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November 24, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part LV



Contradictory Evidence

The following day was inclement in Farmville. The rain and sleet, however, did not diminish the crowd, including many local ladies, who filled the courtroom. On January 7, 1905, The Times-Dispatch updated its readers.

Judge Hundley announced that he had carefully considered the question of discharging the jury and had decided to overrule the prosecution’s request. The jury would remain, including E. W. Venable, for the remainder of the trial.

Counsel for the defense called Floyd and Thomas Forbes as witnesses, both of them sons of John S. Forbes. Their testimony contradicted evidence previously given by their cousins, James H. and R. D. Forbes.

Floyd Forbes, of Lynchburg, made the startling statement that “the relations between Wooldridge and his father’s family were very friendly; that Wooldridge was possibly closer to his father than any one else in the neighborhood. That there had never been any interruption of these cordial and intimate relations.” This undermined numerous statements by others who said that Wooldridge wished the entire Forbes clan dead.

Tom Forbes proved to be a star witness. He insisted that, on the night of the fires, the ground was frozen and tracks could not have been made around the buildings.  He told how James H. Forbes repeated rumors that Janie Forbes had seen Cliff Wooldridge, Dan Wooldridge, and Charlie Forbes on the night of the fire.  According to Tom, Jim Forbes suggested that if Janie would come forward, Dr. Nowlin would testify that Charlie was insane, absolving him of responsibility for the crimes. Jim Forbes also indicated to Tom that, if Janie spoke up, it would “save the family great expense.”

What did James H. Forbes think Janie was hiding? Was she silent about “dangerous” aspects of Charlie’s personally or was James Forbes attempting to direct the investigation for his own purposes?

Additionally, J. H. O’Bryan was called to the stand and questioned concerning the tracts. Great attention was paid to the patch on the sole of Wooldridge’s shoe. There was no track with a patch mark. Drama ensued when O’Bryan was asked if he was courting Mr. Wooldridge’s daughter. According to The Times-Dispatch, Cliff Wooldridge “completely lost his temper and trembling with excitement and passion” shouted, “Judge, I object to that.” Wooldridge was, according to the article, “almost a paroxysm of passion.”

Mrs. Rosa S. Carson, a teacher in the Buckingham County public schools, who was present at the home of James H. Forbes when Wooldridge allegedly made statements that were now being used against him, testified that she was in the Forbes parlor and did not hear Wooldridge say “that he held the whole thing in the hollow of his hand.” Mrs. Carson added that Wooldridge did mention that a “young man wearing a brown overcoat and having a light mustache had something to do with the burning.” Did Rosa Carson introduce a new and significant clue?

Prior to January 5, 1905, the Wooldridge family had been excluded from the Prince Edward courtroom. Now, Mrs. Wooldridge and her daughters, Maud and Mazie, were permitted to attend the proceedings. Indeed, the final witness to take the stand on that afternoon was Miss Mazie Wooldridge, the daughter living in Appomattox County. She was remarkably pretty with golden hair, bright blue eyes, and a rosy complexion.

Beyond reporting the evidence brought to light that rainy day, the Farmville correspondent to The Times-Dispatch took time to add a wistful observation:

There are many sad features to this case. Homes have been destroyed, families divided, happy hearts broken, and proud heads made to bow in shame and grief by this mysterious and wanton crime, committed in the quiet old county of Buckingham.

Coming Next: Cliff Wooldridge Takes the Stand

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

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