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June 9, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XII

Arson_12_Preliminary Trial


The Preliminary Trial

Once E. C. Wooldridge and Charles Forbes were behind bars in Farmville, the hyperbole in the press really took off. This was the “Most Interesting Case” to ever come to public notice in central Virginia. Why? According to The Times-Dispatch, “the heinousness of the crime” and “the prominence of the family which suffered, as well as the prominence of the arrested parties” gave it celebrity status. The newspaper predicted that the trial would draw “nearly every freeholder in the county” to the courthouse.

On May 31, 1904, the prisoners were transferred from Farmville to Buckingham Courthouse. “No case in Buckingham in a decade has caused as much excitement, and a large crowd was present,” declared The Times-Dispatch.

Three Magistrates – A. C. Garnett, Jr., E. V. Anderson, and C. I. Taylor – occupied the bench for the preliminary trial. Attorneys for the prosecution were Commonwealth’s Attorney E. W. Hubard and A. E. Strode, who was employed by the Forbes family. H. D. Flood and Judge J. M. Crute were present for the defense of E. C. Wooldridge. Mrs. Wooldridge and her fifteen-year-old daughter were in the courtroom. When her son, Dan, entered, Mrs. Wooldridge wept and shook his hand.

The case of Dan Wooldridge was heard first. The Appomattox and Buckingham Times changed its report about Dan and now stated that he was accused of participating in the burning of the Forbes property. Just one witness was brought to the stand, a Miss O’Brien. As reported in The Times-Dispatch, her testimony was confusing and weak. She said that Dan Wooldridge commented to her that “if Charlie [Forbes] had had any sense he could have saved the buggies.” Dan, seemingly unconcerned about the charges against him, looking “cheerful” during her testimony.

Next came the case against E. C. Wooldridge. Edloe Spencer, one of the men who had arrested Wooldridge, took the stand. Spencer, a cousin of the Forbes family, explained that he had heard the rumor that Charlie Forbes had been murdered.  In response to the rumor, Spencer traveled from Farmville into Buckingham, then heard that Forbes had hired a buggy in Appomattox County and had driven towards Wooldridge’s farm. Again, the testimony, as reported, comes across as incomplete, even a bit incoherent.

The article did not say that Spencer had a warrant or was an official of Prince Edward County yet he must have had some authority to make the arrest. It also reads as if he acted alone or, at the very least, instigated the arrest. At the time of his arrest, Wooldridge said he didn’t know where Charlie Forbes was and Spencer insisted on taking him to Farmville. Then, according to Spencer, Wooldridge admitted that he had been expecting arrest for several days and that he would help lynch the man who did the burning.

If Wooldridge actually suggested a lynching as part of declaring his own innocence, he displayed a volatile personality and poor judgement. Despite this outburst, Wooldridge did not resist arrest and the men proceeded towards the jail at Farmville.

Spencer’s version, as reported, makes him the lone captor of Wooldridge. Where were Officer Fogus of the Farmville police force, Hopkins H. Gilliam of Farmville and Richard and Reece Morgan of Buckingham, all of whom figured in the original report of the arrest?


As they traveled towards the Farmville jail, Wooldridge suddenly indicated that Charlie Forbes was about four and a half miles away at Forbes’s Post Office. He asked for a pencil and paper, writing:

Phone Winston McKinney, deputy sheriff of Appomattox depot, to see Joe Harvey, and find out positively about Charlie Forbes, and go by Joe Goins’s and Jones’s old place; there are three of us; you have me, now get the others.

Spencer continued, “Before we got to Farmville, he said the shoes he had on when arrested made those tracks.”

Had Wooldridge provided Edloe Spencer with a written confession and identified Charlie Forbes as an accomplice?

Coming Next: Shoes Fitted the Tracks

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

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