Originally Published December 8, 2010
Anton Woode was the youngest murderer in the recorded history of Colorado. Woode went to prison at a time when the justice system of Colorado was fluctuating on how to treat youthful offenders on all crimes. When Woode was convicted, there was no legal system in place for dealing with juvenile offenders. It was assumed that a child under the age of seven lacked the ability to understand the crime they had committed, and the morality surrounding it, making them immune from prosecution. Children between the ages of seven and fourteen were considered not criminally responsible, but over the age of fourteen, they could be and were executed in Colorado from the 1880s until the early 1900s.
Any crime was seen as a serious crime; a boy stealing fruit at age 12 could be thrown into jail, or sent to a reformatory or work camp until the age of 21. Other states had reformation acts in place for young offenders, but it wasn’t until 1903 that such measures started to be instated here in Colorado. However, starting in the 1980s until now, teens started being treated as serious criminals again, depending on the nature of the crime; violent crimes got teenagers as young as thirteen once again tried as adults.
Anton Woode’s case was an exception. On April 5th, 1893, Anton Woode was convicted ofmurder and sentenced to 25 years in Canon City prison.
The story of how he got to these straights is actually pretty simple and straightforward. Living out near Brighton with his father and his mother, on November 2, 1892, young Anton had taken his rifle out with him, ostensibly to go hunting. Out in the woods, several miles from his house, he met up with several other men who were also on a hunting trip from Denver. Alexander Baker, Harry Wyman and Joseph Smith had left on a duck hunting trip from Denver, and after setting up camp and attempting to hunt, unsuccessfully, Baker and Smith met young Woode. Curious boy, Woode asked Baker a number of questions about the wagon, the horses, and whether the man had a watch. Woode asked to accompany the men, and seeing no harm and hoping the boy could lead them to better hunting grounds, they allowed him to tag along.
Baker managed to shoot a rabbit near an abandoned ranch where they had tied up their horses, and in a ravine nearby, Smith had done the same. Woode asked Baker for his rabbit and was refused. When they caught up to Smith, Woode asked him what time it was, and Smith pulled out a lovely gold watch, telling Woode the time.
At this point, Woode told the men he knew where a lot of rabbits were. Baker had come to hunt ducks, so he left Smith and Woode and caught up with their other friend, Wyman, to hunt those ducks. Baker and Wyman heard two shots, and looking back, saw that Smith had brought down another rabbit. Satisfied that their friend was going to rabbit hunt instead, they went on their way, leaving Smith and Woode to head in another direction.
Later in the afternoon, Smith and Wyman returned to the wagon and the camp where the men had agreed to spend the night. But by 6 pm, Smith had still not returned. They searched for Smith for about three hours, until it was completely dark, and returned to camp. Next morning, they set out again, and found Smith’s body on a hillside, less than 200 yards from the road. He was lying face up and clearly dead. Not wanting to disturb the body, Baker still went ahead and searched his friend’s pockets, only to find the watch was gone.
Baker and Wyman returned to Denver and sought out then Coroner John Chivington (Of Sand Creek infamy) who took a couple of sheriffs and returned to the site where the body still lay in the moonlight. Turning the body over, they found that Smith had been shot once in the back just under the right shoulder blade. The impact had caused Smith to spin and fall facing upward, bleeding into the ground, the cold weather hastening his demise. Woode was clearly the suspect.
Sheriffs Bert Holloway and T.J. Thompson, along with Alexander Baker and another man George Duggan, took a wagon and followed the footsteps that had been found in the snow to the Woode home less than half a mile away. At first the men asked Mrs. Woode for supper and feed for the horses, but when she refused, they drove their wagon about a half mile away, and returned on foot, this time telling Mrs. Woode their true purpose for being there. At first she told them that Anton was not at home, that he was at school Elyria. Not believing her, the men barged in and searched the house, finding Anton under his bed, and pulling him out. When questioned, Anton gave up the watch and chain, but he could not produce Smith’s rifle, claiming his father had taken it. But further search proved that to be a lie; the rifle was hidden between the mattresses on Anton’s bed.
Anton readily confessed to the sheriffs and once again when he was taken to jail in Denver. Two days after his arrest, he told his story to Richard Wells, reporter for the Colorado Sun, in a middle of the night interview. From that point forward, Anton was vilified by the newspapers as an unredeemable and immoral boy. This was a position that would haunt him through his incarceration and his life afterward, prompting him to change his name as an adult and take on a new identity.
In jail, while awaiting trial, Anton was put in the charge of a matron who took care of him, because of his tender age. Anton was only 10 years old. In the days preceding his trial, a number of police officers, religious leaders and psychologists gathered to discuss the nature of his crime, what had really led to it, and what would lead Woode to comm
it such an act. At the time, the general attitude was that someone was born a criminal, and nothing could be done to change his ways. However, this group of educated and experienced men discussed the possibility that it was indeed environment; Woode’s poor upbringing, the lack of moral teaching, all impressed on young Woode that there was not a thing wrong with killing a man to get an item you coveted, which did indeed seem to be how the series of events had gone.
Without knowing it, Anton Woode’s case and the discussion surrounding it would set a benchmark for the development of the juvenile court system in Colorado, as well as setting the stage for the creation of the law that holds parents and guardians responsible for their child’s behavior. This would not be the first time Woode found himself unknowingly in the middle of something that would eventually lead to prison and legal reform.
Woode’s trial started on February 27th, 1893. John Deweese served as Anton’s attorney, and the Assistant District Attorney was Booth Malone. They appeared before Judge David V. Burns. Anton appeared clean, polished, with a new haircut and new clothes donated from an anonymous source- all in all; Anton looked like any other ten year old boy. The courtroom was full, including Anton’s parents, and Mr. Smith’s sisters, who had come from Kansas expressly to attend the trial, and who were conspicuously dressed in full mourning black.
Jury selection took only one day; it was complete by 5:30 pm, pretty much a record by today’s standards. All the men on the jury were married and were fathers, and came from a variety of backgrounds. During the jury selection, Anton appeared bored, as any ten year old would, doodling, eating caramels and even going over to his parents, a action he would repeat during the trial.
The trial itself started on February 28th, and lasted only two days. By 11: 50am on March 1st, the decision making was turned over to the jury. Deliberation took 29 hours, and Judge Burns, impatient for it to end, called them out only to find that the jury was hung – they could not reach a verdict. Judge Burns declared that Woode would need to be tried again with a new jury; the new trial began on March 20th, 1893.
Anton’s attorney and assistant counsel stayed the same, and Asst. District Attorney Malone was back as well, but this time, the District Attorney himself stepped in to help bring a conclusion to this case- District Attorney Robert W. Steele. Judge Burns again presided over the case. Jury selection was as quick as the last time, 12 men were quickly chosen.
But this time Deweese pulled out all the stops, presenting evidence not brought forth in the first trial. Deweese stated that both of Anton’s parents showed traces of having been infected with syphilis, an effect that could have had deleterious effects on young Anton while he was in the womb, rendering him not completely mentally fit. Deweese also pointed out to the court that the Woode’s were of “low intellectual order”, an elitist term often used on working class people and farmers. Basically it was a way of stating they were stupid, and raised in such an environment, and with the possibility of disease having damaged his brain, that Anton was the next best thing to retarded.
Deweese also brought up that the men had given Anton some alcohol from a flask before they proceeded to hunt. Being a young boy, the alcohol would have gone straight to Anton’s head, impairing his judgment. These two aspects , Deweese insisted, made it so that young Anton Woode was not guilty in the least, just a misled and stupid child. This kind of defense may seem horrifying to some, but mental capacity is still judged in a great many cases today, and is one of the many weapons a good attorney will use in a client’s defense. Though it is couched in politically correct terms today, the “too stupid to understand what he did” is still a valid defense.
Anton’s diet was also used by the defense – at age 10, Anton’s standard meals were eggs, potatoes, pork, bread and copious amounts of coffee. Rather standard fare for lower income families all over Denver and throughout the country, it was still touted as having affected Anton’s health, growth and mental capacity.
And, of course, Anton’s tender age was brought up and discussed in length, former teachers called in to testify as to his academic ability, and psychologists testifying on the defendant’s behalf.
The prosecution pulled out their own weapons, bringing Dr. J.T. Eskridge to testify that he’d examined Woode’s parents and found no signs of syphilis and that he had examined Woode himself and found him whole, hearty and hale, thus dismissing the idea that excess coffee and diet had affected his development. Since his birth could not be fully determined (pre standardization of birth records), Anton’s mother was called to testify as to how old he was.
The possible clincher to the case was when Baker was called to recount again his story, and admitted to having given Anton some alcohol, but no more than a spoonful surely not enough to impair the child.
As before, Anton showed no real interest in the proceedings, often drawing or writing his name with flourishes. He often went to his parents and sat on their laps, even sitting on the lap of one of the guards and that of a co counsel through the trial.
Both sides rested their case by 9:45 pm on the 20th, turning it over to the jury. Judge Burns allowed 30 minutes deliberation by the jury, and when verdict was not reached at the end of that time, everyone was sent home for the night. The jury returned early in the morning, and at 9:45 am, returned to the court with a decision – that young Anton was guilty of murder in the second degree. Responding emotionally for the first time, Anton cried at the verdict and was led away to return to jail to await sentencing. His parents had failed to show for the decision.
On April 5, 1893, Anton was sentenced. Last minutes appeals were made by his attorney –and dismissed. Judge Burns once again asked Anton’s parents his age, who this time produced a family bible with the birth date of January 15, 1882 in it. Anton had turned eleven while in jail awaiting trial. However, Judge Burns didn’t believe it, stating it was clear that Anton was indeed over the age of 12 and eligible to be sent to prison. Judge Burns sentenced Anton to 25 years hard labor in a state penitentiary, and on April 8th, Anton was taken to Canon City Penitentiary to start serving his sentence.
At Canon City, Anton had his head shaven and was assigned the number 3199. The youngest inmate by far, he was taken under the warden’s wing and watched over by the guards. Anton took this time at Canon City seriously. It is said – but unproven – that an imprisoned college professor set about teaching Anton, taking a special interest in helping the young man reform. From age eleven to age eighteen, Anton managed to learn to play the violin, read copiously, learned to speak fluent French and German, and became a competent artist. Woode also honed his writing skills; in an example of his writing, his penmanship is flawless, and his powers of persuasion and vocabulary were evident in the many letters he wrote the state governors asking for early parole so he could go home and care for his aging mother and their farm.
But this was not meant to be, because when he was eighteen, Woode inadvertently found himself in the middle of a prison break and the murder of a young guard. Pretty much carried along for the ride, Woode and three other men escaped from Canon City and were at large for three days, captured easily and quickly and without any fuss.
For Anton, this was all quite a surprise and quite unexpected on his part; Anton was assigned a team to work evenings in the boiler room at the prison. The boiler, being old, needs fairly constant attention to keep running. The other three men assigned with Woode – Charles Wagoner, Thomas Reynolds, and Frank Wallace – were the ones who had conceived of and carried out the plot to escape.
Led to the boiler room by one sole guard, William C. Rooney, at 10 pm on January 22nd, 1900, Rooney was quickly overpowered and then stabbed several times with a homemade prison knife, killing him. Woode stayed back, even retreated to another room at one point and had to be coaxed back. Several other prisoners witnessed it, and when offered the chance to escape as well, declined. Woode was convinced by Wallace that if he didn’t go along with them, since he was part of their work crew, he would be in serious trouble. Woode, just eighteen and in many ways still a child, went along. The older men released the steam to the boiler, shutting down power to the prison and, of course, to the alarms. George Grace, one of the men who denied the opportunity to escape, closed the valve and got the power running again, at which the escapees threw a bucket of tallow on the drive belt, stopping the machine and power once again.
The escape was truly poorly planned. While they had a rope ladder prepared and used it to get over the 20 foot wall, it was the middle of one of the colder parts of winter, and the men had no real warm clothing, no money and no food. Wagoner and Reynolds took off in one direction, leaving Wallace and Woodes to escape together.
Wallace and Woodes were caught three days later near Cripple Creek, surrendering quietly to Charles Canterbury and Will Higgins, after having been spotted by Canterbury’s sons on their farm attempting to steal food. In the meantime, Reynolds was caught four days after the escape, after getting caught in some barbed wire near Florence. On his return to Canon City, a mob of men pulled him from the wagon and hung him from a light pole. Wagoner was never caught. In light of Reynolds’s hanging, Wallace and Woodes were returned to the prison in the early morning hours in a successful attempt to get them back to the jail with the town still slept.
Both Wallace and Woodes were charged with murder and sent to solitary confinement for ninety six days as punishment for escaping. Quickly enough, it became clear that Woodes was in no way complicit in the escape plot or the murder; Wallace testified on Woode’s behalf, stating that the boy was innocent in all of it and had just been dragged along. All charges against Woodes were dropped. However, all hopes for early parole were also dashed, as the newspapers had once again villanized Woode; according to the legal system, he was innocent in this incident, but according to the papers of Canon City, Denver and beyond, he was still as vile a criminal as he was when he was ten.
Oddly enough, Woodes came out of solitary confinement in better health than he’d ever been before – denied coffee and cigarettes while confined, he’d kicked both habits and his lungs had improved, as well as his general overall health.
Woode and his mother continued to appeal to the governor for early release to no avail. Then a Denver socialite, Madge Reynolds, took up his cause and made it her own. Known for helping wayward boys, involved in the height of Denver’s social life and the wife Denver oil executive, James B. Reynolds, Mrs. Reynolds had some social pull and used it to full effect. In the meantime, Woodes ended up in the middle of yet another prison break, but this time on the right side of the wall.
ON June 22, 1903, Tom Fallon, Kirch Kuykendall, James Armstrong, Tom Fisher, Cuaz Cordova, and Robert Cain plotted to blow up a portion of the prison wall and thus escape. They had gotten the nitroglycerine and dynamite form one of the prison worksites, quarrying lime and sandstone. Since the prison was supposed to be self sufficient, these men, working in those areas, had full access and ability to stockpile a great deal of both. On the morning of the 22nd before roll call, all six men had feigned illness and when the prison doctor was called in to see to them, they rushed the doctor and the guards, brandishing prison made knives and took the uniforms of the guards. Now looking as if three guards were escorting three prisoners and Dr. Palmer, they headed to the prison’s main gate, taking a hostage along the way – Mrs. Annie Cleghorn, wife of the current warden. She had been in the women’s building of the prison and when warned by an inmate of an impending jailbreak, was heading back to the offices to tell her husband. A dining room steward by the name of John Keefe was also taken hostage.
So how did Anton get involved in this mess? Working as clerk in the deputy warden’s office, Woode got the sense that something was not right and started ringing the prison bell He did so until Kuykendall broke into the office and threatened to kill him if he did not stop. After Kuytkendall left again, Anton ran to tell the prison guards and placed a call to Warden Cleghorn at the Strathmore Hotel, where he was with his chief clerk. Cleghorn immediately ordered all the guards to arm themselves and take positions along the south wall.
Kuykendall shouted threats and wrapped a nitro soaked rag around the main gate’s lock, and lit it on fire, blowing the gate open. Same thing was done to the outer gate, and the prisoners escaped, leaving a fainted Mrs. Cleghorn behind. Within 90 minutes, the escapees were either shot or recaptured.
Woode’s quick thinking led Mrs. Reynold’s to step up her campaign to get Anton an early parole, sitting that it was clear he was reformed by his actions. However, this attempt had many starts and stops, his case being heard by the parole board and dismissed more than once. But on September 12th, 1905, Anton Woode was granted early parole.
Part of the conditions of his parole was that Woode was to go the Roycroft Colony (popular for the art and furniture produced by its artisans) in East Aurora, New York. However, within days of starting there, Woode became clearly disenchanted by the slave labor conditions and asked to be allowed to move to a reform center in NYC run by Maude Ballington Booth, a prison reformist who ran halfway houses throughout the country to help newly released men and women have good, moral lives free of crime. Woode had heard her speak when she had come to Canon City and was enamored of her plan and zeal. His request to the governor, along with his description of the Roycroft Colony, was printed in the paper and created another media firestorm that reached all the way across the country. ON October 20th, deciding it was for the best; Anton was given permission to go to New York City.
He held several jobs in New York City, making enough to pay back Mrs. Reynolds some of the money she’d spent to get him into the Roycroft Colony. Soon, however, he resettled in Newburgh, New York; an area famed for its artists and landscapes. Starting life anew with a new name, he was now Charles Henry Howard, teaching violin to students.
He fell in love with one of his students, Mabel Terry, and told her all about his past. She accepted him and they married. Somewhere between 1905 and 1906, Anton took on a bookkeeper job, leaving his violin tutorship behind.
Woode registered for the draft for WWI in September 12th, 1918, but was never called to active duty. In 1919, he bought a home, but the next year sold the home to his neighbor and he and his family moved to Minneapolis, where he continued to work as a bookkeeper and accountant. He died on March 8th, 1950 of lung cancer. He had gone from being a child murderer to becoming a responsibly family man and citizen, something the newspaper and citizens of Colorado had never thought he would achieve.
And thus ends the story of Anton Woode, the youngest murderer in Colorado’s history.