Grady Stiles was a freak show performer known as Lobster Boy. When he was found murdered in his Gibstonton, Florida home in November of 1992, a detective wondered why none of Grady’s family seemed shocked or disappointed that Grady was dead.
Gibsonton, Florida is a small that has become known as a haven for circus and carnival performers. Al and Jeannie Tomaini are credited as the founders of what would become known as Gibtown. They had traveled with carnivals as “The World’s Strangest Couple.” When they tired of their life on the road, they settled in Gibsonton where they opened a trailer park and fishing camp called Giant’s Camp in 1949.
Travel show performers followed Al and Jeannie’s lead and, in time, Gibtown became the off season home for people who were viewed as different to the world outside their unique community. Carnival and circus performers spent their off season in Gibtown and in time many would retire there.
Decades later, Gibsonton remains a home and retirement community for people who travel on the carnival circuit. There’s been a growing interest in the area since the fourth season of FX’s American Horror Story. The season, called Freak Shows, was inspired by the town and some of its former residents, including a former resident who didn’t leave town of his own accord.
Grady Stiles was known as The Lobster Boy. His murder in Gibsonton in November of 1992, and the trials of those involved, led to a lot of unwanted attention being paid to the town that liked to be off the radar.
Grady Stiles was a member of the self proclaimed Lobster Family. The Stiles family has displayed traits of the condition called ectrodactyly since 1805. Known as ‘Lobster Claw’ syndrome, the congenital deformity leads to hands that look like claws and in some cases, also affects legs. The syndrome is inherited but can skip a generation. Its effects range from generation to generation with some of those inheriting the condition being unable to walk. This was the case with Grady Stiles. He relied on a wheelchair for mobility but was able to maneuver on his own thanks to his arms and hands and what people would describe as his shocking upper body strength.
Grady’s condition was inherited from his father, Grady, Sr, who was a sideshow performer. His father embraced the condition as a way to earn money as part of traveling freak shows and carnivals. When Grady was seven years old his dad, Grady Senior, made him a part of the show and the Lobster family would become popular across the country.
Thanks to his family’s show, Grady, Jr met a young carnival worker, Mary Teresa, while he was on the road. The two fell in love and married in 1958. But soon after they exchanged vows, Mary learned there was a dark and violent side to Grady Stiles when he drank. He was violent at home, abusing his wife and children.
By November of 1992, after Grady had escaped prison time for the murder of his daughter’s boyfriend and returned to his violent ways, Mary Stiles vowed to herself that Grady Stiles violence had to come to an end. Within days, Grady would be dead.
Gibsonton, Home of the Freaks Weird Florida
Grady Stiles, Jr The Murderous Lobster Man The Human Marvels
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Murder in the Tropics Stuart McIver
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Wife On Trial In Slaying Of Lobster Boy. Washington Post. 17 July 1994
Lobster Boy ‘Like Satan Himself,’ Daughter Testifies. Associated Press. 21 January 1994
Performer’s wife guilty of manslaughter. UPI News. 28 July 1994
Son Of Lobster Boy Discusses Dad’s Grisly Murder On ‘Freakshow’. Huff Post. 17 May 2014
Theme Song “Dark & Troubled” by Pantherburn. Special thanks to Phillip St Ours for permission for use.
“Ether Oar” by The Whole Other; St Francis by Josh Lippi and the Overtimers; “Falling from Grace” by White Hex; Tranquility Base
by Kevin MacLeod Licensed under Creative Commons