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August 11, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXVIII

Arson_28_Wooldridge Daughter

Witnesses for the Prosecution

By July 22, 1904, day four of the trial, the last of the witnesses for the prosecution took the stand for the case against E. C. Woolridge for the destruction of John S. Forbes’ home and property.

Wooldridge’s oldest daughter traveled from Lynchburg to join the family. Described both as “a very handsome young woman” and as “a remarkably pretty girl,” Miss Wooldridge stole the headlines. Her father showed signs of deep emotion and wept profusely upon seeing her. Being an expert stenographer, she began to take down the proceedings in shorthand.

Witnesses included two of the men who had arrested Wooldridge on May 22nd, J. C. Sutherland, formerly of Albemarle County and now a citizen of Farmville, and Reese Morgan, a cousin of Charlie Forbes. Their testimony and demeanor was so identical that Congressman Flood, counsel for the defense, asked if they had conferred to determine how to tell their stories.

Two more witnesses attested to strange, apparently incriminating, statements made by Wooldridge. R. O. Morgan, who saw Wooldridge the day of his arrest, testified that Wooldridge said that Charlie Forbes did not set the fires but he stole the money. Richard D. Payne recalled that on the date of John S. Forbes’ burial, Wooldridge told him that “he wished forty square miles of that country around about was sunk into hell, and that he was with it.” Additionally, Payne stated that someone else remarked that Charlie Forbes was the guilty party. Wooldridge responded, if Forbes is guilty, then I am also guilty.

E. V. “Van” Anderson, a kinsman of Forbes and a Justice of the Peace in Buckingham County, told his version of the burning of John S. Forbes’ property. Anderson testified that he was at Sam Forbes’ home the day after the fire and conversed with Wooldridge. That day, Wooldridge allegedly stated that Charlie Forbes was the arsonist, contradicting what he told R. O. Morgan. Anderson also related a conversation with Wooldridge the day John Forbes was buried. The Times-Dispatch quoted Anderson’s testimony, recreating the conversation.

Wooldridge: “Now, Van, you can see my motive.”

Anderson: “What?”

Wooldridge: “Now, I am in possession of everything.” He waved his hand towards the Forbes farm, which was all around them.

Anderson: “Explain what you mean.”

Wooldridge: “I will tell you some other time.”

When Congressman Flood cross-examined Van Anderson, he pointed out how Wooldridge’s remarks might not be a confession of complicity in the crime but could be understood as ironic. The article continued:

This witness established the fact that Wooldridge’s tongue had been largely his undoing. Mr. Flood said that his client, Wooldridge, always spoke in parables: that he was mysterious in his conversation, and that he could be readily misinterpreted in his remarks. Mr. Anderson, when asked whether Mr. Wooldridge had such characteristics, said he did, and that Wooldridge was a hard man to understand.

Clearly, the volatile Cliff Wooldridge had opened his mouth too many times on the day of John S. Forbes’ funeral.

Coming Next: A Pistol

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

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