Born into a family with a long history of ectrodactyly – which is a deformity where the fingers and toes are fused together to produce a claw-like or flipper-like appearance - Grady Stiles was a freak-show performer known as “Lobster Boy.” He was born in 1937 and died at the age of 55 – from a bullet to the back of his head.
His life was filled with tragedy, abuse and alcoholism, all the while featured in many carnivals, along with his family, which included his children – two of whom inherited his physical affliction. Murder and mayhem played center stage – finally overshadowing his dismal and dubious celebrity.
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Lobster Boy - An Inauspicious Beginning
Since 1805, when Grady’s ancestor William Stiles was born with the same affliction, the family continued to pass down the lobster claw condition from generation to generation. Known to sometimes skip a generation, Grady’s father was also afflicted and performed in a traveling carnival as a sideshow attraction.
After Grady was born, his father brought him into the act as a young boy at age 7. With the condition affecting both his hands and feet, (his feet looked more like flippers than claws) he soon became a popular attraction. Grady enjoyed circus life and learned how to write his name and shoot a gun.
Not being able to walk, Grady used a wheelchair and would crawl around – soon developing a strong upper body and arms. When he grew up he married another employee of the carnival – Mary Herzog – but she wasn’t a carnival act until later when she became the Electrified Girl.
Even though Mary had no physical impairments, she was a survivor of incest and was previously married to a carnival worker who had been abusive towards her. Grady and Mary (also known as Teresa) lived together for 9 years before getting married. They had 2 children together – Donna and Cathy.
Cathy was born with the same deformity but Donna was not. Grady included them in his circus act and they all toured together as The Lobster Family. When it was off-season, they resided in Gibsonton, Florida – known as Showtown USA – which was a strange hub for circus performers during winter.
Grady was known for his bad temper and his drinking made it worse. He beat up his wife and children – with particular focus on Donna. After many beatings, he threw Mary and the children out. Mary turned to another circus performer – Harry Glenn Newman – who was known as the World’s Smallest Man.
They married and had a son together who was given the same name as his father, although he was mentally impaired. Grady eventually filed for divorce and won custody of the children, due to Mary not attending court. Then Grady married Barbara Browning, who produced another child with the lobster syndrome – Grady III.
The First Murder
For some unknown reason, Grady did not approve of his daughter Donna’s fiancé. On the night before the wedding, he took a shotgun and murdered him in cold blood. It was 1978 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and he was taken to trial, where he openly admitted his guilt and was convicted of 3rd degree murder.
Grady’s character witnesses included his friends from the circus, including the Bearded Lady, a carnival dwarf and the Fat Man.
Seeing as there were no State institutions equipped to deal with his physical impairment – which was exacerbated by emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver - he was given 15 years probation. There was a media circus during the trial and Grady showed no remorse for his actions.
It was later revealed that Donna wanted to get married as she had fallen pregnant, which turned out to be a lie. Apparently Grady asked her fiancé to come over for a talk, before shooting him. Donna advised that Grady smiled as she held her dying fiancé in her arms. Grady said to her, “I told you I would kill him.”
Donna never spoke to her father again, but soon after the trial, Grady remarried Mary, who left her husband. It didn’t take long for Grady to return to his old ways, even though he promised Mary that he was a changed man. He began to drink heavily again and he often boasted that he got away with murder.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Grady continued to beat up and terrorize his family. Now Cathy was the focus of his rage and one time he punched her in the jaw so hard it swelled for days. He would lie in bed talking about how he was going to kill the whole family and often choked Mary and woke her up with a knife at her throat.
It goes without saying that she’d had enough. It was 1992 when Mary and her son Harry Glenn Newman Jr. approached a classmate with gang ties – 17 year old Chris Wyant – offering him $1500 to kill Grady, who was 55 years of age at the time. He was shot in the back of the head as he sat in his underwear in his trailer.
Mary’s son – known as Glen – had an I.Q. of 79 and when questioned by police, he broke down after failing a lie detector test, spilling the beans. Wyant was sentenced to 27 years in prison after being convicted of 2nd degree murder. Glen – ironically – was named the mastermind.
He was sentenced to life in prison, while his mother was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Grady’s son – Grady Stiles III – told the authorities that after an argument between Grady and Mary, she had mentioned that something needed to be done.
Her son Glen (Harry Glenn Newman) had apparently overheard her statement and told Wyant, who shot Grady soon after. Maria stated in her defense that, “My husband was going to kill my family. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry this happened, but my family is safe now”.
After all that, due being so loathed in the community, no one offered to serve as pallbearer for Grady at his funeral. Even his simple headstone bears no epitaph. The only marking is an engraving of clasped hands – along with his name.
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