Growing up in a carnival family sounds like all fun and games. But when it comes to Grady “Lobster Boy” Styles, life as a circus performer ultimately went terribly wrong.
1. He Was Born Different
Grady Stiles was born with a condition that characterized his entire life—ectrodactyly. The genetic disability affected his hands, giving him fused fingers and a missing middle finger. The result earned him the show name “Lobster Boy”. Normal parents might find that alarming, but Stiles’ parents had a more unusual response.
2. They Made Money Off Him
The deformity ran in the family, and Stiles’s parents used it to their advantage. Even before they had him, they made a living traveling as a carnival freak show. They made quite a living, too, banking thousands of dollars each year. By age seven, Stiles' parents added him to the fray, though not as easily as they expected.
3. He Had It Worse
Though the condition primarily affected the hands of his family members, it got to Stiles’ feet too. As a result, he couldn’t walk and needed a wheelchair. He found his way around that, though, learning to use his hands to pull himself around. While his life proved unique, he did find a little normalcy, at least for a while.
4. He Met A Girl
Just 19 years old at the time, a young woman named Mary Teresa ran away from home. She joined the traveling circus, where she first met Stiles. She discovered that, even with his disability, he’d developed surprising strength, especially in his upper body. But though she felt drawn to him, she definitely came to regret it.
5. It Started Well
In her new carnival job, Teresa served on the staff while Stiles performed in the show. The two fell in love, and married in 1958. Although there’s not much reported about their early years (and likely for good reason, as you’ll discover), things seemed good enough to uphold a certain family tradition…
6. He Passed It On
Stiles would eventually have four children. Two inherited his deformity, born with the same claw-like fingers he lived with. Without hesitation, these children became part of the traveling circus act, dubbed “The Lobster Family”. That makes it seem like he accepted his life, but perhaps he hated it more than he let on.
7. He Had Two Different Daughters
Teresa had two children with Stiles, Cathy and Donna. Somehow Donna escaped the strong family genes, born with all her fingers and toes. But this didn’t protect her from her horrifying home life. Her father was still a chilling presence no matter what—especially after too many bottles.
8. He Flipped Out
Stiles brutally mistreated his wife and children, especially when he drank too much. This might be hard to imagine in his state, but his strength reportedly heightened in his rage. Teresa reported, “He would pop off the wheelchair, onto his fingers, scoot across an area, and in a drunken state, beat on someone”. It wasn’t the only shocking report.
9. He Made The Most Of His Weaknesses
Stiles took after his family in using his unique hands to his advantage, but unfortunately for Teresa, that didn’t prove to be the only way he learned to use them. He used his pincer-like fingers to do terrible things to his wife, such as choking her. But his dangerous behavior didn't end there. He turned his substance-induced rage on his children too.
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10. His Daughter Hated Him
Though reports claim that Cathy was Stiles' favorite child, she called her father “Satan himself”. Life with Stiles as a father proved to be a nightmare. He forced his children to wear gloves in public to keep their money-making hands private. Worse than that, though, he often became aggressive to them as well, in one instance, nearly taking a life.
11. She Almost Lost Her
One of Stiles’ vehement rages nearly put a dent in his own family legacy. Reportedly, Cathy got in the way one evening when Stiles attempted to put his hands on Teresa as usual. In response, Stiles threw Cathy out of her wheelchair. Cathy was seven months pregnant. Her baby survived, but the family unit didn't.
12. His Wife Left Him
Fed up with Stiles' substance issues and violence, Teresa left him in 1973. Perhaps she harbored some type of weird preference, because she ended up marrying another circus performer, a little person billed as the “World’s Smallest Man”. Even with his terrible streak, Stiles moved on too. But the move did nothing to really change him.
13. His Namesake Despised Him
Stiles remarried—this time, to a woman named Barbara. Together, they welcomed a son, Grady Stiles III. Though Grady Stiles III carried the family name and genetically claw-like hands, he didn’t care for his father at all. In fact, he made some jaw-dropping claims about his infamous father.
14. His Children Were His Victims
Grady Stiles III claimed that his father was not only hurtful and aggressive, but also prejudiced. He did spend some time touring with the circus, but didn’t at all remember it fondly. His older sister fared even worse. The beginning of Stiles worst offense began with his oldest daughter, Donna, in 1978.
No doubt she held several grudges against her father for his horrible treatment of the family, but it was love that tipped the scales for her.
15. His Daughter Tried To Escape
Donna began dating a young man, and devised a plan to run away with him. She informed her family of her plans to marry him, claiming she needed to because she was pregnant. While the pregnancy turned out to be a lie, Stiles didn’t like it—not his daughter’s plan or the man she planned to marry. He intended to prevent it at any cost.
16. He Turned Sinister
Wedding planning went on as normal. All the while, though, Stiles worked out his own plan to keep it from happening. The night before the wedding, Stiles invited his future son-in-law over to his home. Some reports claimed he told him he’d give his blessings, while others say he just wanted to talk. Much worse happened.
17. He Ended Him
Stiles took the young man’s life with two shots. At the scene of the devastating act, Donna found herself holding her fiancé while he bled out. She reported that her father smiled, saying “I told you I would kill him”. If you think that’s the worst of it, then stay tuned. His behavior at the court trial didn’t get any better.
18. He Wasn’t Sorry
Seemingly unaffected by his own terrible actions, Stiles openly admitted his responsibility for ending the life of Donna’s fiancé. This type of confession, paired with the premeditation and reports that he showed absolutely no contrition, should have landed him several years behind bars, at the very least. But he harbored a secret trick.
19. He Took Advantage
Much as he learned to do in his youth, he used his genetic deformity to his advantage. He made the case that authorities couldn’t lock him up. On one hand, he claimed that no facility at the time came equipped with the necessary tools to care for a person in his physical condition. His deformity wasn’t the only issue, though.
20. He Wasn’t Well
Stiles also suffered with both emphysema and liver cirrhosis. Granted, he very likely had his own self to thank for that. Two of Stiles’ common vices—drinking and lighting up—caused and worsened both diseases. Still, this added to his plight, and the pressure placed on authorities for his care. All this led to the trial’s shocking conclusion in 1979.
21. He Got Away With It
As expected, courts declared Stiles guilty at the trial. As no one could have expected, though, they didn’t give him any real time locked away. Instead, they mandated fifteen years probation, which he supposedly had to serve at home. He’d gotten away with the worst. Interestingly enough, though, he seemed to be a possibly changed man.
22. He Tried To Change
Or at least, it seems like he tried. It’s hard to believe a man who took a life without even being sorry cared enough to change. And yet, Stiles allegedly quit drinking after this incident. Perhaps he regretted something, if not his actions then the reputation he found himself stuck with. The change resurrected a totally unexpected romance.
23. His Ex Came Back To Him
In a shocker to end all shockers, Teresa remarried Stiles in 1989. What could possibly be Teresa’s explanation for going back to Stiles after all his grievances? According to her, she simply loved him, and believed in his change. He went back to performing, too, which might give a clue to where all his pent-up anger originated.
24. He Played His Part
On one hand, freak shows of the time served as a spectacle of the bizarre. But by Stiles’ time, they also actually performed. His own act sometimes included him reenacting the scene of his birth, showing his mother petrified by her deformed baby. Perhaps he had mommy issues? He definitely hid some issues, if his next move is any evidence.
25. He Relapsed
Reportedly, Stiles went back to the bottle shortly after remarrying Teresa. And just like that, he resumed his terrifying behavior, hurting Teresa and the older children that still lived with them. Probation or no probation, his work didn’t stop either. And the truth of what took place offstage started to spill out for everyone to see.
26. He Lost Control
Although, all things considered, perhaps he’d been out of control for a long time. As he grew older, Stiles' drinking continued to worsen. It even affected his performances, and reports claimed he sometimes frightened other performers, who grew wary of him over time. But he didn’t confine his rage to his coworkers and family.
27. He Was A Nuisance
Honestly, it’s hard to believe he got away with so much for so long, if all the reports about him turn out to be true. The man was no peach to the general public either. He allegedly hit and even headbutted people when he got angry enough. Even with all that, though, he did his very worst work at home, behind closed doors.
28. He Did His Worst
While his entire family reports Stiles physically hurting each of them personally, it seems like the worst of it fell on Teresa. She admitted several times that she feared for her life, including one where he smothered her with a pillow, and another where she woke up with a blade to her throat. It wasn’t all just physical, either.
29. He Said It
Stiles also used his words to intimidate Teresa and the kids. According to her, he very blatantly declared “One of these days I’m going to kill you and your family”. Teresa did have a child from her other marriage living with them, so perhaps that made things worse. Either way, his issues with drinking got progressively worse.
30. His Addiction Took Over
By now you might be wondering what exactly kept Teresa tied to her dangerous partner. By her own account, Stiled treated her with great affection when he was clear-headed. She reported his attitude changed throughout the day as he drank—that by the end of the day she’d find him a different man. It wasn’t the only thing holding her down.
31. She Wanted Her Family
Like many women in Teresa’s position, she claimed one major factor for staying with Stiles. According to her, she thought it best for the children. That does seem odd, considering the way Stiles endangered them as well. Still, the reasoning isn’t uncommon. Still, every person has their personal limit, and Teresa’s soon came.
32. They Couldn’t Take It
What happens next is not one hundred percent clear, although there are two very different versions of the story. The first begins with Teresa’s declaration that “something had to be done” about Stiles’ behavior. Allegedly, Teresa decided the only way to end her situation was to end Stiles’ life. She turned to her son as an accomplice.
33. He Did His Part
Teresa’s son from her second marriage, Harry Glen Newman III, lived with the family and seemingly witnessed his mother’s never-ending struggle. While it’s not explicitly reported, he likely dealt with rage from Stiles’ himself. So when Teresa came to him with money to carry out the plan, he found a way with no hesitation.
34. He Put It In Motion
Newman used his mother’s money to hire a hitman, an old classmate and neighbor named Christopher Wyant. Like Newman himself, he reportedly also worked for the circus, and likely knew all about Stiles’ behavior at home. With the money and plan in hand, Wyant made one more arrangement to get the deed done.
35. He Got The Goods
The final step required Wyant to procure something to do the deed. He did so by asking a friend to purchase a pistol for him. All things set in place, Wyant entered Stiles' home in November 1992. While Stiles watched TV, Wyant finished him with a curiously familiar two hits to the head—if you believe that version of events.
36. It Was A Mistake
Stiles’ son and namesake, Stiles III, claims a slightly different version of the events leading to the end of his father’s life. According to him, the whole affair began with an argument between Teresa and Stiles. Like the majority of their disagreements, things turned physical. But this is where the story begins to change.
37. He Made His Own Plans
According to this version of events, the conclusion of their argument saw Teresa declaring “Something had to be done”. But in this story, she never went to her son, Newman, with a plan. Instead, he simply overheard this and decided that something did indeed need to be done, and right away. Consequently, things get a bit blurry.
38. He Didn’t Mean It
Supposedly, Newman then took money to his friend Wyant to take care of the “something”. No news on where he got the money in this story, but either way, Newman allegedly didn’t expect Wyant to take Stiles’s life. Newman supposedly thought Wyant would just frighten him into better behavior. That’s where things went left.
39. He Took His Liberties
By that account, neither Newman nor Teresa thought Wyant would actually do the worst. That put the majority of the blame on Wyant, who misinterpreted their intentions and took it upon himself to take Stiles' life. It’s not the best defense in the world, but possible. Needless to say, the court found itself with a sticky case.
40. They Fessed Up
Once the trials actually began, all three seemingly confessed, more or less, to being involved in the plan to end Stiles’ aggression for good. It didn’t end up being an open-and-shut case, though. As a matter of fact, the details of the case, especially regarding Teresa’s motive, went on to set a record for a defense that didn’t get a lot of attention at the time.
41. She Had Her Reasons
Teresa's lawyer made a case on her behalf, claiming that after years of living with the frightening man, she truly felt she didn’t have any better options. While that seems totally legitimate, it proved much more difficult than you might think to clear her name.
42. She Made Her Case
If you’re paying attention, you’ll remember Stiles' very direct insistence that he’d end Teresa’s life. She stuck with that, claiming she entirely believed it was her life or his. Even their daughter, Cathy, came to her mother’s defense. She backed her story, likely recounting her own suffering at the hands of her father—but to no avail.
43. She Premeditated
According to the prosecution, regardless of the circumstances, Teresa should bear the weight of planning out the entire sordid affair. In either version of the story, it all began with her, and perhaps that was too much to ignore. In the end, authorities locked her up for twelve years. Her other accomplices fared even worse.
44. He Took His Chance
If you think twelve years isn’t much in exchange for a life (even one as terrible as Stiles’) you thought right. Teresa took a plea deal, and it seems their “hitman” took a deal as well. Courts put Wyant away for twenty seven years. That left the very last of the lethal trio, Teresa’s son. Oddly enough, he fared the very worst.
45. He Never Got Out
Newman refused to make a confession and secure a deal. No explanation on that, but it does raise suspicion about who ultimately planned the whole affair. Perhaps Newman wouldn’t make a deal because he felt the action justified. Either way, courts sentenced him to spend the rest of his life behind bars. And Stiles? Laid to rest. Kind of.
46. They Didn’t Care
Granted, authorities kept Stiles’ wife and son in custody during the time of his funeral arrangements. Still, you’d expect someone in show business for so many years to have created at least some strong connections along the way. Not so. The funeral home couldn’t find any pallbearers willing to carry him. That wasn’t all.
47. He Ended Alone
It turns out that, in general, the community Stiles lived in didn’t care much for him or his attitude. Reportedly, only about ten people showed up to his funeral to pay their respects. Perhaps karma finally caught up with him. His lonely end, however, didn’t mean his story disappeared. Quite the opposite happened.
48. His Likeness Lives On
Stiles' life, very much including both his circus fame and descent into corruption, served as an inspiration in several mediums. The “Lobster Boy” character appears in television, film, and print. He even inspired a song in the late 90s. So maybe bad behavior does pay a little, although I’d argue the pay wasn’t all that satisfying, to Stiles or his legacy.
49. He Thanked Him Anyway
By most reports, none of his family held on to a single kind word for Stiles at that time, nor have any positive thoughts of him today. That’s totally understandable with the horrors he put them through. His junior did find something to be thankful for, though— “Thank you for showing me who not to be…” Better than nothing at all, I guess!