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September 29, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

Extra: Charles J. Forbes


Charles J. Forbes

On July 28, 1904, The Times-Dispatch printed a photo of Charles J. Forbes, son of the late John S. Forbes, accused of burning his father’s home and property. Charlie was twenty-five years old and had been in jail since May 22nd awaiting trial. According to the newspaper:

Young Charlie Forbes is one of the handsomest men in Buckingham county. The picture does not do him full justice. He is a fine specimen of the perfect physical young man; weighs 170 pounds and can carry under each arm a 200-pound bag of guano. He does not talk and will ask to see no one except his sister and his attorneys.

Young. Handsome. Impressively strong. This does not sound like a man with a drinking problem. During his incarceration, Charlie Forbes was a model prisoner.

If he was guilty of arson, what would have motivated him to destroy his father’s property and, by implication, his own inheritance?

September 26, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXXIX




The Case against Dan Wooldridge

And what about the third party in the case, Dan Wooldridge? The Times Dispatch laid out his situation:

The case against young Dan Wooldridge, son of E. C. Wooldridge, is not well made out, and it is the general impression that he will be acquitted. Dan is a handsome boy fifteen or sixteen years of age. He attended the trial of his father every day for nearly two weeks.

At nights he frequently attended a “holiness” meeting, which was in progress near Buckingham courthouse at that time, and it was said that he professed sanctification one night while the trial was in progress.

If Dan Wooldridge is proved clear of the crime, a third party is still wanted by the Commonwealth. It has now been clearly shown that the track at the fire which at first was taken for a woman’s track was that of a man with a nice “Sunday” shoe on. No one knows who he could have been.

This case is now the daily topic of conversation everywhere throughout this section. Every store of every town is filled every night with a crowd which discusses the matter. The telephone wires are filled with it. Where hundreds attended the Wooldridge trial in July, signs are that thousands will attend that and the Forbes trial in October.

So much for Sherlock Holmes and the absolute identification of a well-heeled, Caucasian woman’s shoe print. For details see The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XI: “A Woman in the Case?”

Now there was a new mystery to the already “deeply mysterious” case of arson. What man would set out to burn seven or eight buildings in his Sunday best?

Coming next: Summer in Jail

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I



September 22, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXXVIII

Arson_34_Wooldridge_Best_7_29 - Copy


More Trials to Come

The August 3, 1904 edition of The Times-Dispatch featured yet another front page story bringing their readers up to date on the Wooldridge-Forbes arson case. Cliff Wooldridge was back in the Buckingham county jail and likely to remain there until the 1st of September when an application for bail could be made again. Judge Hundley started for his home in Farmville but, intercepted at New Store, returned to Buckingham Courthouse to hear Congressman Flood’s application for bail, which was postponed when Flood decided he was not ready to present the case to the judge. It was reported by jail authorities that Wooldridge and Forbes were “greatly depressed, and have little to say to those who are allowed in to see them. Neither of them have had an appetite since the trial.”

The case of Charlie Forbes was set for the October term of the Buckingham Court. The Forbes family had employed John W. Lee and his partner, Mr. V. E. Howard, both of Lynchburg, along with Judge J. M. Crute, of Farmville. Again the prosecution would be conducted by Commonwealth’s Attorney Edmund W. Hubard and Aubrey E. Strode, of Lynchburg.

The newspaper recapitulated the story of Charlie Forbes’ disappearance and his arrest, at the point of a pistol, by Edloe Spencer on a Norfolk and Western train between Prospect and Farmville. Charlie stated to Spencer that he had boarded the train in Cincinnati; however, the article revealed that, “His ticket showed that he got on at Prospect. Spencer stated on the stand that Charlie Forbes showed no emotion when asked about his father but only cursed and swore.”

Again the newspaper emphasized the mystery of this unusual case:

The Commonwealth has insisted all through that Charlie Forbes and Wooldridge were confederates in the crime, and that the Wooldridge case was tried along with much evidence that also involved Forbes. Surely the case is a mysterious one and unless the vast majority of the people throughout this section are mistaken, the October trials will result in the bringing out of the most damaging evidence against both the accused parties.

Coming Next: The Case against Dan Wooldridge

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I



September 19, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXXVII


A Hung Jury

At least some of the “intelligent” citizens of Buckingham County had predicted a hung jury in the trial of Cliff Wooldridge for the burning of John S. Forbes’ property. The correspondent for The Times-Dispatch reported on July 29, 1904:

After a trial lasting through nearly two weeks of summer weather, during which time scores of witnesses were examined, hundreds of speeches were made, thousands of dollars spent, and a myriad of conjecture set forth, the case of the Commonwealth against E. C. Wooldridge upon the grave charge of the burning buildings upon the estate of the late John S. Forbes, is as great a mystery as ever, and his attorneys are as far from a satisfactory conclusion.

After three hours of deliberation, the jury foreman, Mr. David L. Jones, of Arvonia, revealed that the jury could not agree on a verdict. They added that Judge Hundley might keep them there another week or even until Christmas and they would not reach agreement. Thus, Judge Hundley dismissed “the twelve faithful men” and they returned to their homes “from which they have been absent so long.”


Interestingly, The Times-Dispatch printed how the jury voted. Three were for acquittal: G. W. Moss and Leon R. Pollard, both of Shepards, and B. L. Apperson of New Canton. Those who were in favor of conviction were: David L. Jones, W. D. Brown, J. H. Cox, H. F. Baughan, J. M. Oslin, W. T. Hudgins, W. A. Maxey, R. B. Hanes, and C. H. Agee.

The newspaper reiterated the fine performance of prosecutor Edmund Hubard, who held the jury and the vast crowd in the palm of his hand. He had more than given his all for the Commonwealth. According to The Times-Dispatch, “it would be hardly doing the speech justice to say that it was a great one; in many respects it was magnificent.”

The speaker, who is always a man of eloquence and of force, was in the best of trim, his voice was strong, his intonation clear, his argument was a well nigh perfect one from all lawyers’ standpoint.

He took the case from its very beginning and brought down every possible point in order and made out of the whole a terrific arraignment of the prisoner at the bar. At times his denunciation of the crime, and of the criminal, was awful. As a prosecutor, Mr. Hubbard (sic) is unsurpassed. Many prominent visitors hearing him to-day said they considered Mr. Hubbard the finest prosecutor in the State. From his speech heard to-day, it would not be hard for anyone to draw such a conclusion. Mr. Hubbard closed his speech in a splendid peroration leaving many of the audience in tears. When he took his seat it was not difficult to see that he had left a profound impression upon the jury.

Even Judge Hundley admitted that “The Famous Forbes Case” was the most mysterious and uncertain to be heard in Virginia in many years.

Coming Next: More Trials to Come

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I


September 15, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

Extra: Henry De La Warr “H. D.” Flood (2 September 1865 – 8 December 1921)


Henry De La Warr “H. D.” Flood

During the trial of Clifford Wooldridge, Congressman H. D. Flood told the Buckingham County Court: “This old man here (pointing to Wooldridge) gave me in my boyhood and youth his friendship and loyalty and his devotion. He is in trouble now and needs my support.”

Just how and under what circumstances Wooldridge and Flood became such close friends is yet to be discovered.

According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, H. D. Flood was born at “Eldon” in Appomattox County, Virginia. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, earned his undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University, his law degree from the University of Virginia, and was admitted to the bar in 1886. He was the brother of U.S. Representative Joel West Flood and the uncle of U.S. Senator Harry Flood Byrd.

H. D. Flood served as a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates from 1887 to 1891 and as a member of the Senate of Virginia from 1891 to 1901, as well as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901. He was preceded in the Senate of Virginia by Edmund W. Hubard, Commonweath’s Attorney for Buckingham County, and succeeded by Frank C. Moon, of Lynchburg and Snowden in Buckingham County. From March 4, 1901 – December 8, 1921, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Additionally, Flood was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for Appomattox County in 1891, 1895, and 1899.

In 1911, he was responsible for the Flood Amendment, facilitating New Mexico’s statehood. In 1917, he authored resolutions declaring a state of war to exist between the United States and Germany and Austria-Hungary, bringing the U.S. into World War I.

He died in Washington, D.C., following a long illness, and was buried on the courthouse green at Appomattox, Virginia. His death was front-page news in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Hundreds of Virginians plan to attend the funeral services of the late Representative H. D. Flood, which will be held in the Church of the Covenant in Washington at 11 o’clock Monday morning.”

The Evening Star called him “a lawyer of wide reputation” and noted that, for eight years, he served on the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors.

September 12, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXXVI


“Rare Flights of Oratory”

Mr. Lancaster opened with conclusions for the defense. He openly attacked Edloe Spencer for his part in Wooldridge’s arrest and for his subsequent conduct. Lancaster dramatically compared Spencer’s disgraceful behavior with the stubborn spot on Lady MacBeth’s hand. That blood would not wash off!

Lancaster’s opening was followed by a three-hour speech by H. D. Flood, notable for its tremendous force and eloquence. The Times-Dispatch reported:

This was one of the greatest speech is that has ever been made before the Buckingham court. He covered himself with glory. During the three hours that Mr. Flood was speaking he had the absolute attention of that enormous crowd of people. The air was close and sultry, but this did not take from the people the minutest attention to every word he said.

Mr. Flood’s explanation of his position in the case was rather remarkable. He said: “My connection with this case may alienate from me some who have been among my best friends. I regret this exceedingly. This old man here (pointing to Wooldridge) gave me in my boyhood and youth his friendship and loyalty and his devotion. He is in trouble now and needs my support. I shall not deny him now, whatever the cost may be.”

Beginning with this sentence, Mr. Flood made one of the most remarkable speeches ever heard in this section. Towards the beginning of his speech he described the Anglo-Saxon home in full detail, and told in particular and eloquent language of the influence which love for home had upon the Anglo-Saxon race.

He spoke for twenty minutes, probably, upon the sanctity of home, and at the proper moment he turned this to splendid account in his argument by applying it to the conduct of Edloe Spencer, in his invasion upon the home and premises of E. C. Wooldridge.

Terrific Attack.

His attack upon Spencer for entering Wooldridge’s home without a warrant and terrifying his sick wife and helpless children was something terrific.

Mr. Flood then went over the instructions to the jury, contradicting every point which had been brought out by Mr. Strode for the Commonwealth, and establishing many independent points in behalf of the defense. It is generally admitted that this was the greatest speech Mr. Flood has ever made in this county, if not in his entire legal and political career.

His argument was well nigh perfect, his poise strong, and his powerful gestures were splendid. At the end of three hours he appeared to be as fresh as he was when he entered upon his argument. Mr. Flood is athletic in build, and his powerful physique stands him in good stead when he enters upon such an effort as that of to-day.

Ahhh . . . for the days of silver-tongued orators and long-winded speeches. The attorneys were crowd pleasers and the men and women in attendance certainly had long attention spans!

Coming Next: A Hung Jury

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I

September 8, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

EXTRA: Janie Forbes

Arson_35a_Extra_Janie Forbes

Courtesy The Times-Dispatch

By October of 1904, Janie Forbes had secured an appointment as a teacher at the Malone public school in Buckingham County. She frequently visited her brother, Charlie Forbes, in Buckingham County’s jail, and one of the boardinghouse keepers in Maysville offered her room and board free of charge when she was visiting. Her devotion would inspire and attract many compliments. She was John S. Forbes only daughter and viewed as a heroine the night of the fires.

According to The Times-Dispatch:

She is pretty, brilliant and bares her trouble heroically, and greets you with a pleasant smile. She is twenty-three years of age and is one of the best public school teachers in the county. By the destruction wrought by the firebug and the sacrifice she has made for the defense of her brother, she is now without a home of her own. She is a devout Christian and to some extent a Sanctificationist.

September 5, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXXV


Closing Speeches

On July 28, 1904, The Times-Dispatch printed an article detailing the previous day’s events in Buckingham County’s courthouse. With the testimony concluded, the attorneys prepared their closing speeches. Then came a motion by the prosecution to reopen their testimony. A half dozen witnesses were called to testify to minor points. Among them were Mr. Ashby Grigg, Miss Maud Woodridge, Mr. Thomas O’Brien, and Dan Wooldridge.

Early in the day, there was an amusing moment when Judge Hundley interrupted the proceedings stating, “Gentlemen, in Virginia, men are not accustomed to sit while ladies stand. Sheriff, find those ladies seats.” According to the newspaper, “Twenty men sprang from their seats instantly and the ladies were seated.”

At 10:30 AM, Mr. Strode began his closing speech for the prosecution. The Times-Dispatch provided an evocative rendition:

The court room was crowded to suffocation with people, and standing room was at a premium. The speaker began in a clear, distinct, and well modulated voice, stating the case fully, describing the arrest, the preliminary trial, and the indictment of Wooldridge, in full detail. His speech lasted for two hours. In this speech he used splendid language and incontrovertible argument. He brought up every argument which had been made in the testimony against Wooldridge.

A Fine Speech.

It is generally admitted that Mr. Strode’s speech had a great weight with the jury. One leading characteristic was its extreme liberality and freedom from anything like vituperation. His reference to Miss Janie Forbes, who was a witness for the defense, and who, as he intimated, testified reluctantly to questions which had been asked her by the Commonwealth, his reference was characteristic of the man who spoke. He said that other lips than his would have to frame sentences which would accuse Miss Janie Forbes of saying anything improper or for endeavoring to protect a brother in this matter.

Mr. Strode argued all the alleged confessions which Wooldridge had made after his arrest, and wove therewith a chain of strong evidence against the accused. Before concluding his speech, Mr. Strode compared the motive for this Judas Iscariot. Mr. Strode’s spoke for two hours, and at the end of that time received the congratulations of a host of friends, including the counsel for the defense.

Following an “intermission” for the mid-day meal, the counsel for the defense began its closing remarks.

Coming Next: “Rare Flights of Oratory”

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I




September 1, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXXIV

Arson_34_Wooldrige Stand Footprints

Courtesy The Times-Dispatch. Click to enlarge.

Wooldridge’s Remarkable Defense

As the hours passed in the afternoon heat of July 26th, Wooldridge answered questions about the medicine bottles and the “harsh statements” he had made to R. H. Payne when he supposedly wished that forty square miles of the county would sink into hell:

He said he had been informed about that time that he was suspected of doing the burning and that his indignation was so great that he could not keep from talking in this bitter way. He also explained the remark which he made to Mr. E. V. Anderson on the day of the burial of John S. Forbes, when he said to him now you see my motive, he said at that time when he made this remark, there was a flock of sheep grazing in Mr. R. D. Forbes’s field, half of which he had just bought from Mr. Andie (Annis) Forbes, son of the late John S. Forbes. The remark made, was of course an ironical one. . . .

Wooldridge next explained his statement that there was a plot to burn the Forbes property, explaining that he had learned that Tom Ferguson left F. L. Ferguson’s place on February 27th. Tom Ferguson was one of the men sent to the penitentiary for robbing the John Forbes home some years earlier.

Wooldridge then clarified the “great dispute and trouble” at the home of James H. Forbes. Wooldridge said he had been very angry when he learned that James Forbes was “connected with a plot to lynch or otherwise injure him” in connection with the arson. He continued that he was “terribly excited” and made many improper remarks; however, he was adamant that this was no confession.

Then came the business of the footprints and the information he gave about Charlie Forbes’ whereabouts. All were logically and rationally explained. The newspaper concluded:

One remarkable thing about Wooldridge’s testimony, was that he did not contradict the witnesses of the Commonwealth, who had been placed on the stand to testify against him, that he merely explained how they might have construed these remarks as being confessions on his part. Point after point, he explained every instance, when he was supposed to have made confessions. . . .

He said he would have been a fool to make confessions under such circumstances. He spoke quite bitterly of the treatment which he had received at the hands of Edloe Spencer. He said Spencer had tried to degrade and humiliate him after arresting him, and had asked him questions which he told him were cruel and unjust, and he said that on the way to Farmville that day he begged Spencer not to talk to him any more.

The Times-Dispatch correspondent, now adept at cliffhangers, ended this installment, saying:

The largest crowd in the history of the trial will probably be in attendance tomorrow when the case is argued. It has been agreed that Mr. Strode will lead the speaking and will be followed, first by Mr. Lancaster, then by Mr. Flood, counsel for the defense, and Mr. Edmund W. Hubbard (sic) will close the argument.

The speeches will not be limited as to time. There is much speculation as to the probable outcome of the trial. Since Wooldridge’s testimony, it is generally thought by intelligent people that the Commonwealth can hardly secure a verdict against him; many think there will be a hung jury; some think the prisoner will be acquitted, while there are few, if any, who believe there will be a conviction.

Coming Next: Closing Speeches

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I

August 29, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXXIII

Arson_33_Wooldridge Takes The Stand

Wooldridge Takes the Stand

On July 26, 1904, when Cliff Wooldridge took the stand in his own defense, it was the moment Buckingham County had waited for. Baltimore’s The Sun ran a brief update, succinctly evoking the scene in Buckingham’s courtroom:

The last witness in the Wooldridge trial at Buckingham Courthouse today for burning the Forbes homestead was Wooldridge himself. Gaunt, hollow-eyed and extremely nervous, he sat for hours in the witness chair and maintained his self possession throughout. His testimony was given almost wholly in reply to question and was succinct, clear and direct.

The courthouse was packed with eager listeners, many being women, but the utmost stillness reigned, and everyone felt that Wooldridge, who was using every faculty in a fight for his life, battled manfully. His testimony manifestly made an impression on the jury and his friends were much encouraged by the result.

Richmond’s The Times-Dispatch did not let its readers down when, on July 27th, the newspaper ran yet another lengthy, front-page account of what took place at the trial. What a loss that the correspondent’s name never appeared in the newspaper. Was he a Buckingham native we might recognize? Or a sophisticated Richmonder who might be a known journalist?

The report made by The Times-Dispatch was particularly thorough. It began:

The unexpected has happened to-day. Cliff Wooldridge took the stand in his own defense at 9:30 o’clock this morning, and, after four hours of intense testimony, with the most rigid cross examination ever heard of in the history of this court, proved himself to be the best witness, according to those who ought to know, that ever testified before a Buckingham court. It is hardly correct to say that the great crowd was surprised – it was astounded. To be explicit, it has been talked freely and openly here ever since the trial began that when E. C. Wooldridge was placed on the stand, if the defense dared to do such a risky thing, his own words would convict him; that whether guilty or innocent, he would convict himself with his own testimony.

Those who believed him guilty thought he could not keep his guilt concealed, while those who were confident of his innocence feared that his peculiar gregariousness and incessant tongue would certainly mislead every one in the hearing of his voice. But Wooldridge did not do the way people thought he would do.

Again, the newspaper did not disappoint and kept its coverage thrilling. An astounded crowd, an articulate Cliff Wooldridge, and a dogged prosecution kept everyone present on the edge of his (or her remarkably pretty and youthful) seat. Even with less hyperbole, Wooldridge apparently was convincing in his own defense. Clearly Congressman Flood had coached his client well. The Times-Dispatch continued:

While appearing a little nervous, he took the stand like one confident of his innocence, fully determined to tell what he knew of the case and nothing else. 4 hours of close examination did not seem to effect his testimony at all. . . .

When the prisoner was brought into the court this morning a large room was beginning to fill with people. There was an air of expectancy and almost perfect quiet reigned.

Wooldridge described how “the negro boy” came to his house and informed him about the fire at John S. Forbes’ farm. He told how he went to Appomattox. Then Wooldridge was cross questioned about Alexander Forbes’ testimony. Forbes claimed that Wooldridge called Charlie Forbes a dangerous man and that Wooldridge had predicted there would soon be a “big bust up” at the Forbes’ farm. Wooldridge did not remember the conversation; however, he did admit:

“We were talking about Charlie Forbes visiting, and there was something said about his drinking, and I said he is rather a dangerous man, and there may be a bust up if he gets at that.” Forbes, he said was accustomed to visiting Dick Forbes’s where brandy was kept. He said that his relations with Charlie Forbes were entirely pleasant, but not at all intimate. He said Forbes seldom visited his house.

Charlie Forbes had a drinking problem? Dick Forbes kept brandy? (And Wooldridge knew this?) These are fascinating new details in the trial. Did the jury connect this statement with Wooldridge’s comments to others about drunks setting fire to the Forbes’ farm?

Also, it should be recalled that, in the summer of 1904, temperance ruled in Buckingham County and all but one saloon had been closed, making the illegal sale of liquor (both homemade and “imported”) a new criminal problem in the county. Need to catch up on the temperance movement in Buckingham County? Click here for “The Whiskey Wars.”

Coming Next: Wooldridge’s Remarkable Defense

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I