The hit tv show Medium followed the exploits of real-life medium Alison Dubois who claimed to have aided police in solving murder cases with the help of the victim’s spirit. But this strange phenomenon has roots much farther back in history. In fact, it goes as far back as the 19th century to a rural West Virginia town where a woman famously helped convict her own murderer from beyond the grave.
The strange and twisting case of the Greenbrier Ghost is an odd tale that stands at the crossroads of human cruelty and the supernatural.
Born Elva Zona Heaster sometime in the mid-1800s in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, Zona’s early life is something of a mystery before she met her eventual husband Edward Shue in 1896. A year prior, we do know she gave birth to a child out of wedlock though the fate of the child is unknown as is the identity of the father. Edward Shue was a drifter with a dark past that did not come to light until after his wife’s untimely death. He’d been married twice before. The first marriage had ended in divorce after years of ill-treatment and abuse on his part. The second marriage ended just over a year after it began when his wife died under mysterious circumstances.
But Zona, ignorant of this dark information, found herself falling in love with the new blacksmith and accepted his proposal of marriage. Her mother adamantly objected to the marriage from the beginning, citing an odd feeling and instant dislike of Shue.
In January 1897, not long after the couple had been married, a local boy had been sent to the house by Shue on an errand. The boy discovered Zona laying on her back at the foot of the stairs, seemingly dead. He ran to get help and his mother summoned the doctor who took an hour to arrive. During that time, Shue had returned to the house, washed and dressed his wife’s body, and moved it upstairs to the bedroom. Dr. Knapp, upon his arrival, noted it was odd Shue had taken that duty upon himself considering it was usually delegated to the women of the town before the funeral. He also noted that when he attempted to examine Zona’s neck, which was hidden away by a high collared dress, Shue became angry and forced him to leave. Knapp ultimately cited the cause of death as “childbirth” and implied he had been treating her for some weeks prior for pregnancy.
Zona was buried the next day and Shue’s behavior was noted as erratic by mourners. He stood guard over the coffin and propped Zona’s head up with a pillow. His demeanor would switch, from overwhelming sadness to crazed energy. He insisted at one point to tying a scarf around her neck, claiming it was her favorite. But when the body was moved for burial, some noticed there seemed to be a strange looseness to the way the head moved.
Distraught over the death of her beloved daughter, one month after the funeral Zona’s mother claimed to be visited in a dream by her daughter’s ghost. In the dream, Zona accused Shue of cruelty and abuse during their marriage and that he had attacked her after he believed she’d prepared nothing for dinner that day. She went on to claim that he broke her neck and to prove, the apparition turned her head all the way around and back again. Mrs. Heaster claimed the ghost visited her four night in a row, sometimes appearing as a strange orb and other times appearing as the full-bodied image of her daughter.
Determined these visions were more than simple dreams, Mrs. Heaster brought her concerns to John Alfred Preston who was dubious about her suggestion of a ghost but had enough suspicion to reopened the case. After speaking personally with Dr. Knapp, the body was unearthed and examined in February of that year. Shue was vocally displeased at the turn of events and forced to be present for the autopsy which revealed her neck had been broken and her windpipe crushed. There were also noticeable finger indents and bruising, suggesting she had been strangled. Shue was arrested and charged for the murder of his wife. Seemingly undeterred, Shue remained confident while held in jail, that he would not be found guilty due to the lack of evidence, even boasting about it to his fellow inmates.
However, many in the town had already come to believe he was the culprit in Zona’s murder, a quickly spreading idea that would ultimately affect the outcome of the trial.
The trial was held that June and Zona’s mother served as Preston’s key witness in the prosecution. Though Preston did avoid mentions of her daughter’s ghostly warnings, the defense honed in on it, hoping to prove her unreliable. It backfired, however, when Mrs. Heaster staunchly defended her claims and the judge found it impossible to ensure the jury would disregard her claims of a ghost. Shue was ultimately found guilty on July 11th and sentenced to life in prison. Outraged, a lynch mob formed to exact their own justice but were thwarted by the sheriff. Shue eventually died in West Virginia State Penitentiary three years later after he became ill during a prison-wide epidemic.
Did Zona’s ghost truly help solve her own murder? Or was Mrs. Heaster’s early misgivings about her son-in-law an early suspicion of his dark nature? We’ll never know, but Zona Heaster Shue, one way or another, found the justice she deserved.
Categorised in: Ghosts
This post was written by Nadia Vella