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Carnie Killers: The Murder Trial of Lobster Boy

While true crime writer Fred Rosen was investigating the murder of performer Grady Stiles, he received a video that would change the course of the trial.


The whole thing started when I got a videotape in the mail from Arnie Levine,  the attorney for Teresa Stiles.

She was on trial for killing her husband Grady Stiles, Jr., a famous carnival attraction known as Lobster Boy. Grady had a birth deformity that gave him hands that looked like lobster claws, and stunted legs and feet. Teresa’s defense was battered wife syndrome, one of the rare times in American jurisprudence it had been used in the case of a contract killing.

The tape, copies of which were sent to all the media, showed Grady wrestling with Little Grady, his teenage son. In the background on the soundtrack, I heard the family kibitzing. No big deal. Just a father roughhousing with his son. So why had Levine sent it out?

I began to speak to Teresa a lot by phone. Collect calls; she was in jail and hadn’t made parole. Later, when I got to Florida to interview everybody involved in the case, I drove to Gibsonton, where the Stiles family lived. At their trailer, I met Little Grady and his sister, Cathy Stiles. Cathy was an unidicted co-conspirator in her dad’s murder.

theresa and cathy stiles
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  • Teresa and Cathy Stiles. 

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of the State’s Attorney’s Office

She and Little Grady both carried the gene that gave them the “lobster syndrome.” Inside the trailer, where their father was murdered, they spoke about dysfunctional family matters. Then another man present during the interviews, Harry Glenn Newman—a dwarf whose stage name was Midget Man—told me about the murder Grady committed in Pittsburgh.

That got me on a train to Pittsburgh, where a homicide captain not only gave me the files on the case in question, he let me sit in on his squad’s considerations, of whether to charge a man they were then currently investigating, with murder. That made me realize what a grave responsibility homicide detectives have.

Back in Florida, I attended the trial of the “hit man,” 17-year-old stoner Chris Wyant. Teresa paid him to kill Grady. Six months later, Teresa came to trial. One day during defense testimony, her attorney Arnie Levine played the videotape … without sound. Without sound, Grady looked like he was abusing his son during the wrestling match.

All the copies Levine had sent to the media were silent. For some reason, they didn’t wipe the sound on mine. At the end of court that day, I told prosecutor Ron Hanes I had a copy of the tape with sound. Hanes asked me to send for it. I’d left it back home. Hanes said it was evidence in a murder trial. Walking to the parking structure to get my car, I got to thinking.

As I pressed the elevator’s “Up” button, I wondered why they had taken the sound off the tape? I was trained as a filmmaker at USC’s legendary film school. First thing we were taught,  was that any film without sound, has a different meaning than it does with it. Presented silently in court by the defense, the tape was meant to show Grady abusing his son, when he wasn’t.

With the sound, you could hear Cathy and Teresa kidding around in the background.

I sent for my copy of the tape. When I got it, I gave it to Hanes. And just like that, I was part of a murder trial. Introduced as evidence, the tape led to Teresa’s conviction, and Cathy Stiles publicly threatening my life.

What’s it like to have your life threatened?

Last year, Cathy and I appeared separately, in a segment of Investigation Discovery‘s Evil Kin, about the case. I made sure they taped us in separate states.

grady stiles burial site
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  • The showman’s section of the Tampa cemetery where Grady is buried. 

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of the State Attorney’s Office

Fred Rosen is the author of true-crime book Lobster Boy. A former columnist for The Arts and Leisure Section of The New York Times, he is a veteran true crime author, who tends to get involved in his cases. He appears regularly on the Investigation Discovery Channel TV shows Evil Kin and Evil Twins.

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Featured photo: Courtesy of the State Attorney's Office