On June 26, 1937 a rather strange looking boy was born. His name was Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. Grady was born with a condition known as ectrodactyly. His fingers and toes were fused together to form claw-like extremities and as a freak show performer he became known as Lobster Boy.
The Stiles family had a long history of ectrodactyly. Stiles was the sixth in a line that began with the birth of William Stiles in 1805. Grady Stiles’ father was a sideshow attraction in a travelling carnival when his son was born and added Grady to the act at a young age. Stiles married twice and had four children, two of whom also had ectrodactyly. Stiles and his two children toured together as The Lobster Family. When not travelling with the carnival the Stiles family lived in Gibsonton, Florida where many other carnival performers lived during the winter season.
Although Grady would occasionally use a wheelchair, he most commonly used his hands and arms to get around and this made his upper body incredibly strong. His family reported that he was a heavy drinker and was often abusive towards them. His immense strength, bad temper and his alcoholism made him a dangerous man in deed.
He was known to fly off the handle at nothing and would often use his pincer like hands to strangle his wife and beat her face. He was aggressive and a racist. When his son would cry, instead of offering sympathy he would threaten him with “I’ll give you a reason to cry…”. His wife Mary told stories of Grady putting a butcher knife to her neck and threatening to kill her and the entire family. She also claimed he beat and sexually abused her.
By 1978, Stiles and Mary Teresa had divorced, and he had married a woman named Barbara. One of Stiles’ daughters, 15-year-old Donna, did not share the family condition. Described as pretty and petite, the ninth-grader had fallen for a guy named Jack Layne. An eighteen year old high school dropout who lived nearby.
Donna felt trapped in her home, she wanted out and Jack was her ticket out, however her father didn’t like him. Some say that this might have been because Jack had told him that he couldn’t control who his daughter married but others claimed that Jack would often mock him because of his condition. He began to threaten Jack’s life and took Donna to an East Ohio Street pawn shop where he purchased a .32-caliber revolver, remarking “jokingly” that he would “use it on Jack.”.
Donna responded by running away to stay for six days at the home of Jacks’s sister, also on the North Side. She called her father from there. “If you don’t get home in five minutes, I’m going to beat the hell out of you. Then, I’m going to kill [Layne],” Stiles told her. Donna threatened to live with Jack if her father wouldn’t consent to her marrying him. At that, Stiles backed down saying he would prefer they married than lived together.
The wedding date was set for the 28th of September. The day before Jack, Donna and her mother were returning from town after purchasing her wedding dress. They came home to find Grady in the sitting room but without his wheel chair. As they went to go and look for his chair, Grady called Jack back. He grabbed the gun he had purchased earlier that he had stuffed under a cushion and shot Jack in the chest. As the teenager turned to run he shot him again in the back. Jack stumbled out the door before collapsing and dying there in Donna’s arms. The Police arrived to find Grady just sitting there waiting for them. He simply said “Take me. I’m ready.”.
Grady was quick to confess to the Police and he went to trial. Although he tried to act as a concerned father who was trying to protect his daughter from an older guy, he pleaded self defence but the jury didn’t buy it and he was found guilty of third-degree murder.
Before sentencing the judge realised that no correctional facilities were equipped to house someone with a condition such as ectrodactyly, along with his other conditions and so instead sentenced Grady to fifteen years’ probation.
After his trial, Grady stopped drinking and moved to Florida. His ex-wife was living close by and they eventually reconnected. They decided to leave their current partners and in 1989, they remarried. Paradise wouldn’t last long though, as Grady went back to drinking and was once again back to abusing his wife.
In 1992, as Grady Stiles sat in his trailer watching the television in his underwear, someone shot him three times in the back of the head.
Subsequent investigation led to Mrs. Stiles, Newman and a teen-age neighbour being arrested for a murder for hire plot. They were all convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. It was claimed that Grady’s wife had paid only $1,500 for the hit.
Do you think that he got what he deserved? Comment below…
If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in reading about Sawney Bean, the Scottish Cannibal.