How mystery deaths of twin doctors inspired ‘Dead

In “Dead Ringers,” Rachel Weisz plays two brilliant but deranged twin-sister gynecologists.

But the real story on which the Amazon show is based may be even stranger: the mysterious deaths of near-identical twin gynecologists, Cyril and Stewart Marcus, 45, whose decomposing bodies — one naked, one partially clothed — were discovered in their squalor-filled 10th-floor Sutton Terrace apartment, in July 1975.

Weisz’s Dead Ringers — which flips the gender of the real-life protagonists, and has one of the gyno twins with a fetish for female body parts and illegal human embryo experimentation — was adapted from David Cronenberg’s 1988 film, also named “Dead Ringers.” 

It starred Jeremy Irons, who, like Weisz, plays both roles as crazed twin gynecologists, male docs, like the real-life Marcus twins, and that film was based on a 1977 novel, appropriately titled “Twins,” published two years after the Marcus’s deaths and features crazed physicians twins, one a gynecologist. 

Cyril Stewart Marcus Stewart
Cyril (left) and Marcus (right) Stewart were brilliant doctors and identical twins whose lives inspired “Dead Ringers,” with their status as “fertility Gods” to families who had struggled to conceive in an era before IVF.

Rachel Weisz
Weisz’s characters are brilliant, unethical, and strange, paralleling the lives of the Marcus twins.
©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection

But despite Hollywood and publishing’s storytelling imagination and ingenuity, the true account of the life and death of Drs. Cyril and Stewart Marcus still can’t be topped. 

And today, almost a half-century later, what happened to cause their demise is still something of a medical mystery.

Dead about a week, their fetid, decomposing bodies were discovered by a handyman attracted to a terrible odor emanating from Cyril’s locked apartment,10H, in the red brick high-rise at 460 East 63rd Street and York Avenue, where Stewart sometimes stayed. 

450 Sutton Terrace in 1975
On Thursday, June 17, 1975, in the locked Apartment 10H, the corpses of the twins’ doctors were found, heavily decayed after being dead for at least a week.
New York Post

Once inside, even the most jaded veteran NYPD homicide cop was shocked by the scene that greeted them — the twins’ fetid, decomposing bodies – one, in shorts, in a face-down position on a bed; the other, naked, but for only a pair of black socks, lying face up, nearby. 

And around them was chaos and turmoil.

An expensive armchair, likely a costly antique, was stained with human excrement, and the place was littered with half-eaten sandwiches, rotting TV dinner trays, grubby clothing, encrusted dinnerware, also a small amount of cash: $22.

But there was no sign of a break-in, or of any form of violence.

The apartment door was locked from the inside. 

Initially, the bodies were wrongly identified because the twins looked so much alike; it would take many days before authorities and the press got it right and correctly identified the corpses of the Marcus twins.

It was determined by authorities that Cyril, born within a few minutes of Stewart, had lived a few days longer than Stewart.

Cyril had been spotted by the building’s doorman leaving and returning to the apartment.

He then joined his deceased sibling in death.

Along with the detritus virtually filling the apartment, authorities found scores of prescription drug bottles littering the floor.

The initial finding was that death might have been caused by “some drug or chemical,” 

The twins had become addicts to Pentobarbital, under its brand name Nembutal, but two dozen tests found no trace of it in their bodies.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

It was known that beginning in the ‘70s, if not before, both Cyril and Stewart were addicted users of Nembutal, the brand name for Pentobarbital, a controlled substance that was known to cause paranoia, suicidal thoughts and, if combined with alcohol, could slow breathing and even lead to death. 

 More than two-dozen tests were conducted by the New York medical examiner’s office and nothing of a drug nature was ever discovered – no traces of narcotics, barbiturates, not even alcohol — in each brother’s body. 

With no evidence to suggest suicide, and no clues to indicate violence, everyone from the medical examiner’s office to the boys in homicide were stymied.

It was a true medical mystery.

New York Post July 31 1975
As days passed, the search for a cause for the death focused on the twins going cold turkey, as The Post revealed on July 31, two weeks on from the grim discovery.

The Marcus twins, born June 2, 1930, were raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, the sons of a physician. 

As kids, they liked to pretend they actually were doctors.

After medical school, they both served their residency, and internship, at Mt. Sinai, and soon quickly rose in their profession, becoming clinical assistant professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology, at Cornell University Medical College, and assistant attending obstetricians and gynecologists at New York Hospital. 

In 1967, they edited the leading book in their field, a classic text, “Advances in Obstetrics and Gynecology.”

They researched and were published in numerous journals, and were nationally known and respected.

They were best known in Manhattan’s upper echelons as the co-directors of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center’s Infertility Clinic, and in the 1960s, their joint practice as the city’s top infertility specialists, with a bustling office at 420 East 72nd Street, boomed.

Jeremy Irons
The Amazon series is based on the movie “Dead Ringers,” in which Jeremy Irons plays Elliot and Beverly Mantle, in a plot that parallels the Marcus twins’ lives.
20th Century Fox Licensing/Merchandising / Everett Collection

Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers
Irons’ twin doctors, like the Stewarts, are drug addicts whose careers go wrong.
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Their patients were among the one percent – the Park Avenue wives of CEOs, famous actresses, political wives, and other professional women who had trouble conceiving. 

But when they did finally give birth they considered the Marcus twins as “fertility gods.”

The husband of one wife having difficulty getting pregnant told a reporter that Stewart Marcus had taken her through two tough pregnancies, and declared, “We owe our children to Dr. Marcus.”

Others called them miracle workers. Grateful parents had even named their Marcus-induced sons after Cyril and Stewart.

There were said to be hundreds, if not thousands, of little Cyrils and Stewarts – from Brooklyn to Beverly Hills, thanks to the good doctors.

The twin gynecologists looked so much alike, according to their patients and colleagues, that some could not identify Cyril from Stewart or vice versa.

Each had a distinctive personality, but no one could agree on who had which traits. And even in death, some who saw and examined their bodies had difficulty telling them apart.

New York Magazine September 8 1975
In New York magazine, the late Linda Wolfe revealed that she had been Stewart’s patient, but that she and others were sure Cyril had impersonated his twin during their treatments.

Moreover, they were known to impersonate one another, even during their rounds.

One of their nurses told The Post after their deaths that Cyril was frequently short-tempered, while Stewart was easy-going, and that’s the only way she could tell them apart.

By the 1970s, the Marcus twins had secretly gotten heavily into drugs – amphetamines, barbiturates – and were considered often out of it, even while bringing babies into the world, or performing other hospital and clinic duties. 

On one occasion in the early 1970s, Cyril was found by his brother and the apartment building’s handyman unconscious from an apparent overdose in Cyril’s apartment.

He had to be hospitalized, but soon was again treating patients, and igniting frightening incidents.

On March 6, 1974, some 16 months before Dr. Cyril Marcus died, he attempted to perform a circumcision on an infant with only the handle of a surgical knife — without the blade — during the usually routine procedure at New York Hospital, according to testimony from a nurse assigned to assist him.

New York Post August 18 1975
A month after their bodies’ discovery, a New York hospital revealed how the twins had been told to sort out their drug problems, and given a board hearing date of July 10, for which they did not turn up.

New York Post April 1977
As time passed, revelations about the doctors’ drug-addled state before their deaths included a botched circumcision which was only saved by a nurse.

“I was very frightened for the baby,” she stated. “He could have cut off the whole penis for all I know. He started the procedure, and he put a clamp on the penis, and began to cut the foreskin with only the handle of the knife. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he turned and looked at me and said, ‘I know I don’t have the blade on’ and he put it on.”

She described him as acting erratically, sweating profusely “and his hands shaking a little bit. I went to the head nurse and told her the doctor looked ill.”

When the nurse asked Marcus if he felt all right, “He got quite mad at me and said, ‘Stop asking all those questions.’”

Soon, other doctors arrived and oversaw the procedure, safely.

Sometime in the first half of 1975, in the weeks before the twins were found dead, Dr. Fritz Fuchs, then chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at New York Hospital — Weill Cornell Medical Center — dealt with the Marcus twins’ drug problem, ordering them to go into rehab for their addictions or turn in their resignations.

But they reportedly never responded and took a leave of absence. And then they were found dead.

Dr. Fritz Fuchs, then chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at New York Hospital
Dr. Fritz Fuchs effectively fired the twins from the then-New York Hospital, telling them to get rehabilitated or to resign. They did neither, but weeks later were dead.

But how they actually died, and from what causes was unknown. 

A headline in The Post declared “Twin MDs’ Death Still A Puzzler,” with the then-Acting Chief Medical Examiner, calling the case a “major mystery…Violence is ruled out. Natural causes are ruled out. That leaves us with a major mystery. It boils down to was it drugs or alcohol or a combination of both?”

But, of course, no drugs or alcohol were ever found.

A reason had to be given, so two weeks after the Marcus twins died, the Medical Examiner’s Office announced that they had died of “acute withdrawal from barbiturates.”

As one of the medical examiners, doctors stated, “Withdrawal from barbiturates is more dangerous than heroin withdrawal.”

New York Post November 1975
The Post’s verdict in November 1975 has never changed: the deaths remain a medical and legal mystery.

Rachel Weisz in Dead Ringers
Weisz’ Elliot and Beverly Mantle are the second on-screen version of the sinister story of the drug-addicted doctors.
©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection

And it was revealed that the withdrawal cause decision was determined by what was described curiously as “logical deduction” based on the myriad of prescription bottles littering the death scene – the empty bottles became the prime evidence as to how the twins died, from withdrawal.

As the assistant ME who investigated the case told the press, “They weren’t using these [drugs] for medicinal purposes.” 

He said the investigators “saw the bottles and began adding things up.” 

In an editorial published a month after the deaths, The New York Times, declared, “The larger question, now that the Marcus brothers are dead, is how society is to protect itself more effectively against such incapacitated physicians.”

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