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May 26, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part VIII

Arson_8_Jailed

JAILED: Part I

During the coming months, the Appomattox and Buckingham Times, a weekly paper published in Appomattox County, often played catch up with the Richmond papers for coverage of “The Famous Forbes Case.” This situation lent itself to editorials and summaries which ran on page four as opposed to front-page news. On May 25, 1904, the newspaper ran the first of many articles concerning the trials of E. C. Wooldridge and Charlie Forbes. This coverage tended to be redundant; however, because these reports ran in the local paper, they sometimes contained nuance and details overlooked by the Richmond newspapers. This headline ran above a virtual word-for-word reprint of the dispatch from New Store that ran on March 24th in The Times-Dispatch which described the arrests.

JAILED.

C. Wooldridge and Chas. Forbes

Are Confined in Farmville Jail Charged with the Burning of the Forbes Property –

Daniel Wooldridge Jailed at Buckingham for Threats.

 

Details not printed in The Times-Dispatch expanded the story. Significantly, the Appomattox and Buckingham Times included this, presumably penned by the correspondent in New Store, Buckingham County:

For some time, it is said, Mr. Wooldridge has been suspected of the crime. He was suspected early in the history of the tragedy. He was the close confidential friend of the late Mr. Forbes, it is said, and knew more about his affairs than any man in the neighborhood, and was to some extent his counsel. His farm lies broadside the handsome Forbes’ estate, and he was the close neighbor of the Forbes family. His first wife was a daughter of the late Samuel Forbes, they having eloped to Lynchburg and married. She died without issue. He afterwards married Berta Hitt, of this county, and as a result of this union there are ten children, who together with the mother, have much sympathy in this trouble. Wooldridge is a man of about 55 years of age and sometimes practices law; he is regarded as a shrewd man, and a great bully in his community.

Shortly after the burning, Wooldridge was one of the prominent men in undertaking to ferret out the mystery. Large rewards were offered for the capture of the miscreants by the Governor of the State, the county of Buckingham, and by private citizens. He took an active part in securing these offers of reward. Two detectives, who were employed to work up the case, had their headquarters at his house. [Illegible] – the finger of suspicion began to point to him, and there have been persistent rumors that he would shortly be arrested as an accomplice.

That E. C. Wooldridge eloped with Samuel Forbes’ daughter and that she died, childless, are significant details. This marriage, and presumably her death, could be at the heart of the enmity between the Wooldridge and the Forbes families. Also, Wooldridge’s training as a lawyer was not mentioned in other papers and may help explain some of his actions in court.

~

“Quiot,” whose nom de plume refers to a game similar to horseshoes, was at this time the Buckingham Court House correspondent for the Appomattox and Buckingham Times. His initial thoughts about the case followed the reprint from The Times-Dispatch:

Our Buckingham correspondent writing under date of May 23, says:

News reached here last night of the arrest, at his home, on yesterday of E. C. Wooldridge, charged with the terrible burning which took place upon the plantation of the late John S. Forbes on the 3rd of March last. The arrest was made by the policeman of Farmville, accompanied by Mr. Edloe Spencer and others. The accused was taken before Justice of the Peace L. D. Jones, who committed him to jail in Farmville – fears being entertained that it was unsafe to take him to the Buckingham jail. This arrest is by no means a surprise to people who have kept in touch with those who were most affected by this fearful piece of incendiarism. We are informed that other arrests will be made to-day, or in the next few days. It is the universal wish of the people of this entire section that this mysterious burning will be so cleared up that there will remain no doubt in the minds of anyone but that the guilty one has been found and duly convicted. It would be an awful thing for such a miserable wretch as the author of this unheard of and fiendish act to go unpunished, but it would be inconceivably awful for an innocent party to suffer for such a terrible crime. We, therefore, sincerely hope that proof may not be lacking when the guilty party is arraigned, and that the hand of the law will not weaken when the penalty is being imposed. For that Divine Law – and we know no other – says that he who take a man’s life shall pay the penalty with his own.

And right here I want to arouse the minds of the thinking people of our counties upon the question of whether or not it is the privilege of an honorable – and I emphasize the word honorable – attorney, who is convinced of the guilt of a client, to endeavor to gain his release by skillfully and deceptively presenting his case to the trial jury. It will be readily conceded by all fair minded and responsible people that the legal profession is an honorable one. It will also be conceded that it is possible to abuse the privileges one conceives to be his while “plying his trade.” Is it, therefore, any less dishonorable for an attorney to win money and fame by deception and art, then it is for a merchant to use false balances, or for a farmer to “nest” his tobacco when offered for sale? I trow not. No man can truthfully lay claim to sincerity and honor while defending a criminal pleading “innocent” when he knows his client is guilty. His only honorable course is to plead “guilty” and ask for the mercy of the jury.

“QUOIT.”

Has “Quoit” previously witnessed the misuse of the legal system in Buckingham County? Is he referring to any particular disreputable attorney of trial that readers would recognize? Or, does Quiot simply not trust lawyers?  If so, he would not be alone.

Next: Jailed: Part II

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

 

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