The Ghost of Greenbrier County
Along Route 60 in Greenbrier County, WV, stands a historical marker which reads: “Interred in a 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 a ghost helped convict a murderer.” Quite an unusual marker, indeed!
Elva Heaster “Zona” Shue was born there sometime around 1873. Little is known about her life before her marriage to Erasmus “Edward” Trout Shue in 1896, other than she had an illegitimate child in 1895. Edward was a blacksmith who had drifted into town shortly before and the two were attracted to each other from the start.
Despite objections from her mother, Mary Jane Heaster, Zona married him anyway. Mary Jane couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something not right about this man’s overly friendly demeanor, it seemed artificial. He was hiding some kind of deep, dark secret.
The Schue Home
The story begins the morning of January 23, 1897. Edward had shown up for work at the local blacksmith shop as usual. Edward was known to have a quick temper and would rant over the smallest annoyance. But, no one knew how violent he could actually be. It was around noon when he sent a young boy to his home on the pretext of asking his wife if there was anything he needed to pick up at store before returning home. The errand boy found her sprawled at the bottom of the staircase, dead. Terrified, he dashed home to tell his mother, who called the local doctor.
Somehow, Edward presumably heard the news before anyone else, and arrived before the doctor. When the doctor came in he found Edward had already moved Zona’s body to a bed and was dressing her while sobbing uncontrollably. He had dressed her in a high necked dress and covered her face with a veil. As an added precaution he tied a large scarf around her neck to keep prying eyes from discovering the truth. This was bizarre behavior...not that he was crying, but dressing his wife’s corpse. In those days it was customary for local women to wash and dress a woman’s body before burial.
When Edward saw the doctor, he became hysterical and refused to let him examine her. Unable to do anything else he ruled the death as a result of natural causes. Elva was buried soon after in a small funeral ceremony. The case may have ended there, except Elva was not about to leave the earthly realm until the truth about her death was known.
Mary Jane had always harbored ill feelings toward Edward and was certain he had killed her daughter. She was further convinced when she tried to wash a white sheet that had been used in the coffin. After putting it in water, it turned blood red. There was no doubt in her mind it was a sign verifying her convictions.
About a month later, Mary Jane woke to find Elva’s apparition floating above her bed. The ghost said Edward had attacked her in a fit of rage after discovering she hadn’t prepared any meat for dinner. During the attack he had strangled her and broken her neck. To prove it, the ghost turned her head around until she was looking backward. Elva’s spirit returned the following three nights with the same message.
Convinced there had been foul play, Mary Jane demanded the local prosecutor exhume her daughter’s body. The prosecutor wasn’t going to allow it until he found out a thorough autopsy had not been done. Naturally, Edward frantically tried to quash the action. Over his vehement objections the body was exhumed on February 22.
Elva’s neck had been broken as May Jane had said and Edward was charged with murder. Mary Jane testified at the trial she had been visited four times by her daughter’s ghost. It was a testimony the defense used tried to make her look insane. But, by this time the jury was also convinced Edward was guilty and he was tossed in jail.
However, many men folk in town were angered by the sentence they felt didn’t fit the crime. On July 11, 1897, a citizen’s group said to number anywhere from fifteen to thirty men assembled eight miles out of town for the purpose of lynching the wife murderer. But, although the attempt failed, it didn’t really matter. He was moved to the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville on July 14, where he died three years later on March 13, 1900. He proclaimed his innocence until the end.
Mary Jane never changed her story about her daughter’s ghost and told the tale until her death in September 1916. Zona’s, ghost never appeared again.