Throughout Appalachia country there are ghost stories that go way back in time. The American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, mining disasters, and prior to all this, the Indian Wars between settlers and Native Americans, left behind many lost souls throughout the land. It is a land haunted by those who never found their way back home. Greenbrier County, West Virginia, USA, is just one of the places that abound with the spirits of those who died tragically. The most unusual story is one where the testimony of a ghost was upheld in court as evidence of murder.
The story of Zona Heaster Shue, a young bride, married just three months when her body was found at the foot of the stairs in her two-story cabin, on January 23, 1897, is tragic and most unusual.
There are differing stories as to where Zona was found. Some say at the foot of the stairs, another says she was lying on the floor at the foot of her bed, and yet another says she was found in the dining room, and a trail of blood led from the front porch steps, through the house and to her body that was lying there stiff and cold. Yet, regardless of which account is true, the fact remains that she was dead.
Edward Shue, a handsome and well-built man, moved to Greenbrier County in November of 1896. There he met fifteen year old Zona Heaster and swept her off her feet. They married and moved into their own house in Livesay's Mill. Edward got a job as the local blacksmith. Everything seemed to be fine with the happily married couple till that fateful day Zona was found dead. It seems Edward had sent a young boy, Anderson Jones, to his house to see if Zona needed anything from the store that he could pick up on his way home.
When Anderson found Zona's body, he ran back and told Edward, who immediately left for home. Anderson then fetched Dr. Knapp and told him what happened.
When Dr. Knapp got to the Shue house, he saw that Edward had carried Zona to their room and placed her on the bed. He was crying, with his arms wrapped around her, cradling her head. The doctor noticed that Edward had dressed her in a dress with a high stiff neck and a large veil was wrapped around her neck, tied in a large bow under her chin. As Dr. Knapp examined the body, Edward would not leave and continued to cling to Zona's head.
According to Dr. Knapp, Zona had died from heart failure. Zona's body was placed in a simple coffin and taken by wagon to her parents home, several miles away. During the ride to the parents home, the viewing of the body by family and friends and right up until Zona's coffin was sealed shut, Edward never left the head of the casket. Zona was buried in the Soule Chapel Church cemetery.
Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, was devastated with the loss of her daughter and felt that something was dreadfully wrong about the way Zona died. She never liked Edward Shue and felt that there was more to be known about Zona's death.
A few weeks after the funeral, Mary found out what the nagging suspicion in her was. Zona's spirit began appearing to Mary at night, four nights in a row. Zona communicated to her mother that Edward had choked her and pushed her down the stairs, killing her. Mary was convinced and went to visit John Alfred Preston, the local prosecutor, and told him her story. After several hours with Mary, Preston sent out deputies to interview Dr. Knapp and other people who had expressed suspicions about Zona's death.
Dr. Knapp admitted to Preston that he had not done a thorough examination of Zona because Edward Shue was so possessive of the body and became violently hysterical when the doctor tried to examine the neck area. Preston felt that this was enough reason to justify exhumation and an autopsy.
An inquest jury was selected, the body was examined and an autopsy performed. Edward Shue was subpoenaed to attend the inquest and autopsy. He heatedly objected, but by law, had to be present.
Examination of the exhumed body showed deep indentations of finger marks around her neck, the windpipe was crushed, ligaments were torn and ruptured and the neck was dislocated. Shue's behavior at the inquest and the physical evidence of brutality to Zona's body was sufficient to have Shue arrested and charged with murder.
As Shue awaited trial, investigations into his past showed that he was married twice before. His first wife divorced him for physical brutality and his second wife died unexpectedly and mysteriously.
During the trial, which began June 22, 1897, Preston tried to avoid the issue of Zona's ghost when her mother was sworn in as witness. However, the defense lawyer badgered Mrs. Heaster about Zona's ghost, hoping to discredit her. Unfortunately for the defense, Mrs. Heaster stood her ground and the jury believed her.
On July 11 the jury deliberated. Edward Shue was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. When Edward was in jail awaiting transfer to prison, a lynch mob tried to break him out and hang him. The mob was disbanded. Edward Shue was transferred to the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, where he died three years later from an epidemic outbreak.
The ghost of Zona Heaster Shue never appeared again to her mother.