“I think that you all, quite frankly, are enjoying this. . . . Something’s wrong with both of y’all.” – Judge Mathis
Shannon Whisnant has always had a thirst for the spotlight, and the spotlight loves him right back. He’s a natural for reality shows; charismatic and hungry. When he bought a grill at a storage locker auction that happened to have somebody’s misplaced amputated calf and foot inside it, he thought he’d finally found his ticket to fame. He was right, and his obsession took him and the foot’s original owner on a stressful, dizzying, and somewhat redemptive ride. Independent documentary Finders Keepers, which is streaming on Netflix and available to be rented or purchased on Amazon tells this strange, funny, and emotional tale with dignity and candor. Usually a leg is just a leg, but for these two men, it’s so much more.
In 2007, when Shannon Whisnant took possession of his leg, John Wood was going through some very difficult times. In 2004, he lost both his foot and his father in a plane crash, and hoped to memorialize his dad in some way with the amputated limb. While the foot became a symbol for Shannon’s quest for fame, it was John’s symbol to somehow reclaim his loss.
John thought he was going to receive just the bones from the hospital, but what he got was a flesh-covered foot. He proceeded to DIY embalm his limb, which ended up being quite a process, and involved him sticking his leg in a tree for a while to dry in the sun. After the sun treatment, the limb was supposed to be temporarily stored inside his grill in his garage. Soon afterwards, an eviction uprooted his limb and his life.
All of John’s stuff was moved to a storage unit, which his mom paid for three months, but John failed to pick up the payments, and lost all of is stuff, including the fateful leg. The chaos in his life was related to a drug addiction he’d developed following the plane crash. The pills prescribed to alleviate physical pain while he was recuperating also dulled the emotional pain for the guilt and grief he felt over the loss of his father. Soon after it became obvious he was abusing his med, his mom kicked him out of her house, and instead of that being a wake-up call, John’s addictions continued to spiral out of control.
When Shannon Whisnant’s performances and entrepreneurial hijinks escalated, John took Shannon’s bait and began joining in on the media circus surrounding his leg. In the midst of the whirlwind, John ended up on national television and living under a bridge. By the time John starting filming the documentary, he was still new in his sobriety.
He has starting rebuilding the trust from his family, and, oddly enough, was able to get the help he needed thanks to Whisnant’s antics. As his sister says in the film, “If Shannon hadn’t been such a douche,”
What ultimately got him help was an appearance on Judge Mathis to settle the dispute of the leg for once and for all. Whisnant, who wanted to set up a side-show attraction for the leg, cited a “finders keepers” law that says he has legal ownership over whatever he bought during a storage unit auction. Judge Mathis told him he was correct, but he’d be getting a $5,000 payment instead of the leg itself. Behind the scenes, Judge Mathis also had a prize for John Wood, (beyond the leg:) he offered John some of the best rehab treatment in the nation. It was this help that gave him a boost to start rebuilding his life and remembering his father the best way he could: by trying to be happy, sober, and self sufficient. He still has a long way to go, but for John and his family, this leg journey seems to have been just as therapeutic as it was disrupting. As John’s sister put it, they’re grateful Shannon was the “douche that he is,” because it was a catalyst that led to positive changes for John.