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July 21, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXII

Arson_22_Janie Headline



Janie Forbes Takes the Stand

On the morning of July 18, 1904, as the case of the Commonwealth vs Wooldridge was about to begin in Buckingham Courthouse, counselors for the defense, Mr. Lancaster and H. D. Flood, moved for a continuance on the grounds that two witnesses were ill. Judge Hundley overruled the motion and the case against E. C. Wooldridge was ordered to begin.

According to The Times-Dispatch, the prisoner entered the courtroom looking “pale and nervous.” Miss Maud Wooldridge, his “remarkably pretty” daughter, sat beside him and young Dan Wooldridge, also charged with arson, sat behind his father and sister.

The Times-Dispatch stated that the jury was comprised of the following “well-known citizens” of Buckingham County: LR. Pollard, D. L. Jones, McW. D. Brown, W. P. Hudgins, D. M. Epperson, H.S. Vaughan, W. A. Maxey, J. H. Cox, C. H. Agee, J. M. Allen, R. B. Hanes, and C. W. Moss.

The Appomattox and Buckingham Times printed this version of the members of the jury: B. L. Apperson, D. L. Jones, W. T. Hudgins, W. C. Brown, J. M. Oslin, W. A. Maxey, C. H. Agee, W. T. Moss, R. B. Haynes, Leon Pollard, J. H. Cox, H. F. Baughan, W. A. Wood, J. B. Agee, W. P. Johnson, R. N. Williams. The later four were struck off.

(So much for consistent and accurate reporting!)

Aubrey E. Strode opened for the prosecution and, in a “clear, musical voice,” laid out the evidence against Wooldridge. A large chart diagramed the burned buildings once belonging to John S. Forbes. Congressman H. D. Flood, Wooldridge’s attorney, countered with a “brilliant speech.”

Miss Janie Forbes, daughter of John S. Forbes and sister of Charlie Forbes, was the first witness for the prosecution. She was dressed in black, and spoke clearly and distinctly. According to the newspaper, her testimony was “decidedly disappointing.” Those in attendance had anticipated a graphic account of the night of the fire. Her testimony, apparently, lacked the anticipated drama.

She was asked to tell the story of the burning, which took place on the 3rd of March. She stated that her dogs barked during the night and she called them into the house. She retired shortly after 10 o’clock. In about two hours she was awakened by her father and she found a number of outbuildings burning rapidly. She attempted to ring a bell, but the cord was cut. She discovered then that the dwelling was on fire. At this time all the buildings were in flames. She told of how she brought water and extinguished the fire which was against the smokehouse, and she told of how she saved many things out of the dwelling house.

The reporter for the newspaper noted there was tension in the courtroom, particularly noticeable on the faces of the attorneys. Additionally, the heat in the courtroom was intense. As a result, the Court moved to the basement room of the courthouse. The window sash had been removed. Still, perspiration flowed down Judge Hundley’s brow. A strict disciplinarian, he forbade the men to appear in their shirt sleeves, which resulted in many farmers in the crowd suffering in woolen suits.


The article went on to indicate that the excitement surrounding the Wooldridge-Forbes trial had just begun.

It is generally believed by those who are in a position to know that there will be further and startling developments in a very short while, even before the case has gotten in full motion.

The Commonwealth has unearthed evidence which will probably cause the appearance of Governor Montague in the capacity of a witness. It appears that shortly after his release from custody on a bail bond, given last month, Wooldridge made a trip to Richmond to see a certain prisoner in the penitentiary who was sent there from this county for the burning of property owned by Mr. Forbes. The Commonwealth’s attorney stated last night that he would most likely have Governor Montague, upon whom Wooldridge called while in Richmond, and Officer Marshall, of the penitentiary, summoned here this week.

There have been enormous crowds at court to-day – buggies, wagons and horses have filled every available spot. The hotels are filled. Lawyers are here from surrounding counties and cities, many miles away; traveling salesmen have made it convenient to stop over during the trial, and are greatly interested in this remarkable case. They state that the case is a daily topic of conversation in the hotel lobbies throughout the State.

The newspapers are certainly insistent as to the enormous interest in the case against Wooldridge. He must have been widely known with an equally wide range of opinion about him, his strange nature, and his (possibly) mysterious or covert doings. In fact, on July 20th, the case was mentioned in The Cincinnati Post.

This lengthy report is just the beginning of continuous, daily, front-page coverage in The Times-Dispatch. This attention alone demonstrates how captivating Cliff Woolridge’s trial was for readers of the Richmond paper. His plight fascinated Virginians well beyond the confines of rural Buckingham County.

Coming Next: Day Two

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


Leave a Comment
  1. Joanne Yeck / Jul 28 2016 1:57 pm

    Another juror has been confirmed. H. F. Baughan is Henry Fulton Baughan, the great uncle of a Slate River Ramblings reader.

  2. Diane Apperson / Jul 21 2016 8:38 pm

    Joanne, in the Appomattox and Buckingham Times version of who was on the jury, I see my paternal Grandfather’s name, B.L. Apperson. He would have been 36 in 1904 and was operating a store in the village of New Canton at that time.

    • Joanne Yeck / Jul 22 2016 10:21 am

      Diane, I would guess that the “D. M. Epperson” mentioned in THE TIMES-DISPATCH is actually B. L. Apperson. If your paternal grandfather did serve on this jury, he had a memorable experience! Joanne

  3. Anderson, Ken / Jul 21 2016 8:51 am

    Joanne, I’m really enjoying this. Ken Anderson

    • Joanne Yeck / Jul 21 2016 9:08 am

      Ken, Good to hear from you! It will be a long and winding road to justice in the Famous Forbes Case. Hold on tight for a bumpy ride! Joanne

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