March 14, 2024 | J. Clarke

Gruesome Facts About Grady Stiles, A Freak Show Gone Wrong

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. 

Grady Stiles

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. 

Freak Show - 1941Jack Delano, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Boy In A WheelchairGeorge Hodan, Public domain pictures

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. 

Midway Rides at Idora Park (1912)Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

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…

Carousel at Oxford Street Fair 1912Miami University Libraries, Picryl

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. 

Drunk man making a facecottonbro studio ,Pexels

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.Man Sitting on Wheelchairalexandre saraiva carniato, Pexels

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.

Scared woman woke up to light pointing up toStokkete, Shutterstock

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.Crying girlRDNE Stock project , Pexels

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.

Stressed upset tense husband and wife arguing.Raushan_films ,Shutterstock

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.

Mother and daughter walking on the sidewalk.rüveyda, Pexels

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.

Couple having weddingSimón Gómez, Pexels

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.

Coney Island Sidshow Entrance 2008.

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. Couple walking outside - 1970Ion Chibzii, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Two men in living room talkingMonkey Business Images, Shutterstock

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.

Woman cryingKarolina Grabowska, Pexels

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.

The Most Bone-Chilling Encounters EverPexels

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. 

Judge is Sitting in courtroom full of people.Gorodenkoff , Shutterstock

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. American field hospital in Auteuil, Paris, France around 1915Library of Congress , Picryl

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.

Studenten Parlement in Tweede Kamer - 1954Nationaal Archief ,Picryl

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. A man sitting on a floor holding a ,Picryl

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.

Couple huggingcottonbro studio, Pexels

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. Screenshot from Freaks (1932)MGM, Freaks (1932)

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. 

Drunk man is sleeping on the table with empty bottle next to him.Stone36 , Shutterstock

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.

angry manengin akyurt, Unsplash

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.

Man in wheelchairalexandre saraiva carniato, Pexels

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.

Alone sad woman seating in dark roomLucas Pezeta, Pexels

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.Angry manElena Smuseva, Pexels  

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.

 Abandoned Places FactsShutterstock

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.

A group of people standing outside.Library of Congress, Picryl

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.

Angry womanDavid Garrison, Pexels

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. Hand Giving Money To Other HandAndrey_Popov, Shutterstock

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.

Man talking in the darkCatalina Chiaravalle, Pexels

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.

Person wearing a ski maskJason Negonga, Pexels

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.

Shot of an elderly couple sitting at the table in a dark living roomGround Picture, Shutterstock

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.

Angry man in black hoodieCraig Adderley, Pexels

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.

People arguingRDNE Stock project, Pexels

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.

Man in jail ,looking upset.Ron Lach, Pexels

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.Court trial juryGorodenkoff, Shutterstock

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. Lawyers' Shocking Cases factswavebreakmedia, Shutterstock

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.

Court trial juryGorodenkoff, Shutterstock

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.

Thanks To These Wild Confessions, My Jaw Is On The FloorPexels

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.

Man in jailDonald Tong, Pexels

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.Young man is standing behind bars in jail.Ron Lach, Pexels

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.

Funeral homePavel Danilyuk, Pexels

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.

Sad people at funeralPexels, Pavel Danilyuk

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.

Large Gray and Black MixerPixabay, Pexels

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!

Sad man at funeralPavel Danilyuk, Pexels


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