The 2015 documentary Finders Keepers tells the story of John Wood and his efforts to reclaim the leg he lost in the Cessna plane crash that took his father’s life. Before losing his leg, Wood struggled with an oxycontin dependency, which was only heightened during his grief and recovery period. His substance use was ongoing when a man named Shannon Whisnant discovered Wood's amputated leg in an old grill he'd purchased from a repossessed storage unit. Though Wood eventually regained control of his life and his leg, the arduous journey he endured sparked international media attention, and led him to give back to his community.
Article ImagePrior to the events of Finders Keepers, John Wood lived a fairly ordinary, albeit troubled, life in North Carolina. He suffered a freak accident when the engine went out while he and his father were taking a joyride in their small plane. Doctors had to amputate Wood’s leg and his father did not survive. In memory of his father, Wood asked if he could keep the part of his leg that had been removed. He assumed they would give him the bone; however, he was surprised to receive the entire thing with skin and muscle still intact. With no way to store the leg, Wood first refrigerated it at a local Hardee's before saving it through his own mummification techniques.
Eventually, Wood left his leg in his storage unit, but he was so grief-stricken over the loss of his father and the trauma of the accident that he fell deeper into a substance dependency and couldn't keep up with his finances. Wood's storage unit and all of its possessions were later sold at auction, including a barbecue grill that he used to store his mummified leg.
Article ImageThe barbecue grill was sold to Shannon Whisnant, who was surprised to find the leg within his new cooking tool. Rather than return the appendage to its rightful owner, he made it into a local tourist attraction. Whisnat charged people to see the leg in person, referring to himself as the "Foot Man" and selling shirts to further his brand.
When Wood heard what was happening, he asked for his leg back, but Whisnant was unrelenting in his insistence that the leg belonged to him. Wood felt that Whisnant was exploiting his leg as a "freak show," and that regardless of whether it was still attached to him, he should have control over what happens to his own body. The main dispute between Wood and Whisnant, which is highlighted in Finders Keepers, is that Wood didn't want to use his leg for publicity, while Whisnant wanted to make money off of the situation.
Article ImageAfter a tumultuous back and forth between the two men that saw them turned into local media sensations, they settled their dispute on an episode of Judge Mathis, with Wood regaining custody of his leg.
Though the contention between Wood and Whisnet was unexpected and rather strange, Wood started the long and difficult path to recovery after acquiring ownership of his leg. Though Wood has had his ups and downs, the events have helped him regain perspective. With the help of his friends, family, and Warner Bros., he's managed to get himself on the straight and narrow. Since the custody battle made it to Judge Mathis, Warner Bros. sent him to one of the top five treatment centers in the country, called Ridgeview Institute in Atlanta, and Wood sobered up.
According to the directors of Finders Keepers, Wood has stayed clean and he's married. Since the documentary made waves in 2015, both Wood and Whisnant have appeared in several urban legend TV episodes, and Wood has performed charity work at the Woodford Landfill in North Carolina as a recyclables organizer.
Wood told The Charlotte Observer that he got into charity work because he felt Finders Keepers might have convinced some viewers he was pushing a bizarre Southern stereotype, and he wanted to prove he is more than just some guy who got into a fight over his amputated leg. It’s important to Wood that he gives back to his community, and that his reputation extends beyond this strange scenario.
As for the leg itself, Wood moved it from the bottom of a golf bag and into his closet before finally encasing it in epoxy as a memorial to his father, fulfilling Wood's initial intentions of keeping the leg. To top things off, Wood won the lottery in 2015. He told The New York Times, "It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to say, 'Hey, nice one, I see what you're doing here,' Like somebody above is really having fun with this story."