The Greenbrier Ghost
The tale of the Greenbrier Ghost begins in 1896 in Greenbrier West Virginia and is the only known case in the US court records of a ghost's testimony helping to convict her killer.
The Greenbrier ghost's name is Elva Zona Heaster Shue, but went by the name Zona.
Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue used the name Edward. Edward drifted into town and the two seemed to hit it off immediately. They were married shortly after despite the fact that Zona's mother, Mary Jane, didn't approve of Edward. She always felt there was something about him that wasn't quite right, and the fact that he was married twice before didn't endear him to her in the least.
Three months after the marriage, on January 23 1897, Zona's mother was proven correct in her apprehensions when Zona was found dead.
In a careful ploy Edward sent a young boy, who was helping him at the time, into the house to ask Zona if she needed anything in town. The boy found her at the bottom of the stairs, dead. He immediately ran for help.
By the time the local physician and coroner, Dr. George W. Knapp arrived, Edward had moved his wife upstairs and changed her into a gown with a high necked collar and placed a veil over her face. He doted over the body.
As the coroner attempted to determine the cause of death, he did notice some bruising on her neck, Edward cradled his dead wife and sobbed pitifully. When the coroner tried to get a better look Edward's crying became uncontrollable and the doctor left him to it.
Not investigating any further he put the death first as "everlasting faint" and then finally as "childbirth".
All through the wake and funeral Edward played the bereaved husband never letting anyone too close to Zona. At times, it was noted, that his mood would swing from overwhelming grief to manic energy. People began to think he was behaving a bit too strangely despite the circumstances.
First Message By the Greenbrier Ghost
After the funeral Zona's mother took the sheet used during the wake and tried to return it to Edward. He refused to have anything to do with it.
She then went to wash the sheet. When she placed the sheet into a basin of water the water turned red, despite the fact that there was no discolouration on the sheet. Then the sheet turned pink and the water cleared. No amount of scrubbing would remove this new stain. Mary took this as a sign that her daughter had been murdered.
She prayed for her daughter to return and tell her what had happened. After four weeks of praying Zona returned to her mother as a ghost.
The Greenbrier Ghost Appears
For four nights she recounted the events of her death. Edward had been abusive and cruel. That fateful night he had attacked her in a fit of rage and viciously broken her neck.
Mary went to the prosecutor, John Alfred Preston, with this new found evidence in an attempt to reopen the case.
John Preston decided to speak with Dr. Knapp who quickly revealed that he hadn't been able to conduct a proper autopsy. Due to those circumstances it was decided that exhuming the body was in order.
The following autopsy revealed that her neck was broken and they found finger marks proving she had been choked. When Edward was confronted with this evidence he was said to have whispered:
"They cannot prove that I did it."
Proof or no, Edward was arrested and charged with murder.
It came to light that his first wife, Allie Estelline Cutlip, divorced him in 1889 while he was in jail for horse thieving, her cited reason – he beat her. His second wife hadn't fared as well. In 1894 after eight months of marriage, according to Edward she "fell and hit her head on a rock". The blow killed her instantly. Though few believed his story it wasn't investigated any further and Edward moved to Greenbrier where Zona became wife number three.
While Edward awaited trial in jail it was rumoured that he said he had a goal of having seven wives and since he was still young thought he might yet achieve it.
The trial began on June 22, 1897. Several people testified against Edward. In an attempt to save his client the defence lawyer tried to discredit Mary by bringing up the fact that Mary believed she had been visited by the ghost of her daughter and was clearly not in her right mind.
The ploy backfired terribly. Mary told her tale with such conviction that everyone believed her and since it was the defence that brought up the evidence it could not be disallowed.
Edward was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. He lived for three more years before succumbing to one of the plagues of measles or mumps that swept through the prison in the year 1900.
The Town of Greenbrier Honors The Greenbrier Ghost
The town of Greenbrier put up a roadside marker to commemorate the spirit of the Greenbrier Ghost and her pursuit of justice, it can still be seen today. It reads:
Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from ghost helped convict a murderer.
The Greenbrier Ghost was never seen or heard from again.
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