Anton Woode, the youngest murderer in Colorado – a nine part series

Originally Published December 8, 2010

Part One

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.

Part Two

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.

Part Three

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.

Part Four

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.

Part Five

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.

Part Six

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