He will give his angels charge of you,
To guard you in all your ways.
събота, 3 януари 2015 г.
West Virginia murder exposed and
solved by the
of the victim. The case went to trial,
during which testimony concerning the ghost’s appear-
ances was entered into the record. The case is the only
known case in the United States in which a ghost’s testi-
mony helped to convict a murderer.
The victim, later known as the “Greenbrier Ghost,”
was Elva Zona Heaster Shue, who lived near Greenbrier,
West Virginia with her new husband, Trout Shue. Zona
(the name she used) probably was born in 1873—records
give different dates. She bore an illegitimate child in 1895.
In 1896, she met Erasmus (also given as Edward)
Stribbling Trout Shue, an out-of-towner who moved to
Greenbrier to work as a blacksmith and start a new life
for himself. The two were quickly attracted to each other,
and they married shortly after meeting, on October 26,
1896. The marriage was opposed by Zona’s mother, Mary
Jane Robinson Heaster, who did not like Shue or the idea
of her daughter marrying a stranger.
On January 23, 1897, Zona’s body was discovered
inside her house by a black boy, Andy Jones, who had
been sent to the house by Shue with instructions to ask
Zona if she required anything from the store. Jones found
Zona lying on the fl
oor, stretched out straight with feet
together, one hand by her side and the other lying across
her body, and her head inclined slightly to one side. Jones
ran home to tell his mother.
The local physician and coroner, Dr. George W. Knapp,
was summoned and arrived at the Shue household in
about an hour. By then, Shue had already carried his
wife’s body upstairs and dressed it up in her Sunday best:
a dress with a high neck and stiff collar secured by a big
bow, and a veil covering her face. While Knapp attempted
to determine the cause of death, Shue remained planted
by his wife’s head, cradling her head and upper body and
sobbing in great distress.
Because of Shue’s tremendous display of grief, Knapp
made only a cursory examination. He observed slight dis-
colorations on the right side of Zona’s neck and right
cheek. When he tried to examine the back of her neck,
Shue erupted into such protests that Knapp ended the
examination and left. Initially, Knapp announced that
Zona had died of “an everlasting faint,” then offi
recorded the cause as “childbirth.” It is not known for
certain whether Zona was pregnant. For two weeks prior
to the tragedy, Knapp had been treating her for an undis-
closed “trouble.” In those times, one of the most common
causes of death among young women was complications
from childbirth, and Knapp may have fallen back on that
for lack of anything more specifi
Zona’s body was laid out for her wake. Neighbors
who came to pay their respects observed odd behavior
in Shue. He changed from overwhelming grief to manic
energy to agitation. He did not want anyone near Zona.
He had placed a pillow at one side of her head and a
wadding of cloth on the other side, explaining that the
ministrations were to enable Zona “to rest easier.” He said
the big scarf around her neck was her favorite, and that
she had wanted to be buried in it. Nonetheless, people
noticed that when time came for the corpse to be moved
to the cemetery, there was a strange looseness of the head.
Heaster, Zona’s mother, took the sheet from inside the
n, and later attempted to return it to Shue. He refused
it. Heaster noticed it had a peculiar smell, so she washed
it. The water turned red, but when she scooped the water
out of the basin, it was clear. The sheet was stained pink.
Heaster tried boiling the sheet and hanging it outdoors in freezing weather for several days, but the stain remained. To
her, it was a sign that her daughter had met with foul play.
Heaster prayed that her daughter would come back
from the dead and reveal the truth about how she died.
cally, Heaster said later, she wanted Zona to “tell”
on Shue, as she suspected the blacksmith of murder.
Heaster’s prayers were answered within weeks. On
four nights, Zona’s ghost reportedly appeared and awak-
ened her from sleep, and described in detail her murder.
Her husband had been abusive and cruel, she said. He
had attacked her in a fi t of rage because he thought she
had no meat cooked for supper, and had broken her neck.
To illustrate, the ghost’s head turned completely around
on the neck.
Heaster went to the prosecutor, John Alfred Preston,
and demanded an investigation. It is unlikely that he
agreed simply on the basis of a ghost’s story. However, the
local rumor mill continued to grind about Zona’s mysteri-
ous and untimely death, the odd appearance of her corpse
and her husband’s strange behavior.
Preston ordered Zona’s body exhumed. Shue vigor-
ously opposed the inquest. He publicly said that he knew
he would be arrested, “but they will not be able to prove
I did it,” thus indicating at least knowledge that his wife
had been murdered.
Zona’s body was exhumed on February 22, 1897. An
autopsy revealed a broken neck and a crushed windpipe
from strangulation. There was no evidence of violence to
other parts of her body. Shue said, “They cannot prove
I did it.” He was arrested and charged with murder. He
pleaded not guilty.
While he awaited trial in jail, information came out
about his unsavory background. He had served time
in jail for stealing a horse. He had been married twice
before. He had abused his fi rst wife, and had forced her
to divorce him by throwing her things out of the house.
His second wife had died under mysterious circumstances
from a head injury, due, according to different accounts,
to a fall or a rock falling upon her.
In jail, Shue remained in good spirits, his grieving
long since over. He said that he wanted to have seven
wives, and since Zona had been his third and he was only
35, he stood a good chance of realizing his ambition. He
said repeatedly that his guilt could not be proved. He
wondered why no one suspected the 11-year-old black
boy, Jones. (If Shue did indeed commit the murder, he
may have set the boy up for possible blame.)
Despite the fact that all the evidence against Shue was
circumstantial (it is doubtful the case would have ever
been tried in modern times), the trial commenced in late
June. Numerous people testifi ed against Shue. Heaster’s
ghost story was inadmissible as evidence because it was
hearsay. However, the defense raised the matter when
she was on the stand, perhaps in an effort to make her
appear to the jury to be unbalanced and insane. Heaster
recounted the ghost’s assertion that Zona’s neck had been
“squeezed off at the fi rst vertebrae” by Shue.
Shue took the stand in his own defense, passionately
denying everything said about his alleged guilt. It was to
no avail. The jury quickly found him guilty, but voted for
life imprisonment instead of death by hanging due to the
circumstantial nature of the evidence.
The verdict did not satisfy many in Greenbrier. A
lynching party was formed on July 11, but was thwarted
due to a tip. Shue was moved to the
in Moundsville. He died on March 13, 1900,
possibly from an epidemic of infectious diseases that
swept the community at that time. There is no record of
what happened to his remains.
A highway historical marker near Greenbrier com-
memorates the case. It reads:
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
ed 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
Despite the resolution, many questions remain about the
case. In all likelihood, Shue did murder his wife in a fi
rage, and then attempted to cover up the crime. Afterward,
there was speculation among the Greenbrier townsfolk that
Zona had died a natural death, and her mother had broken
her neck in the coffi n in an attempt to frame the hated Shue
of a crime. There also was talk that Zona had been pregnant
with another illegitimate child (accounting for her quick
marriage to Shue), and that Knapp had been trying to abort
the baby and had killed Zona. Her neck was broken to cover
it up. Or, that Shue killed Zona when he discovered her pregnant with a child that couldn’t possibly be his. Though
stories circulated of a dead baby being wrapped in the coffi
wadding next to Zona’s head, the autopsy mentioned noth-
ing about pregnancy.
Doubts have been raised that Zona’s mother ever saw
the ghost. Perhaps Heaster concocted the ghost story
to validate her own suspicions and give credence to a
request for a postmortem inquest. It does seem odd that
the ghost of a young country woman would specifi
announce that her neck had been “squeezed off at the
rst vertebrae” rather than simply broken. Perhaps at trial
time Heaster conformed her ghost story to the fi
In investigating the case, historian Katie Letcher Lyle
found an overlooked clue that would indicate that Heaster
had made up the ghost story. Zona’s death was announced
on January 28, 1897. In the
same issue, on a nearby page, was a story about how a mur-
der case in Australia had been solved because numerous
people had seen the ghost of the murdered man sitting on a
rail of a horse pond into which his body had been thrown.
Years later, a dying man confessed that he had made up the
story of the ghost, which others had then believed to the
point that they had claimed to see the
. The man
said he had witnessed the murder, but had been threatened
with death if he divulged details. He concocted the ghost in
an effort to get the body discovered.
Lyle proposes the plausible theory that Heaster read
the story and took a similar course of action to avenge her
daughter’s death. It is impossible to say whether she under-
took the action deliberately, or was subconsciously infl
enced by the story and actually believed in Zona’s ghost.
The case of the Greenbrier Ghost features three motifs
prominent in folklore concerning ghosts: the inability of a
murder victim to rest until the truth is known; the return
of the dead for revenge; and the disturbance of a sleeping
person by a ghost.