Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Ghost Convicts a Murderer Greenbrier Ghost

The story of the Greenbrier Ghost is apparently a well known legend.   But it is one I never heard about until I came across a picture of a historical highway marker.

Strange I never heard of this because it takes place not all that far from me in West Virginia.  Interestingly the convicted murderer, Edward Shue, was sent to prison at Moundsville, WV.  My mother spent most of her childhood in Moundsville right next to the prison.  Edward died in that prison and is buried in the local cemetery.

Zona Heaster Shue met Edward Shue shortly after he arrived in Greenbrier County.  They married not long after on Oct 20, 1896 over the objections of Zona's mother who supposedly took an instant disliking to Edward.
Zona Hester Shue, date unknown
It turns out Zona was Shue's third wife.  His first wife had accused him of cruelty and abuse, his second wife was said to have died mysteriously less than a year after they were married.  Zona appears to have met the same fate after only three months of marriage.

On January 23, 1897 Edward sent a boy to do an errand at the house he shared with Zona.  The boy found her dead on the floor at the foot of her bed.  The boy informed his mother who then sent for the local doctor.  George Knapp (who was also the coroner as well as doctor) arrived at the Shue home more than an hour later.  He found Zona laid out on the bed with Edward seemingly fussing over the body.  Edward had changed her clothes putting her in a dress with a high stiff collar and placing a veil over her face.  Because Edward seemed to be in an extreme state of grief the doctor only gave the body a brief examination, noting some bruising on her neck.  Because Dr. Knapp had been treating Zona the previous two weeks for "woman problems" the cause of death was determined to be "childbirth".  However it was never make clear if Zona was ever actually pregnant or what specific condition she had in those prior weeks.
West Virginia Death Record of Zona
At Zona's funeral her husband started acting strangely.  He would not let anyone up close to the coffin.  He positioned a pillow on one side of her head and a rolled up towel on the other.  To "help his wife rest easier" he said.  Mary Jan Heaster who was Zona's mother believed Edward had killed her daughter.  She was said to pray every night for Zona to come to her and tell her what had really happened.

According to the "legend" the ghost of Zona appeared to her mother four weeks after the funeral on four consecutive nights.  Zona's ghost said Edward was cruel and abusive.  He had flew into a rage over dinner and broken her neck.  The ghost then turned her head all the way around in a circle to prove her point to her mother.

Mary Jane Heaster visited the local prosecutor and spent hours in his office telling him of the appearance of Zona's ghost and trying to convince him to re-open the case.  We will never know if he believed the ghost story but he did start an investigation.  By this time the talk of the town was that Zona was murdered which may have been his motivation.  He interviewed Dr. Knapp himself and when the doctor said he did not do a complete examination the body was ordered to be exhumed and autopsied.

Edward strongly objected to this turn of events.  The autopsy found her neck had indeed been broken and there were finger prints to show someone had choked her.  Her husband was arrested and charged with murder.

At the trial the prosecutor never brought up the story of the ghost while questioning Mary Jan Heaster.  But the defensive attorney did, most likely in hopes to discredit Mary Jane as a witness.   It backfired on the defense.  The mother never wavered in her testimony (plus many in the community believed the ghost story).  Because the defense had introduced the "ghost testimony" the judge did not instruct the jury to disregard it.  Edward Shue was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  He died of disease three years later in prison.

Mary Jane never changed her story about the ghost of Zona.  The ghost was never reported as being seen again.  Did Edward really kill Zona?  Guess we will never know for sure but the evidence, to me anyway, makes his guilt very likely.  Zona will be forever remembered as the Greenbrier Ghost, it is even noted on her tombstone.

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