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November 14, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part LII

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Witnesses for the Prosecution

On January 4, 1905, the front page of The Times-Dispatch carried this bold headline:

NEW TESTIMONY IS VERY DAMAGING

J. H. Forbes repeated what seemed to be incredibly damaging conversations with Wooldridge. He stated that Wooldridge told him that the burning of the Forbes home was planned a month before it took place. Wooldridge said to him that “the whole thing [was in] the hollow of his hand.” Prior to the fire, Wooldridge told him that there was “going to be a big ‘bust up’ over at Forbes soon.” And, once again it was repeated, Wooldridge said “if he had control of lightning he would kill the last damned one of them,” meaning the entire Forbes family. For jury members (and the prosecution), these conversations seemed tantamount to confessions.

Mr. Alex. Forbes, another relative of John S. Forbes and a Buckingham County Supervisor, was the next witness. According to the newspaper, his testimony was equally damaging.

He testified that on the 31st of December, two months prior to the fire, Wooldridge, in the presence of J. H. Forbes and himself, said Charlie Forbes was a dangerous man, and there would be a bust up soon at his home. Again when in jail, Wooldridge sent for Mr. Alex. Forbes to come to see him, and while conversing with him in his cell, Wooldridge asked: “Do you think, like the balance of the people, that this affair is a great mystery?”

Alex. Forbes answered in the affirmative and Wooldridge continued, “I could explain it all, and will after I am out. I would do so now, but it would ruin that [boy].” The boy he was referring to was Charlie Forbes.

Mary Turner testified that Wooldridge had visited her in Appomattox County the day after the fire.

The star witness that day, however, was Edloe Spencer, who was identified as a Norfolk and Western Railroad engineer. In addition to repeating prior testimony, Spencer stated that he and Wooldridge had always been good friends and the necessity of arresting him was “unpleasant.”

This time the reporter made it clear that Officer Fogus, from Farmville, Reese Morgan (Charlie Forbes’ first cousin), and Clarence Sutherland accompanied Spencer to Wooldridge’s home. As in the previous trial, Spencer stated that Wooldridge admitted that he had been expecting the arrest, gathered some clothes, and then made the strange remark — “some money he had might be stolen from Mr. Forbes.” Wooldridge also inquired why Buckingham officials had not come to get him, then ventured a reason: “You couldn’t get one in the county to come here.”

Mrs. Wooldridge, who was standing nearby, echoed her husband’s remarks, saying “No, not even would Edmund Hubard dare put his feet in here.” To that statement the defense objected. In contrast to Mrs. Wooldridge’s expressed feelings, Spencer felt that Buckingham was “so bitter against” Wooldridge that it was best to take him to the Farmville jail.

According to Spencer, Mrs. Wooldridge continued, saying that Charlie Forbes took the money. Mr. Wooldridge told his wife to “hush up.” Unstoppable, she added, “Charlie Forbes gave his father $9.00 that morning and that night went back and got it all.”

Spencer added that Wooldridge claimed he would help lynch the man who set fire to Forbes’ place; however, he did not know who that man was. Then Wooldridge supposedly stated there were three men involved and said, “You have got me, now get the other two.” Again Spencer repeated that Wooldridge charged that Charlie Forbes “got him into it” and was unsure of Wooldridge is exact meaning. Spencer also offered the opinion that Wooldridge had disgraced his family.

Unsurprisingly, Congressman Flood took exception to all of Edloe Spencer’s testimony. The court ruled that the jury should hear all of it. The cross examination of Spencer was long and intense; he remained calm and, according to the reporter, “evidently impressed the jury.”

Coming Next: More Witnesses for the Prosecution

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

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