied to and deceived — my heart just breaks for all of us involved.”

She reunited with her sister in 2015 after a filmmaker tracked them down and put them in touch. The sisters initially got on. Recalling their first encounters in “Deliberately Divided,” Morello says: “It was wonderful — from day one, it was like we knew each other. We clicked totally. We had lived parallel lives.”

But the relationship crumbled within months. According to Morello, a teachers aide from Wayne, NJ, her sister began to resent her sibling’s childhood in a relatively affluent home. The other twin’s own adoptive family, who lived in a Bronx apartment, was more working class.

Sharon Morello was separated from her identical twin at birth. Although they reconnected, they have since been estranged for a few years.
Sharon Morello was separated from her identical twin as babies. Although they reconnected, they are now estranged.
Stephen Yang

“A lot of the blame was on me,” Morello, now 55, told The Post. “But I didn’t choose.”

They also clashed when the other twin contacted their biological mother behind Morello’s back, while pretending to adhere to their plan to make the approach together.

“[Lack of] trust played a big part,” Morello said of her subsequent estrangement from her twin. “She said some horrible things about me to our birth mom.”

She claims that their birth mother thought they were true. “I mean, why would she believe one stranger over another?” Morello asked The Post.

The worst part, Morello said of her sister, was that “I lost her twice.”

By contrast, Allison Kanter, 57, of Calabasas, Calif., described her relationship with her long-lost twin, Michele Mordkoff, as a “love affair.”

Sharon and her twin sister as infants. The twin's birth mother wrote the caption under the photo. However, social workers did not decide to separate the twins -- that was the policy of Louise Wise Services.
Morello (right) and her twin sister as infants. The twin’s birth mother wrote the caption under the photo. However, social workers did not decide to separate the twins -— that was the policy of Louise Wise Services.

Unlike the others, the two were fraternal twins who may have been mistaken as identical. Their adoptive families were also kept in the dark, but Neubauer excluded the girls from his study, presumably once he realized their DNA didn’t match.

“Michele and I spoke about what happened and it was almost as if we were collateral damage,” said Kanter, who first met Mordkoff in August 2018 at a Manhattan hotel. “They had an ulterior, sinister motive to separate the identical [babies,] but, for us, we were like: ‘What was our purpose?’”

Their shared emotions and experiences secured a touching bond between the two women. Kanter, a former jewelry designer, described it as “unbelievable” and “magical.”

Mordkoff, who lived in Wayne, NJ, told her sister that she’d “always wanted to be a twin.” Eerily, as a child she named her favorite doll Allison.  Then, at the age of 6 or 7, Mordkoff had pleaded with her parents to add the middle name Allison to her birth certificate.

“There’s no rational explanation to it,” Kanter said. “I think it was something that was bigger than her.”

California psychologist Nancy Segal wrote the book “Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart”.
Author Nancy Segal is a psychologist in California.

Tragically, Mordkoff died of pancreatic cancer in June. Kanter visited as often as she could while her twin battled the illness. Mordkoff would often say to Kanter: “Maybe this is the reason you came into my life — to support me and be there for me.”

Kanter, who has embraced her role as aunt to Mordkoff’s two sons, said she treasured the short time they enjoyed together. The siblings shared a FaceTime session about eight hours before Mordkoff’s death, and she appeared on screen in a T-shirt gifted by Kanter. Emblazoned across the front: “Hooray for Sisters!”

Despite labeling Neubauer and his team “narcissistic” and “lacking human values,” Kanter said the pair was determined to appreciate the positives of their reunion.

“We were just marching along,” Morello reflected. “We said: ‘Let’s just get on with our future together.’”

Meanwhile Segal, who interviewed seven Neubauer twins for her book, said that the discredited two-decades-long study “has taught us many lessons.”

As she told The Post: “It remains a great example of how not to do research.”

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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