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August 15, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXIX

Arson_29_1900_Forbes_Peter A

Peter A. Forbes, 1900 Census.  Click to enlarge.

A Pistol

Contradictions continued to abound in the case of the Commonwealth vs Wooldridge as more witnesses testified for the prosecution on July 22, 1904.

J. H. Morris testified that he had a lengthy conversation with Wooldridge in which he stated he did not think Charlie Forbes was responsible for the fires. Then Wooldridge added that drunken men might have set the blaze. Morris visited the site soon after the crime and saw Wooldridge, who told him of a pistol with a scorched handle which had been found near the dwelling house. The pistol was in Wooldridge’s possession. Walter Morris, son of J. H. Morris, supported his father’s story.

The Times-Dispatch expressed excitement over this new piece of evidence:

This is the first mention of a pistol in this case; not even a rumor of the finding of a pistol has been known before. Wooldridge had talked a great deal about the case, but so far as is known he has never mentioned the finding of this pistol to any one except J. H. Morris and J. H. Morris’s family.

The final witness for the Commonwealth was Peter A. Forbes, Clerk of Buckingham County and the brother of the late John S. Forbes. He had paid for detectives to investigate the case; Cliff Wooldridge brought them to the county. On March 6, 1904, Peter Forbes went to the arson site and had a long conversation with Wooldridge, who was confident that one set of tracks belonged to Dora Goins. He went on to suggest that children or drunken men might have been responsible. Then, Wooldridge asked Peter Forbes what had become a persistent question, “Has it ever occurred to you that some men who wanted to buy the property did the burning?”

During cross-examination, Congressman Flood asked Peter Forbes how much land Cliff Wooldridge owned. It was revealed that he owned no land. His wife owned about 400 acres.

This fact may have surprised many in the courtroom and certainly contradicted what the newspapers had been printing. What was the source of Wooldridge’s affluence?

Who was Dora Goins? Did Wooldridge have particular drunken men in mind as the possible arsonists?

Coming Next: In Defense of E. C. Wooldridge

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

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