A small town along the coast in the Tampa Bay, Florida area called Gibsonton was once a winter haven for circus performers (aka: ‘circus freaks’) and where the International Independent Showmen’s Association was planted. Gibsonton was one of the few places in the country with zoning to accommodate keeping circus animals on residential property. The circus crew lived inside a mobile home community called Bull Frog Creek. Today there are still rides, trailers, equipment and even unique landmarks left behind as reminders. And it’s also where one of the most bizarre historical murders ever told.
Among the circus freaks that migrated to Gibsonton each winter from the Pittsburgh area was a family by the name of Stiles.
Grady Stiles Jr. – ‘Lobster Boy’
Grady Stiles was born, on June 26, 1937, with a deformation due to a genetic condition known as electrodactyly. This affliction is a deformity to the hands and/or feet and is also referred to as split hand/split foot malformation (SHFM). It’s not always exactly the case, but Grady Stiles hands looked very similar to lobster claws and his legs ended below the knees with malformed feet, which led to his sideshow stage name ‘The Lobster Boy’. He was never able to walk and had always been confined to a wheelchair. Yet, Grady was able to maneuver his body using his arms and upper body strength. An ability that would later become a detriment to his wife and children.
A Long Line of Lobster Hands
Grady Jr. was not the first of his family to be born with this odd deformity. His heritage included six generations of ancestors who were also inflicted with the condition dated as far back as 1840, including his father, Grady Stiles, Sr. Grady Sr. was also part of a traveling carnival sideshow and began including his son into the act by age seven. Some of the spectators would acknowledge Lobster Boy with amazement, but others only ridiculed and harassed. Being center stage for a carnival freak show monetarily paid well for the Stiles, but consequentially instilled Grady Jr. with pain and extreme resentment. He eventually began turning to alcohol as answer to his deep seeded anguish.
The Lobster Man’s Wife
The Stile family’s birth defects did not prevent those afflicted from marrying or reproducing. Again, the first Stile born with ectrodactyly was more than 100 years prior to Grady Jr.’s birth. While Grady Jr. was on display during a show, a young woman named Mary Theresa (with no deformities and considered ‘normal’) who also worked with the carnival as a grifter had become smitten with The Lobster Boy and eventually became his wife. However, as time progressed, Mary Teresa Stiles realized she had married an angry and violent man.
The Lobster Family Behind Closed Doors
Three children were sporadically conceived and delivered. Two inherited their father’s lobster claw deformity. When the kids were old enough, Grady added them into the sideshow and they then became known as ‘The Lobster Family’. Unfortunately, they also became victims of their father’s belligerent and outrageous assaults.
Neighbors testified to hearing frequent screams from the Stile’s home in Gibsonton. It was no secret that Grady Stiles, Jr. would become intoxicated on alcohol then physically abuse and mistreat his family regularly. He would use his upper body strength to violently throw himself on the floor then use his claw-like fingers as dangerous weapons to choke, beat and slam his wife and children in the face. Skin and eyes were often targeted.
During another violent episode, while Grady was in the midst of attacking his wife, his pregnant daughter, Cathy, attempted to intervene by rolling the wheelchair in between her parents. This act only infuriated her father even more. Grady turned towards Cathy and beat her so badly that she went into early labor. The baby survived but was also born with electrodactyly.
The Break up
Although Mary Teresa testified that her husband was a great guy when he was not drinking, she also confessed that only amounted to approximately two hours a day – between 8am and 10 am. By 1973, Mary Teresa had enough of the abuse. She came to the decision after Grady again assaulted her, but this time using his so called ‘claws’ to grotesquely remove her birth control device from inside her.
Left Behind – Murder One
Mary Teresa went on to marry another man which enraged Grady Stiles even more so. The children were left to endure their fathers rage. Sometime in her late teens, Grady’s daughter, Donna, fell in love and wanted to marry a young man by the name of Jack Lane, but her father greatly opposed. Donna was not concerned about whether or not her father approved. Removing herself from Grady’s control was the main reason for her interest in marrying. She insisted that she would live with Jack with or without her father’s consent.
Grady’s control over his family was top priority and he was not about to give that up (especially to an underage marriage). He had threatened Donna that he would kill Jack if she didn’t let up. It’s undocumented, but somehow, the evening before the wedding, it was arranged for Jack to meet with Grady in person to discuss the marriage. Jack had insisted that he and Donna were going to marry with or without her father’s permission. Assumptions relayed that Grady had given Donna and Jack some indication that he might approve. Conversely, upon Jack’s arrival, Grady instantly shot and killed him in the back without remorse. When Donna learned about Jack’s murder, Grady sat and looked at here with an evil smile and said, “I told you I would kill him”.
Lobster Man Arrested for Murder
Grady Stiles was arrested and put on trial but pleaded not guilty. He claimed that he shot Jack in self-defense. His legal team played on his deformation and poor health (from drinking and smoking excessively) and the defendant put on a show. The jury was manipulated into pitying Grady for his life long debilitation. Led to believe it was because of his misfit role in society that led Grady to alcoholism and violence. Grady faked tears and remorse. The jury bought it and the final verdict ended in a charge for third degree murder. Nonetheless, the cold-blooded murderer was released on 15 years of probation.
Grady returned home and continued with his routine of drinking and acting violent. Testimonies had suggested that Grady’s violent episodes were now even more severe, and his children were left to take the brunt of it. Empathy for her children may have been the reason why Mary Teresa eventually returned and remarried Grady. In 1989, the two reconnected and (supposedly) the violence had eased for a while. But before long, the violence was back.
Harry Glenn Newman
During her separation from Grady, Mary Teresa was remarried to a man named Harry Glenn Newman, Sr. (aka: ‘The Midget Man’) and had given birth to a son, Harry Glenn Newman, Jr. He too had become part of the carnival sideshow, but he had no deformities. His niche was driving nails and ice picks up his nose with a hammer.
“Something Needs to Be Done”
By 1992, Mary Teresa had again become exhausted of the abuse from Grady and concerned for the welfare of both her and the children. Following another altercation, it was recorded that she had made the comment, “Something needs to be done” while speaking with her son, Harry and gave him $1500 to ‘bring things to a beneficial conclusion”.
Feeling the need to protect his mother, Harry used the money to pay Chris Wyant, a 17-year-old neighbor and also a carnival worker, to kill Grady. Chris did not hesitate. He grabbed a gun and headed for Grady’s trailer. Chris stared into the window and saw Grady watching television in his underwear. With two shots in the head, Grady was killed instantly.
A Lose, Lose Situation
Mary Teresa and her children had finally rid themselves of one nightmare, but sadly traded it for another. All three were arrested and sentenced for murder.
Chris Wyant was charged with 2nd Degree Murder and sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Harry Glenn Newman, Jr. was charged with 1st degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Harry may have received a reduction in sentence as well if he had not hired a hit man.
Mary Teresa Stiles received little sympathy from the jury about her long history of being violently abused. She received a reduced charge but was found guilty of Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Murder and Manslaughter with a Firearm and sentenced to 12 years in prison.