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June 20, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XV

Arson_15_Times-Dispatch_Can You Trust


Can you trust what you read in the newspaper?

On June 3, 1904, The Times-Dispatch ran an editorial condemning the report of the Forbes Case which ran in the June 1st edition of the newspaper. Signed “M” in Buckingham Court House and dated June 1, 1904, it contradicted many points made in the newspaper’s coverage of the preliminary trial. Which version was correct? Would the Richmond newspaper intentionally print erroneous facts, as the letter charged? Was this a case of sloppy reporting? Time would tell. Here is what “M” wrote:


Editor of the Times-Dispatch:

Sir. — Your “special” from this place in your this morning’s paper is calculated to produce a wrong impression as to the trial here on yesterday of E. C. Wooldridge and Charlie Forbes, upon the charge of burning the residence of John S. Forbes on the night of March 3rd.

The testimony of Edloe Spencer, who arrested Wooldridge, was as your correspondent reports it, that Wooldridge, when arrested said “I have been expecting this for some time.” The fact is that Wooldridge having heard that he was suspected wrote a letter to Peter A. Forbes, clerk of the court (and brother of John S. Forbes), saying that he had heard he was suspected, and would like to be arrested at once and have the matter investigated and cleared up.

Again the testimony of Spencer, as reported in your paper, was that Wooldridge told him that Charlie Forbes was within four and a half miles of the place namely, Forbes postoffice. The fact is that Mr. Fogus, chief of police of Farmville, testified that he was present on this conversation took place, and that Spencer first told Wooldridge at Forbes postoffice that Charlie Forbes had been seen by Joel Harvey to pass his house on Saturday morning.

Wooldridge then gave Spencer the written memorandum, which you publish, directing him to telephone Winston McKinney to see Joel Harvey and find out all about the matter of Forbes being seen in the neighborhood. Fogus said there was no impression made on his mind at all tending to implicate Wooldridge.

Again, your special says the measurement of the shoe tracks corresponded with Wooldridge‘s shoe shown in court. The fact is the witness stated that the shoe tracks was made by a shoe with either a good “new heel or one that had a flat countersink of iron,” whereas the shoe shown in court had the heel entirely torn off. There was no correspondence.

Again, Spencer testified, according to your special, that Wooldridge said, “You have one of us now; why don’t you get the other two?” Fogus said that Spencer told Forbes there were the shoe tracks of three men, and that [Wooldridge] then said, in a bantering way, well, as you have one, why don’t you get the other two? but that it was said in a way which made no impression whatever of a confession of participation in the crime by Wooldridge.

The commissioner of bail to-day granted bail to Wooldridge and Forbes in the sum of $5,000 each. The friends of Wooldridge were present in large numbers ready and able to give ten times that amount of bail required, but on account of the bitterness of feeling among the large Forbes connection in Wooldridge’s neighborhood, which might seem to threaten violence to Wooldridge, and also on account of the deeply indignant feeling of Wooldridge against those who caused his arrest, which might lead him (being a high-tempered man) to some violence against them, Wooldridge’s counsel and friends thought it best for him to remain in jail for the present, and he yielded to their advice. But he can be liberated at any moment he desires, as can also Forbes if he gives the required bond.

I write you this hasty communication to counteract the altogether erroneous impression which your today’s “special” is calculated to make. The result of the trial on yesterday was a widely expressed sentiment that nothing more than vague suspicion was elicited, and no specific fact whatever implicating Wooldridge in the crime. And, indeed, there are nothing but suspicious circumstances to implicate Charles Forbes.


Buckingham C. H., June 1, 1904

In 1904, the publisher of The Times-Dispatch was John Bryan. According to the Library of Congress, “Formed in 1903 with the merger of the Times and the Dispatch, the Times-Dispatch of Richmond quickly emerged as Virginia’s primary newspaper of record. . . . The editorial outlook of the Times- Dispatch during those early years sometimes swayed from one political or social viewpoint to another.”

Coming Next: In Defense of the Good Citizens of Buckingham

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


Leave a Comment
  1. William Coleman / Jun 20 2016 8:10 am

    Is Forbes Post Office and the Andersonville Post Office one and the same? Thank you.

    • Joanne Yeck / Jun 20 2016 8:21 am

      Bill, I don’t know if the Forbes Post Office was also known as the Andersonville Post Office. Perhaps someone who does will see your question. Joanne


  1. The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XVI | slate river ramblings . . . .

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