Elva Zona Heaster: The Ghost That Testified Against Her Husband
The days when a young, healthy woman could drop dead of an “everlasting faint”
A healthy person doesn’t just drop dead of a heart attack — or an “everlasting faint,” as the examining doctor had written on his report. And to make matters worse, some contemporaneous reports even listed her cause of death as childbirth, despite no evidence pointing to Zona being pregnant at the time.
Zona Heaster Shue's spirit, now famously known as the "Greenbrier Ghost," silently approached her mother's bedside, imploring to be heard, Mary Jane recounted. In her cold presence, Zona had a chilling revelation for her mother: her demise was not due to a mere faint; it was a result of cold-blooded murder.
What ensued became the sole documented instance of a murderer being convicted based on the testimony of a ghost.
The Strange Death Of Zona Heaster Shue
In October 1896, at the age of 23, Zona Heaster embarked on a fateful errand in town where she encountered Erasmus "Trout" Shue, a 37-year-old blacksmith. Despite Mary Jane's reservations, the two hastily married a few weeks later, establishing their home near Shue's blacksmith shop.
Tragedy struck just three months later, on January 23, when Zona was discovered lifeless at the bottom of the stairs. The grim discovery was made by Andy Jones, a neighbor boy enlisted for household chores.
Andy ran to the blacksmith shop while his mother called Dr. George Knapp. Shue was there to meet Knapp, who arrived to find Zona had been taken to her bedroom and was already dressed for burial in a high-necked dress. Knapp began to examine the dead woman, and all the while, Shue began acting suspiciously, according to Mental Floss.
Shue was in tears throughout, yet when Knapp attempted to inspect Zona's neck, his emotional reaction prompted the doctor to refrain from pressing the matter any further.
In the midst of this, local whispers circulated, with some suggesting that Zona had given birth to an illegitimate child, and Trout had been married twice previously. His initial marriage resulted in a child named Girta, concluding with a divorce in 1889. The second marriage, to Lucy, ended in mysterious circumstances. Various accounts surfaced, attributing her demise to pregnancy and an ice-related accident, a fatal blow to the head with a brick, or even poisoning.
What The Greenbrier Ghost Told Mary Jane Heaster
Mary Jane Heaster had never liked Erasmus Shue, and now her dead daughter, she claimed, was visiting her as a ghost and telling her that she’d been right all along about the man — and that he had, in fact, killed her daughter.
Zona Heaster Shue’s ghostly nighttime visits continued. Four nights in a row she came, Mary Jane claimed, filling her mother in on the discord that marked her brief marriage.
The day she died, Zona’s ghost allegedly said, her husband was angry with her because she had not fixed meat with his supper. He then brutally attacked her, capping off a marriage rife with abuse, struck her, and broke her neck.
Determined, Mary Jane embarked on a mission, heading directly to Prosecutor John Alfred Preston's office, where he agreed to initiate inquiries. After consulting with Dr. Knapp, who admitted to a less-than-comprehensive examination, Preston learned of bruises on Zona's neck that hadn't been thoroughly addressed.
Simultaneously, townsfolk shared accounts of Shue's peculiar behavior at the wake. He prevented anyone from approaching the coffin, and a pillow had been placed beside Zona's head—details that raised suspicions.
Considering these findings, Preston decided on the necessity of exhuming Zona's body. This time, a thorough autopsy revealed a broken neck, dislocated between the first and second vertebrae, indicating strangulation with a crushed windpipe.
The Greenbrier Ghost Becomes A Key Witness
Erasmus Shue was arrested and the subsequent trial lasted eight days. On the sixth day, he took the stand in his own defence and it did not end well. He rambled, and said everyone was out to get him.
The jury deliberated for a little over an hour and returned a guilty verdict. Shue was sentenced to life behind bars and sent to the state prison in Moundsville, after surviving a failed lynching. Despite the judge purportedly encouraging the jury to disregard the supernatural aspects of the case against Shue, the tales were already circulating. Even now, Zona Heaster Shue's ghost is commonly acknowledged as a pivotal factor in her husband's conviction.
A historical marker, situated along Route 60, serves as a reminder to those navigating the winding mountain roads that the Greenbrier Ghost played a crucial role in convicting her own murderer.