When they were young, Patricia and Joan Miller sang and danced for Bing Crosby, troops and their friends.
But as the identical twins grew older, they became less interested in socializing. When people called, the sisters came up with excuses to get off the phone. Without explanation, they stopped sending birthday cards to a childhood friend. And on the rare occasion that they left their home, the two women didn't chat up the neighbors.
Never married and without children or pets, the Miller sisters withdrew into their small, two-story home in California's South Lake Tahoe, where they were found dead last week, one in a downstairs bedroom, and the other in the hallway just outside.
It was as if the two sisters, long each other's only companion, could not live without each other, said Detective Matt Harwood with the El Dorado County sheriff's office.
"My perception is one died and the other couldn't handle it," said Harwood, who has been unable to identify any close friends or family members to inform of the sister's deaths. "It appears purely natural, but we are still trying to piece it all together."
Police don't usually release the names of the dead without first informing their relatives, but the sister's shrouded lives made that impossible, Harwood said.
"The circumstance surrounding their death is somewhat of an enigma," he said. "These two only ever had each other, and we would like, at least for their sake, to notify their family."
The deaths have confused some residents in the resort town of South Lake Tahoe, where homeowners tend to be close-knit and the sister's reclusiveness had long inspired questions and concern. Police and neighbors alike are struggling to understand why or how two beautiful women with show business in their blood shut themselves up in the same home for nearly 40 years and then seemingly died within hours of each other.
In the past year, clues hinted that something was amiss at the Miller home.
A neighbor spotted an ambulance at the house a year ago and assumed they had fallen ill. Someone asked police to check regularly on the house, to make sure the Millers never fell in need.
When someone arrived Feb. 25 for a routine check, no one answered the door. The next day, police forced their way in and found the bodies.
There was no blood, no signs of struggle. Nothing indicated that the women had persistent health troubles. Their longtime home was not disheveled or unkempt, potential signs of mental or physical illness. Autopsy reports were pending.
Harwood said he called a nearby senior center to see if the sisters were visitors, but no one there had heard of them. He checked with Meals on Wheels volunteers, but the sisters had never received their services. The only relative he found in his preliminary searches was the sister's deceased mother.
As news of the deaths spread, former South Lake Tahoe residents called police to report that they had lived near the sisters for decades in some cases, and had hardly seen them. Calls Tuesday to several longtime residents and social groups in the area turned up little, as community leaders again and again said they had never heard of the sisters.
"It seems progressively they became more reclusive," Harwood said.
A childhood friend did eventually tell investigators some details about the sister's early lives.
They grew up in Portland, Ore., before moving to the Bay area, Harwood learned. The women briefly appeared on a 1950's television show called the "The Hoffman Hayride" and posed for a picture with Crosby as children. The twins also entertained troops at military bases, their friend told Harwood.
The sisters never seemed interested in dating or expanding their social spheres. They listed each other as their next of kin, Harwood said.
"They were very, very close and tight-knit," he said. "All they had was each other and that's actually the way they wanted it."
Joyce Peterson of the International Twins Association, a social group based in Oklahoma, said she once heard of 100-year-old twins who died within days of each other.
"As a twin, you've got this bond, you're close — almost like a married couple," said Peterson, Minnesota, who serves as co-vice president of the group with her identical sister. "It's a bond no one else can understand."
The Miller twins appeared in poor health recently and possibly had been treated a year ago for dehydration or malnutrition, Harwood said.
Their childhood friend told Harwood that the sisters stopping sending annual birthday cards last year, and when the friend called to inquire card, the sisters seem disinterested in continuing the relationship.
Neighbors would call and the sisters would say, "Let me call you right back," and then wouldn't.
"They weren't taking care of themselves as they should or could have," he said.
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