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December 1, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part LVII

arson_57_husband-father

In Defense of Husband and Father

On Monday, January 9, 1905, the prisoner, Cliff Wooldridge, appeared rested after his day off from the exhausting tensions of court. Mrs. Wooldridge had spent the Sabbath with her husband at the Farmville jail. The front page of The Times-Dispatch carried the next installment in the story, noting that Wooldridge said that “it was the pleasantest day he has had in the four months of his confinement.”

The testimony presented on January 9th was a mass of contradictions to previous testimonies given in the case of the Commonwealth vs Wooldridge. The witnesses were already familiar to Judge Hundley and to many in the crowd in the courtroom.

Officer Leslie Fogus contradicted Edloe Spencer’s testimony about Wooldridge’s actions at the time of his arrest. Mrs. J. H. Forbes, on the other hand, supported her husband’s negative testimony about Wooldridge, specifically that he laughed and joked at the burial of John S. Forbes. Janie Forbes broke down on the stand, weeping when reminded of her father’s death. Dan Wooldridge testified about the tracts at the site of the crime. On this occasion, “an iron heel shoe” was mentioned. Dan went on to deny previous testimony against him.

The testimony of Mrs. Wooldridge, who had been unable to appear in the first trial held in Buckingham County due to illness, must have been eagerly anticipated. She maintained that Cliff Wooldridge was home the night of the burning of John S. Forbes’ property. Cliff Wooldridge retired before she did. Her description of Edloe Spencer’s appearance at her home two days after her husband’s arrest was shocking. According to the January 10th issue of The Times-Dispatch:

Edloe Spencer came back to her house with a warrant to search the house for certain papers, the prisoner had told him (Spencer) could be found there. At the time of Spencer’s coming to her house, she was alone with her two girls, her twelve-year-old son and some smaller children. Spencer took all the papers from her husband’s desk and finding among them an old election ticket, shook it in the witness’ face and said:

“I’ll use this against him (referring to Wooldridge), if nothing else.”

Spencer took away enough papers to half fill a pillow case, which Mrs. Wooldridge loaned him to put them in.

Spencer told the witness that her husband had confessed to the burning and so had Charlie Forbes, and that she (witness) had had a hand in the crime, and had just as well own up.

At this accusation, witness’s daughter, Myrtis, exclaimed: “You are a liar.”

Spencer replied: “Look out, little Miss, I have your father and brother behind bars, and if you don’t mind, I’ll have you there.”

With this remark, Edloe Spencer must have become a highly suspect witness. What papers did he take that day? Why had none of them been presented in the trials? Why did Spencer wield so much power when he was not an officer of the law? His motives were at least, in part, political. Was he intent on exposing Wooldridge’s power behind elections? Or, perhaps, what he thought was election fraud? Whatever his motives, Edloe Spencer certainly seemed to have a personal vendetta against the Wooldridge family.

Mrs. Wooldridge continued her testimony concerning the days that followed her husband’s arrest. She admitted that she asked Jim Forbes to provide her with protection, having heard that some twenty-five or thirty persons were headed for her home with malicious intent.

Miss Maud Wooldridge followed her mother on the witness stand and denied a conversation with Mrs. R. D. Forbes concerning hearing the fires from the Wooldridge house. She supported her mother’s testimony, stating that her father was at home the night of the fires. She was also a witness to Edloe Spencer’s intimidation of her mother, giving weight to the testimony concerning Spencer’s aggressive behavior. Maud added that Spencer would not let her look at his “warrant.”

Coming Next: “Wooldridge Trial Near End”

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

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