1. News & Issues

Discuss in my forum

The Ghost That Solved Its Own Murder

By

Zona Heaster Shue picture

Zona Heaster Shue

The true story of The Greenbrier Ghost - a remarkable case in which the victim's spirit testified about its own violent death, and named the murderer!

Her daughter was only 23. Yet Mary Jane Heaster watched through tear-soaked eyes as the body of her young daughter was lowered into the cold ground. It was a gray, dreary day in late January, 1897 as Elva Zona Heaster Shue was laid to rest in the cemetery near Greenbrier, West Virginia. Her death came much too soon, thought Mary Jane. Too unexpectedly... too mysteriously.

The coroner listed the cause of death as complications from childbirth. But Zona, as she preferred to be called, had not been giving birth when she died. In fact, as far as anyone knew, the woman was not even pregnant. Mary Jane was certain that her daughter's death was quite unnatural. If only Zona could speak from the grave, she hoped, and explain what had really brought about her untimely passing.

In one of the most remarkable cases on U.S. court records, Zona Heaster Shue did speak from her grave, revealing not only how she died -- but at whose hand. Her ghost's testimony not only named her own murderer, but helped in convicting the culprit in a court of law. It is the only case on U.S. lawbooks in which the testimony from the spirit of a murder victim aided in resolving the crime.

THE MARRIAGE

Just two years before Zona's death, Mary Jane Heaster had endured another hardship with her daughter. Zona had given birth to a child out of wedlock -- a scandalous event in the late 1800s. The father, whoever he was, did not marry Zona, and so the young woman was in need of a husband. In 1896, Zona chanced to meet Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue. Going by the name Edward, he was newly arrived in Greenbrier, looking to make a new life for himself as a blacksmith. Upon meeting, Edward and Zona took an instant liking to one another and a courtship began.

Mary Jane, however, was not pleased. Protective of her daughter, especially after her recent difficulty, she did not approve of her Zona's choice in Edward. There was something about him she didn't like. He was virtually a stranger, after all. And there was something she didn't trust... perhaps even something evil that her daughter, blinded by love, could not see. Despite her mother's protests, however, Zona and Edward were married on October 26, 1896.

THE BODY

Three months passed. On January 23, 1897, an 11-year-old African American boy named Andy Jones entered the Shue home and found Zona lying on the floor. He had been sent there by Edward to ask Zona if she needed anything from the market. He stood for a moment looking at the woman, at first not knowing what to make of the scene. Her body was stretched out straight with her legs together. One arm was at her side and the other resting on her body. Her head was tilted to one side.

At first Andy wondered if the woman was asleep on the floor. He stepped quietly toward her. "Mrs. Shue?" he called softly. Something was not right. The boy's heart began to race as panic swept over his body. Something was dreadfully wrong. Andy bolted from the Shue house and rushed home to tell his mother what he had found.

The local physician and coroner, Dr. George W. Knapp, was summoned. He did not arrive at the Shue residence for about an hour, and by that time Edward had already taken Zona's lifeless body to an upstairs bedroom. When Knapp entered the room, he was astonished to see that Edward had redressed her in her best Sunday clothing -- a beautiful dress with a high neck and stiff collar. Edward had also covered her face with a veil.

Obviously, Zona was dead. But how? Dr. Knapp tried to examine the body to determine cause of death, but all the while Edward, crying bitterly -- almost hysterically -- cradled his dead wife's head in his arms. Dr. Knapp could find nothing out of the ordinary that would explain the death of what appeared to have been a healthy young woman.

But then he noticed something -- a slight discoloration on the right side of her cheek and neck. The doctor wanted to examine the marks, but Edward protested so vehemently that Knapp ended the examination, announcing that poor Zona had died of "an everlasting faint." Officially and for the record, he inexplicably wrote that the cause of death was "childbirth." Just as mysterious was his failure to notify the police about the strange marks on her neck that he was unable to examine.

Next page: The wake and the ghost

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.