His Name Was Shawn – A Real Life Evil Twins Story

Evil Twins is a series of true life stories on the Investigation Discovery Channel that reenact true crimes that identical twins have committed.

In this post, we talk about our experience acting out the roles of a set of identical twins in the ‘Sacrificial Lamb’ episode.

Evil Twins Episode: His Name Was Shawn

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

This is the story about a little 4 year old boy. His name was Shawn.

But first, here’s a little background on how we got involved in this story.

Getting the Call To Audition for Evil Twins

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

Back in August 2013, while I was away on vacation in beautiful Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, Terri called me with an opportunity.  

This 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.

But 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.  

Obviously, Terri and I were both so excited!  

BUT we were also somewhat apprehensive.  

Because 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.

Like, against-the law evil acts.

Of course 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.

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

Shooting the Evil Twins Episode

The shooting was for the duration of one week and took place at several locations in Silver Spring, Maryland.  

In order to more closely resemble the real-life twins, Gretchen Graham and Gloria Franklin, Terri and I were asked to color our hair dark.   

On the first day of shooting, we met at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring, Maryland.  

Terri and I both played waitresses.

Acting in the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring

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

Terri doing her scene at the payphone on the streets of Silver Spring

But the shooting days were long and tiring.  

It’s truly not as glamorous as you might imagine.

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

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

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

The Real-Life Story

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.

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

The Evil Twins Cast and Crew

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!

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

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.

If you’re interested in watching our episode, it’s called Evil Twins: Sacrificial Lamb.  

There’s also information about the case we acted out, as well as other twin related crimes in this book, Evil Twins: Chilling True Stories of Twins, Killing and Insanity. 

His Name Was Shawn - A Real Life Evil Twins Story

So, normally I would end this post and say how much fun we had!  

Don’t get me wrong, we did have fun!  

Friendships were made 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.

Bringing Awareness to Child Abuse

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 and the other twin’s life was very chaotic.

About Shawn  Graham

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.  

Shawn was homeless at times. 

He was neglected and was many times left unsupervised.

As a result, he acted out.  

Shawn wanted and desperately needed attention.  

To get this 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.

He was an abused, neglected child.

On that fateful day back in 1989 when he died, Shawn was only 4 years old.  

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.  

I’d give anything to be able to offer him a huge hug and tell him everything is going to be okay.

Other Abused Children

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.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Did you know that the month of April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month?

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.


List of National Child Abuse Prevention Partners

Information about national organizations who work to promote well-being in children, families, and communities, including contact information, is available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

The following is a list of the National Child Abuse Prevention Partners:

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

Local Frederick, Maryland Child Abuse Resources

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

In Memory of Little Shawn Graham

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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106 thoughts on “His Name Was Shawn – A Real Life Evil Twins Story”

  1. Oi, tudo bem?
    Sou Rita, moro em Goiânia, no Brasil. Triste história, porém, muito claramente encenada por vocês. Fico triste em saber que muitas pessoas viam o menino naquela situação e nada fizeram. Muitas coisas ruins acontecem por acharmos que o problema do vizinho não é problema nosso. Muitas coisas poderiam ter sido feitas antes deste fim trágico. Todavia, parabenizo vocês pelo grande trabalho que fizeram. Um abraço!

  2. Thank you for posting this. It was a very interesting read. Child abuse is such a horrific thing and so very preventable. I have had to report one of my own family members for neglect and abuse. The children are now out of that home and living with an angel who has now adopted them and some of my family and myself are still in their lives. I hate to think about what would have happened to them if they had stayed with her. I wish more people would get involved!! No, I’m not patting myself on the back but I do count reporting her as one of the best things I ever did.

    If you ever think that something bad is happening to a child/children then please make that call…it could save their lives!!!

  3. I just saw this episode of Evil Twins. I actually had to change the channel because I couldn’t watch the actual fire reenactment. You and your sister did a great job, and you aren’t even professional actors?! Child abuse of any for is wrong. Without the murder and circumstances around it, he was locked in a room? Neglected? And died due to that abuse and neglect. Those are facts, no matter who did or didn’t do something, or who was a good or bad person. Good people do bad things, Bad people do good things, it doesn’t change thd details of Seans life or death. I hope what the family members on here are saying is true, and Sean did experience some love in his short lifetime. Rather than be defensive, notice the resources for fighting child abuse referenced in this article and get involved. Service is how a difference is made. I am praying for the family and for Sean as well. There is NO excuse for treating a child that way, or leaving a child to suffocate (in the bathroom, bedroom wherever). Owning the reality of experiences is how we move on, and where healing takes place. This blog entry was written very well, thank you for taking the time to write it, and remind people who the true victim was in this story.

    • Thank you for your kind words Estelle. It’s a terrible story that Terri & I will never forget and we’ll never forget poor Shawn. We wish we could’ve met him and saved him from this terrible tragedy.

  4. I just watched the episode, and I felt bad. Well, although Shawn played with the lighter (causing his demise) I could not believe that his mother Gretchen and auntie Gloria thought of themselves. How horrid! But I what I know about Gretchen and Gloria is that they were released in 1996, but Gloria died in 2011. Gretchen’s whereabouts are unknown. I feel bad for Shawn.

  5. I read the book Evil Twins by John Glatt and was looking for info on Gloria and Gretchen, and came across this website. I did find Shawn’s Find a Grave page, and he does have a stone (although it only has the month and year for dob and death, not the days), and it is engraved “Our Baby” which doesn’t sound much like Gretchen had anything to do with it.

    In answer to how Shawn could be found in the bathtub, the book says “Shawn and his mother slept in a small closet, which had been converted into a bedroom with its own lavatory, at the back of the house.”

    I’m quite sure both Gloria and Donald Franklin, and Gretchen Graham, knew right from wrong, and that it was WRONG to lock this little boy up, and treat him differently from the Franklin children. Gloria had been raising three children of her own apparently just fine, and she knew what was being done to Shawn was wrong. Despite her supposedly low IQ, she took care of three kids, a house, and had a job. It makes no sense to say that Gretchen forced her into leaving Shawn in a burning house and her own cat Fluffy too, by saying if she didn’t, she would never see her three kids again. Even an idiot wouldn’t fall for that. She should have wanted to save her own cat at least! They are both murderers, of a child and a cat. They both knew darn well they could have saved them, without danger to themselves because they were there when the fire began. They didn’t even bother unbolting his door so he would have a chance! They made sure to leave it bolted because their lives would be easier without them. So sacrifice the cat too and scar your child Julie for life finding the cat’s remains. They are both KILLERS.

    Interesting to know that Gloria died (although not WHEN), but what is Gretchen doing?

    • Hi Tawny, We don’t know what Gretchen is doing now. The whole story is just so sad. Thanks for your reply. Didn’t know about the cat.

    • Thank you Susan! I know, they were very tough roles to play and it’s such a terrible story. One twin is out of jail and the other one passed away.

  6. Rest in Peace to little Shawn.. So many things in his life were stacked against him that no matter what the truth really is he never had a chance. From reading all the comments it seems the ID channel runs this episode about every six months… May Shawn never be forgotten.

  7. I knew Shawn. This little boy and his mother were taken in by a nasty family who got some kind of kickback from social services to take them. I was a very young child myself, watching various members of that family beat Shawn while calling him ni**er. Eventually Gretchen and Shawn moved out and soon after Shawn died. He was found in a bathtub indicating he was incapacitated before the fire started. While living in that previous house, screams of abuse and hate were never ending, regardless, he was always smiling and happy. The monster that took them in had a husband, boyfriend and 4 kids of her own living in that place, ALL took turns hurting Shawn. The evil of the whole situation will haunt me forever.

  8. I just watched the episode of “Evil Twins” today & my heart aches for Shawn. God rest his innocent soul. Thank you ladies for telling his story since he is unable. Let his memory live on while his mother is out of prison & hiding. So so sad

  9. I’m watching this episode of “Evil Twins” right now and an effort to find more information led me here. Thank you for this lovely article. What a heart-breaking story. Pam, you and Terri were incredible as the sisters, and I would never have known it was your first time acting.

    Poor Shawn.

    • Wow! Thank you so much Donna! That is such a nice compliment! Yes – SUCH a sad story 🙁 We wanted to somehow do something good about it by writing the post and bringing more awareness to this terrible issue.

  10. -And to all crew AWESOME job telling lill Shawns story
    Thank You for speaking out for those whom where silenced by another’s choice.

  11. To grieving family & family member
    This IS not judgement just a comment so don’t take offense. I’m going through neglect of my nieces and nephews and in saying that. You’ve mentioned they were mentally retarded, so which family member(s) reached out to help or take the child Shawn.? Which FAMILY member(s) reported the abuse? If this story is true EVIL IS EVIL and CHOICE IS CHOICE so regardless of THERE mental state that was a child in a raging infernal with a locked door (reported) most people would step in front of a bullet or burn with their children in trying to save them?RIGHT? 12 people GAVE THEM A CHANCE WHAT CHANCE DID SHAWN HAVE BY THE HANDS OF 2 “TURN THE KNOB ” GOD IS THE ONLY TRUE JUDGE AND HE GIFTS US WITH CHILDREN TO PROTECT AND CARE FOR

  12. I just watched your show an im shocked that your not a pro both of yaw yaw did great. It moved me so much my heart aches for shawn. Im so thankful you two wonderful ladys did this show….hopefully this saves all the shawns out there. I cried for him you ladys did wonderfull i thought you were pros! Good luck in the future and god bless both of you

  13. Am so sad to have seen this I wish that it was something I can do to save other children …I even want to class to adopt a child . pass all my paper work in no one respond …my heart is hurting from this …in if I still can adopt a child I still will 🙁 …R.I.P..baby

  14. Am so sad to have seen this I wish that it was something I can do to save other children …I even want to class to adopt a child . pass all my paper work in no one respond …my heart is hurting from this …in if I still can adopt a child I still will 🙁

  15. Thank you. Very touching episode. Our family were all watching and made all of us sad. Thank you for the story. We now have another to pray for everyday. Thanks ladies great performance.

  16. Sorry, I posted so short…I never knew him, but I love him!!! He’s God’s child now…Rip Sean love you and see you in Heaven….

  17. I just watched the show…I am a child from abuse, as is my fiance, we have talked diligently over this episode, as it was a part of our everyday lives. We are both in our 30’s, with our own children and neither one of us can fathom hurting any one of them. I’m from Michigan, 50 miles North of Detroit, I’ve never heard this story. It has touched me to the core. There is no reason, no matter what handicap you portray, for the reason you let a helpless child die. My cousin is handicapped and is smarter than me!!! Child abuse us prevalent, we can’t stop it, but we can control it. My fiance and I both chose to stop the cycle and embrace each other in our past violence. Our children are amazing almost adults with the world at their feet, we relish in the fact that they are not held back by pain, hurt or embarrassment…the pain we have felt, they will never know. 🙂 🙂 🙂 This vicious cycle does not have to continue…Get help! Thank you both Terri and Pam, this must have been sohard, pls comments…Lots of Love our way, <3

  18. What get me upset .. Is that his mother is out there living herife freely … And Shawn is just a memory to her .. When she should be tormented just like Shawn was !!!


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