Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. (June 26, 1937 – November 29, 1992) was a freak show performer. His deformity was ectrodactyly, where the fingers and toes are fused together to form claw-like extremities. Stiles’ stage name was the “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 traveling carnival when his son was born and added him 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 traveling with the carnival the Stiles family lived in Gibsonton, Florida where many other carnival performers lived during the winter season.
Stiles was an alcoholic and was abusive to his family. Due to his ectrodactyly, he was unable to walk. While he often used a wheelchair, he most commonly used his hands and arms for locomotion. He developed incredible upper body strength that, when combined with his temper and alcoholism, made him dangerous to others.
In 1978, Stiles shot and killed his oldest daughter’s fiance on the eve of their wedding. He was brought to trial where he openly confessed to killing the man and was convicted of third degree murder. He was not sent to prison as no state institution was equipped to care for an inmate with ectrodactyly. Stiles was instead sentenced to fifteen years probation.
Stiles stopped drinking thereafter, and during this period remarried his first wife, Maria. However, he soon began drinking again and his family claimed that he became even more abusive. In 1992 Maria and her son from a previous marriage, Harry Glenn Newman Jr., hired a seventeen year-old sideshow performer named Chris Wyant to kill Stiles for $1500. Wyant shot him three times in the back of the head on November 29, 1992, killing him instantly. All three were brought to trial and convicted. In her defense, Maria Stiles told the judge, “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.”
Wyant was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Harry Newman was given life in prison for his role as the mastermind and Maria was given 12 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder.
Fred Rosen wrote a book on the case called Lobster Boy: The Bizarre Life and Brutal Death of Grady Stiles Jr., and E! made a True Hollywood Stories episode based on the case titled The Murder of Lobster Boy. A&E Network also made a City Confidential episode based on the case called Gibsonton: The Last Side Show.
Stiles’ likeness appears on the CD cover for Silverchair’s Freak Show.
A person like Grady, going by the name of “Lobster Boy,” appears in a Deadpool comic. Deadpool was hired to assassinate him, but fails when he figures out he is possessed by Xaphan, a fallen angel, and starts possessing the souls. He was later saved by the two Ghost Riders, but at the end is shot again in the head by Deadpool for being cruel to other freaks.
American Freakshow: The Terrible Tale of Sloth Boy, a graphic novel published by IDW Publishing tells the tale of Dante Browning, a carnival sideshow performer with clawed hands who, because of his abuse and cruelty to his family, is shot to death by a hit man hired by his wife and stepson while in his home in Gibsonton, Florida.