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May 19, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part VI

Arson_6_Arrest

On May 18, 1904, the Appomattox and Buckingham Times ran a brief notice from Wert commenting that Andy (sic) Forbes and his sister, Miss Janie, had left for North Carolina, where they would reside in the future due to the destruction of their father’s property. If the Forbes siblings did indeed start for North Carolina they were not there long. By June 1st, the newspaper reported that the siblings stayed in Buckingham. The reason will be made clear below.

Sensational Arrest!

On May 23, 1904, an excited report concerning the destruction of John S. Forbes’ property was sent to Richmond from New Store, Buckingham County, appearing the next day on the front page of The Times-Dispatch. Leslie Fogus, chief of the Farmville police force, assisted by Hopkins H. Gilliam and Edloe Spencer, a prominent citizen of Farmville, and Richard and Reece Morgan (of Buckingham County), arrested E. C. Wooldridge at his home in Buckingham. Charged with the burning of John S. Forbes’ property on the night of March 3rd, Wooldridge was taken to Farmville where he was placed in the Prince Edward County jail.

This was shocking news. E. C. “Cliff” Wooldridge, Forbes’ neighbor, was one of the best known citizens of the county though clearly not one of the best loved. According to The Times-Dispatch:

He has always taken an active part in politics, and has for a number of years been a judge of elections at the New Store Precinct. He is a school trustee for Francisco District of Buckingham county, and has made an excellent record for sound judgement and common sense in all school matters. He has an acute mind and is a fine conversationalist, and while he has many political enemies he has also many friends who expect him to be cleared of all suspicion of the crime.

On May 24, 1904, The Times-Dispatch concluded:

The case has caused intense excitement all through this section and its latest developments, with all the many complications, promise a case worthy of the creation of the fertile brain of a Conan Doyle or a Wilkie Collins.

Indeed!

~

Cliff Wooldridge was intensely partisan in his politics. At one time, he lived in Richmond, appointed by the State to a position in the Capitol building. Ultimately, he disliked the job and returned to Buckingham County.

Some called Wooldridge “shrewd” and “a political wire” – a man who pulled strings behind the scenes. His political influence may have been significant. What was it based in? One of Cliff Wooldridge’s politically-related jobs was to sit on the Registration Board for Francisco District, serving with W. C. Trent and J. O. Morris. Following the establishment of Virginia’s new constitution in 1903, Registration Boards wielded increased power to decide who could and who could not register to vote.

In weeks to come, he will be called the richest man in Buckingham County. While this is likely an exaggeration, Cliff Wooldridge possessed both wealth and power. Why would he want to destroy his elderly neighbor?

His relationship to the people of Buckingham County was clearly complex. As the weeks and months passed, and his case became more and more convoluted, Wooldridge’s prominence in the county would not always be stressed in the newspaper coverage. Knowledge of his stature was, apparently, assumed. Readers should keep in mind this initial, shocking headline in The Times-Dispatch:

One of Best Known Citizens of Buckingham Arrested for Arson

It’s a solid reminder of why the courtrooms were packed and the phone lines buzzed with gossip about what became known as “The Famous Forbes Case.”

Coming Next: A Second Warrant

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

4 Comments

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  1. Bill Coleman / May 19 2016 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the great story. I am wondering an approximation of how many phone networks, or homes with phones, were active in 1903 in Buckingham and where were the “hubs” as I am thinking multiple party lines for any given area such as Andersonville.

    • Joanne Yeck / May 19 2016 6:01 pm

      Bill, I have no information about how many phones were in homes and businesses in Buckingham in 1903; however, people like doctors, sheriffs, and store owners were likely to be among the first to have them. As I recall, telephones will come up again in the story. Joanne

      • Bill Coleman / May 19 2016 6:11 pm

        I will do a little research on Enonville. My grandmother recorded in her diary when she first got a phone and recorded her number too. My uncle born in 1918 wrote a series of stories that may shed some light on how many of his neighbors had phones. I have my grandmother’s phone so I may snap a photo and post on Facebook. I know that the dillwyn booklet has some info on when dillwyn got their network. Thanks for a great story.

      • Joanne Yeck / May 20 2016 7:24 am

        Bill, You know what I always say, “Keep digging!” And, thanks!

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