Paranormal Files: West Virginia
The ‘Greenbrier Ghost’
When Zona Shue who had just recently been buried began visiting her mother’s bedside over the course of four nights, Mary Heaster was convinced that her daughter had been murdered. Thus is the basis for one of the most bizarre court cases in US history. The only known recorded case of a criminal conviction, based in part on the testimony of a ghost. This is uniquely West Virginia. Just one more odd paranormal event from the annals of the ‘Mountain State’.
Born Elva Zona Heaster to Jacob and Mary Heaster in 1876, Zona grew up in the Lewisburg area of Greenbrier county in West Virginia. Some accounts of Zona’s life say she worked in a tavern or bar in the area. Some stories claim that she had a child while unmarried sometime in 1895. These may have been sensational rumors following news of such a shocking murder trial as they are unverified. Most accounts suggest that Zona lived a peaceful life with her family on their farm near Lewisburg. Zona met the new blacksmith in town, Trout Shue in October of 1896. In whirlwind fashion they were quickly married. They were wed despite the objections of Mary Heaster, who it is said, took an instant dislike to her daughter’s new love.
Erasmus Stribbling “Trout” Shue born 1861 in Virginia had recently moved to Greenbrier county, finding work as a blacksmith. Shue was around 35 when he arrived in the area. During the trial it was discovered that Shue had been married twice before. His first wife Allie Cutlip eventually divorced him due to his abusive and violent nature. His second marriage to Lucy Tritt ended after only 8 months, when she reportedly died under mysterious circumstances. .Shue’s crimes would eventually come to haunt him…in the ghost of his third wife. “Trout” or “Edward” or E.S Shue as the paper’s of the day and many townspeople referred to him, would receive a life sentence after being convicted for Zona’s murder. .
On the morning of January 23, 1897, Trout Shue went to the home of Mrs. Jones, who along with her son Andy helped the Shue’s with errands and chores on occasion to see if Andy could go gather the eggs and see if Zona needed any help. Shue told Mrs. Jones that Zona wasn’t feeling very well that day. Mrs. Jones explained to Shue that Andy had several other errands to run, but she would send him over right after. As the story goes, Trout Shue returned to the Jones’ place 3 more times growing increasingly frustrated that Andy was not available.
Around 1 pm, Andy went over to the Shue place and he immediately felt uneasy. In his book “The Greenbrier Ghost and Other Strange Stories”, Dennis Dietz provides details of an interview he conducted with Andy Jones, the last living survivor at the time who was involved in the case. “All the doors were closed, and there was an air about the place I didn’t like,” he explained. Ater knocking several times and getting no answer, Andy opened the front door. “There she was, stretched out on the floor, looking right up at me through wide-open eyes,” Jones recalled. “She seemed to be laughing. I was frightened but still able to reach down and shake her. She was stiff and cold. I went running from the house.” Any went back to his mother’s house, to let her know what he found. She instructed him to fetch Dr. Knapp and she informed Trout Shue at the blacksmith shop.
Dr. George Knapp arrived at the Shue home about an hour later. To find that Trout Shue had not only moved his wife’s body to the bed, but had prepared her for the funeral, having dressed her in a “high, stiff-necked collar dress”. Typically women in the community would have prepared Zona for the coffin. Dietz reports that as Knapp tried to examine the body, Shue would cradle his wife’s head and sob. Seeing that Trout Shue was apparently under duress and due to the fact that Shue would exhibit fits of rage when he tried to look closer at bruising about her neck, Dr. Knapp was unable to fully examine Zona’s body properly. Knapp officially ruled her death as “eternal faint”, which is a heart attack. The coffin containing Zona Heaster Shue was carried to her mother’s home for a proper wake and then she was interred at the local cemetery.
Mary Heaster had removed a sheet from her daughter’s coffin. A sheet that had been placed along with a pillow on either side of Zona’s head in the coffin. “No Rest for the Wicked” written by Troy Taylor states that Mary decided to wash the sheet As she dropped it into the wash tub the water turned blood red. The sheet then became pink as though it were dyed, while the water cleared. Mary who was already very suspicious of her daughter’s death saw this as a clear sign that she had been murdered. Mary stated later in sworn testimony that she prayed and asked God to allow Zona to reveal the truth of her daughter’s death to her. It was about a month later that Zona Heaster Shue, began appearing to her mother. Mary would testify in court that her daughter came to her and over four consecutive nights explained that her husband Trout Shue had abused and mistreated her. She testified that the reason Shue became enraged and killed her was because she hadn’t prepared any meat with the meal. Mary testified in court that Zona’s neck had been broken at “the first joint”. She knew this because during one visit Zona turned her head completely around, to show her mother that her neck had in fact been broken.
Mary went straight to the county prosecutor John Preston with her story. After listening to a distraught, yet sincere grieving mother, Preston agreed to make inquiries. Preston spoke to Dr. Knapp who admitted that his examination of the body was less than thorough. Preston also spoke to towns people who had attended the funeral and who confirmed the strange behavior of Trout Shue. When anyone trying to pay respects would get near the coffin, Shue would hover. He was said to be over anxious at times and distraught other times. Based on this circumstantial evidence Preston was able to open a case and have Zona’s body exhumed.
A complete and thorough examination and autopsy were performed in which Dr. George Knapp took part. It became evident upon this examination that the neck had been broken, between the first and second vertebrae. In addition her windpipe had been crushed, suggesting strangulation. The defense attorney for Trout Shue wanted to discredit Mary by bringing up the “ghost story” aspect of her testimony. But in fact it was due to this testimony that the jury brought in a guilty verdict after just about an hour of deliberation. “E.S.” Shue was found guilty of the murder of his wife Zona Heaster Shue, despite the fact that 10 of the 12 jurors voted for hanging he was sentenced to life in prison. A lynch mob assembled but the sheriff had been tipped off and hid Shue in the woods, until he could disperse the crowd. Shue was sent to the West Virginia state prison at Moundsville where he died less than three years later of an “unknown illness”.
Mary Heaster never stopped grieving her daughter who reportedly never made any more visits. Mary died in 1916.
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The Greenbrier Ghost and other Strange Stories Deitz-Judy Byers – Mountain Memories Books – 1990 No Rest for the Wicked: History & Hauntings of American Crime & Unsolved Mysteries Troy Taylor- Whitechapel Productions-2001 West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History http://www.wvculture.org/history/crime/shuearticles.html
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