On the Night They Murdered Lobster Boy: The Karmic Boomerang of Grady Stiles, Jr.


Grady Stiles, Jr. (1937-1992) was born on June 26. Stiles was the sixth in the bloodline of a family prone to ectrodactyly, a condition in which the extremities are hardened and fused, somewhat resembling the claws of a crustacean. Stiles, like his father before him, worked in carnival sideshows; two of his children, having the same condition, joined the family business. Billed as the Lobster Boy, Stiles worked for a number of traveling shows before he started his own personal family operation, over which he exerted tyrannical control. Despite what might be thought to be a handicap, Stiles grew unbelievably strong in his upper body, and the claws were tough and hard. He used them to strike and terrorize his family on an almost daily basis over a long period of years.

After years of drunkenness and physical abuse (including the murder of his own son-in-law, for which Stiles only received probation), Stiles’s wife and son hired a 17 year old hitman to shoot him in the back of the head in his Gibtown trailer. This of course yielded a sideshow of a different order: media coverage of the trial, books, television shows and movies about the lurid story were turned out with great profusion and rapidity. Several of his offspring continue to perform to this day.

The character of Jimmy Darling in American Horror Story: Freak Show seemed pretty clearly inspired by Stiles. I also recommend Fred Rosen’s book Lobster Boy: The Bizarre Life and Brutal Death of Grady Stiles, Jr. 

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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