Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Ghostly Testimony

On January 23, 1897, a young woman named Zona Heaster Shue was found dead in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.

Zona Heaster Shue

Zona had married a man named Edward Shue several months earlier. Shue had been a drifter who had settled in Greenbrier County to work as a blacksmith. Despite her mother’s disapproval, Zona and Edward had gotten married late in 1896, not long after meeting.

They lived together in a small house in the county.

It was in this same house that Zona was found dead by an errand boy. The boy found her lying at the foot of the stairs.

The coroner, Dr. Knapp, was called to come investigate, but did not arrive for several hours. When he got there, Shue had already arrived home and had taken his wife’s body upstairs and dressed it for burial - which was abnormal, to say the least. He stayed by his wife’s side, sobbing, while Dr. Knapp completed a short inspection. Dr. Knapp cut the inspection short due to Shue’s distress, and due to the fact that when he attempted to inspect some bruising on Zona’s neck, Shue reacted violently and refused to let him inspect it.

Dr. Knapp ultimately determined the cause of death to have been "childbirth," because he had been treating her for "female problems" for several weeks prior to her death. This was absurd, however, as Zona had not been giving birth at the time of her death, and, in fact, was not, as far as anyone knew, pregnant.

Zona was buried the following day, and Shue, claiming that it would help her to rest easier in her coffin, placed a rolled blanket on one side of her head and a pillow on the other. He also placed her favorite scarf around her neck. He stayed by the coffin throughout the entire viewing and burial.

Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, believed from the start that Shue had killed Zona.

Mary Jane Heaster

Convinced that Shue had murdered her daughter, Mary Jane began keeping all night prayer vigils, praying that her daughter would appear to her and tell her the truth of what had happened.

Four weeks later, Mary Jane's prayers were answered.

Appearing first as a bright light, then materializing into an apparition, Zona's ghost appeared and told her mother that Shue had abused her on a number of occasions. She also told her that, on the day of the murder, Shue came home to find that she had not cooked any meat for dinner. In a fit of rage, he choked her to death, breaking her neck. To prove her neck was broken, Zona’s ghost turned her head around in a 360-degree arc.

After several more ghostly visits, Mary Jane visited the office of the local prosecutor, begging for him to look into the case, based on the ghostly visits from her daughter. The prosecutor, John Preston, was intrigued enough that he began interviewing several witnesses. Upon hearing of Shue’s strange behavior, as well as the incomplete examination of Dr. Knapp, Preston arranged for a court-ordered exhumation and autopsy.

The body was exhumed on February 22nd, a month after Zona’s death and burial. The autopsy easily confirmed that Zona’s neck had, indeed, been broken. The coroner’s report stated that not only was the neck broken, but finger marks existed along the neck, and the windpipe was crushed. It was clear Zona’s neck had not been broken from a fall down the stairs, nor had she died from anything related to a pregnancy.

Based upon the evidence of Mary Jane’s ghostly visits from her daughter, the confirmation of the autopsy, and his strange behavior before and during the burial, Edward Shue was arrested for the murder of his wife.

At the trial, Mary Jane testified about her daughter’s ghostly visits, and it was partly on the strength of this testimony that Shue was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

A lynch mob attempted to hang Shue after the trial, but was turned back. Shue died of natural causes in prison three years later.

Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, never recanted her ghost story, and the case stands to this day as the only known criminal case in U.S. history where the testimony of a ghost helped to convict a murderer.

Modern sign in Greenbrier County


Anonymous said...

HOW do you find out all of this stuff?! I guess I should start reading some.

deine schwester :) said...

That's interesting. Of course, I think you could argue that the woman's mother heard rumors about the husband's strange behavior, drew her own conclusions, and claimed she'd been visited by a ghost. Or maybe genuinely convinced herself that she had been. But I like the idea of the ghost being real better, so like I often do, I'll believe the fairy tale regardless. :)

Scott said...

M -- Yes, you should read more. E -- Yeah, I'm sure that the woman observed the unusual behavior, noticed how the husband wouldn't let anyone near the neck or head, and then made up the ghost story as a means of garnering attention to her case.