‘I’m proud to be part of America’s most inbred family – my auntie has a heart of gold’

By Staff

Grandsons Brandon and Luis have shared what their childhood looked like growing up in America’s most inbred family in Odd, West Virginia – and how they can’t wait to spread their wings and leave

They’ve become one of the most well-known families in America – but not many people actually know them on a personal level. The Whittaker family, who live in the village of Odd, 75 miles from Charleston, have a complicated history with inbreeding.

Some members of the West Virginian family communicate through grunts and barks as they’re unable to use words or sign language. However, they can all understand every word said to them – with many of the younger generations now completing school to a high school level.

Speaking to filmmaker Mark Laita, Brandon and Luis, grandsons of Larry Whittaker, shared what it was like growing up in the family – and the opportunities they’ve missed out on due to living in Odd. Mark has been building a relationship with the family since July 2020, when he released a documentary about them on his YouTube channel, Soft White Underbelly.

Mark today announced the news about Larry Whittaker’s death at aged 67 in a YouTube video. He believes Larry died following a heart attack last week – and his passing has been a devastating shock to the family. In his video, Mark said: “Larry was always a great dude to me. He was always really nice. Larry was always a standup guy and he and Betty really ran the show very well. Larry will be greatly missed. It’s going to be hard on Betty now.”

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In a recent video, he spoke to Brandon, 21, about his childhood, as he revealed his auntie Betty Whittaker raised him from three-months-old until he was about seven-years-old, as his mum, also called Betty, had moved to North Carolina. His brother, Luis, 19, added: “I stayed in North Carolina until I was about two. Then she [his mum] brought me back up here [to Odd] and I stayed with my grandpa. I’m a lot closer to him. [I grew up with] no dad and barely saw my mum.

“I plan on getting away [from Odd] soon. I’m pushing for Indiana right now [as there’s more opportunities].” The brothers shared how “drugs were everywhere” when growing up in Odd – and how they’ve destroyed many peoples’ lives. Luis added: “There are fewer opportunities living here. Every day you’ve got to think if you’ll pull through or not – and make it until the end of the day. “

Adding to this, Mike said: “And then what happens to some people is the weekend comes around and drugs are being offered.” Nodding, Luis responded: “That’s what I’m scared of every day. I don’t want to see myself doing that. I saw my mum doing it too much and it’s just something I don’t want to do.”

Brandon, who has two children and another on the way, added: “I worry about them [growing up here]. It’s one of my biggest worries. I honestly don’t think I’m going to stick around here too much longer. I’m working on getting a place. As soon as I can get enough saved up, I’ll probably get away from here. There isn’t anything here for me, really, except for them [the Whittakers].”

The Whittaker’s inbreeding started with a set of identical twin brothers, Henry and John, whose children got married and went on to have their own children together.

Harry and his wife Sally had seven children together, including John Isom Whittaker, who was born in 1882.

John fell in love with Ada Rigg, his first cousin, and went on to have nine children with her, including their daughter Gracie Irene Whittaker in 1920.

When Gracie grew up, she married her double cousin, John Emory Whittaker, in 1935, whom she shared both sets of grandparents with, and went on to have 15 children.

Tragically, many of their children were born with severe physical and mental impairments, believed to have been a result of inbreeding.

Their eldest child, Aileen, passed away in June 1997 after suffering from a heart attack, while their oldest son Emery died a month after being born in 1938 after suffering from pneumonia.

Today, Betty, who was born in 1952, has become the head of the family after promising her mother she would not marry so she could look after her 14 siblings, including Ray, Larry, Freddy and Lorene.

Documenting their lives out in Odd, filmmaker Mark Laita was invited into their house and spoke to the family about their day-to-day lives as well as their heritage.

When asking about their parents, Betty wouldn’t say if her parents were related – but later confirmed her mum and dad are double first cousins.

Her siblings, Ray and Lorene, were both seemingly unable to communicate through words – instead, they used grunts, barks, and movements to express themselves.

However, they seemed to understand what the filmmaker was asking without any difficulty.

It was shared how Lorene’s son, Timmy, was born in 1979 as a result of sexual abuse from an unidentified man.

Speaking about the family, a relative said: “They understand what you’re talking about. If they don’t like it, they start yelling- they let you know they don’t like that idea.”

Timmy is the only member of the Whittaker family who graduated from high school.

The Whittakers are protected by their other family members – including Brandon and Luis, grandsons of Larry Whittaker.

Their neighbours also step in when strangers start turning up at their door, with one even threatening filmmaker Mark Laita when he showed up to visit the family in July 2020.

He went on to explain how he is only staying in Odd to watch over his auntie Betty and his other family – and stop people from exploiting them. When asked to share his favourite memory with the Whittakers, he said: “Freddy (his late uncle) and I used to fish around here all of the time. He’d always have a can of worms and a fishing pole every week and come up here. He’d want to go behind the chicken pen and fish. I miss that sometimes.

Speaking about how they’d playfully mess with Freddy as young boys, Luis added: “Freddy was a lot calmer than Ray (his uncle) until you really pushed him. If Betty went out and you told him she wasn’t getting any chicken, he’d trash the house apart. That was his favourite part about every month because he got fried chicken. Ray was nuts. He used to run off all the time and everything. He actually got lost for about three days, Ray did.

“I remember when he was walking up there [up a hill], and he got bit by a copperhead. He walked down the road, got a shovel, walked back up there and brought the snake back down alive on the shovel to show us what he was talking about. He kept pointing to his hand and his shovel. They let him keep the snake. They killed it and put it in a little tube for him and he kept it for the longest time.”

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