Since the late nineteenth century, an odd physical condition known as ectrodactyly has afflicted the Stiles family from generation to generation. The rare congenital deformity caused their hands to look like lobster claws as the middle fingers are either missing or seemingly fused to the thumb and pinky.
While many thought them to be victims of fate, for being handicapped, for the Stiles family it spelled opportunity. As far back as the 1800s, as the family grew and produced more children with unusual hands and feet, they developed a circus with freak shows: The Lobster Family, which became a carnival staple throughout the early twentieth century.
Ectrodactyly – the medical condition that affected the lobster family
Ectrodactyly, or also knows as the split hand or cleft hand, derived from the Greek words “ektroma-daktylos” which literally mean “abortion-finger.” This deformity is a rare genetic condition, in which the fingers and toes are fused together to form claw-like extremities. It involves the deficiency or absence of one or more central digits of the hand or foot and is also known as split hand and split foot malformation (SHFM).
Grady Stiles – the Lobster Boy
Grady Franklin Stiles Jr. shortened in Grady Stiles was born on June 26, 1937, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who was perfectly fitted in their family circus for the strange deformity and later worked as an American freak show performer. Though most members in the Stiles family had this rare deformity, Grady Stiles is widely known as the “Lobster Boy,” perhaps for his notoriety as a murderer and a murder victim as well.
Family history of the Lobster Boy
The Stiles family had a long history of ectrodactyly, according to his father dating back to 1840. Stiles was the fourth in a line born to Grady F. Stiles Sr. and wife Edna that began with the birth of William Stiles in 1805. Grady Stiles’ father was a sideshow attraction in a travelling carnival when his son was born and added his son to the act at the age of seven. Stiles married twice and had four children, two of whom also had ectrodactyly. Stiles and his two children toured together as The Lobster Family. When not travelling with the carnival the Stiles family lived in Gibsonton, Florida where many other carnival performers lived during the winter season.
A murderer turned into a murder victim
Stiles was an alcoholic and was abusive to his family. Due to his ectrodactyly, he was unable to walk. While he often used a wheelchair, he most commonly used his hands and arms for locomotion. He developed substantial upper body strength that, when combined with his bad temper and alcoholism, made him dangerous to others.
In 1978 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Stiles shot and killed his oldest daughter’s fiance on the eve of their wedding. He was brought to trial, where he openly confessed to killing the man and was convicted of third-degree murder.
Grady was not sent to prison as no state institution was equipped to care for an inmate with ectrodactyly. Stiles was instead sentenced to house arrest and fifteen years’ probation. Stiles stopped drinking thereafter, and during this period remarried his first wife, Mary Teresa.
However, he soon began drinking again and his family claimed that he became even more abusive. In 1992, Teresa and her son from a previous marriage, Harry Glenn Newman Jr., hired a seventeen-year-old sideshow performer named Chris Wyant to kill Grady for $1500. Chris really killed him on November 29, 1992, in Gibsonton, Hillsborough County, Florida, United States.
Chris was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Harry Newman was given life in prison for his role as the mastermind and Teresa was given 43 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder. Teresa said she had to do it to save her family and to protect them.
Stiles’ son, Grady Stiles III, disputes the claim that Teresa had him murdered. According to him, his stepmother, Teresa, and father were arguing. Teresa had said, “Something needs to be done.” Teresa’s son overheard this, and went to a neighbour and repeated it.
Shortly after, as Stiles smoked while watching TV on the sofa, the neighbour entered his home with a semi-automatic pistol and shot him 3 times in the head, killing him. He was hated by the local community so much that only 10 people came to his funeral, and absolutely nobody volunteered as a pallbearer to carry his coffin.
The burial site of Grady Stiles – the Lobster Boy
It has been in dispute, but all indications point to the lobster boy being buried in Showman Rest Cemetery in Tampa, Florida, while others claim he was buried in the Sunset Memory Gardens, Thonotosassa, Hillsborough Country, Florida.