3 Heartbreaking Tales of "Freaks"

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By Adam Horowitz

In 1749, G.L.L. de Buffon introduced an influential classification system in his book, Varieties of the Human Species, Of Monsters. "Monsters", as human anomalies were labeled at the time (as if the term "˜freaks' weren't offensive enough), were broken down into 3 categories: 1) those by addition; 2) those by omission; and 3) those by reason of the reversal or wrong positioning of parts. To correspond with de Buffon's breakdown "“ which is now scientifically obsolete but appealing in its simplicity - we present the stories of 3 remarkable real-life anomalies, 1 for each category:

The Siamese Twin and Champion Skater Who Got His Brother Arrested

(Anomalies by addition.) The Godina brothers were Siamese twins born in the Philippines in 1906. Because they were pygopagus "“ i.e. connected at the buttocks - they possessed great flexibility (relatively speaking) and actually became accomplished dancers and champion skaters.

Unfortunately, one day in Manila, Lucio got in an accident while driving drunk and injured the other driver. He initially received a jail sentence, but got off when the judge deemed it unfair to incarcerate innocent Simplicio too. A hefty fine was imposed instead, which upset Simplicio to the point that he told his brother he would no longer perform. Simplicio was forced to reconsider his position, however, when Lucio responded with a suicide threat. The Godinas married identical twin sisters and traveled to the U.S., where the foursome danced the tango on tour. But in 1936, Lucio caught pneumonia and died unexpectedly. An emergency operation was performed, separating Simplicio from his brother, but a complication ensued and Simplicio died just 12 days later.

"The Half-Man" and his Incredible Magic Trick

ajohnny_eck.jpg(Anomaly by omission.) Johnny Eck, "The Half-Man", was born in 1911 with a twin brother Robert. Robert came out first and was perfectly normal, but a few minutes later Johnny appeared with a body that seemed to consist of just half a torso. He had a truncated spine with virtually no body whatsoever below it. Despite his disability, Johnny was quite intelligent and even athletic, quickly learning how to walk and run on his hands. At an early age, he fell in love with the circus, and in 1923 his mother signed him over to a magician to be his manager. Unfortunately, the manager was a swindler, and he altered Johnny's contract from 1 year to 10 by adding an extra zero. He also promised Johnny a high salary, but gave him only $200 a week while the manager himself raked in over $100 a day. Fortunately, Johnny escaped the manager's clutches, but just a few years later ended up falling in with yet another crooked manager when he starred in Tod Browning's classic movie Freaks. The new manager had arranged it so that he himself received over 90% of Johnny's salary.

All wasn't tragic however. In 1937, Johnny partnered with his brother Robert, and performed what must've been one of the greatest sawing-in-half illusions ever put on. The way it worked was an illusionist onstage would "recruit" Robert from the audience for a hypnosis stunt. He would then have Robert stay onstage as the subject for a sawing-in-half illusion. Unbeknownst to the audience, Robert would be switched out for two people, Johnny and a dwarf who was completely hidden inside a pair of pants. Together, Johnny and the dwarf formed an identical substitute for Robert. The illusionist would saw between the two of them, and as soon as they were severed, Johnny would jump onto his hands and start frantically chasing his legs around the stage. Eventually stagehands would set Johnny back atop the dwarf and secretly switch the two back out for Robert. Of course, the whole stunt looked extremely realistic, and allegedly made audience members scream, run, and faint. In other words, it was a hit.

In 1988, Johnny was victimized once again when a gang of thieves assaulted him in a burglary of his home. The incident left him embittered and reclusive, and he remarked at the time, "If I want to see freaks, all I have to do is just look out the window." Johnny died of a heart attack in 1991.

The Very Sad Tale of "The Lobster Boy"

alobsterboy.jpg(Anomaly by reason of the reversal or wrong positioning of parts.) Grady Stiles, "The Lobster Boy", was born in 1937, the sixth in a long line of "lobster people". The family condition is ectrodactyly, in which the fingers and toes are fused together, producing hands and feet that resemble claws. Stiles was unable to walk, but he could easily crawl and was able to perform nearly every everyday task using his "claws". He married twice and had four children, but unfortunately he wasn't the best family-man. Aggravated by his condition, he became a violent alcoholic with a raging temper, and when his eldest daughter got engaged to a young man he disapproved of, Stiles shot and killed him. He was convicted of murder, but didn't receive any jail time because it was decided that no prison was equipped to handle his disability. As a result, his wife and kids were forced to endure his increasing abuse at home, as he frequently beat them with his "claws". But there was only so much they could withstand. On November 29, 1992, as Stiles sat watching TV in his trailer, he was shot four times in the head and killed. His wife had paid a hitman $1500 to commit the murder, and other family members were in on it as well. All parties involved were prosecuted and convicted. (His wife's trial was of particular note because it was the first time a defendant was permitted to assert a "battered woman's syndrome" defense in a premeditated murder case.) The long line of "lobster people" didn't end with Stiles's death, however. 3 of his living descendants possess "lobster claws" as well.

Want more stories like these? Be sure to check out Miss C's post.

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July 24, 2008 - 8:37am
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