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The Greenbrier Ghost

Updated on March 1, 2012

In 1897 Elva Zona Heaster Shue was murdered by her husband in the county of Greenbrier, West Virginia. He probably would have gotten away with the crime if it hadn’t been for the dead woman’s spirit making sure he didn’t. In doing so, Elva’s spirit helped to set a legal president in West Virginia’s jurist prudence by allowing the testimony of a murdered victim’s spirit in court.

Elva (known as Zona) was born in Greenbrier County in 1873. She married Erasmus (Edward) Stribbling Trout Shue in 1896. Zona’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, did not approve of the marriage but kept her peace for the sake of her daughter’s happiness. However, Zona’s happiness was short-lived, and so was her married life. She was found lying at the foot of her bed in January of 1897. By the time the local coroner arrived (within the hour) Erasmus had prepared his wife’s body for burial and laid Zona on her bed. The Dr. thought this strange since there was a group of women in the village who usually did this. Because of Erasmus’ great distress over the prospect of an autopsy and the loss of his wife, the doctor decided to forgo one and Elva was buried a few days later.

Four weeks after the funeral the dead girl appeared to her mother in a dream and showed her how she had died at the hand of her cruel husband. He had broken her neck. Zona showed this to her mother by twisting her head around until it was facing backwards.

The spirit reappeared for four consecutive nights. Mrs. Heaster then visited the prosecutor, John Alfred Preston, and told him her story. After spending several hours in his office, she was finally able to convince him to exhume her daughter’s body for an autopsy.

Zona’s body was exhumed and reexamined on February 22, 1987. The coroner found that the girl’s neck had indeed been broken. Her husband went on trial for her murder in June of 1897. Mrs. Heaster’s testimony about her dreams were admitted into evidence, and Shue was found guilty of his wife’s murder. He was sentenced to life impression and was sent to the West Virginia State Penitentiary In Moundsville, where he lived for another three years. He died of an unknown epidemic at the prison in 1900.

Mrs. Heaster died in 1916. She never recanted her story about her daughter’s spirit visiting her and relating the story of how she died. Once her husband was convicted, Zona never reappeared.


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