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The Ghost That Solved Its Own Murder

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Greenbriar ghost historical marker

Greenbriar ghost historical marker

THE EVIDENCE

The autopsy revealed -- just as the ghost has said -- that Zona's neck was broken and her windpipe crushed from violent strangulation. Edward Shue was arrested on charge of murder.

As he awaited trial in jail, Edward's rather unsavory background came to light. He had served time in jail on a previous occasion, being convicted of stealing a horse. Edward had been married twice before, each marriage suffering under his violent temper. His first wife divorced him after he had angrily thrown all of her possessions out of their house. His second wife wasn't so lucky; she died under mysterious circumstances of a blow to the head. Once again, Mary Jane's intuition about this man was verified. He was evil.

And maybe he was a bit of a psychopath. His jailkeepers and cellmates reported that Edward seemed to be in good spirits while in jail. In fact, he bragged that it was intention to eventually have seven wives. Being only 35 years old, he said, he should easily be able to realize his ambition. Apparently, he was certain that he would not be convicted of Zona's death. What evidence was there, after all?

The evidence against Edward may have only been circumstantial at best. But he didn't count on the testimony of an eyewitness to the murder -- Zona.

THE TRIAL

Spring had come and gone, and it was now late June when Edward's trial for murder came before a jury. The prosecutor lined up several people to testify against Edward, citing his peculiar behavior and his unguarded comments. But would that be enough to convict him? There were no other witnesses to the crime, and Edward had not been placed at or near the scene at the time the murder allegedly took place. Taking the stand in his defense, he vehemently denied the charges.

What of Zona's ghost? The court had ruled that prosecuting testimony about the ghost and what it claimed was inadmissible. But then Edward's defending lawyer made a mistake that perhaps sealed his client's fate. He called Mary Jane Heaster to the stand. In an attempt, perhaps, to show that the woman was unbalanced -- maybe even insane -- and prejudicial against his client, he brought up the matter of Zona's ghost.

Seated on the witness stand in front of a packed courtroom and an attentive jury, Mary Jane told the story of how Zona's ghost appeared to her and accused Edward of the foul deed -- that her neck had been "squeezed off at the first verterbrae."

Whether or not the jury took Mary Jane's -- or rather Zona's -- testimony seriously is not known. But they did hand down a verdict of guilty on the charge of murder. Normally, such a conviction would have brought a sentence of death, but because of the circumstantial nature of the evidence, Edward was sentenced to life in prison. He died on March 13, 1900 in the Moundsville, W.V. penitentiary.

THE QUESTIONS

Was the jury swayed, even a little, by the story of Zona's ghost? Was there even a ghost at all? Or was Mary Jane Heaster so convinced that Edward Shue had murdered her daughter that she made up the story to help convict him? In either case, without the story of Zona's ghost, Mary Jane may never have had the courage to approach the prosecutor, and Edward may never have been brought to trial. And Zona's ghost would have remained unavenged.

A highway historical marker near Greenbrier commemorates Zona and the unusual court case surrounding her death:

Interred in nearby cemetery is
Zona Heaster Shue

Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition's account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from ghost helped convict a murderer.

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