NAPLES CA - To friends and neighbors, the deaths of the Blackler twins are an enigma. The 58 year-old sisters were found dead in this shoreline community this weekend, in the house they shared for decades.
But even as they struggle to understand the sisters and what led to their deaths, friends say one thing is not surprising: that they died together.
“I have always thought about them as a unit,” said Frank Donadee, who knew the sisters for a decade.
Friends and neighbors say there were few clues anything was amiss in the sisters’ relationship, and nothing to explain what took place in the home they shared. But they also say the sisters were an odd mix of local celebrities – everyone called them the ‘Gyno Twins’ — about whom next to nothing was actually known.
“In [the collecting] world, there’s a small handful of legitimate superstars,” Donadee said, and Diane and Valerie were among them. “The reaction that people had, it’s like they met Elvis or the Beatles. People just wanted to meet them.”
Long Beach Police got a tip from a neighbor this weekend about a strange odor coming from the garage. Sgt. Megan Zabel told KABC News that officers discovered Diane dead in her bed and Valerie hanging in the garage, her death an apparent suicide.
It’s possible they had been dead for two weeks, according to reports. He Los Angeles Coroner’s office will autopsy the sisters.
They left no notes, said a neighbor.
Their boss, Dr. Nejet Rostami told KABC News the sisters abruptly stopped working about a month ago. They said they needed to care for an uncle. Rostami tried to reach them, but eventually, the answering machine wouldn’t take any more messages.
In retrospect, neighbor Marilyn Bittle said she should have realized something was wrong. There was a sign, if only she had noticed: The Blacklers didn’t put out their antique Christmas decorations this year. But their house on Syracuse Walk always was decorated with whimsical statues and tchotchkes, so Bittle didn’t take note until after the fact.
Diane and Valerie loved long walks, even trekking as far as Seal Beach, over the bridge 2 miles into Seal Beach. But they didn’t invite people over – in fact, they trained their landscaping in later years to act as a screen.
There was an arena in which the twins shone, drawing the limelight whether they wanted it or not: the world of flea markets and antique shows.
Frank Donadee, who writes a blog about antique collectors, has known the Blacklers for 10 years. He’s the one who dubbed them the “Gyno Twins” because of their day job.
But their weekend pastime was antiquing. And looking alike, with their flowing curly locks, wearing their beaded necklaces, painted bracelets and colorful visors, they couldn’t help but attract attention.
When word got out about the sisters’ passing, Donadee’s phone blew up.
“These women do really have an effect on people,” he said.
That he would grant print space to the sisters at all was a testimony to their draw, Donadee said. All of his other subjects both buy and sell. The Blacklers only bought.
And bought they did. Published reports described a house so full of collectibles one could pass from room to room only through narrow passageways.
It makes sense they would leave the world together, Donadee said. They were by each other’s side so much, he almost considered them conjoined. When he quoted one, he always used the pronoun “they.”
Bittle, who lived only two doors down, admitted she couldn’t tell them apart. Another neighbor discovered one sister had a mole, but Bittle never figured out which.
Besides seeing them come and go to and from work, Bittle often caught them out on their walks. They would frequently chat, but it never got the past the level of small talk.
She did notice the Blacklers would go to Disneyland. A lot. First with their nieces, but while the girls outgrew the park, the twins did not.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they went at least once a month,” she said, adding that the sisters always dressed for the occasion in themed shirts, hats and jewelry.
Bittle feels badly the women may have gone undiscovered for days.
“The neighbors, we’re all kind of close that live in this area of the block, and we just had no idea,” she said.
Even Donadee, who knew them for 10 years, didn’t really.
“No one knows them very well at all.”