Judge John Howland Wood, Jr.

We had mentioned here in a previous post that a Stoutenburgh descendant, Judge John Howland Wood, Jr., was the first federal judge assassinated in the United States. It seems appropriate that we should provide more information about Judge Wood. John Howland Wood, a grandson of Maria Stoutenburgh and Richard DeCantillon, went off to Texas in 1835 to fight for the Texas Republic. It was his great, great grandson, Judge John Howland Wood, “Maximum John,” that was assassinated.

Judge John Howland Wood, Jr.
Judge John Howland Wood, Jr.

Judge John Howland Wood

John Howland Wood, Jr. (March 31, 1916–May 29, 1979) was an American lawyer and judge from the U.S. state of Texas.

He served on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas before being assassinated by Charles Harrelson outside Wood’s home in San Antonio, Texas, in 1979. Wood’s killing was the first assassination of a federal judge in the 20th century. (Two other federal judges were assassinated in the 1980s, Richard J. Daronco in 1988 and Robert Smith Vance in 1989.)

Early Life and Education

Wood was born to a prominent Texas family in Rockport, Texas. His great-great-grandfather, John Howland Wood, settled in Texas in 1836 and founded the towns of Rockport and Woodsboro, and took part in the Texas Revolution and American Civil War. Wood’s father, John H. Wood, Sr., was also a lawyer.

Wood attended high school in San Antonio. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from St. Mary’s University in 1935 and his LL.B from the University of Texas School of Law in 1938.


Wood was in private practice in San Antonio from 1938 to 1970 with the law firm Beckmann, Stanard & Olson, except from 1944 to 1945, when he served as an ensign in the Navy during World War II. Wood was in the Naval Reserve from 1945 to 1954.

Woods was nominated by President Richard Nixon on October 7, 1970, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas to a new seat created by 84 Stat. 294. Confirmed by the Senate on November 25, 1970, he received commission on December 1, 1970.

Wood was well-known for his harsh sentencing of drug traffickers; Wood almost always imposed the maximum penalty allowed, earning him the nickname "Maximum John." Wood was assassinated by Charles Harrelson in a contract killing placed by Texas drug lord Jamiel Chagra, who was awaiting trial before the judge.

John H. Wood Middle School, in San Antonio is named in his honor. The federal courthouse in San Antonio is also named for Wood.

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