Otto Wood the Bandit
DESCRIPTION: Otto Wood has a quarrel with and kills a pawnshop clerk. Sheriff arrests him; he's imprisoned. He breaks out but is recaptured (and shot). In another break, he's shot dead. Chorus: "Otto Wood why didn't you run/When the sheriff pulled out that 44 gun?"
EARLIEST DATE: 1930 (recording, Slim Smith & the Carolina Buddies)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Otto Wood has a quarrel with a pawnshop clerk and pistol-whips (shoots?) him to death. Sheriff arrests him; he's sentenced to the penitentiary. He breaks out but is recaptured (and shot in the process). In another break, he's shot dead. "He loved the women and he hated the law/Just wouldn't take nobody's jaw." Chorus: "Otto Wood why didn't you run/When the sheriff pulled out that 44 gun?"
KEYWORDS: captivity crime homicide law manhunt prison punishment trial escape death police prisoner
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
ADDITIONAL: Frances H. Casstevens, _Death in North Carolina's Piedmont: Tales of Murder, Suicide, and Causes Unknown_, History Press, 2006, pp. 117-118, "Otto Wood: The Bandit" (1 text, the Kid Smith version)
[Walter "Kid" Smith & the] Carolina Buddies, "Otto Wood the Bandit" ((Columbia 15652-D, 1931; rec. 1930; on RoughWays2)
Slim Smith [pseud. for Bernard Smith], "Otto Wood the Bandit" (Victor 23526, 1931)
cf. "Duncan and Brady" [Laws I9] (lyrics)
NOTES: Otto Wood was a local boy in the same area of North Carolina as Charlie Poole's band; the song tells his story pretty accurately.
Pity there isn't a keyword "ineptitude." - PJS
According to Frances H. Casstevens, Death in North Carolina's Piedmont: Tales of Murder, Suicide, and Causes Unknown, History Press, 2006, p. 86, Wood wasn't exactly inept -- just thoroughly out of it: "Wood escaped a total of ten times from prison. Four of those escapes were from the North Carolina State Prison, the rest from prison in Tennessee and Virginia. This record was remarkable in itself, and almost miraculous considering the prisoner had only one hand and a crippled foot" (Casstevens, p. 86). In telling his own story, he admitted to car theft, moonshining, and gambling while denying any sort of violence -- although a man he was fighting with did die (Casstevens, pp. 86-87).
Wood seems to have been very, very messed up -- I obviously can't diagnose from here, but psychopathy, or at least its broader cousin antisocial personality disorder, seems likely. Since such people have no respect for truth, I'm not sure how far we can trust his reports of his behavior. But the report is that he ran away from home as early as age seven, riding the rods out of North Carolina and ending up cadging food and lodging before being sent home. His parents, clearly fearing a repeat, advised the railroads not to let him ride. But he managed to run away again and ended up in the custody of his uncle, where he learned about moonshining and gambling (Casstevens, p. 87).
When he next visited his family, he stole a bicycle, even though he didn't know how to ride it! He was first sentenced to a chain gang at age twelve, but was sent home because he was still so small. He then stole a bunch of guns, and was caught and tried. The judge tried to put him back with his family, who said they couldn't control him. The judge sent him home anyway. (Casstevens, p. 88).
Some time after this, Wood lost his hand, seemingly in legitimate work in a coal mine, although he does not give details (Casstevens, p. 88). Somehow, he managed to hook up with several girls -- and, having married one, was imprisoned for making false promises to another and getting her pregnant. After this, he managed his first escape from prison -- which resulted in his sentence being lengthened when he was recaptured. He escaped again, got into a gambling fight, and ended up in a shootout in which three others were injured as well as Wood himself (he claimed he took all the winnings; I suspect he cheated and was caught). Amazingly, he was allowed to go free, since he claimed self-defense. He married again, took to hauling drink, and added car theft to his rap sheet (Casstevens, p. 89).
Fool that he was, when he escaped from prison in Tennessee, he decided to head home to his mother's family -- and was picked up almost at once. But he escaped again, briefly, although he ended up getting injured in the process -- and adding horse theft to his record (Casstevens, p. 90).
When he ended up in jail in West Virginia, he recruited a young murderer to help him escape. They broke out on January 3, 1919. The kid was eventually captured, but Wood made it to North Carolina. He was arrested for moonshining and extradited to West Virginia (three states had warrants out for him, but they sent him to West Virginia because they offered the largest reward; Casstevens, p. 91). He was granted a pardon there but shipped off to Tennessee, where he was given a sentence of three year and treated harshly. His latest girlfriend, who had been with him in West Virginia, had borne him a child, so he decided to escape again and head west. He apparently spent a year or so rambling around the west coast (Casstevens, p. 92). On his way back, he got caught with stolen merchandise (which he claimed to have been trying to return to the rightful owner). He ended up wrecking his car in a chase, but escaped in the dark (Casstevens, p. 93).
Woods by this time had two children, and he had to care for them and their mother. He turned again to moonshining. He also pawned a watch, and then tried to reclaim it -- and got into a fight with the pawnshop owner. (This is evidently the event referred to in the song, which obviously happened after his criminal career was well advanced.) Somehow, Wood ended up shooting the owner. He then hijacked a car, but eventually was caught and put on trial for murdering a man (Wood hadn't even known the owner was dead; Casstevens, p. 94). He was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to thirty years (his first really serious sentence). Not liking his treatment, he supposedly told the prison staff to lighten up or he would take matters into his own hands, and they dared him to try.
Wood took them up on it, once again recruiting a confederate and breaking out. They stole the prison doctor's car, then traded it for another, then another, taking the drivers of the latter two cars as prisoner and tying them up when they abandoned the cars (Casstevens, p. 95). But, of course, they were recaptured. Even his crazy girlfriend gave up on him and married another man. Naturally that meant that Wood had to break out again, to see her, but he was taken prisoner in North Carolina yet again. That was, by Casstevens's count, his eleventh arrest, following his eighth escape. It induced him to write his memoirs -- but not to listen to his own advise to stay out of trouble (Casstevens, p. 96).
Wood escaped yet again, apparently with inside help, and headed for the Midwest. He was shot while trying to rob a drug store in Indiana. He lived, and after a spell in solitary confinement in which he conveniently developed a severe cough, he was given relatively good treatment in prison. In July 1930, he made what is listed as his tenth and final escape (and his fourth from a North Carolina prison). By this point, people were sick of his escapades, and a reward was given for bringing him in dead or alive. He was located after six months, and R. L. Rankin, the police chief of Salisbury, North Carolina,caught him and called on him to give himself up (Casstevens, p. 97).
Wood, rather than give himself up, jumped in the officers' car and tried to force the officers to help him get away. Rankin jumped out of the car. Wood started firing at him. Rankin and his companion returned fire. Wood was mortally wounded; his companion, Roy Baker, went back to prison (Casstevens, p. 98). The first versions of this song were recorded soon after. - RBW
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