Gibsonton, Florida

Grady Stiles, "Lobster Boy"


The Man

While Gibsonton residents have embraced the carnival lifestyle and over the years formed a tight-knit community, the life can be hard. Many "freaks" cope with feelings of osrtacism and the physical challenges presented by their deformities can be trying. Grady Stiles, the "Lobster Boy," faced many of those challenges. Stiles was born on July 18, 1937 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a condition known as ectrodactyly, a birth defect that left him with claw-like hands and claw-like feet which appeared to grow directly out from his torso region. (Stiles Bio, St. Pete Times, Dec. 2, 1992) Ectrodactyly is a hereditary condition and is frequently referred to as "lobster syndrome." (Medicine.net) Stiles turned his deformity into a career. Known as the "Lobster Boy," he toured the country's carnival sideshow circuit at the age of seven or eight." (St. Pete Times, Dec. 2, 1992) Stiles eventually owned several carnival sideshows that toured the United States. (St. Pete Times, Dec. 2, 1992)


Stiles has been described as a "hard drinking meanie" and was once even convicted of murdering his daughter's boyfriend. (Sideshowworld.com) However, because there were no prison facilities available which could tend to his special physical needs resulting from his ectrodactyly and after hearing character witness testimony that Stiles was no longer a threat to society, the judge elected to sentence Stiles to probation. (Sideshowworld.com)


The Murder

Police found Grady Stiles shot to death on November 29, 1992. He was 55 years old. According to press reports, Stiles was sitting in his Gibsonton living room that night when someone made a tapping sound with a handgun on a window of the residence. (St. Pete Times, 1992) This was apparently the signal for Stiles' wife, Mary Theresa Stiles, 54, and Stiles' stepson Harry Glenn Newman, 18, to leave the house so the killer they hired to murder Stiles could complete the job. (St. Pete Times, 1992) Mary Stiles told police officers that she had planned the murder to escape from years of physical abuse at the hands of Stiles. (St. Pete Times, 1992) Further statements made by Mary Stiles and Harry Newman led to the arrest of Christopher Wyatt, 17, the alleged hitman who was paid $1500 to kill Stiles. (St. Pete Times, 1992)


Mary Stiles, Newman and Wyant were all charged with first-degree murder. (St. Pete Times, 1992) A fourth suspect, Dennis John Cowell, 18, was also arrested in connection with the murder as he allegedly helped Wyant purchse the Colt .32-caliber automatic handgun used in the killing. (St. Pete Times, 1992) Cowell was suspected of sharing in the $1500 paid to Wyatt and was charged with attempted murder. (St. Pete Times, 1992)


The Prosecutions and Trials

In January, of 1993, Christopher Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Wyant was sentenced to 27 years in prison. (St. Pete Times, Feb. 1994) Dennis Cowell plead guilty to charges of being an accessory after the fact in the killing and was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. It was learned that Cowell helped Wyant bury the murder weapon after Wyant shot Stiles. (St. Pete Times, May 1994)


The trial of Mary Stiles was significant in that it was the first time a defendant in a pre-meditated murder case was permitted to assert a "battered woman's syndrome" defense as justification for their actions. (Tampa Tribune, Nov. 28, 1996) A judge had initially rejected the application of the defense ruling that the evidence presented did not show that there was any fear of imminent danger consequently rejecting any expert testimony on "battered woman's syndrome." (Orlando Sentinel, Jul. 19, 1994)


In January, Mary Stiles claimed that during the course of her two marriages with Grady, the first from 1958 to 1973 and the second from 1988 until his death, she was the victim of "drunken beatings, sexual abuse and terror" at the hands of her late husband. (Orlando Sentinel, Jul. 19, 1994) Mary Stiles had testified that over the course of her two marriages to Grady, the first one lasting from 1958 to 1973 and the second one from 1988 until his death, she was the victim of "drunken beatings, sexual abuse and terror." (Orlando Sentinel, Jul. 19, 1994) Stiles also testified that the final straw was when Grady woke her up one night with whiskey on his breath and a butcher knife to her throat. (Orlando Sentinel, Jul. 19, 1994) According to Mary, Grady told her "One of these days I'm going to kill you and your family, but the time isn't right." (Orlando Sentinel, Jul. 19, 1994) Prosecutors argued that the murder was planned out over a number of weeks, was not in imminent danger and had other options to break free from her husband's abuse. (Orlando Sentinel, Jul. 19, 1994)


Despite her pleas of torment and abuse, the jury acquitted Mary Stiles of charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder but found her guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. (St. Pete Times, July 28, 1994) The jury took 11 hours to reach a verdict (St. Pete Times, July 28, 1994) In August of 1994, Mary Stiles was sentenced to 12 years in prison. (Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 30, 1994) Standing tearfully in front of the judge who imposed her sentence, she stated, "My husband was going to kill my family - I believe that from the bottom of my heart." (Orlando Sentinel, Sept. 6, 1994)


Mary Stiles appealed her conviction and was set free in September, 1994 on $20,000 bail pending resolution of her case. (Tampa Tribune, Nov. 28, 1996) In November of 1996, an appellate court upheld her conviction. (Tampa Tribune, Nov. 28, 1996). In February of 1997, she was taken into custody to begin her 12-year sentence. (St. Pete Times, Feb. 13, 1997)


Harry Newman, who had hired Wyant to commit the killing and was the final defendant to go to trial, was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in August of 1994. (St. Pete Times, Aug. 10, 1994) The jury deliberated for just over an hour before reaching a verdict. (Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 10, 1994) Newman was sentenced to life in prison. (St. Pete Times, Oct. 15, 1994)

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