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September 1, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXXIV

Arson_34_Wooldrige Stand Footprints

Courtesy The Times-Dispatch. Click to enlarge.

Wooldridge’s Remarkable Defense

As the hours passed in the afternoon heat of July 26th, Wooldridge answered questions about the medicine bottles and the “harsh statements” he had made to R. H. Payne when he supposedly wished that forty square miles of the county would sink into hell:

He said he had been informed about that time that he was suspected of doing the burning and that his indignation was so great that he could not keep from talking in this bitter way. He also explained the remark which he made to Mr. E. V. Anderson on the day of the burial of John S. Forbes, when he said to him now you see my motive, he said at that time when he made this remark, there was a flock of sheep grazing in Mr. R. D. Forbes’s field, half of which he had just bought from Mr. Andie (Annis) Forbes, son of the late John S. Forbes. The remark made, was of course an ironical one. . . .

Wooldridge next explained his statement that there was a plot to burn the Forbes property, explaining that he had learned that Tom Ferguson left F. L. Ferguson’s place on February 27th. Tom Ferguson was one of the men sent to the penitentiary for robbing the John Forbes home some years earlier.

Wooldridge then clarified the “great dispute and trouble” at the home of James H. Forbes. Wooldridge said he had been very angry when he learned that James Forbes was “connected with a plot to lynch or otherwise injure him” in connection with the arson. He continued that he was “terribly excited” and made many improper remarks; however, he was adamant that this was no confession.

Then came the business of the footprints and the information he gave about Charlie Forbes’ whereabouts. All were logically and rationally explained. The newspaper concluded:

One remarkable thing about Wooldridge’s testimony, was that he did not contradict the witnesses of the Commonwealth, who had been placed on the stand to testify against him, that he merely explained how they might have construed these remarks as being confessions on his part. Point after point, he explained every instance, when he was supposed to have made confessions. . . .

He said he would have been a fool to make confessions under such circumstances. He spoke quite bitterly of the treatment which he had received at the hands of Edloe Spencer. He said Spencer had tried to degrade and humiliate him after arresting him, and had asked him questions which he told him were cruel and unjust, and he said that on the way to Farmville that day he begged Spencer not to talk to him any more.

The Times-Dispatch correspondent, now adept at cliffhangers, ended this installment, saying:

The largest crowd in the history of the trial will probably be in attendance tomorrow when the case is argued. It has been agreed that Mr. Strode will lead the speaking and will be followed, first by Mr. Lancaster, then by Mr. Flood, counsel for the defense, and Mr. Edmund W. Hubbard (sic) will close the argument.

The speeches will not be limited as to time. There is much speculation as to the probable outcome of the trial. Since Wooldridge’s testimony, it is generally thought by intelligent people that the Commonwealth can hardly secure a verdict against him; many think there will be a hung jury; some think the prisoner will be acquitted, while there are few, if any, who believe there will be a conviction.

Coming Next: Closing Speeches

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

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