His Name Was Shawn

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Back in August 2013, while I was away on vacation in beautiful Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, Terri called me with an opportunity.  The opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime, check-it-off-your-bucket-list, type of opportunity.  We were asked by a local production company, Sirens Media, to audition for a starring role in an episode of Investigation Discovery’s Evil Twins.  Neither of us has ever acted before in our lives. Terri’s son has been acting in theater since he was 6 years old.  Somehow, through the grapevine, Sirens Media found us.

Of course I screamed at the top of my lungs and thought, how exciting will this be! Turns out we nailed the audition and were offered the roles.  Terri and I were both so excited!  BUT we were also somewhat apprehensive.  As the name of the show implies, it involves twins who are evil.  It’s a true-crime series of twins who commit evil acts. Against-the law evil acts.  That scared us.  We in no way wanted to glorify a true crime.  The story that we acted out is a horrific, tragic story that was heart-wrenching to learn about, let alone act it out.

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The shooting was for the duration of one week and took place at several locations in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Terri and I were asked to color our hair dark in order to more closely resemble the real-life twins, Gretchen Graham and Gloria Franklin.  The first day of shooting took place at the Tastee Diner.  Terri and I both played waitresses.

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It was so surreal to be in front of the cameras and production crew, feeling like real actors.

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The shooting days were long and tiring.  It’s truly not as glamorous as you might imagine.

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But it was an experience that both of us knew would most likely never happen again in our lifetimes.

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The actual, real-life story happened in 1989 in Wolverine Lake, Michigan in the winter. However, we filmed it in 90 degree temperatures.  At times it was pretty brutal, wearing heavy coats, being blasted with smoke, pretending to be cold, when in reality we were sweating profusely.

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The above picture is Terri and me with one of the actors who played my son.  Very professional young man.  The below picture is Terri and me holding our little star who played Terri’s son.  He was so much fun!

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The picture below is most of the crew on our final day of shooting.  Some of the most hard-working and nicest people I’ve ever come to know.

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So, normally I would end this post and say how much fun we had!  Don’t get me wrong. We did have fun.  We made friendships in that one week of shooting that we still have today.  We all worked extremely hard in hopes that it will be a great episode.

But my main purpose of this post wasn’t to show you how fun it is to be an actor on a nationally televised show.  It goes so much deeper than that.  The story that we acted out was about a set of twins whose lives went in totally different directions. One twin’s life was pretty normal.  The other twin’s life was very chaotic.  The chaos resulted in an unplanned pregnancy and the birth of a little boy.  His name was Shawn.

Shawn was born into a life that nobody would want to be born into.  His mother didn’t know how to be a mom.  He was homeless at times.  He was neglected.  He was many times left unsupervised.  As a result, he acted out.  He wanted and desperately needed attention.  He got a hold of lighters and lit things.  His caretakers didn’t know how to handle him, so they would lock him in a room for long periods of time with a padlock on the outside of the door. Shawn couldn’t get out until they let him out. Shawn was an abused, neglected child.

Shawn was only 4 years old when he died on that fateful day back in 1989.  If Shawn hadn’t died that day, he would now be 29 years old.  In the prime of his life.  I’ve searched countless hours online, trying to find more information about Shawn Graham. Are there any pictures of him? Where was he laid to rest?  Did they have a proper funeral for him? Is there anything, anywhere that memorializes him?  I want to know. Shawn Graham was a child who deserved a better life, but never had a chance.  I wish so badly that I could turn back the hands of time and get Shawn out of the situation that he was in.  Give him a huge hug.  Tell him everything is going to be okay.

How many other Shawn Graham’s are there out there?  My fear is that there are many. I recently found statistics online about child abuse and neglect.  Taken from a site called Childhelp, “The United States has among the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.  Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4.  About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.”  It’s a national epidemic and something that is in desperate need of more awareness.

Did you know that the month of April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month? There’s a website dedicated to this HERE.  This site offers a downloadable resource guide, information on preventing child abuse, protecting children from the risk of abuse, and promoting healthy families.  They also include widgets you can use on social media to show your support in promoting National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

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The following is a list of the National Child Abuse Prevention Partners. More information about national organizations that work to promote well-being in children, families, and communities, including contact information, is available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
American Humane Association (AHA)
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
(APSAC)
Annie E. Casey Foundation
ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center
Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP)
Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
Childhelp®
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)
Children’s Hospital Association
Circle of Parents®
Darkness to Light
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based
Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP)
National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds
National Association for the Education of Young Children
(NAEYC)
National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse
National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP)
National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (NCSBS)
National Child Protection Training Center
National Children’s Alliance (NCA)
National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association
(National CASA)
National Exchange Club (NEC) Foundation
National Family Preservation Network (NFPN)
National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI)
National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)
National Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood
(QIC-EC)
National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and
Families (NRCHMF)
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC)
Nurse-Family Partnership
Parents Anonymous® Inc.
Parents as Teachers
Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America)
Search Institute
Stop It Now!
ZERO TO THREE

Here are some local resources right here in Frederick, Maryland:

Terri and I, along with the entire cast and crew were forever affected by our episode of Evil Twins.  It is the only episode that involves the death of a child.  We all cried at some point, before, during, and after the taping of the show. It’s a terribly sad subject, but something that is real and happens every day.

Our hope is that more people will educate themselves on the signs of child abuse, the resources that are available, and the ways to stop the endless cycle that child abuse presents.

His name was Shawn.  This post is in memory of little Shawn Graham.  We never knew you, but we’re so sorry for what happened to you.  And we will never forget you!

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Comments

  1. What a beautifully written article. I know how hard the subject matter was on both of you and I’m so proud that you have turned it into a platform to raise awareness. Hugs girls!

    • Thank you so much Pam!! You’ve been there for us throughout this entire thing. We’re so thankful for your friendship and support. It means so much to us.

  2. I’m proud to say I know you both; sad to have seen the tragic end to that little boys hard four years….

  3. I don’t even know what to say; I’m all chocked up. I’m so glad you and Terri made this movie because it lead to this post which will hopefully reach a lot of people who can make a difference.

  4. Pam, thank you for this post. I’ve never been here before, but I watch “Evil Twins.” While I’m watching real-life crime shows, I often do an Internet search on the real subjects as I watch the story. (I work in a D.C. court; so I can’t help but be interested in true crime/human interest stories.) So I came across your site, not knowing who you and Teri are, other than apparently actors on this episode. (Great job, by the way. I wouldn’t have known you weren’t professional actresses if you hadn’t said so. )

    My heart breaks for that little boy. Wow. They couldn’t have just said, as they were having that rational conversation in the middle of a burning house, “Let’s just open the door and save Shawn; we’ll figure the rest out later.” Geez. I’m sure the boy could be loved, guided, disciplined as necessary (as we all were as children) and grown up to be a fine young man. But thanks to those two sisters, we’ll never know.

    Thank you for participating in that project. Everyone did a great job.
    P.S.: I’ve been to Frederick and love your town. Beautiful place.

  5. I just watched the episode & it brought tears to my eyes all I kept thinking about was Shawn may he RIP. They both should have gotten life with out the possiblllity of parole for taking that baby life.

  6. You ladies did a great job portraying the twins at first I thought it was the same person playing two people lol…

  7. Hello! I am a twin from Baltimore City (my sister lives in Anne Arundel, myself in Palm Beach County, Fla) and I was so moved by you and your sister’s performance. And I am so moved that you have made this about poor Shawn and his lost potential and the adults who failed him. Now other Shawn’s have you to help beat the drum for him. Bless you.

  8. Sunshine says:

    I just watched the episode of Evil Twins which told the story of Shawn Graham. It made me cry. I have a son who just turned 5 not long ago, and I can’t imagine anyone treating a child like that. Like you, I have searched for more information about this little boy – pictures, memorials – and the only thing I found was this page. I turned 30 not too long ago. He and I were born around the same time. It breaks my heart any time I read or hear of stories like this. Children are such precious gifts. There are so many people who want them and can’t have them. It’s a blessing to be a mother. If you realise you aren’t a mother, why not give your child to someone who wants to be one and can’t? Watching that story, I couldn’t help buy ask that. Why couldn’t the person who wanted him, keep him when his mother was obviously neglecting him? Where was someone who cared about that little boy? Thanks for writing this article and making Shawn’s story known.

  9. Wow!!! Very proud of my wife Terri and my sister-in-law Pam. You were both terrific. Very powerful performances. Very sad story and a great post to get the word out. Nice job girls.

  10. I just saw this episode last night. It is so sad. Poor Shawn never had a chance. Just think. There is a man out there who had a son that he had no clue existed and now the little boy is dead.

    I’m sure glad Terri and Pam aren’t evil like the twins they portrayed.

  11. John Robinson says:

    Excellent article. I watched the movie last night and felt everyone did a great job as actors. Very touching thoughts in your article about Shawn

  12. My name is Julie and the story about Gloria and Gretchen and my baby cousin Sean was untrue. I am angered and hurt that anyone could be profiting from such a tradgedy. My Aunt was not a prostitute she had been married twice and Janet was an abbusive woman who with her many children beat my Aunt and my cousin, when she finally had had enough my Aunt made a run for it with her son Sean, yes she did end up at a womans shelter in Pontiac and Pontiac is where my Mother, brother and I picked her up. My Mother and Aunt have two other sisters and a brother and their IQ was in low 60’s at the time of TRAIL not at school age they portray on the show, so you see, they were not “Evil” just children and if Sean was locked in his room why was he found in the bathroom? lots of holes in the story of being “Ture”. Did anyone question the family? No, no interviews with the family. Just Ret. Detctives trying to put their Names back in the spot light. Im very upset at what has happened to my mother and although she has passed noone has stepped in to protect her name and legacy until now. My cousin Sean’s death was a tragic accident that should have never happened, we lost our home, our family and was labled as “baby killers” I was only 10 at the time but I lived though it. No child should go though someting like that. As for my poor little cousin he had a funeral and was properly laid to rest in 1989, but I will not say where due to protection of privacy and that it is no ones business, no one has given any thought to the survivors and what they have been through, No one called to interview any one who actually lived through the events.

  13. The grieving family says:

    Unfortunately, just so you all know, that show was not true. The twins in this case were both mentally retarded and almost died in the fire themselves.
    They had the tragedy of losing their son, their only boy and now have shows like this about them which are slanderous and not true.

  14. I was wondering why Sean was in a locked 8×7 room but the firemen found him in the bathtub. Sad story.

  15. kyash2909 says:

    Julie, did anyone associated with the production company that made the program about your mom and aunt contact anyone in your family for your side? I ask because sometimes people involved in a tragedy such as this will not cooperate when contacted. What happened was that the authorities made the case, either rightly or wrongly that your aunt and mom were responsible for Sean”s death and that made it news. They were charged, tried and convicted. That was the basis of the program. I cannot believe that a responsiible production companyi would not make the effort to reach out to the family of the twins. So while I sympathize, stories like those involving your mom and aunt are going to be fodder for television whether or not your family tells their side.

    • Family member says:

      No one from the family was contacted and no one knew that the show was going to be aired until it aired the second time. We are all very upset by the program but no one wanted to know what the family had to say. Every one was just out to make money and hurt us more.

  16. RosannLe says:

    I’m going to watch the episode in about an hour. I also try to do some research before watching the show. Putting the twins names really got me no where except to finally find out their names and poor Shawn s name the victim. Then it brought me here. Thanks for this site. And mighty big of you not to respond to family comments. Especially, the one coming from someone who was only ten at the time who probably got her info from that night from protective family. And if someone with a supposedly low IQ has some sort of free pass that’s ridiculous. I have so much more I could say on this subject but I really don’t want to get into it with protective family members.

  17. I thought u guys did a great job! I watch evil twins all the time, but this one hit my heart. I told the story to my husband and 11 year old son. Now they want to see the episode so I will have to keep my eyes open for the next time it plays. My son was outraged about the time they received. He said they both should have gotten death! Anyways great job with the story. Keep us posted if u ever find out a picture of Shawn or even a memorial.

  18. Julie, you were 10? Hmmm too young to even really know what happened, I’m sure you were told what they thought happened and here you are posting online. Sad you believe child killers

  19. @julie and @the grieving family. ..first I would like to say if it was not true why did the twins confess and blamed it on each other and iam a very big fan of id discovery and they would not show something that is not true and second if she did not want the baby because he was of mixed race there were plenty of places to take him or gave him up for adoption anything but kill him smh and from the story it seems that the family did like the fact that he was of mixed race and to the ladies who did the story u all did a wonderful job putting your feelings aside for the greater good god bless you ladies and to the family u want to comment now after its all said and done but if u all cared about that baby u should have step in to make sure he was not going to be abused any more so to everyone who knew about the abuse and did nothing u all are to blame to only if someone had just stepped up and put there own prejudices aside and thought of him as a child a innocent baby a human being unable to fend for himself and not as a horrible mixed race child he would be alive today and for all people involved how can u all sleep at night knowing u could have saved a innocent babys life and another thing u say they were mentally retarded then she should have never been able to keep that child so I do not believe that they were mentally retarded I just want to say god bless little sean sorry u did not get a chance at life and sorry u were born to such a horrible mother but u will get your justice in do time may god bless u and I hope that u are at peace with god u will stay in the hearts of many Aman. ..

  20. Someone Incredibly Close and Not Biased says:

    Let me start by saying that you did a wonderful job on the show and your blog is amazing…I’m always looking for new blogs with great ideas to follow…. Good Job Ladies!!!
    Now the meat and potatoes of my reason for posting……
    Let’s just say I am a finally VERY HAPPY “no longer” member of this family… I have no love loss for the Franklin’s… And was childishly excited to watch this episode when several people called me to tell me it was on…. after turning it off I laughed it up with all my friends, said a secret prayer for that little boy and went to bed… but the truth has been nagging at me and when I saw Gloria’s oldest son the other day and he said “I heard you saw the show” and I embarrassingly said yes, the sad look in his eyes and following “You know that wasn’t true about my mom” haunts me as I write this.
    I didn’t get along with Gloria. Not because she was mean spirited evil twin… not because she had a bad bone in her body but simply because she got on my nerves. Gloria is mentally retarded. Her oldest son said as a young boy he just thought his mom was super cool because she laughed all the time and let him be silly and do fun things…. All his friends would come over to his house to play and Gloria would play with them…. until Don would come home. Don was a violent alcoholic. This is not portrayed. Don abused his family relentlessly. I spoke to neighbors who said they were so shocked these children turned out so well (even without the fire) despite this man. Don Franklin married a handicapped woman who wanted nothing more than to be a mommy and have a home. She was a good mommy and loved her kids with everything she had. She protected them with all that she was. Don Franklin would make comments that between the two of them (Gloria and Gretchen) he had the perfect wife and it would make me cringe and his children lash out…
    What happened that day was a tragedy. From what I have pieced together Gloria never ever wanted to leave him in that house and was very confused and just listened to Gretchen tell her no to get out. There was no crazy turn on each other confessions. There were two mentally retarded confused women one who didn’t want her little boy anymore and one who wanted to see her kids. There was an argument in the house. It wasn’t a hushed secret lets let this boy die conversation…it was Gloria demanding to get him and Gretchen telling her she could die and never see her own kids again…. that is all that Gloria would ever need to hear ….
    I honestly think Don should have been tried….
    Whatever your opinion….Gloria was released from prison. I was there that day she finally hugged her kids on the other side of that fence. I was there the day her son picked her up and swung her around and told her he would take care of her forever. I have been there and watched her copy books word for word into notebooks because she was ” learning” and she was going to make her son proud and get a job and help him for once. I was there when her son picked her up and took her grocery shopping every week and she road on the back of the cart and laughed…..
    I originally thought Gloria was a murderer… Gloria was not a murderer… She was an innocent sweet woman who got on my nerves…..
    I was there the day Gloria wasn’t feeling and well and her son took her to the hospital. I was there when she had a stroke and just kept watching as she pet her children and told them what good care they took of her… she had no idea everyone was there because she was going to die. I grieved for her. It surprised me. I grieve for Shawn. I grieve for the Gloria’s son and daughter. My heart broke to see how pained her son was over this episode. My tears wouldn’t stop after I read Julie’s comment above and the subsequent bashing of a stranger… they have obviously never met the tough as nails Julie….
    Gloria had children who loved her…. she had grandchildren that understood their grandma was very silly needed them to help her with puzzles and story books…
    I owe nothing to these people but I could not stand by and say nothing after reading this. I wish Discovery would do a real story on her…. a real story on the mother who was the child and the children that raised her….

  21. C. Awesome says:

    I was watching the episode of “Evil Twins” you and your sister starred in. I was surfing online to learn more background info about the Franklin twins when I found this page. It was great to hear of your experience while filming, but also learn about the tragic life of Shawn Graham. Thank you. :)

  22. I caught this episode last night and was immediately sucked in due to the fact that I’m a Michigander and I don’t live far from Wolverine Lake. I frequently watch ID due to my interests in crime and psychology. I have often pondered how true these re-enactments actually are. Don’t producers have to get permission from the family to air these types of shows? I’ve always been curious. Regardless, an innocent life was still taken much too soon, and for that my heart breaks.

  23. Kelly Burns says:

    Wow! I read all of that & that is such a well written article. Great job! I loved that & I’m now interested in more to come! I love this blog now

  24. Congrats on the performance, I saw the twins look very evil, true or false, its obvious that boy need it attention, love, that his mother did not have. I was very sad for the end his life had he may rip.

  25. Just watched your evil twin episode in crime investigation channel. What a tragic story! Thanks for your role.

    Oland, From Indonesia

  26. Gwen McFadden says:

    I found your story because I am watching the episode right now. It prompted me, like you, to learn more about Shawn. I am a foster parent and unfortunately we do see things like this a lot. It is truly heartbreaking. I commend you and your sis for bringing his little life to light.

  27. I watched ID. You all did a wonderful job.no child should suffer I hope that I am able to change any child suffering in this world.that’s my prayer.thank you.I cried for the child. The abuse. God have mercy.he’s n heaven.

  28. No matter what the true story is, the little boy who portrayed Shawn just broke my heart. Once I figured out where the story was going, I broke down. To the point my dog was nudging my arm trying to comfort me. Now my 5 yr old son will be home from school soon and I plan on giving him the biggest hug ever.

    Even if this particular episode had false information, things like this DO happen and I pray for those children.

    • Aw! That is one thing that this story has brought awareness to – loving and cherishing our children. The actor who portrayed Shawn is absolutely adorable – we both fell in love with him :)

  29. Wow just watched this episode of EVIL TWINS. My heart ached for that poor baby . Sean was only 4 years old. A little boy who never knew love. Sadly I believe a lot of the resentment and hatred for Sean was due to him being biracial. I am sorry blaming it on the fact that they were mentally challenged is no excuse. The sister Gloria was finally released . Is Gretchen still in prison? if she was able to drive a car and go pick up her sister at the shelter then she obviously knew right from wrong. She showed remorse at the trial I believe the husband should have been charged I believer he was at the root of it all He didn’t want the child there. I feel bad for Gloria’s children I’m sure they went thru HELL. In the end an innocent baby was allowed to die in the most horrific ways of dying. May God show them more mercy than they showed Sean

    • Thanks for you comment! From what we understand, they both got released from prison after only about 7 years. Gloria has since died (we’re not sure how she died) and Gretchen is still alive.

  30. Love your episode your acting was great! and I willl never understand how they didnt know this child needed love and proper dicipline … even more I hate how that lil boy almost had a way out thurough his moms friend and she selfishly wouldnt let him be adopted but let him die in a fire .. poor baby no more suffering

  31. I was actually looking for information on this case while watching the episode when I came across this blog. This was a very nice post. I’m glad you used it for more than just an opportunity to give us a look into the life of Hollywood glamour. Such contrast to the people you portrayed. :)

  32. Just finished watching the evil twins episode and what a great job you two ladies did! It made me cry to find out that little Shawn’s mom would be so evil to let her flesh and blood suffer like that and just let him die. As for the family I really do hope that Gloria really didn’t want him to die and if she was innocent I feel bad she got robbed years of her life with her family. May you both RIP Shawn and Gloria!

  33. Just watched the episode… Great Blog Ladies… So SAD… SMH ~ R.I.P SHAWN

  34. Such a tough story but so glad you and your sister helped to get the story out there. Maybe somehow, someway it saved some other little Shawn.

  35. Hi, I’ve literally just watched this on CI in the UK, and I am in absolute shock that them sisters could do that to a young defenceless boy, especially the mother, it’s sickening, as I was thinking of my 4yr old son all the way through it. What I dont understand is how they had a light sentence for an indescribable crime, they should of locked them up and thrown away the key.
    By the way ladies you played the part brilliantly, as well as the little boy that played Shawn.

    R.I.P Shawn xxx

Trackbacks

  1. […] Fast forward 10 years later to today –  2014.  Austin is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school.  Sadly, he has kind of lost interest in acting.  In my heart, I believe that he will perform on a stage again one day.  But, the funny thing is – about a year ago, I was approached on email by a casting company to audition for a role!  I even replied back and asked, “Don’t you mean my son?  I have no acting experience!”  But, they were interested in me and my twin sister, Pam, to audition for Investigation Discovery’s “Evil Twins”!  Evidently, somewhere along the way of managing Austin’s acting, it was known that I had a twin sister. Well, the rest is history – Pam and I got the roles on “Evil Twins”, and had the experience of a lifetime!  Pam even wrote a post about it here! […]

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