June 26, 1937 – November 29, 1992
“I told you never, ever run out of whiskey.”
Sideshow performer and den mother, Jeanie Tomaini, said of Grady, “People try to put us all into the same bunch, saying ‘if you’re a ‘freak’ you’re bitter and angry at life.’ Well, you can’t classify us. Some enjoy and love people. Some are resentful and feel God played them a dirty trick.”
– from Franchine Hornberger’s terrific book Carny Folk
Freak Show legend Grady “Lobster Boy” Stiles spent his later years inside a trailer he shared with his wife, Teresa, her son Glenn, and Glenn’s son, Grady III in Carny Heaven, Gibsonton, FL.
In the evening of November 29, 1992 Grady had already downed two double shots of Seagram’s 7, and was settling into his nightly routine of puffing non-filter lung busters and watching TV in his underwear. Hot. Teresa and Glenn headed out to visit Grady’s daughter, Cathy, in the trailer next door. Cathy Berry, along with her baby daughter, Misty, had inherited Grady’s claws and sometimes worked the circuit as a Lobster Girl. Theresa and her stepson, little Grady, had been watching the film “Ruby” on television with Grady, but left midway through, leaving Grady to finish it while little Grady went to bed. He’d later testify he thought the shots were from the movie (“Ruby” stars Danny Aiello as Jack Ruby, Oswald’s killer).
Ectrodactyly is a genetic condition where the fingers and toes are fused together, and the Stiles family was generous with the affliction. Grady’s father (Sr.) used to announce that it had “been in the family since 1840!” a feat he was apparently proud of, and that any of their offspring “had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it!” Nice. He put Grady, Jr. into the carnival at age seven, billing themselves as “The Lobster Family.” The family settled just outside of Gibsonton in the wintertime. Not being able to walk, Grady’s arms became extremely muscular and he was quick on the claw (sorry.) He’d swat anyone with them, then back up and head butt them in the stomach. Sometimes he’d choke them by pinching his claws together. He also used them for other things. “Everyone I have sex with wants to have sex with my claws!” he bragged. MMmmm.
Grady was on parole for killing his daughter Donna’s boyfriend back in Pittsburgh. For a guy with no hands, he was a real piece of work. He readily admitted to the crime, knowing full well that no prison could or would take a man with his condition.
The Lobster’s Little Slice of Heaven.
Back to the night of November 29 – the front door was open because the Stiles trailer had no air conditioning. Teresa told police that Grady needed the ventilation for his high blood pressure (whiskey and cigarettes be damned) along with the electric fans they continually had running. The killer let himself in. Grady was sitting with his back to the door. The killer crept up behind him and shot Grady several times in the back of the head. He died with a smoke in his claw. Crime Scene photograph (WARNING OOGY PICTURE) here. (A witness testified on the stand that he heard Grady yell, “Son of a bitch! Get the fuck out!” before he was shot.)
One of Grady’s “claws”.
Blood and brain tissue landed on the counter and dripped down a carton of Grady’s beloved Pall Malls. Great product placement.
There were four shots in all, three of which killed him and one after he was dead – the killer wasn’t taking any chances that Lobster Boy would survive. “The victim has no legs,” one of the cops noted. Well, not quite true. Grady’s legs ended at the knees where his lobster claws began. The autopsy found all four shots were in a neat row (WARNING OOGY PICTURE) on the back of his skull and two were still in his head. Click here.
One neighbor told police that Grady was “a very rude individual.” That was putting it mildly. According to the book, “Carny Folk”, his daughter, Cathy, described Grady as “like Satan himself” and “very cruel, very cold hearted, very sadistic.” Most people who knew him were probably scrambling for an alibi.
The cops got wise fast and questioned Teresa’s son, Glenn Newman, Jr., aka “The Human Blockhead.” (I saw him do his thing at the Brockton Fair in Massachusetts in the 80s, shoving a nail up his nose. At that time they were advertising him with “See the horrors of drugs!” so of course I ran right up.) Much better marketing than “The Human Blockhead.” His father was Glenn Newman, Sr. aka “Midget Man,” an overweight little person who rescued Teresa after she fled Grady the first time. Teresa, it seemed, had a thing for circus guys. She was a carny herself, first as a “blade box girl” (those girls in boxes where knives are stuck in at every angle) then as an “electrified girl.”
Now pay attention: Teresa (The Electrified Girl) married Lobster Boy (a second marriage for both), gave birth to Donna (the “normal” one, which supposedly made Grady angry/protective so he beat her more than the other kids, and, oh yeah, killed her boyfriend) and Cathy (claws). Teresa divorced him because he beat her and the kids, then passed out in his own puke. She married Midget Man, had the Human Blockhead, divorced Midget Man, remarried Lobster Boy (who in the meantime had married and fathered Grady Stiles III – claws) and they all lived unhappily ever after in the trailer park. Sigh.
Side note: Did you watch the short-lived HBO series Carnivale? Remember the lobster girl episode? That was Cathy. (And Bree Walker – an LA newscaster who wore fake arms on the air, and now has now had so much plastic surgery, well, what she did to herself is far more disturbing than any malformation could ever be.)
Glenn Newman, Jr. started spilling to police almost as soon as they took him in about how Grady liked to lay in bed at night saying he should “kill everyone and get it over with”. Grady would wheel down to the local bar and start drinking in the morning, and stay most of the day. He would return home and sit in front of the TV and continue to drink himself into a violent stupor. Teresa had had enough. She and Glenn hired a seventeen-year-old neighbor, Christopher Wyant, to “make it better for her.” Wyant agreed for $1500. Chris got a pal, Dennis Cowell, to buy a used .32 Colt Automatic for him.
Wyant entered the house to be greeted by Grady in his usual manner: “What the fuck are you doing in my house?” Wyant killed him. When Teresa gave cops her statement, she told them that Grady would beat her and the children, head butting her until she bled, and that she “didn’t care if he was shot or stabbed – just as long as he was killed.” She took full responsibility for Wyant’s actions and claimed the payment was hers, not Glenn’s. She did not want her family implicated, but insisted that she had called the hit off. Teresa and Glenn were charged with first-degree murder on November 30, 1992. Christopher Wyant was charged with murder one and conspiracy to commit murder. All were held without bail and were tried separately. Wyant went first. In January of 1993, Christopher Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 27 years. Cowell pled guilty of accessory charges and got 3.
Teresa’s lawyer tried to persuade the jury of her innocence due to battered wife syndrome. Several psychiatrists and social workers testifyied on her behalf. On the stand she told more tales of Grady’s abuse, including smothering her with pillows, holding butcher knives to her throat, and brutally beating the kids. Cathy testified that he hit her when she was seven months pregnant. It was tough to sway a jury who didn’t understand why Teresa didn’t just leave a wheelchair-bound man with pincers, despite Teresa’s defense-tactic, IQ test results reading in the “low to average” range. They acquitted her of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit but after an 11-hour deliberation, found her guilty of manslaughter. Interestingly, the toxicologist found that Grady was barely drunk the night he died, despite Teresa’s assertion of his Seagram’s consumption-which didn’t help her case. In August of 1994, Teresa Stiles was sentenced to 12 years in prison, telling the court, “My husband was going to kill my family – I believe that from the bottom of my heart.” Teresa appealed her conviction and was set free in September, 1994 on $20,000 bail, but in November of 1996, an appellate court upheld her conviction. She began her sentence in February 1997.
From the look of this IMDB link of “Medical Incredible” from 2005, she may have been released early. Seen it? Share with the group.
Glenn rejected a plea bargain on his mother’s advice and was swiftly convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit in August of 1994. The jury deliberated for only an hour in his case, before sentencing him to life.
A writer could retire after typing the phrase,
“Mrs. Stiles portrayed her husband as a powerful drunken brute who routinely swatted her with his pincer hands”.
Cathy Berry, her husband Tyrill, daughter Misty, and Grady III still reside in FL. Cathy can be seen in Big Fish in addition to her appearance in Carnivale.
Grady, however, is forever located in Tampa, Florida. He was so despised, they couldn’t find people willing to be pall bearers.
His grave is marked with a simple marker with – interestingly – praying hands.
Mailbox. You know you want it.
Thank you, Donna Lethal, Ryan Fridley for snaps and huge thanks, gratitude and applause to Fred Rosen’s book Lobster Boy.
Gibsontown is still the heart of Carnival folk.