Ventura County jailers were taken aback in July when they discovered that a man serving a six-month sentence for an Oxnard spousal-abuse case was not the batterer--but his identical twin brother.
It turns out not to be the first time that the two brothers have made such a switch.
Donald Anderson, 43, now says he has done jail time three other times for twin brother Ronald Anderson. And more than 20 years ago, Donald says, he even took his brother's place in the U.S. Army so his brother could enjoy life as a civilian.
While identical twins often amuse themselves by trading places in social situations, one expert on twins called the story of the Anderson brothers unprecedented, saying he has never heard an account of a set of twins actually carrying an identity swap behind bars or into uniform.
In 1970, Donald Anderson went to Korea in place of his brother, he said. No one was ever the wiser to any of the schemes the twins have pulled off in the past three decades, according to Donald--until last July when Ventura County authorities finally discovered they had the wrong twin serving the six-month jail term.
And now, the questions for the twins are plentiful.
Why would anyone serve someone else's jail terms, let alone military duty? How could one twin even allow the other one to do such a favor? And how did the twins get away with their deeds for so long?
"The judge asked me why I did this, and I said my twin needed help," Donald Anderson told The Times. "Not only am I talking about this now, but I am doing all the things I do because I love him."
The twins have nine other brothers and sisters, but their father, William Anderson, 76, said his two identical sons have the closest relationship in the family.
The father, who lives in a senior citizens facility in Oxnard, also said the twins' willingness to help each other has not always been a two-way street.
Donald--who has had troubles with the law himself over the years--typically ends up bailing Ronald out of difficult situations, he said.
"I know he has always looked out for him," the father said of Donald, "and he still does."
It appears, though, that Donald Anderson won't be able to bail Ronald out of his most recent predicament.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles W. Campbell sentenced Ronald to 14 years in state prison Wednesday in connection with the case that first exposed the twins' jail switch.
The case originated on July 19, when police said Ronald jumped from behind a gate near the Stern Lane home of his estranged wife, Brenda, and choked the woman into unconsciousness.
Police caught Ronald shortly after the attack, but were bewildered. Ronald Anderson, they thought, was already in the county jail serving a six-month sentence for an earlier assault on his wife.
How could he be in two places at once? Easy, a friend of the Andersons told officers. His twin brother had turned himself in at the Port Hueneme police station four days earlier under Ronald's name.
When his brother surrendered, jail officials had fingerprinted Donald Anderson, but did not believe they had any reason to run a check on the prints, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox.
Authorities released Donald Anderson from jail, but charged Ronald with attempted murder, spousal battery and robbery because he took his wife's purse after choking her.
A jury convicted the man on each of the counts, and Superior Court Judge Charles W. Campbell on Wednesday sentenced him to the maximum prison sentence: 14 years.
In two separate interviews after the sentencing, Donald Anderson lamented his twin's fate and expressed a desire to serve the 14 years for him if he could.
Jail officials would not allow Ronald to be interviewed.
Donald Anderson said he has served three other jail terms for his twin and spent six months in three different cities in Korea for him in 1970.
An expert on twin relationships said it is not unusual for identical twins to pull off switches. But Niels Waller, director of the California Twins Registry at UC Davis, said the Anderson case appears to be extreme.
"I've heard many, many stories of twins switching classes in high school and switching girlfriends and boyfriends," said Waller, who is trying to track down every set of twins in the state for his most recent project. "But never switching for jail."
Some experts consider the kinship between twins to be the closest relationship humans can have, Waller said.
"When one dies, the grief that is experienced by a co-twin is more profound than the grief that twin experiences with the loss of a spouse or child," he said.
The Anderson twins have lived in Ventura County since about 1979, according to court records. Ronald Anderson was the first to come to the county when he landed a job as a jet mechanic at the Point Mugu naval station.
The twins and the other nine Anderson children were born and raised in inner-city Philadelphia. Their mother, Mary, was a homemaker and father William was a self-employed mover and hauler.