UPDATE: Custody Battle Ends; Judge Orders Leg Returned to Owner

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Last month I reported on a custody battle over a severed leg that Shannon Whisnant found inside a barbecue smoker he bought at an auction.  The leg had belonged to John Wood, who lost it in a plane crash.

Well, he didn’t exactly lose it — it just wasn’t attached anymore.  Wood still had it, though, and was apparently keeping it around because of a belief that you need to have all your parts with you when you die.  (I would not have expected that to be a problem in the afterlife but I guess it could conceivably save somebody a lot of work tracking parts down if that turns out to be necessary.)  The smoker and various other items went on the auction block after Wood was no longer able to pay the bill on the storage unit.

Wood apparently realized where the leg had got to when Whisnant started to get publicity (he was charging people to look at the smoker), and demanded the leg back.  Whisnant turned it over to police and a custody battle ensued.

Appropriately enough, the matter was decided by a TV judge, Judge Greg Mathis, in an episode that aired on November 1.  Whisnant argued he was entitled to the leg because "the auction man said all sales were final," and that he wanted to continue to charge $10 a look (no charge for amputees).  "It’s mine," he said.  "It’s a hell of a conversation piece."  Wood said he did not want Whisnant to be able to profit from his leg, and also made a claim for emotional distress because of media coverage of the case.

In a Solomonic decision, Judge Mathis reunited the leg with the man who had grown it, but denied his claim for damages.  "You’re not getting that leg," he told Whisnant.  "I’m not giving you the man’s leg."  He did not appear to believe that Wood had actually suffered great emotional distress, however, telling him and Whisnant: "I think that you all, quite frankly, are enjoying this. . . . Something’s wrong with both of y’all."

Whisnant told the Charlotte Observer that whatever Mathis decided, he still had plans to profit from his discovery.  He said he was preparing a website on which he would sell commemorative T-shirts bearing a picture of his face flanked by a leg on either side and the words "I am friends with the foot man."  (I would buy that, largely because the caption really makes no sense at all.)  "They’ll be $15.95 plus shipping," he said.  "[But] they’re beautiful shirts," he insisted.  "They really are."  They certainly sound beautiful, but to date Whisnant’s website doesn’t appear to be operational.

Link: International Herald Tribune
Link: Get Your Case Resolved by Judge Mathis