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Violet and Daisy Hilton had a life punctuated by great tragedy. Born out of wedlock in Brighton, England in 1908—the first conjoined twins born in Britain known to have lived longer than a few weeks—the sisters were actually sold by their mother Kate Skinner, who feared their conjoined condition was a punishment from God. The buyer was Skinner’s boss,
Mary Hilton, who saw nothing but opportunity in the newly christened “Hilton Sisters.” Mary Hilton physically abused and isolated the twins, all while making a mint off their talents and “freak show” appeal. In 1926, Bob Hope formed a Vaudeville act called the Dancemedians with the sisters, who had a tap-dancing routine. They were an incredibly popular stage act of the day, but all of their money was kept by their handlers. When Mary died, the girls were bequeathed to her daughter, an equally awful woman.

Eventually the sisters sued themselves out of slavery, and received $100,000 in damages at the age of 23. This should have been enough to sustain them indefinitely, but the sisters found themselves ill-equipped for the outside world, and their lives of excess bankrupted them. During this time, they famously appeared in Tod Browning’s Freaks and had many love affairs—one even attempted to marry, but was told by a judge she was unfit due to their conjoined condition. The girls still pursued show business though, even playing themselves in a cheap exploitation film, 1951’s Chained for Life, a film usually screened these days alongside something like with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The last time the Hilton Sisters appeared in public was at a drive-in in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1961. They were abandoned by their manager there and with no money, forced to take a job in a nearby grocery store, where they worked for the rest of their lives. When the twins didn’t show up for their shift on 4 January 1969, their boss called the police who found them dead in their home. Daisy died first with Violet dying between two to four days later according to the coroner. Cause of their death was determined to be the Hong Kong flu virus.

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