The Tragic Death Of The Hilton Sisters

Daisy and Violet Hilton, also known as the Hilton sisters, were among the most famous conjoined twins in history. The pair were conjoined at the back and shared a circulatory system, but the rest of their organs were uniquely their own. Their fame all started with their condition. Being born just after the turn of the 20th century, at a time when "freak shows" displaying human physical abnormalities were alive and well, there was really only one path to fame for the Hiltons.

The sisters were more than an exhibit; they were talented entertainers. Whereas most exhibits in freak shows would simply be viewed, displayed like objects, the Hilton sisters would practice acts to entertain the customers. They'd sing, play music, and go through a number of routines to keep the eyes looking their way. Eventually, this would lead to a couple of stints in Hollywood before their death in the late 1960s.

Unfortunately, the Hilton sisters didn't reach fame by living easy lives, and their deaths were equally tragic.

A history of captivity

The Hilton sisters' upbringing is a tragic tale of strife. Having no clue who their father was, the conjoined twins only had their mother as their sole caregiver, but even that didn't last very long. They were born in 1908, and by the time they were three years old, according to HuffPost, Violet and Daisy had already been sold to their mother's boss, Mary "Auntie" Hilton, who paraded them around Europe to capitalize on their biologically odd composition.

The young girls faced serious physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Auntie Hilton and her many suitors. Auntie considered the living, breathing children as her own personal property. Mary Hilton would eventually die, but not even her death could take care of the sisters' problem. Mary's daughter, Edith, and her husband basically inherited the Hilton sisters once Auntie was dead. Instead of gaining freedom, the Hilton sisters were passed from one "owner," as the sisters referred to them, to another.

The sisters earned thousands of dollars as vaudeville entertainers, performing with show business icons such as Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin. The majority of the money, however, went to their handlers. It was a dreary first half of their lives. Their captivity continued until 1931, according to The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton, when they won their freedom — in court. Things would get better. For a while, anyway.

An unfortunate end

Daisy and Violet Hilton were 23 years old when they tasted freedom for the first time, and were awarded $80,000 by the courts. They became U.S. citizens, grabbed hold of their stardom, and partied like rockstars — they had no concept of financial responsibility and trusted far too many of the wrong people. Things were looking up for a bit, it wouldn't last. According to the LA Times, the Hilton sisters would end up going through even more turbulence as their fame rose. They were cheated by managers, found themselves in sham marriages, and partied at a destructive level that left the sisters broke.

They did make it into a Hollywood film, but the film wasn't much different than their early life. Called Freaks, the movie was essentially a freak show on a film reel. They'd take on one more film in the 1950s after going broke and fading from the light of stardom. Chained for Life, as the movie was called, would ultimately flop and be the end of the sisters' Hollywood career.

Too poor for a burial plot

After the sisters fell from Hollywood grace, they grew desperate and tried to make some money on their own. They opened a hot dog stand that they hoped to grow into a club someday. It was looking like a possibility, with lines of folks who showed up to their stand everyday. Customers were there for the sisters, not the food, however. The novelty wore off and the sisters were once again broke. The next remedy for their financial troubles was a traveling striptease show, which didn't make them rich, but brought in a little cash.

After a few failed business attempts, Violet and Daisy Hilton would become victims of the 1968 flu pandemic and die in January 1969. According to The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton, Daisy died first. Had Violet survived the flu, she would've succumbed to blood loss, as Daisy's body went into rigor mortis and they shared a circulatory system.

By the time the sisters died, they only had $1,000 to their names. After funeral expenses — and, according to The Charlotte Observer, their funeral was a flowery affair, filled with friends and family — there wasn't enough money left to buy their own burial plot. Their biography says the cemetery owners found space for the twins, but they were forced to share a plot with a soldier who'd died in Vietnam. There, the sisters were laid to rest, together — all of their troubles finally washed away.