The Chilling Tale Of How An 1897 Ghost Helped To Solve Her Own Murder

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

You’ve probably heard a ghost story or two in your time, and if they were like many, they were probably about someone who died with some unfinished business.

Often, these ghosts appear to the living with a message that they needed to send, or a truth that they demand come to light.

After all, traditionally, ghosts are the spirits of the deceased who, for some reason, can’t cross over.

Most people think of them as just stories. And today, we’d never, say, take a ghost story as evidence in a murder trial.

But that’s exactly what happened in 1897 in Greenbrier County, WV. And even creepier? It turned out to be true.

At least, that’s how the legend of the Greenbrier Ghost goes.

People have been claiming to have witnessed the paranormal throughout history, whether it be experiencing classic signs of a haunting or a chance encounter with a playground ghost.

But the Greenbrier Ghost is notable for being the only ghost to partake (in a way) in a murder trial, and to turn out to be right.

Read the story of the Greenbrier Ghost below, and let us know what you think. Is there a rational explanation for this story, or did the truth really come from beyond the grave?

[H/T: Dusty Old Thing]


The story of the Greenbrier Ghost starts with this young woman, Elva Zona Heaster Shue.

Born in Greenbrier County, WV — sometime between 1873 and 1876 — not much is known about her early life, although it’s believed she had a child out of wedlock in 1895.

In 1896, Zona, as she was known, met a drifter named Erasmus (or Edward) Stribbling Trout Shue.

He was looking to start a new life as a blacksmith in the county, and Zona fell in love with him, even though her mother disapproved.

Regardless of her mother’s near-instant dislike of Shue, Zona married him, and the two appeared to live peacefully as husband and wife for about a year.

This photo may be their wedding photo, but no one is entirely certain.

On January 23, 1897, Shue sent a hired boy into their house, where the couple was living, on an errand.

The boy was shocked to find Zona sprawled out at the foot of the stairs, unresponsive.

He ran home and told his mother, who called the George W. Knapp, the local doctor and coroner.

By the time Knapp arrived nearly an hour later, Shue had moved his wife’s body upstairs, laid her out on the bed, and re-dressed her.

He stayed while Knapp examined the body, cradling her head, and becoming agitated when Knapp got close to Zona’s head and neck.

The death was ruled as “everlasting faint” and later changed to “childbirth,” although it’s unknown if Zona was pregnant at the time of her death.

Either way, Zona’s death was declared natural.

Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother who had never liked Shue, observed that Shue’s behavior during Zona’s wake and burial was erratic, and that he seemed preoccupied with stabilizing Zona’s head in the casket.

His actions, combined with a strange looseness to Zona’s head at the funeral, convinced Heaster that her daughter had been murdered.

Heaster, pictured above, began to pray, and according to legend, Zona’s spirit appeared to her four weeks after the funeral.

The ghost was said to appear as a bright light, bringing a chill over the room, and gradually taking form into Zona.

According to Heaster, Zona’s ghost said that Shue was a cruel man who abused her, and one night, when she didn’t cook him the dinner she wanted, he attacked her and broke her neck.

To “prove” this, the ghost spun her head all the way around.

The ghost continued to visit Heaster for four nights, telling the same story over and over.

Today, a ghost sighting might not seem like enough to go to the police with, but for Heaster, it was plenty.

She spent hours in the office of the local prosecutor’s office asking them to reopen her daughter’s case.

The prosecutor’s belief in ghosts aside made him reopen the case.

By that time, Knapp had admitted he didn’t do a full examination of the body, and other people were beginning to feel something wasn’t right.

Despite protestations from Shue, Zona’s body was exhumed and reexamined.

The cause of death? A broken neck, with bruises in the shape of fingers on her skin.

Shue was arrested after this find. While he was in jail, it came to light that Zona had been his third wife.

His first wife divorced him, accusing him of cruelty. His second wife had died under mysterious circumstances.

Shue also talked about wanting to marry seven women, and made this drawing, it’s believed, while in prison.

It seems to show a man and a woman, as well as someone in a coffin.

Shue was found guilty of murder in July, 1897. He was moved to a state penitentiary where he died in 1900, probably of pneumonia.

And as for Zona’s ghost? It was never seen again.

What do you think happened here? Did Zona’s mother subconsciously put two and two together, or was there something else at work?

Let us know what you think in the comments, and SHARE this spooky tale with your friends to see what they think really happened!