Inside America’s most inbred family who speak to each other with ‘grunts’

By Staff

The Whittaker family, who live in the village of Odd, West Virginia, have become one of the most well-known families in America due to their complicated history with inbreeding

The Whittakers, known as America’s most inbred family, have a unique way of communicating – using grunts and gestures instead of words or sign language. This unusual trait is due to their long history of inbreeding, which has led to some heartbreaking genetic defects.

The family’s unique life was brought to the public eye by filmmaker Mark Laita, who shares snippets of their lives on his YouTube channel Soft White Underbelly, including the recent passing of Larry, who died last week aged 67, of a suspected heart attack.

Mark said of the sad news: “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.”

The family lives in a small village called Odd, about 75 miles from Charleston. The story of their inbreeding began with twin brothers, Henry and John, whose children married each other and had kids of their own. Harry and his wife Sally had seven kids, including John Isom Whittaker, born in 1882. John fell head over heels for his first cousin, Ada Rigg, and they had nine children together.

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One of these was their daughter Gracie Irene Whittaker, born in 1920. When Gracie grew up, she tied the knot with her double cousin, John Emory Whittaker, in 1935. They shared the same grandparents and went on to have 15 children together.

Sadly, many of their kids were born with serious physical and mental problems, thought to be because of the family’s 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. Gracie and John’s daughter, Betty, who was born in 1952, is now the matriarch of the family promising her mother that she would not marry so she could look after her siblings.

One of a privileged few with access to the family, Mark has learned everything about the Whittakers, including the secret language they use to speak. Betty’s siblings, Ray and Lorene, don’t talk with words. They make noises and move to show what they mean. But they understand everything perfectly.

The film 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 family is protected by their neighbours who do not take kindly to strangers turning up at their door, with an angry neighbor even threatening photographer Mark Laita when he showed up to visit the family.

Speaking on the Koncrete KLIPS podcast, he said: “We came around to this road, which turns into a country road, which turns into a dirt road, and we come to this trailer and then a little shack on the other side of the road,” he explained.

“And there’s these people walking around and their eyes are going in different directions and they are barking at us. And then one guy, you would look at him in the eye or say anything and he would just scream and go running away, and his pants would fall around his ankles, and he would go running off and go and kick a garbage can. And this would happen over and over. It was out of control – the craziest thing I have ever seen.”

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