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July 18, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXI

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Buckingham County’s Most Mysterious Trial

On July 17, 1904, the front page of The Times-Dispatch featured an article concerning the upcoming trial of Wooldridge and Forbes, complete with a photo of the burned ruins of John S. Forbes’ dwelling house and a portrait of E. C. “Cliff” Wooldridge. The jury for the Woolridge trial had been chosen though the names had not yet been made public.

It had been over three months since the destruction of Forbes’ property, however, interest in the case had not abated. In fact, insisted the newspaper, it had increased:

It is thought there will be a larger attendance at this session of the court than has ever been known, and it is certain that the case will be by far the most interesting one ever known in the history of this county.

If this was even remotely true, it seemed that many prominent citizens felt strongly about Cliff Wooldridge – one way or the other. Apparently, long before he was accused of destroying his neighbor’s property, Wooldridge was strongly disliked for his vocal politics and behind-the-scenes power.

The article included a generous recapitulation of the crime, highlighting the “weird and uncanny” story of Charlie Forbes’ disappearance the day of the fires, adding new twists to the tale. Describing Charlie as twenty-five years old and “very handsome,” the article detailed the rumor that he had been murdered and, in this version, that he was buried in the grave of his uncle, who died several years ago. Rumors maintained that “Young Forbes’s [dogs] had been seen to go frequently to this grave and dig into it; and many thought that an infallible sign that young Forbes was buried there.”

The article also added new details concerning the day that Charlie was arrested on the train between Prospect and Farmville. According to the correspondent, Charlie’s trousers were wet up to his knees. He had two valises and more than $100, as Edloe Spencer had testified at the preliminary trial. Charlie had resisted arrest, stating that he boarded the train in Cincinnati yet he’d been seen getting on in Prospect.

Wet up to his knees? That is an intriguing addition to the story.

And why would Charlie say he’d come from Cincinnati when he had boarded the train in Prospect? Was he attempting to establish the fact that he had not only been out of Buckingham County but had also been on a long trip up North?

Coming Next: Janie Forbes Takes the Stand

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

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