The only thing stranger than circus sideshow Grady Stiles Jr. a.k.a Lobster Boy is the story behind his sordid life and death. Stiles had a deformity that caused his hands to look like lobster claws, and for half a century he traveled with the circus. Stiles recruited his sons and daughters, who had the same genetic deformity, to the circus and was known for being an abusive alcoholic. It wouldn’t be long before his terrifying ways caused his family to turn on him.
Lobster Boy, Grady Stiles Jr.
Grady Stiles Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father, Grady Stiles Sr., and became a circus performer showing off his strange deformity, which is now known as ectrodactyly. The deformity causes the fingers and toes to fuse together to create a claw-like extremity, and is what gave him the name Lobster Boy. When Stiles had two children who also had the deformity, he recruited them into the circus and they toured as The Lobster Family.
Lobster Man, Grady Stiles, Sr.
When the family wasn’t working with the circus, they lived in their home in Gibsonton, Florida. Gibsonton was an odd town in that it was a hub for circus performers during the winter months. It’s known as Showtown U.S.A. and has been home to hundreds of performers and carnies during the circus off-season. Strolling the streets of the town you could run into an 8 foot tall giant or see monkeys and elephants in front yards. Consequentially, it was no surprise that Stiles’ murder seemed to be a circus family affair.
Lobster Boy Circus Banner
Stiles coped with his disorder by drinking heavily and he was a terrible, mean drunk. He didn’t have use of his legs, so he often got around using just his arms and consequently developed an extremely strong upper body. His strength and anger made him a horrible person to be around and his children have since claimed he would choke people with his lobster claws and verbally abuse his family. Tension in Stiles’ family escalated in 1978 when his daughter Donna fell in love and got engaged to a young man.
For whatever reason, Stiles didn’t approve of his daughter’s choice and the night before the wedding he picked up a shotgun and murdered his daughter’s fiancé. The trial created a media whirlwind and Stiles showed no remorse for the murder. He admitted guilt outright, and was charged with third-degree murder, but did not end up serving any jail time. He had been diagnosed with severe emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver in addition to his ectrodactyly, and no jail was equipped to handle his medical needs. So, instead of going to jail, Stiles was given a sympathy verdict of 15 years probation.
Stiles had gotten away with murder and his daughter Donna never spoke to him again. Shortly after the event, Stiles quit drinking and ended up remarrying his first wife, Mary. Mary left her husband, who was a sideshow dwarf, and returned to live with Stiles. However, it wasn’t long before the realities of the getting away with murder kicked in and he started feel invincible. He slipped back into his old ways and started drinking heavily again. One of his favorite taunts to spit at his family was, “I killed before and got away with it, I can do it again.”
Mary Stiles, After Arrest
Eventually, Mary and the rest of the family had enough of Stiles’ horrible behavior. After one particularly bad fight on November 29, 1992, an assassin gunned down Grady Stiles Jr. in his Florida home. While there are mixed accounts of what transpired, the court consensus was that Mary and her son from another marriage hired a neighborhood boy, 17-year-old circus performer Chris Wyant, to kill Grady Stiles Jr. Since the trial, the family claims that it was a misunderstanding of sorts and Mary only wanted Stiles to be frightened or beaten. However, she and her son paid Wyant 1,500 dollars in cash, which seems to suggest they had something more in mind.
Harry Glenn Newman III, After Arrest
According to police reports, Stiles was in the living room when he heard a tapping noise on the window. This signaled Maria Stiles and Newman to leave the house so Wyatt could complete the job. Originally, Mary told police she feared for her life and the lives of her children, and wanted Stiles dead so that her family would be safe. The murder would serve as her only escape from years of physical abuse. After her conviction she stated, “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.”
Hitman Chris Wyant, After Arrest
Either way, Mary Stiles, her stepson Harry Glenn Newman, and Wyant were all arrested and given jail time. Mary Stiles was convicted of manslaughter and given 12 years in prison. Newman, who was deemed the mastermind of the event, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentence to 27 years in prison.
Grady Stiles III, Son of Grady Stiles Jr.
Stiles’ funeral was just as depressing as his life and death. He was so disliked in his town that no one was willing to be his pallbearer. Since the murder, his two children that he ushered into circus life have been estranged and struggle to cope with the difficult life their father brought on them. Stiles’ son, Grady Stiles III, has a positive outlook on the events and has stated although he disapproved of his father as a person, he wishes to thank him for showing him how not to be.
Stiles With His Children
The media was enthralled by the Stiles family murders, and Lobster Boy has made several appearances in modern works of film. His son and daughter don’t tour with the circus regularly, but occasionally they make appearances. Stiles’ daughter Cathy also had some notable roles in the HBO series Carnivale and the Tim Burton film Big Fish. The family was featured in an AMC documentary series about Lobster Boy and his murder.