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August 22, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXXI


Buckingham County Courthouse

A Three-ring Circus

On Monday, July 25th, Cliff Wooldridge was back in Buckingham County’s courthouse. Baltimore’s The American commented:

The Wooldridge trial, at Buckingham Courthouse, commenced a new week with the interest at an intense pitch and the courthouse was crowded, many women occupying seats. The jurors after a day’s rest and attending church and singing in the choir, were fresh and attentive.

On Tuesday, July 26th, detailed coverage of the trial appeared again in The Times-Dispatch. Monday’s session was nothing short of a three-ring circus, ending in a sensational announcement. In brief, it went something like this:

Janie Forbes was called to the stand and discussed the “mysterious pistol.” Her testimony was not particularly helpful as to its whereabouts. Commonweath’s Attorney Hubard interjected that it could be traced to Wooldridge’s house. Judge Hundley ordered that it be produced if counsel so desired.

Janie was also asked about correspondence with Edloe Spencer and his family. Apparently, Cliff Wooldridge had instigated this and Janie did not object to his involvement. Details of the contents of the correspondence were not disclosed in the newspaper except that the Spencers invited Janie to come to Farmville and stay with them. As reported in the newspaper, this line of questioning was unclear in its purpose. It was clear, though, that Spencer continued to meddle in the case.

Three of the Wooldridge daughters were in court, each one prettier than the next. Maud and Mayzie testified as to their father’s whereabouts during and immediately after the fire. According to Maud, he was in their house at 12:30 AM that night.

Rev. John Spencer, who had served on the grand jury, addressed Cliff Wooldridge’s strange manner of speaking, saying that he was a man “who speaks in parables.” When Judge Hundley asked what he meant by that, Rev. Spencer explained that “Wooldridge was a man who had a peculiar and a round-about way of telling things he knew.”

Witness W. D. Davidson, of Buckingham, caused a lot of confusion and was finally fined $10.00 for contempt of court. He grew up with Wooldridge and described himself as “an unlearned man.” His behavior in court supported this statement and he completely frustrated Aubrey Strode during his questioning. At one point, Strode said, “Stand aside! We have enough from you.” Despite Davidson’s lack of understanding of courtroom procedure, he did manage to clear up a misunderstanding about Wooldridge’s shoes and the tracks at the Forbes farm, explaining they were made when he and Wooldridge examined the burned buildings.”

A later opinion piece in the Appomattox and Buckingham Times rather bluntly clarified “Ben” Davidson’s appearance in court:

When old man Ben Davidson took the stand to testify everybody seemed interested. He was the most picturesque of all the witnesses. He is a large and tall man, with bushy iron gray whiskers – a typical backwoodsman in every possible respect. His home is in a remote section of the county buried in the woods. He is the only man in the county who wears homespun . . . and even these clothes are cut according to a style which was in vogue back in the fifties of the last century. When Davidson goes to Farmville once a year to take his tobacco to market, he does not take along a box of axle grease to grease his wagon wheels with, as many of his more up-to-date neighbors do, but he is primitive enough to tie a bucket of pine tar, to the coupling-pole of his wagon, which is homemade, and let it swing as buckets swung long before the time of the Civil War.

When Ben Davidson took the stand it was his first experience before a court. He was grotesque in his simplicity. He told his story with the utmost simplicity, but he was badly scared, and didn’t know whether to address his remarks to the Judge, the jury, the lawyers, or the spectators.

The Judge did not understand Mr. Davidson. Davidson acted so peculiarly that the Judge thought this behavior was put on. What he thought was disobedience was nothing more than excitement under the stress of the most unusual and trying circumstances. It could be seen that Davidson would have given his best shoat at home if he could just get out [of] that courtroom and go home.

When the judge exclaimed, “Fine that men ten dollars for contempt of court!” Davidson’s mouth dropped open, and he was surprised and astounded as no other man has been in the history of old Buckingham.

When at last he had borrowed ten dollars to pay his fine with, and was given permission to leave the courtroom, he found his way out of the court house, stole around a by-lane where his grey horse was tied, found a near cut road leading to his home out towards Spear’s Mountain, and left the village behind him. He met a friend on the road but he did not stop to speak.

An old farmer who knew Davidson said: – “Old men Ben Davidson has done cut out for home. I’ll bet my farm he never steps his foot in four miles of a court house again as long as he lives!” and several others said – “An’ nowhar’ else.”

He is said to be the best road overseer in the county.


Then, late in the day, Sheriff William Williams burst into the courtroom and made a startling announcement.

Coming next: Sheriff Williams’ Announcement

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

August 18, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXX


Congressman H.D. Flood

In Defense of E. C. Wooldridge

According to Richmond’s The Times-Dispatch, Congressman H. D. Flood, counsel for the defense, did not disappoint the large crowd of spectators gathered at Buckingham Courthouse. Beginning on Saturday, July 23, 1904, he launched his case for the defense. Flood’s focus was to show that Wooldridge was constantly misunderstood in his statements and that he had made no confessions or partial confessions that he participated in the burning of the property of John S. Forbes. The correspondent for The Times-Dispatch admitted that the sentiment seemed strong against Cliff Wooldridge, indicating that Congressman Flood had his work cut out for him.

The day started calmly enough. Edloe Spencer, Mr. Sutherland, R. D. Morgan (sic), and J. H. Forbes, Jr. were recalled and questioned about details of their previous testimony. A map of the Forbes farm, rendered by mining engineer and surveyor, William Pelle, was entered as evidence and became “Exhibit D.”

The first witness for the defense was Richmond detective G. W. Scott, who testified that Cliff Wooldridge was “extremely zealous” in aiding him to find the perpetrators of the crime. Scott noted that Wooldridge was “naturally a nervous man.”

Importantly, Officer Leslie Fogus, who was with the party who arrested Wooldridge, contradicted some of Edloe Spencer’s testimony. Officer Fogus stated that he was within hearing distance of Wooldridge during the arrest and he did not hear “a number of things” that Spencer related. Fogus added that Wooldridge objected to Spencer’s close questioning of him the day of the arrest and said, “Mr. Spencer, you are cruel.” Fogus also denied hearing anything that could be construed as a confession on Wooldridge’s part.

Baltimore’s The American noted that Congressman Flood also called no less than five witnesses who attested to Mr. Fogus’ reputation for “truth at all times.”

At this point in the day’s proceedings, the correspondent for The Times-Dispatch felt the tide was beginning to turn in Cliff Wooldridge’s favor.

Then, at 4:30 PM, Miss Maud Wooldridge, the sixteen-year-old daughter who was at home the night of the fires, was sworn in to testify in favor of her father. The Times-Dispatch captured the atmosphere in the courtroom: “There was a great crowd present and among them a large number of ladies. There was a profound stillness when Miss Wooldridge told her story.”

She told of how “the colored boy” brought the news and how, following her father’s arrest, Edloe Spencer came to her home and intimidated her and her mother. According to Maud, Spencer pressed them over and over again to confess to their part in the crime.

Court then adjourned until 9:00 AM the following Monday. The Times-Dispatch article closed, saying:

There is a tremendous amount of speculation as to the outcome of the trial. Crowds stood around the court yard after adjournment eagerly discussing the probable verdict in the case. . . . An increasingly large number of ladies are present from day to day. Many of them are young ladies and are remarkably pretty.

What drew all these pretty young ladies to Buckingham Courthouse? The drama? The eloquent orations of the counselors at law? Or were there also handsome young gentleman attending the trial who didn’t draw the interest of our correspondent?

Coming Next: A Three-ring Circus

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

August 15, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXIX

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Peter A. Forbes, 1900 Census.  Click to enlarge.

A Pistol

Contradictions continued to abound in the case of the Commonwealth vs Wooldridge as more witnesses testified for the prosecution on July 22, 1904.

J. H. Morris testified that he had a lengthy conversation with Wooldridge in which he stated he did not think Charlie Forbes was responsible for the fires. Then Wooldridge added that drunken men might have set the blaze. Morris visited the site soon after the crime and saw Wooldridge, who told him of a pistol with a scorched handle which had been found near the dwelling house. The pistol was in Wooldridge’s possession. Walter Morris, son of J. H. Morris, supported his father’s story.

The Times-Dispatch expressed excitement over this new piece of evidence:

This is the first mention of a pistol in this case; not even a rumor of the finding of a pistol has been known before. Wooldridge had talked a great deal about the case, but so far as is known he has never mentioned the finding of this pistol to any one except J. H. Morris and J. H. Morris’s family.

The final witness for the Commonwealth was Peter A. Forbes, Clerk of Buckingham County and the brother of the late John S. Forbes. He had paid for detectives to investigate the case; Cliff Wooldridge brought them to the county. On March 6, 1904, Peter Forbes went to the arson site and had a long conversation with Wooldridge, who was confident that one set of tracks belonged to Dora Goins. He went on to suggest that children or drunken men might have been responsible. Then, Wooldridge asked Peter Forbes what had become a persistent question, “Has it ever occurred to you that some men who wanted to buy the property did the burning?”

During cross-examination, Congressman Flood asked Peter Forbes how much land Cliff Wooldridge owned. It was revealed that he owned no land. His wife owned about 400 acres.

This fact may have surprised many in the courtroom and certainly contradicted what the newspapers had been printing. What was the source of Wooldridge’s affluence?

Who was Dora Goins? Did Wooldridge have particular drunken men in mind as the possible arsonists?

Coming Next: In Defense of E. C. Wooldridge

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

August 11, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXVIII

Arson_28_Wooldridge Daughter

Witnesses for the Prosecution

By July 22, 1904, day four of the trial, the last of the witnesses for the prosecution took the stand for the case against E. C. Woolridge for the destruction of John S. Forbes’ home and property.

Wooldridge’s oldest daughter traveled from Lynchburg to join the family. Described both as “a very handsome young woman” and as “a remarkably pretty girl,” Miss Wooldridge stole the headlines. Her father showed signs of deep emotion and wept profusely upon seeing her. Being an expert stenographer, she began to take down the proceedings in shorthand.

Witnesses included two of the men who had arrested Wooldridge on May 22nd, J. C. Sutherland, formerly of Albemarle County and now a citizen of Farmville, and Reese Morgan, a cousin of Charlie Forbes. Their testimony and demeanor was so identical that Congressman Flood, counsel for the defense, asked if they had conferred to determine how to tell their stories.

Two more witnesses attested to strange, apparently incriminating, statements made by Wooldridge. R. O. Morgan, who saw Wooldridge the day of his arrest, testified that Wooldridge said that Charlie Forbes did not set the fires but he stole the money. Richard D. Payne recalled that on the date of John S. Forbes’ burial, Wooldridge told him that “he wished forty square miles of that country around about was sunk into hell, and that he was with it.” Additionally, Payne stated that someone else remarked that Charlie Forbes was the guilty party. Wooldridge responded, if Forbes is guilty, then I am also guilty.

E. V. “Van” Anderson, a kinsman of Forbes and a Justice of the Peace in Buckingham County, told his version of the burning of John S. Forbes’ property. Anderson testified that he was at Sam Forbes’ home the day after the fire and conversed with Wooldridge. That day, Wooldridge allegedly stated that Charlie Forbes was the arsonist, contradicting what he told R. O. Morgan. Anderson also related a conversation with Wooldridge the day John Forbes was buried. The Times-Dispatch quoted Anderson’s testimony, recreating the conversation.

Wooldridge: “Now, Van, you can see my motive.”

Anderson: “What?”

Wooldridge: “Now, I am in possession of everything.” He waved his hand towards the Forbes farm, which was all around them.

Anderson: “Explain what you mean.”

Wooldridge: “I will tell you some other time.”

When Congressman Flood cross-examined Van Anderson, he pointed out how Wooldridge’s remarks might not be a confession of complicity in the crime but could be understood as ironic. The article continued:

This witness established the fact that Wooldridge’s tongue had been largely his undoing. Mr. Flood said that his client, Wooldridge, always spoke in parables: that he was mysterious in his conversation, and that he could be readily misinterpreted in his remarks. Mr. Anderson, when asked whether Mr. Wooldridge had such characteristics, said he did, and that Wooldridge was a hard man to understand.

Clearly, the volatile Cliff Wooldridge had opened his mouth too many times on the day of John S. Forbes’ funeral.

Coming Next: A Pistol

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

August 8, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXVII



Courtesy The Times-Dispatch

Edloe Spencer Testifies

Those following the Wooldridge case, both in Buckingham County and via the newspapers, had no doubt eagerly awaited Edloe Spencer’s official testimony. The Times-Dispatch described the packed courtroom and the “intense” interest that filled the July heat. By the time Spencer took the stand at 3:00 PM on July 21st, the temperature reached 90 degrees. According to the newspaper, Spencer related every detail of Wooldridge’s arrest. He quoted statements made by Wooldridge which had been given in “an unguarded manner” while on his way to the Farmville jail. Admitting that Wooldridge was greatly excited, Spencer construed these statements as at least “a partial confession,” particularly: “You have one of the men connected with the burning, now get the other two.”

During Congressman Flood’s cross-examination of Edloe Spencer, the attorney strictly compared the witness’ testimony with the one he gave at the preliminary trial. The newspaper noted that Mr. Flood had a stenographer’s report of the previous testimony. The evidence given in the case was being recorded by a firm of Roanoke stenographers, Messrs. Morris and Hart.

Next, quite unexpectedly, Mr. R. F. Burks, a witness for the defense, took the stand. This irregularity was allowed because Burks was compelled to return immediately to his home. Burks was treasurer of Appomattox County and a cashier at the Bank of Appomattox. His testimony impeached what Spencer said concerning a letter that Woodridge was writing at the time of his arrest. Spencer implied that the letter was addressed to Charlie Forbes while, in fact, it was addressed to Peter A. Forbes, clerk of Buckingham County and brother of the late John S. Forbes. No further details appeared in that day’s news report.

Court adjourned at 6:00 PM and The Times-Dispatch article concluded with a description of the crowd:

There was a large crowd at court to-day, larger than on yesterday. Interest in the case seemed to be increased if anything. The entire case is just as much a mystery as ever, even the lawyers are guessing. A number of humorous incidents occurred during the day to make the time pass more pleasantly. A feature in the court-room was the presence of a number of very good-looking young ladies. There were also a number of professional men, preachers, doctors, and visiting lawyers.

Regrettably, it is left to our imagination just what our correspondent (and the crowd) found amusing on that hot day in July of 1904.

Coming Next: Witnesses for the Prosecution

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

August 4, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXVI



Day Three: Thursday, July 21, 1904

Nancy Morgan’s testimony was a high point in the trial against Cliff Wooldridge and a front-page story in The Times-Dispatch noted that the following day was a bit of a letdown. Clearly, it was much less dramatic.

Court opened with a “rigid and close” cross examination of James P. Forbes, Jr., who had testified the day before. J. H. O’Brien supported the testimony about Wooldridge interfering with John S. Forbes’ medicine bottles. R. D. Forbes elaborated about the tracks around the Forbes property. A large, detailed map was produced and now it was believed that the tracks were made by three men: “one of them wearing coarse shoes and the other two shoes of a somewhat better grade.” The old and worn shoes were believed to be Wooldridge’s brogans.

Next, Appomattox County was heard from with three new and seemingly very credible witnesses: Mr. J. K. Hanna, superintendent of schools in Appomattox; Mr. J. F. Dickerson, school trustee in Appomattox; and a Mr. W. J. Covington, also of Appomattox. Hannah stated that he ate dinner with Wooldridge and his daughter at a hotel in West Appomattox one day early in March. He recalled that Wooldridge had accurately described the extent of the fire at John S. Forbes, contradicting Wooldridge’s statement at that time that he thought only the dwelling house was destroyed. Dickerson informed the court that Woodridge had gone to Appomattox to get John S. Forbes’ coffin. He recalled that Wooldridge stated that Charlie Forbes was not involved in the burning and that Janie Forbes had written to her brother, who was away and would return in a few days. Covington related another conversation with Wooldridge about the fire.

All this testimony indicated that Cliff Wooldridge talked too much – and not much else!

Edloe Spencer, who had been outspoken in the preliminary trial and had been instrumental in the arrest of both Wooldridge and Charlie Forbes, was next to take the stand.

Coming Next: Edloe Spencer Testifies

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

August 1, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXV

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Feist (a.k.a fice or fyce), Courtesy Canidae.

Floyd Jones and “Aunt” Nancy Morgan

Day two of the Wooldridge trial included the testimony of two African Americans, Floyd Jones and Nancy Morgan. Both were witnesses for the prosecution.

Floyd Jones, “boy who took the note to Wooldridge”

African American Floyd Jones, described as “the boy who took the note to Wooldridge,” was apparently the first to inform Wooldridge of the destruction of the Forbes property. Floyd took the stand, told his story in a straightforward manner, and said that Dick Forbes sent him to Wooldridge’s home with the message that nearly everything at the Forbes place was burned to the ground. Importantly, Floyd said that Wooldridge expressed no surprise when he told him about the disaster and responded that he was going to Appomattox depot to meet his daughter. When he returned, he would visit the Forbes farm.

At another point in the day, Mrs. Turner of Appomattox County testified that Wooldridge stopped by her house on his way to Appomattox Courthouse to meet his daughter and told her about the fire. She said that Wooldridge suggested it may have been started by “the colored boy, who always slept in Mr. Forbes’s cook-room.”

In fact, no such boy stayed with the Forbes family. Had Wooldridge fabricated this story to throw suspicion off himself? Was he implicating Floyd Jones? Or, was this just another strange, even nonsensical, comment to be attributed to Wooldridge?

“Aunt” Nancy Morgan, Eye Witness

According to the 1900 census, Nancy Morgan was born in January of 1835. She bore ten children, four of whom were still living in 1900. Her occupation was described as “housekeeper.” Nancy, who lived with the Forbes family, was present on the night of March 3, 1904 when the dwelling house was burned. She took the stand, and according to The Times-Dispatch, “she gave most dramatic and interesting testimony.”

Old Aunt Nancy is a genuine African, and is a born actor, though she does not know it. She gave in a remarkable way the story of the burning. She told how they were all asleep in the house, were awakened by the burning building and told all of their actions and conversations throughout this terrible night. She has a perfect negro dialect; it might be called a negro classic dialect. Some of her expressions are indeed remarkable for their suggestiveness. She told of how the family dog barked early in the night of the fire, and how this dog was answered by a fice on an ivy cliff, a quarter of a mile from the Forbes house. She said she believed this fice dog belonged to the people who did the burning. With brief detail, she told every incident connected with the night of the fire. She said that Charlie Forbes left home about 1 o’clock on the day of the fire and that Miss Janie came in from her school about the time she was getting supper. This was when the dog was heard to bark in the ivy cliff. This barking of the dog in the cliff, the council for the Commonwealth said, meant that the ivy cliff was a meeting place of the conspirators. She said that Mr. Wooldridge had two fice dogs, one a puppy, the other a grown dog. She did not know, however, whose dog was barking in the ivy cliff; she left that for the jury to find out.

The Times-Dispatch concluded that Nancy Morgan’s testimony “made a profound impression upon the court and spectators, though it did not present any extraordinary evidence against Wooldridge.”

Indeed. As dramatic as “Aunt” Nancy’s testimony may have been, it was filled with conjecture and no direct evidence came out which might identify the criminals. Later, an “opinion piece” in the Appomattox and Buckingham Times rather unkindly described her testimony as ludicrous:

In some respects the most ludicrous feature of the trial was the testimony of old “Aunt” Nancy Morgan, the old colored woman who so graphically told the story of the burning. Her looks showed the genuine African, her language was classic negro speech. Every syllable which fell from her lips was eagerly devoured by the immense crowd in court. When she told about “dat ‘ar fice dawg whar’ barked up in de ivy cliff all night,” she carried her audience by storm. “Heish, dawg; heish! What you barkin’ at? An’ den Miss Janie’s puppy, he took an’ commence to bark. An’ he kep’ on a-barkin’. I said “Lil’ puppy, whyn’t you go up dar in de woods an’ help dat yuther dawg kotch dat rabbit?” but Miss Janie’s puppy wouldn’t go. Dat dawg kep’ up a barkin’ in de ivy cliff. I said, ‘Dawg, heish dat barkin’! Heish! I ain’ see nuthin’, you ain’ see nuthin’, an’ nobody else see nuthin’. An’ taint nuthin’ dar nohow. Fice dawg never does bark at nuthin’.”

At the very least, Nancy Morgan knew her fice dogs.

Coming Next: Day Three: Thursday, July 21, 1904

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



July 28, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: XXIV


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The Testimony of James H. Forbes

Day two of the Wooldridge trial continued with the testimony of James H. Forbes, a distant relative of John S. Forbes, who lived less than a mile from the Forbes home and about a mile and a half from Wooldridge. A merchant, he admitted that Wooldridge was his customer and that they had a friendly relationship. In February of 1904, he sold Wooldridge a pair of heavy brogan shoes. Presumably, the ones that matched the tracks at the site of the crime.

Jim Forbes heard about the fire the morning after it happened and went to the site. There he saw tracks about the place and noted that R. M. Forbes took measurements of them. Jim was able to point out the tracts on the diagram in the courtroom. He recalled that one track was large and the other was small. Then came a shocking turn in his otherwise straight-forward testimony:

I heard Wooldridge talking a great deal about the fire. He said the fire was planned, December 27th last. He said this on the night or the day after the burial of John S. Forbes, said he was afraid this fire was going to get him into trouble.

“I believe I will make a clean breast of it,” he said, “and let the people know all about it.”

He was talking in my house. He walked out to the gate as he was leaving, where he made this statement:

“Jim, I am in a bad fix.”

“Why, what is the matter, Cliff?”

“About this burning affair.”

I thought he was sick.

“I am about to make a clean breast of the whole d–n thing.”

These were his words exactly.

I intimated to him at the time not to tell me anything he did not want to go to the public. I told him I did not want to go to the public. I told him I did not feel badly about it. He replied: “You are not in it.” After I told him not to say anything to me he did not want the public to know, he branched off then and talked about a clue he had worked up.

Wooldridge was at my store the Thursday before he was arrested in a perfect frenzy. He seemed to have animosity against the whole human race and to the Forbeses in particular. Some strong expressions were:

“I prayed to God, I could control a stroke of lightning and I would kill the last one of the Forbeses.”

He was talking about [Annis] and Janie Forbes.

He said, “They have been a thorn in my flesh all my life.”

He always spoke of R. D. and John S. Forbes as the family referred [to them]. He said Dick was laying too much stress on the tracks around the burned dwelling, that he was calculated to mislead the detectives. He said since the fire that the Forbeses farm laid in good shape.

“You Jim, take half and I (Wooldridge) the other; you will get the best of it, but I will stand by the bargain. Let the road be the line leading from Dick’s to the creek.”

Undoubtedly, the crowd hung on every word of Jim Forbes’ shocking revelation. When Congressmen Flood cross-examined Forbes, he stuck to his story.

Coming Next: Floyd Jones and “Aunt” Nancy Morgan

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

July 25, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXIII

Arson_23_Janie and House

Day Two: Janie Forbes

The second day of the trial, Wednesday, July 20, 1904, proved more exciting than the first. According to the Times-Dispatch, both witnesses and lawyers were in fine form.

This has been a day of great activity in the celebrated arson case, in which E. C. Wooldridge is on trial. The usual crowd was present, including a large number of ladies and many professional men. Much dramatic testimony was introduced, and a large part of it was damaging to Wooldridge.

Among the witnesses examined were Miss Janie Forbes; “Aunt” Mary (sic) Morgan, the most remarkable old colored woman; Mr. Alex. Forbes, a prominent citizen and a supervisor of the county, and Dr. J. H. Nolan, a physician who attended Mr. John S. Forbes in his last illness. By far the most damaging testimony was given by James H. Forbes, Jr., a near neighbor of Mr. John S. Forbes’s family. The evidence all through was remarkably interesting, and at all times was intensely dramatic. The lawyers were at their best, and their discussions at times when the jury was out was of a very high order. Messrs. Hubard, Strode and Flood were the most active attorneys in to-day’s proceedings.

Miss Forbes again dressed in black and appeared more nervous than the prior day. She was questioned by Strode who asked if Wooldridge had spoken to her about her father after his death. Janie replied, “He told me that he was glad that the old man was dead at last, and that it would have been better if he had died last January when he was sick.”

When asked by Strode how she replied to Wooldridge, Janie said, “I said, Mr. Cliff, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Miss Forbes continued that Wooldridge and her brother Charlie were close friends before her father’s death.

Then Strode asked if her father died believing that Mr. Wooldridge had burned his property. H. D. Flood, counsel for the defense, quickly objected to this question which was sustained by the judge.

Next Strode asked if relations between her father and Wooldridge were pleasant at the time of the fire and at the time of her father’s death one month later. Miss Forbes replied that the relationship was not always pleasant and that it changed sometime before her father died. She also stated that her own feelings for Mr. Wooldridge had changed, though she would not allow herself to “cherish hard feelings against anyone.”

Pressing harder, Strode asked if she had considered the effect her testimony might have on her brother’s case. She did not answer the question directly, hesitated, and finally said: “I came here to tell the truth in this case and I did not think and I do not think now that I could tell anything that would connect either Mr. Wooldridge or my brother, Charlie, with the burning of father’s property.”

A series of questions posed to Janie revealed that R. M. Anderson, believing Charlie Forbes was innocent, had offered to help the Forbes family with their defense. Anderson may have suggested to the family that, if he helped, prosecuting attorney Aubrey Strode could be “retired from the case.” (Was this suggested to avoid unnecessary expense?)

During cross-examination, Congressman Flood asked, “Is it not true, Miss Forbes, that Mr. R. M. Anderson, a prominent man of this county, told you that it would be worth $500 to your brother Charlie to tell what he knew in this case even if it incriminated him?” (Did R. M. Anderson have influence to direct the outcome of this case, including bribing Charlie Forbes?)

Janie confirmed this statement, adding “but I do not think he wanted Charlie to tell anything except the truth.”

At this, the attorneys for the prosecution chuckled.

After two hours of cross examination, Janie Forbes was excused.

The Medicine Bottle

Immediately following the fires, while John Forbes was sick, Janie and Miss Nora O’Brien attended him. One day Wooldridge visited Forbes’ sickbed and, according to Strode, tried to interfere with Nora when she was about to give John Forbes his medicine. Janie was not present at the time, so could not comment. As a result, this line of questioning was abandoned.

Later, when the prosecution called Miss O’Brien to the stand, she confirmed that she had helped administer medicine to Mr. Forbes during his final illness. One day, Wooldridge visited Mr. Forbes and mixed the medicine bottles “which had been carefully arranged and then advised her not to administer any medicine to the sick man because the bottles had been mixed.” Nora added that she had no “animosity” towards Wooldridge.

Then, Dr. Nolan took the stand and testified as to the nature of the medicine. One bottle was a morphine mixture and another contained strychnine. Either bottle incorrectly used might have resulted in fatality.

This implication of Wooldridge’s interference at John Forbes’ sickbed eerily echoed his statement that Forbes “should have died last January when he was sick.”

Coming Next: The Testimony of James H. Forbes

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

July 21, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXII

Arson_22_Janie Headline



Janie Forbes Takes the Stand

On the morning of July 18, 1904, as the case of the Commonwealth vs Wooldridge was about to begin in Buckingham Courthouse, counselors for the defense, Mr. Lancaster and H. D. Flood, moved for a continuance on the grounds that two witnesses were ill. Judge Hundley overruled the motion and the case against E. C. Wooldridge was ordered to begin.

According to The Times-Dispatch, the prisoner entered the courtroom looking “pale and nervous.” Miss Maud Wooldridge, his “remarkably pretty” daughter, sat beside him and young Dan Wooldridge, also charged with arson, sat behind his father and sister.

The Times-Dispatch stated that the jury was comprised of the following “well-known citizens” of Buckingham County: LR. Pollard, D. L. Jones, McW. D. Brown, W. P. Hudgins, D. M. Epperson, H.S. Vaughan, W. A. Maxey, J. H. Cox, C. H. Agee, J. M. Allen, R. B. Hanes, and C. W. Moss.

The Appomattox and Buckingham Times printed this version of the members of the jury: B. L. Apperson, D. L. Jones, W. T. Hudgins, W. C. Brown, J. M. Oslin, W. A. Maxey, C. H. Agee, W. T. Moss, R. B. Haynes, Leon Pollard, J. H. Cox, H. F. Baughan, W. A. Wood, J. B. Agee, W. P. Johnson, R. N. Williams. The later four were struck off.

(So much for consistent and accurate reporting!)

Aubrey E. Strode opened for the prosecution and, in a “clear, musical voice,” laid out the evidence against Wooldridge. A large chart diagramed the burned buildings once belonging to John S. Forbes. Congressman H. D. Flood, Wooldridge’s attorney, countered with a “brilliant speech.”

Miss Janie Forbes, daughter of John S. Forbes and sister of Charlie Forbes, was the first witness for the prosecution. She was dressed in black, and spoke clearly and distinctly. According to the newspaper, her testimony was “decidedly disappointing.” Those in attendance had anticipated a graphic account of the night of the fire. Her testimony, apparently, lacked the anticipated drama.

She was asked to tell the story of the burning, which took place on the 3rd of March. She stated that her dogs barked during the night and she called them into the house. She retired shortly after 10 o’clock. In about two hours she was awakened by her father and she found a number of outbuildings burning rapidly. She attempted to ring a bell, but the cord was cut. She discovered then that the dwelling was on fire. At this time all the buildings were in flames. She told of how she brought water and extinguished the fire which was against the smokehouse, and she told of how she saved many things out of the dwelling house.

The reporter for the newspaper noted there was tension in the courtroom, particularly noticeable on the faces of the attorneys. Additionally, the heat in the courtroom was intense. As a result, the Court moved to the basement room of the courthouse. The window sash had been removed. Still, perspiration flowed down Judge Hundley’s brow. A strict disciplinarian, he forbade the men to appear in their shirt sleeves, which resulted in many farmers in the crowd suffering in woolen suits.


The article went on to indicate that the excitement surrounding the Wooldridge-Forbes trial had just begun.

It is generally believed by those who are in a position to know that there will be further and startling developments in a very short while, even before the case has gotten in full motion.

The Commonwealth has unearthed evidence which will probably cause the appearance of Governor Montague in the capacity of a witness. It appears that shortly after his release from custody on a bail bond, given last month, Wooldridge made a trip to Richmond to see a certain prisoner in the penitentiary who was sent there from this county for the burning of property owned by Mr. Forbes. The Commonwealth’s attorney stated last night that he would most likely have Governor Montague, upon whom Wooldridge called while in Richmond, and Officer Marshall, of the penitentiary, summoned here this week.

There have been enormous crowds at court to-day – buggies, wagons and horses have filled every available spot. The hotels are filled. Lawyers are here from surrounding counties and cities, many miles away; traveling salesmen have made it convenient to stop over during the trial, and are greatly interested in this remarkable case. They state that the case is a daily topic of conversation in the hotel lobbies throughout the State.

The newspapers are certainly insistent as to the enormous interest in the case against Wooldridge. He must have been widely known with an equally wide range of opinion about him, his strange nature, and his (possibly) mysterious or covert doings. In fact, on July 20th, the case was mentioned in The Cincinnati Post.

This lengthy report is just the beginning of continuous, daily, front-page coverage in The Times-Dispatch. This attention alone demonstrates how captivating Cliff Woolridge’s trial was for readers of the Richmond paper. His plight fascinated Virginians well beyond the confines of rural Buckingham County.

Coming Next: Day Two

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


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