Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. may have been his birth name, but Grady, Jr. was more frequently referred to as “Lobster Boy.” Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. was born on June 26, 1937, in Pittsburgh, Pa., with the genetic deformity ectrodactyly. Ectrodactyly is an inherited condition that can affect the fingers and the toes. Individuals with this condition are born with fingers and toes that are fused together, causing these extremities to resemble a claw. Grady, Jr.’s father also had ectrodactyly and he earned a living as a sideshow attraction with the carnival. Once Grady, Jr. reached the tender age of seven, he was thrust into the limelight to perform with his father: He was given the stage name, “Lobster Boy.”
Ectrodactyly/Lobster Claw Syndrome is a Congenital Deformity
Babies who are born with this rare, hereditary deformity are born without a middle digit. Furthermore, the baby’s hand is cleft at the point where the metacarpal of the missing finger should be. The majority of the time, ectrodactyly affects both the hands and the feet. Although this condition is genetic, it is not uncommon for ectrodactyly to skip a generation.
The Life and Times of Lobster Boy
Grady, Jr. married twice and fathered four children, two of which were born with ectrodactyly. Lobster Boy and his children with ectrodactyly (Grady III, and his half-sister, Cathy) traveled with the Carnival under their stage-name, “The Lobster Family.”
As the years went by, Lobster Boy aged into a bald man. For nearly 50 years, Grady, Jr. traveled with the carnival circuit, lifting himself onto a cushioned platform proclaiming, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I am the Lobster Boy.” He continued, stating that, “This condition is not caused by drugs or diseases. It runs in the family.” He seemed unfazed by the never-ending hisses and stares he received from the public.
Gibsonton, Florida (Showtown, USA) Hometown of The Lobster Family
The family’s permanent residence was in Gibsonton, Fla., which is where many of the other carnival performers resided during the winter months while the carnival was in hiatus. Grady, Jr.’s condition was so severe that his feet were unusable and he had to use his arms as a means to get around, which allowed him to develop an unbelievable amount of strength in his upper body. This incredible upper-body strength may have served him well in his daily life; however, it became a detriment to his wives and to his children.
Lobster Boy had a Dark Side
Grady, Jr. used alcohol as a means to deal with his disorder. Unfortunately, when Lobster Boy drank, he was an extremely mean, highly-abusive drunk. His children state that he was a horrible man and would use his lobster-like hands to choke people. In fact, he frequently verbally and physically abused his family, using his excessive upper body strength to beat his children as well as his wives. It is said that his daughter Donna was frequently the target of his vicious attacks.
The Murder of Jack Layne
Lobster Boy’s oldest daughter, Donna, was not afflicted with Lobster Claw Syndrome. In 1978, Donna was about to begin her life with her fiancé, Jack Layne. For some reason, Grady, Jr. did not approve of the man that Donna fell in love with and, on the eve of their wedding, Lobster Boy grabbed a shotgun and killed him.
The Trial of Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr.
Needless to say, following Layne’s murder and Lobster Boy’s confession, a media frenzy ensued. After his confession, Lobster Boy was charged with third-degree murder. Furthermore, he showed no remorse whatsoever for killing his future son-in-law, Jack Layne.
No Time in Jail – Lobster Boy Literally “Gets Away with Murder”
Besides having Lobster Claw Syndrome, Grady, Jr. was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and severe emphysema. Although found guilty of murder, due to his multiple health conditions, there were no state correctional institutions equipped to handle him. Therefore, incarcerating him would be considered ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. Consequently, despite his third-degree murder conviction, Lobster Boy spent no time in jail: Instead he received 15-years probation.
Grady, Jr. Decides to Sober Up
Following this event, Lobster Boy decided to stop drinking alcohol. He remarried his first wife, Mary Theresa (aka Mary Teresa or Maria), who left her current husband, Harry Glenn Newman (the world’s smallest man) to return to her previous life with Lobster Boy: This, in spite of the fact that she knew he had murdered their daughter’s fiancé in cold blood. When explaining her decision to rekindle her relationship with Grady, Jr. to their daughter Donna, Mary Theresa exclaimed that “she still loved her father.”
A Bump on the Road to Sobriety – Leads to Grady, Jr. Falling Off of the Wagon
Unfortunately, it was not long before Lobster Boy fell off of the wagon and started drinking heavily once again. The reality of getting away with murder reared its ugly head and he began to feel invincible. One of the lines he frequently spewed at his family was, “I killed before and got away with it, I can do it again.” Needless to say, it was not long before Mary Theresa regretted her decision to remarry Grady, Jr.
The Murder of Lobster Boy
Eventually, Grady, Jr.’s family could take no more: They hired an assassin so as to rid themselves of this thorn in their sides, once and for all. On Nov. 29, 1992, Mary Theresa headed out to visit relatives who resided nearby. As Lobster Boy sat watching television in their mobile home, he hollered to his wife, “Hurry back!” While he sat there in his underwear, drinking a cold glass of iced tea, the assassin slowly crept out of the back room. Once in range, he pulled the trigger on the Colt .32-caliber automatic handgun, plunging three .32-caliber bullets into the brain of the infamous Lobster Boy.
There are some inconsistencies related to how many times Lobster Boy was shot, some say twice; whereas, others say three times. According to photos of the crime scene, if they are legitimate, he was shot three times.
In death, Lobster Boy’s reviews are mixed: Some who reside within the carnival community do state that he was an ill-tempered man who drank and smoked heavily; whereas, others proclaim that he was a shrewd businessman, as Lobster Boy may have started his carnival career appearing in sideshows, in the end, he went on to own them. These people believe that Mary Theresa should have just walked away.
The Burial of Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr.
It is said that Grady, Jr. was so disliked in Showtown, USA, that the family could not find anyone who was willing to serve as his pallbearer. On the day of the funeral, a bouquet of flowers rested atop Lobster Boy’s coffin with a banner that read, “From your loving wife.” Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. was laid to rest in the Showmen’s Section of Sunset Memory Gardens in Thonotosassa, Fla., alongside his parents.
Chris Wyant was one of the Stiles’ family neighbors as well as a fellow sideshow performer. At the time of the murder, Wyant was 17-years-old and, although there is some confusion as to what actually transpired on the night Grady, Jr. was murdered, the consensus of the court was that Mary Theresa and her son Harry, Jr. (from her marriage to the world’s smallest man, Harry Glenn Newton, Sr.), decided to pay Wyant $1,500 to kill Lobster Boy. However, some members of the Stiles family claim that there was a misunderstanding between Mary Theresa, Harry, Jr. and Chris Wyant: According to the family, Mary Theresa only wanted Wyant to frighten or beat Grady, Jr., not actually kill him.
The Sentencing of Chris Wyant
Chris Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Wyant entered prison on March 9, 1994 and was released from prison on Aug. 21, 2009.
Dennis John Cowell was an 18-year-old acquaintance of Chris Wyant. Cowell assisted Wyant in purchasing the gun that was used to kill Lobster Boy. Cowell also helped Wyant bury the gun following the murder. Cowell plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact. He received a sentence of 3.5 years in prison. Cowell entered prison on June 2, 1994 and was released on Nov. 1, 1995.
The Trial of Mary Theresa Stiles
Mary Theresa told the jury that she felt she had no other alternative than to have him killed. At her sentencing, with tears streaming down her face, Mary Theresa told the judge that she whole-heartedly believed her husband was going to kill her entire family. She continued, stating that, she was sorry this had happened, but her family was safe now. Mary Theresa told the jury that her situation was a case of kill or be killed. She believed that the only way to end the drunken beatings and threats was to protect herself, her daughter (Cathy) and her stepson (Grady III), by having Grady, Jr. killed.
The Last Straw
Mary Theresa testified that one night Lobster Boy woke her up holding a butcher knife against her throat. She states that she could smell the whiskey on his breath. Holding the knife to her throat, he proclaimed that one of these days he was going to kill her and her family: Mary Theresa exclaims that this particular incident was the last straw.
The Prosecutors Chime-in
Prosecutors argued that it had taken several weeks to plan the murder of Lobster Boy; therefore, it was obvious that imminent danger was not of huge concern. Therefore, prosecutors stated that Mary Theresa had options (other than murder) if she wanted to be free of Grady, Jr.’s abuse.
Grady Stiles III Defends His Stepmother
Mary Theresa’s stepson, Grady Stiles III, disputes the claim that his stepmother had his father killed. According to Grady Stiles III, his stepmother and his father were arguing when Mary Theresa made a comment stating that “something needed to be done,” when Harry, Jr. overheard this comment, he went to the neighbor (Chris Wyant) and repeated it: Wyant shot and killed Grady, Jr. shortly thereafter.
Mary Theresa Stiles Convicted of Manslaughter
At the age of 56, Mary Theresa Stiles was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mary Theresa could not understand why the jurors in her murder trial did not believe her when she spoke of the beatings and verbal abuse that she, and the children suffered at the hands of a drunken Grady, Jr.
Mary Theresa Stiles was taken into custody on Feb. 20, 1997 and was released from custody on Dec. 4, 2000.
Harry Glenn Newton, Jr. was Considered the ‘Mastermind’
Harry, Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence, without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Harry Glenn Newton, Jr. entered prison on Nov. 10, 1994 and remained incarcerated until his death on March 5, 2014.
Seeking the Truth
The Man Known as Lobster Boy – According to the Residents of Showtown, USA
Mary Theresa received little sympathy from those in the close-knit community of Showtown, USA. Many of the residents respected Lobster Boy and recalled how he would lend money to people who were down on their luck. Residents did admit that he was frequently disagreeable and drank often (usually in excess). Even so, the majority of the carnies agreed with prosecutors, calling Lobster Boy’s slaying a “murder of convenience.”
One former sideshow barker, Wayne Murray, stated that Mary Theresa Stiles went about the killing in the wrong way. Murray says that Mary Theresa would have stood a better chance if she had killed Grady, Jr. herself because people can relate to that.
According to His Family, Lobster Boy was an Abusive, Evil Man
Maybe the final verdict as to the character of Lobster Boy lies with his children. Two of his children, Grady Stiles III and Cathy Stiles-Berry have nothing nice to say about their late father. In fact, Cathy has referred to her father as ‘Satan himself’ stating that she and her brother were not permitted to venture out onto the Midway unless they hid their hands with large, leather gloves: He did not want the carnival goers to get a free peek at their condition.
Cathy says that when she was seven months pregnant, her intoxicated father knocked her out of her wheelchair as she attempted to stop him from hitting her mother. The following morning, after being rushed to the hospital with complications related to her pregnancy, Cathy had an emergency C-section. Although this incident led to her daughter Misty being born premature, she survived. Misty is also afflicted with ectrodactyly.
Grady Stiles III and Cathy Stiles-Berry – Life Goes On
Since their father’s murder, Cathy and Grady III, for the most part, have been estranged and continually struggle to cope with the difficulties bestowed upon them by their father.
Grady III, tries to have a positive outlook on the events that occurred and states that although he disapproved of his father’s actions, he would like to thank his father for showing him how he should not be. Grady III, has a daughter (Sara), who has not inherited ectrodactyly.
Cathy is married and has taken up acting, appearing in the Tim Burton film, “Big Fish” and the television series “Carnivale.” On occasion, Cathy, Misty and Grady III, return to the carnival scene as “The Lobster Family.”
It seems that from the time he was born, the destiny of Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. was set in stone. He would live out his life traveling with the carnival, putting himself on display. Once he became a father, his children with ectrodactyly would join him in the ‘family business.’
While Grady, Jr. acted as if the taunting remarks and horrified looks from carnival goers did not bother him, the fact that his best friend was a bottle of Seagram’s 7 tells another tale. Unfortunately, he took his anger out on those who loved him, which led to his untimely death.
After examining his life, when I think of Grady, Jr., I am reminded of a scene from the movie “Tombstone:”
⦁ Wyatt Earp to Doc Holliday: “What makes a man like Ringo, Doc, what makes him do the things he does?”
⦁ Doc Holliday replies: “A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of him, he can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.”
⦁ Wyatt Earp asks: “What does he need?”
⦁ Doc Holliday replies: “Revenge.”
⦁ Wyatt Earp asks: “For what?”
⦁ Doc Holliday replies: “Bein’ born.”
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