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July 25, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXIII

Arson_23_Janie and House

Day Two: Janie Forbes

The second day of the trial, Wednesday, July 20, 1904, proved more exciting than the first. According to the Times-Dispatch, both witnesses and lawyers were in fine form.

This has been a day of great activity in the celebrated arson case, in which E. C. Wooldridge is on trial. The usual crowd was present, including a large number of ladies and many professional men. Much dramatic testimony was introduced, and a large part of it was damaging to Wooldridge.

Among the witnesses examined were Miss Janie Forbes; “Aunt” Mary (sic) Morgan, the most remarkable old colored woman; Mr. Alex. Forbes, a prominent citizen and a supervisor of the county, and Dr. J. H. Nolan, a physician who attended Mr. John S. Forbes in his last illness. By far the most damaging testimony was given by James H. Forbes, Jr., a near neighbor of Mr. John S. Forbes’s family. The evidence all through was remarkably interesting, and at all times was intensely dramatic. The lawyers were at their best, and their discussions at times when the jury was out was of a very high order. Messrs. Hubard, Strode and Flood were the most active attorneys in to-day’s proceedings.

Miss Forbes again dressed in black and appeared more nervous than the prior day. She was questioned by Strode who asked if Wooldridge had spoken to her about her father after his death. Janie replied, “He told me that he was glad that the old man was dead at last, and that it would have been better if he had died last January when he was sick.”

When asked by Strode how she replied to Wooldridge, Janie said, “I said, Mr. Cliff, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Miss Forbes continued that Wooldridge and her brother Charlie were close friends before her father’s death.

Then Strode asked if her father died believing that Mr. Wooldridge had burned his property. H. D. Flood, counsel for the defense, quickly objected to this question which was sustained by the judge.

Next Strode asked if relations between her father and Wooldridge were pleasant at the time of the fire and at the time of her father’s death one month later. Miss Forbes replied that the relationship was not always pleasant and that it changed sometime before her father died. She also stated that her own feelings for Mr. Wooldridge had changed, though she would not allow herself to “cherish hard feelings against anyone.”

Pressing harder, Strode asked if she had considered the effect her testimony might have on her brother’s case. She did not answer the question directly, hesitated, and finally said: “I came here to tell the truth in this case and I did not think and I do not think now that I could tell anything that would connect either Mr. Wooldridge or my brother, Charlie, with the burning of father’s property.”

A series of questions posed to Janie revealed that R. M. Anderson, believing Charlie Forbes was innocent, had offered to help the Forbes family with their defense. Anderson may have suggested to the family that, if he helped, prosecuting attorney Aubrey Strode could be “retired from the case.” (Was this suggested to avoid unnecessary expense?)

During cross-examination, Congressman Flood asked, “Is it not true, Miss Forbes, that Mr. R. M. Anderson, a prominent man of this county, told you that it would be worth $500 to your brother Charlie to tell what he knew in this case even if it incriminated him?” (Did R. M. Anderson have influence to direct the outcome of this case, including bribing Charlie Forbes?)

Janie confirmed this statement, adding “but I do not think he wanted Charlie to tell anything except the truth.”

At this, the attorneys for the prosecution chuckled.

After two hours of cross examination, Janie Forbes was excused.

The Medicine Bottle

Immediately following the fires, while John Forbes was sick, Janie and Miss Nora O’Brien attended him. One day Wooldridge visited Forbes’ sickbed and, according to Strode, tried to interfere with Nora when she was about to give John Forbes his medicine. Janie was not present at the time, so could not comment. As a result, this line of questioning was abandoned.

Later, when the prosecution called Miss O’Brien to the stand, she confirmed that she had helped administer medicine to Mr. Forbes during his final illness. One day, Wooldridge visited Mr. Forbes and mixed the medicine bottles “which had been carefully arranged and then advised her not to administer any medicine to the sick man because the bottles had been mixed.” Nora added that she had no “animosity” towards Wooldridge.

Then, Dr. Nolan took the stand and testified as to the nature of the medicine. One bottle was a morphine mixture and another contained strychnine. Either bottle incorrectly used might have resulted in fatality.

This implication of Wooldridge’s interference at John Forbes’ sickbed eerily echoed his statement that Forbes “should have died last January when he was sick.”

Coming Next: The Testimony of James H. Forbes

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


Leave a Comment
  1. Joanne Yeck / Jul 25 2016 8:59 pm

    So much more to come! Stay tuned!

  2. Luanne @ TFK / Jul 25 2016 8:39 pm

    Horrible story!

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