In May 2008, two women ran into oncoming traffic on the M6, the busiest highway in England. They were forty-year-old identical twins, Sabina and Ursula Eriksson. Despite being hit by a car, Sabina attacked a police officer and ran into traffic again before being sedated by paramedics.
What followed was an even more bizarre sequence of events that ended in madness and murder. When investigated, Sabina and Ursula’s behavior was attributed to folie à deux (the folly of two). This rare psychiatric condition manifests in hallucinations or delusions that are shared or transmitted between two individuals.
Folie à Deux
Folie à deux is also known as Shared Psychosis or Shared Delusional Disorder (SDD). Those afflicted with SDD experience shared delusions, usually with someone close to them, such as a spouse or family member. In some cases, the delusions are shared by more than two people and are, therefore, called folie à famille (the folly of family).
There have been many recorded cases of SDD throughout history, though rarely have they ended in such tragic and baffling circumstances as the case of the Eriksson twins. What possessed the twins to act the way they did on that fateful day?
Who Are the Eriksson Twins?
Sabina and Ursula Eriksson were born in Sweden on November 3rd, 1967. The twins grew up in Sunne, Värmland, with their parents and two older siblings, Mona and Björn. As adults, both women left Sweden, and by the year 2000, Ursula was living in the U.S.
Sabina lived in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, with her partner and their two children. In 2008, Ursula traveled from the U.S. to Ireland to visit her twin. On May 16th, 2008, the two women traveled together, by ferry, to Liverpool, England. They didn’t tell anyone in their family where they were headed or why.
Concerned About Her Children’s Safety
After arriving in Liverpool, the following evening, the Eriksson sisters went to the St. Anne Street Police Station to report concerns about the safety of Sabina’s children back in Ireland. Sabina had apparently fought with her spouse the night before leaving for England and was worried about her kids.
The Liverpool Police didn’t understand why Sabina had traveled to England to report her suspicions but nevertheless contacted the Irish authorities to check on the children. After being reassured that her children were alright, Sabina and Ursula left Liverpool and boarded a bus to London.
Erratic Behavior on the Bus
According to the driver and some of the other passengers, while on the bus to London, the twins started acting in a very odd way. So, the twins got off the bus at the Keele service station. The women claimed they weren’t feeling well and asked to leave the bus.
However, the bus driver later disputed this, reporting that the women were acting erratically, and he’d become increasingly suspicious of them throughout the journey. He, therefore, made an unscheduled stop and asked to check their bags. The twins refused and were left at the service station.
Suspicious Behavior at the Service Station
When Sabina and Ursula entered the service station, they headed straight to the back and continued to grip their bags suspiciously and act erratically. Their actions worried the service station manager, who called the police. The cops arrived and spoke to the sisters, who seemed unthreatening.
The twins were quickly let go by the police, and they left the station and began walking along the M6, one of England’s busiest highways. The women were viewed on closed-circuit cameras (CCTV), walking on the motorway’s median, which in itself was odd.
Running Into Traffic
Then, live on CCTV, the twins ran out into oncoming traffic and were both hit by cars. Numerous drivers called the police and the highway patrol, who quickly drove over, convinced they were arriving on the scene of a fatal traffic accident.
The Central Motorway Police Group arrived with camera people in tow from the reality TV show, Traffic Cops, who were filming them that day. Highway Agency officers also drove up. They all found the two women with slight injuries standing calmly on the side of the highway.
Smoking on the Shoulder
The motorway police and highway patrol spoke to Sabina and Ursula on the shoulder while traffic continued as usual. The women seemed alright and smoked cigarettes while chatting with the officers. But then, suddenly, Ursula ran into the traffic again and was run over by a 40-ton truck.
Meanwhile, her sister Sabina also jumped onto the highway as the officers looked on in shock. A Volkswagen driving by at high speed hit Sabina. She flew into the air after hitting the windshield and landed on the road, losing consciousness.
Caught on Camera
The entire incident was caught on camera by the crew filming Traffic Cops. Ursula’s legs were crushed by the truck, yet she was still conscious and screamed for help and for police, though they were already helping her.
Ursula yelled that they weren’t real police and spit and clawed at them, despite being fatally injured. Sabina woke up after just fifteen minutes of being unconscious, and to the surprise of the officers caring for her, she stood up and struggled against them, yelling, “Why do you kill me?”
Sabina’s Superhuman Strength
Sabina punched a female officer in the face. She broke free of their hold before jumping over the median rail and running yet again into oncoming traffic on the other side of the motorway.
While doing so, she screamed to Ursula that the cops were only pretending to help them and were actually trying to steal their organs. Sabina seemed to have superhuman strength, and it took six people, police and motorists, to finally subdue her. She was then sedated by the paramedics who had arrived on the scene.
Flirty and Friendly
Sabina and Ursula were then taken to the nearest hospital for care and evaluation. Ursula was quickly rushed into surgery while the ER doctors checked Sabina. Sabina seemed calm and agreeable to their surprise, joking with the hospital staff and even acting flirty and friendly.
Her attitude was the exact opposite of how she had been on the highway, running into traffic and attacking cops. Ursula’s toxicology report results showed she had no alcohol or drugs in her system, but Sabina never got tested.
A Few Broken Cellphones
When police went through the debris of the incident on the highway, all they found was a few broken cell phones. Likewise, the purses both women had gripped so protectively and refused to let the bus driver check contained nothing suspicious.
All they had in their bags was one passport, some cell phones, a laptop, and £1,000 in cash. Why had Sabina and Ursula been so secretive about the contents of their bags? And what had possessed them to jump into oncoming traffic and attack the police?
One Accident Rarely Comes Alone
After being evaluated in the hospital, Sabina was taken to the police station. While being processed, she continued to be flirty and calm and said to a police officer, “we say in Sweden that an accident rarely comes alone. Usually, at least one more follows—maybe two.”
Sabina Eriksson was taken to court, where she pleaded guilty to punching a police officer and trespassing on the highway. She was sentenced to 24 hours in custody and spent the night in jail. The next day she was released from custody.
Free to Go
Sabina was left to her own devices without having gone through a complete psychiatric evaluation. Several professionals had spoken to Sabina, but without thoroughly evaluating her, deemed the twin healthy and claimed that she didn’t exhibit signs of mental or psychological illness.
During her questioning, Sabrina never gave any reason for being in England or for jumping into traffic. Yet, somehow, she was told she was free to go and was given her possessions in a plastic bag, despite being a danger to herself and others only a day earlier.
Nowhere to Go
With nowhere to stay, Sabina was stranded in the English city Stoke on Trent. She was wearing Ursula’s green top and wandering the streets looking for a hotel or something. At that point, two men named Glenn Hollingshead and Peter Molloy spotted her as they walked home from the pub.
Sabina asked if she could pet Glenn’s dog, and they got to talking. She asked Glenn and Peter if there were any bed and breakfasts or hotels nearby. They reluctantly told Sabina there were not.
The Help of a Good Samaritan
Sabina told the two men that she was looking for her sister, whom she believed was at a hospital nearby. Glenn, a good Samaritan, took pity on Sabina and offered to host her for the night and said he would help her call the closest hospitals and locate her sister.
Peter accompanied Glenn and Sabina at first. But he left because she was acting extremely odd, and he became worried. Sabina was paranoid and kept standing up suddenly and peaking through the curtains, staring up and down the street.
Paranoia and Poisoned Cigarettes
Peter recalled that she kept offering them cigarettes before snatching them from their mouths as they lit them. She said they were probably poisoned but kept smoking them herself. She seemed sure someone was following her and was acting very shifty and paranoid.
Peter claimed that Sabina didn’t seem to be in any pain from her injuries. He was uncomfortable and worried by her behavior, but his friend reassured him that everything was fine, and she was just a woman in need. That was the last time Peter saw his best friend.
Sleeping Over at Glenn’s
Sabina slept over at Glenn’s house, and in the morning, he upheld his promise to try and find her sister. Glenn even asked his brother for help, and they both made phone calls to nearby hospitals to track down Ursula. Meanwhile, Sabina seemed grateful and calm.
At 7:40 that evening, Glenn made supper for himself and Sabina and stepped outside to borrow some teabags from his neighbor, Frank Booth. Frank was washing his car and promised to drop by in a few minutes when he finished with the tea.
Look After My Dog
Moments later, before Frank even finished washing his car, Glenn staggered back outside covered in blood. He said, “she stabbed me,” and fell. Glenn was bleeding profusely from four stab wounds and, just before he died, said to Frank, “Look after my dog for me.”
When Frank recovered from his shock, he called the police, but it was too late. By the time they arrived at the scene, Glenn was dead, and his murderer had fled. Soon, Sabina was spotted walking down a nearby highway.
Hitting Herself With a Hammer
Sabina was walking down the side of the road while repeatedly hitting herself over the head with a hammer. A man named Joshua Grattage, who was driving by, saw her and stopped to try and help. Josh attempted to wrestle the hammer from her hands to prevent her from further injuring herself.
However, Sabina fought against Josh and then hit him over the head with a roof tile before fleeing again. Injured, Josh called the police, who gave chase and followed Sabina as she ran down the road.
Jumping Off a Bridge
Sabina ran towards a bridge and proceeded to jump off, down over 30 feet onto the A50 highway. She fractured her skull and broke both ankles but miraculously stayed alive. Sabina was yet again rushed to the nearest hospital, where she was treated for her injuries.
Her recovery took months, but meanwhile, on June 9th, 2008, while at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, she was arrested for the murder of Glenn Hollingshead. On September 11th, the hospital discharged Sabina in a wheelchair, and she was released into police custody.
The Postponed Trial
Sabina Eriksson’s trial date was set for February 2009, but it was postponed due to obtaining her medical records from Sweden. In the end, Sabina’s trial began on September 1st, 2009, one year after she was released from the hospital.
Her medical records showed no history of mental illness, psychosis, or criminal activity. Sabina was assessed during her trial by two court-appointed forensic psychiatrists. The lawyer defending Sabina claimed that she had suffered from folie à deux and was a secondary sufferer, having been transmitted delusions from Ursula.
No Comment on Anything
When questioned during her trial, Sabina gave the same answer to every inquiry: “no comment.” Sabina never shared why she and her twin came to England, why they had walked into traffic on the M6, or by she stabbed Glenn Hollingshead.
Sabina never mentioned Ursula or blamed her for her psychosis. She never publicly uttered a word on the matter, not during her trial or throughout her incarceration. It is unclear whether Sabina even remembers what happened or if she blacked it out altogether.
A Five-Year Sentence
On September 2nd, 2009, Sabina Eriksson pleaded guilty to manslaughter with diminished responsibility. She was sentenced to five years at Bronzefield Women’s Prison. The video from the highway, filmed by the Traffic Cops crew, was never shown in court.
The court accepted the claim that Sabina had been legally insane when she killed Glenn Hollingshead but had recovered by the time of her trial. The Nottingham Crown Court prosecution accepted the claim that Sabina was a secondary sufferer of SDD, which she had received from her twin.
What Went Wrong?
On December 6th, 2012, anonymous footage uploaded to the internet changed how the case was examined. In the original footage shot by the crew of Traffic Cops, two police officers are chatting on the highway shoulder following the Eriksson twins run into traffic.
The officers are recorded saying that the twins should be “given a 136.” A 136 is a clause from the Mental Health Act, which means that police may hold a person due to their mental health and must have the detainee evaluated.
Madness of Two
However, the Eriksson twins weren’t held in custody or adequately assessed and evaluated by psychiatric officials. Indeed, if they had been, the two would have been diagnosed with SDD or “Madness of Two” and admitted into a mental health ward, where they would be treated for psychosis.
If the proper procedure had been followed, Sabina would never have haplessly wandered the streets of Stoke on Trent. If she had been evaluated adequately and treated for her symptoms, Sabina would never have met Glenn, who, in turn, would still be alive.
Back in America
Ursula was released from the hospital around the same time as Sabina, having recovered from her extensive injuries. Ursula had been injured too severely to be able to become as violent as Sabina. She was never charged with any crime, despite being considered the dominant transmitter of delusions in the SDD of the twins.
She was released to her family’s care in Sweden before moving back to America, where she became a devout Christian. Ursula now lives in Belle Vue, Washington, and is a member of the Sacred Heart Church.
Her Whereabouts Are Unknown
By the time she was sentenced, Sabina had already spent 439 days in police custody because of her trial’s delays. Therefore, she was released in 2011 instead of 2012 because she had already served over a year of her time.
While in prison, Sabina turned to Christianity. After her release, Sabina supposedly returned to Sweden, but nowadays, her whereabouts are unknown. Since the incident, the footage aired on an episode on Traffic Cops and in a BBC documentary called Madness in the Fastlane.
What Will Happen if They Meet Again
Their brother, Björn Eriksson, reportedly claimed that his sisters crossed the M6 highway because they were running from maniacs who were trying to kill them. Is it possible that he was also experiencing delusions, making their syndrome folie à famille rather than folie à deux?
Both Ursula and Sabina Eriksson seem to have recovered from their temporary psychosis, but no one knows what will happen if the twins are reunited. A police officer who witnessed their madness admitted his fear that they may relapse and become dangerous again if reunited.
Telepathic Twin Feelings
Identical twins, like the Eriksson sisters, share so much, from similar DNA to identical looks, close personality traits, and similar IQs. Some twins even develop secret languages in their early childhood, spoken only by them. Many twins have claimed to experience telepathy about their twin.
For instance, when one twin is in danger or suffering, the other twin feels unease and worry, sensing that something is wrong. Other twins have claimed to share dreams. If that is possible, twins sharing delusions and hallucinations seem probable as well.
Shared Delusional Disorder
The bizarre case of the Eriksson twins isn’t the only known case of shared delusional disorder. Many other people have been diagnosed with the syndrome after claiming to experience shared delusions. One such occurrence was the case of the Tromp family.
In August 2016, Mark and Jacoba Tromp and their three adult children, Mitchell, Ella, and Riana, set out from their home in Silvan, Australia, on a road trip. They left all their cellphones, credit cards, and passports behind and told no one where they were going or why.
The Tromp Family Road Trip
The Tromp parents drove almost one thousand miles across Australia while experiencing shared delusions. After someone alerted the police to the disappearance of the Tromp family from their berry farm, the authorities searched their home. They found that it was abandoned and open with all their possessions left behind.
Mitchell, aware that his parents were acting delusional, secretly brought along his cellphone, but his family forced him to throw it out the window when they found out. They were scared they’d be tracked if he kept it.
Parents Reported Missing
Mitchell was the first to realize that his parents’ behavior was unhinged, so he bailed on the road trip and took a train home. Soon afterward, his sisters ran away from their parents and stole a car to get back to civilization.
They then called the police and reported their parents missing, explaining to the authorities that Mark and Jacoba were acting erratically. Riana later climbed in the back of a utility vehicle and was discovered by the driver in a catatonic state, unsure of who or where she was.
Close-Knit Family Ties
When Mark and Jacoba were found, an investigation ensued about whether their paranoia and fear had any basis in reality. When it was clear that there was no real threat, they were diagnosed with Shared Delusional Disorder, attributed to their close-knit family ties.
It has been suggested that Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, of Leopold and Loeb, also experienced SDD, which caused them to commit their heinous crimes. In 1924, Leopold and Loeb, two students at the University of Chicago, kidnapped and murdered a fourteen-year-old boy.
Leopold and Loeb
At the time, Leopold and Loeb’s case was considered the crime of the century. The common belief was that they wanted to prove their intellectual dominance by carrying out the perfect crime. However, they were apprehended and charged with murder.
During their trial, one witness testified that the two murderers committed their crime because of shared delusions they experienced. It is rumored that Leopold and Loeb were in a romantic relationship, explaining how they were close enough to transmit folie à deux to each other.
Christine and Léa Papin
Another case of possible SDD leading to murder is the tale of Christine and Léa Papin, two French sisters. On February 2nd, 1933, in Le Mans, France, the Papin sisters were convicted for the murder of their employer’s wife and daughter.
The sisters pleaded self-defense. But due to several erratic episodes displayed during their trial, the defense pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He claimed that the girls suffered from Shared Paranoid Disorder. The court accepted this claim, although they were still deemed guilty of their crimes.
Folie à Deux in Pop Culture
Because it is such a strange phenomenon, folie à deux also appears often in fiction and pop culture. The film Bug from 2006 depicts a couple afflicted with the condition who experience delusions that insects are living beneath their skin.
Likewise, in the fifth season of the TV show The X-Files, there is an episode in which a man experiences delusions about his boss, which he then transmits to the detective investigating his case. Other shows which depict Shared Delusional Disorder are Chance, Criminal Minds, CSI: Miami, and many more.