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November 17, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part LIII


More Witnesses for the Prosecution

On January 5, 1905, The Times-Dispatch continued its detailed coverage of the Wooldridge trial. The newspaper still considered it front page news. Oddly, it featured this misleading headline:

Sensation In Murder Trial

Whoever was writing headlines at The Times-Dispatch was apparently not following the trial which concerned arson, not murder.

Another lengthy article related that the prosecution produced a parade of witnesses, most of whom repeated their testimonies from August. They included R. D. Forbes and Van Anderson. Miss Nora O’Brien, J. H. O’Brien, and Dr. J. B. Noland, who reviewed the issue of the medicine bottles. R. D. Forbes discussed the well-worn information about the tracks around the house. Reese Morgan and J. C. Sutherland, one of the men who arrested Charlie Forbes, supported Edloe Spencer’s testimony. According to Sutherland, Wooldridge told the men to watch the night train for Charlie Forbes.

The following day, the impressive number of witnesses for the prosecution filed in. Cliff Wooldridge appeared unaffected, cheerfully entering the courtroom, apparently content. Soon, he was joined by his daughter, Maud, who kissed her father affectionately. Under his happy exterior, however, Wooldridge showed signs of nervousness. Affected by his extended ordeal, he was on edge and laughed openly at things he found amusing. Judge Hundley was not amused by the prisoner’s behavior and demanded order in the crowded courtroom.

C. A. Spencer, the jailer in Buckingham County, testified that Wooldridge attempted a jailbreak sometime in October. According to Spencer, one morning at 8:00 AM, he found the lock to Wooldridge’s cage broken and Wooldridge standing outside the cell. Spencer admitted that there was no further evidence that Wooldridge tried to escape.

According to The Times-Dispatch, Peter A. Forbes, Buckingham County’s Clerk of Court and John S. Forbes’ younger brother, “was visibly affected while on the stand.” He and Wooldridge had conversed several times about the burning of John S. Forbes’ property. The witness repeated Wooldridge’s comment that one man ought to own both farms, referring to the adjoining Wooldridge-Forbes land.

Nancy Morgan, who was described as “an old time colored woman,” testified again, causing much “amusement” with her lively account.

Conversely, emotions were tense when merchant Richard D. Payne stated that Wooldridge ought to be hung for what he did, believing his actions were tantamount to murder. Payne repeated Wooldridge’s confounding statements that Charlie did not commit arson but if Charlie did, so did he. Again, Payne quoted Wooldridge’s sentiments “that he wished forty square miles of that county could be sunk in hell and he would be willing to go with it.”

With this incriminating statement, the Commonwealth rested its case, reserving the right to later call a witness who was not present. The defense was given one and a half hours to prepare their evidence.

Coming next: A Juror Challenged

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


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