The Greenbrier Ghost: The Spirit Who Solved Her Own Murder
Mary Jane Heaster was devastated by the mysterious death of her daughter Zona – until Zona's spirit appeared in the night to tell her she'd been murdered.By Elisabeth Tilstra
They say dead men tell no tales … but what about dead women?
In the winter of 1897 in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, Mary Jane Heaster claimed to be visited by the ghost of her deceased daughter. Elva “Zona” Heaster Shue had passed away suddenly a month earlier; her body was found by a neighbor boy on January 23. A hasty autopsy concluded that she had died of “everlasting faint.”
Mary Jane was distraught over the death of her daughter. Yet her strange visions offered much more than solace for her grief.
In these midnight visits, Zona’s ghost told Mary Jane that her death had neither been natural nor an accident – she had been murdered by her husband, Erasmus “Edward” Stribbling Trout Shue.
Zona’s death was suspicious from the start, yet nothing definitively proved Edward’s culpability. In the time it took the neighbor boy to notify the police and for a doctor to arrive, Edward had cleaned and dressed the body of his dearly departed wife. This was odd, considering that preparing Zona’s corpse was a job traditionally left for the mother and other women.
Odder still? Shue disallowed the doctor from completing the autopsy. At the wake, he kept careful watch over the body, propping pillows and sheets around Zona’s head with a scarf wrapped around her neck. He claimed that she would rest easier this way.
Zona was buried on January 24, 1897. After the funeral, her mother removed the sheet from inside the coffin and, after Edward refused it, took the linen home to wash.
But when she dropped the sheet in a basin of water, the water turned a dark red.
The bloody sight suggested that Zona’s death had been no accident. Yet Mary Jane still hesitated in accusing her son-in-law. That is, until her daughter’s ghost appeared in her bedroom.
Over the course of four nights, Zona’s spirit returned to her mother’s room, sharing the grisly details of her murder at the hands of her abusive husband. The ghost told Mary Jane that Shue had broken her neck, turning her head all the way around to prove it.
Mary Jane took the information to the police. Her testimony was enough to have the body exhumed for a second autopsy. On February 22, 1897, medical professionals examined Zona’s body once more, this time without the interference of her husband. They found that Zona’s windpipe was crushed and her ligaments were torn, with gouge marks left in the skin.
Her neck had clearly been broken by force. Soon thereafter, Edward was arrested and charged with murdering his wife.
During the trial, Edward’s attorney made the mistake of thinking that Mary Jane’s paranormal testimony would weaken her case. However, her story held up against cross-examination, and the judge had a hard time convincing the jury to disregard the touching tale of a daughter’s visits from beyond the grave.
On July 11, Edward was found guilty of murdering Zona and sentenced to life in prison. He died three years later from an unknown illness, and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Mary Jane Heaster lived another 19 years, never wavering on the veracity of her story. As for her daughter’s spirit, the Greenbrier Ghost? She never appeared at her mother’s bedside again.
Perhaps it was because she finally found peace.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons