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The Ghost That Solved Its Own Murder

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Zona Heaster Shue gravestone picture

Zona's gravestone

THE WAKE AND THE GHOST

Mary Jane Heaster was beside her self with grief. She felt that Zona's marriage to Edward would come to a bad end... but not this. Were her apprehensions about Edward more dreadful than she imagined? Were her motherly instincts correct in not trusting this stranger?

Her suspicions deepened at Zona's wake. Edward was acting strangely; not exactly like a husband in mourning. Some of the neighbors attending the wake noticed it, too. One moment he seemed grief-struck, another moment highly agitated and nervous. He had placed a pillow on one side of Zona's head and a rolled up cloth on the other, as if keeping it propped in place. He refused to allow anyone near her. Her neck was covered by a large scarf that Edward claimed was her favorite and that he wanted her buried in it. At the end of the wake, as the coffin was being prepared to be taken to the cemetery, several people noticed an odd looseness of Zona's head.

Zona was buried. Despite all of the strangeness surrounding her daughter's death, Mary Jane Heaster had no proof of any kind that Edward was somehow to blame, or that Zona's death was in any way unnatural. The suspicions and the questions might have been buried along with Zona and eventually forgotten had not some unexplained phenomena begun to take place.

Mary Jane had taken the rolled up white sheet from Zona's coffin before it was sealed. And now, days after the funeral, she tried to return it to Edward. In keeping with his peculiar behavior, he refused to take it. Mary Jane brought it back home with her, deciding to keep it as a memory of her daughter. She noticed. however, that it had a strange, indefinable odor. She filled a basin with water in which to wash the sheet. When she submerged the sheet, the water turned red, the color bleeding from the sheet. Mary Jane jumped back in astonishment. She took a pitcher and scooped some of the water from the basin. It was clear.

The once-white sheet was now stained pink, and nothing Mary Jane would do could remove the stain. She washed it, boiled it and hung it in the sun. The stain remained. It was a sign, Mary Jane thought. A message from Zona that her death was far from natural.

If only Zona could tell her what happened and how. Mary Jane prayed that Zona would come back from the dead and reveal the circumstances of her death. Mary Jane made this prayer every day for weeks... and then her prayer was answered.

Cold winter winds swirled around the streets of Greenbrier. As the early darkness crept into Mary Jane Heaster's home every night, she lit her oil lamps and candles for light, and stoked the wood stove for warmth. From out of this dim atmosphere, so Mary Jane claimed, the spirit of her beloved Zona appeared to her on four nights. During these spectral visits, Zona told her mother how she had died.

Edward was cruel and abusive to her, Zona said. And on the day of her death his violence went too far. Edward became irrationally angry at her when she told them she had no meat for his dinner. He was overcome with rage and lashed out at his wife. He savagely attacked the defenseless woman and broke her neck. To prove her account, the ghost slowly turned its head completely around at the neck.

THE PROOF

Zona's ghost had confirmed her mother's worst suspicions. It all fit: Edward's strange behavior and the way he attempted to protect his dead wife's neck from movement and inspection. He had murdered the poor woman! Mary Jane took her story to John Alfred Preston, the local prosecutor. Preston listened patiently, if skeptically, to Mrs. Heaster's story of the telltale ghost. He certainly had his doubts about it, but there was enough that was unusual or suspicious about the case, and he decided to pursue it.

Preston ordered Zona's body exhumed for an autopsy. Edward protested the action, but had no power to stop it. He began to show signs of great stress. He said publicly that he knew he would be arrested for the crime, but that "they will not be able to prove I did it." Prove what?, Edward's friends wondered, unless he knew she had been murdered.

Next page: The trial

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