Note: In honor of Halloween, this week I am sharing some eerie stories we discovered during our years as fulltime RVers. This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery.
Just off Interstate 64 at Sam Black Church, near Lewisburg, West Virginia stands a historical marker to one of the most bizarre mysteries we have ever encountered, the story of a woman’s ghost who came back from the grave to see her murderer punished.
According to the marker, as well as information on file at the Greenbrier County Historical Society in Lewisburg, it is the only known legal case on record in which the testimony of a ghost helped bring about a conviction.
The strange tale of Zona Heaster Shue began with her birth in 1876. Not much is known of her early years, except that she gave birth to an illegitimate child in 1895. A year later, in October 1896, she met and married Erasmus (Edward) Stribbling Trout Shue, a handsome stranger who arrived in Greenbrier County and found work as a blacksmith.
Most reports say that Edward Shue was a likable enough fellow, though Zona’s mother took an immediate dislike to her new son-in-law. She felt that beneath his outgoing facade there lurked dark secrets. Later revelations would prove her suspicions were right. Zona’s family tried to stand in the way of her budding romance to the older man, but Shue managed to convince the young girl to marry him while she was visiting her uncle on Droop Mountain.
The newlyweds set up housekeeping in a two-story frame house in Livesay’s Mill, but their time together would be short. Just two months after the wedding, on January 23, 1897, Shue sent a young boy named Anderson Jones to his home to do some chores for Zona. When no one answered his knock on the door, young Anderson went inside and discovered the body of Zona on the floor, her lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling.
The boy would later testify that Zona appeared peaceful, though the position of her body was strange for someone who might have collapsed suddenly. She was lying on her back, her feet together, one arm to her side, the other stretched across her abdomen. The terrified boy ran to Shue’s blacksmith shop and told him of his gruesome discovery.
A local doctor named George Knapp was summoned, but it took him nearly an hour to arrive over primitive mountain trails. What the doctor found upon his arrival at the Shue house was a peculiar sight. Though seemingly devastated at the loss of his bride, Edward Shue had taken the time to carry his wife’s body upstairs to their bedroom, where he dressed her in her best dress, a high-collared garment, and tied a veil over her face and tied it in a large bow under her chin. The bereaved husband sat cradling Zona’s head in his arms and sobbing, and when the doctor attempted to examine the body, Shue reacted so violently that the doctor left, but not before noticing some strange bruising on Zona’s neck.
Whatever he may have thought of the bruises or Edward Shue’s strange behavior, Doctor Knapp first listed her cause of death as heart failure, and later changed the cause to “childbirth,” though there was no evidence that Zona was pregnant. The doctor did state that the young bride had been treated two weeks prior to her death for “female trouble.”
Zona’s body was laid out for viewing in the couple’s living room, and during her wake, friends and relatives observed several things. Edward had tied a large scarf around Zona’s neck and cradled her head with pillows on both sides. He never left Zona’s side and discouraged anybody who attempted to get too close to the body. But more than one grieving visitor noticed a strange looseness to Zona’s head. Still, Zona Shue was buried in the small cemetery of Soule Chapel Church, a few miles from Rainelle. But the tragic story was far from over.
People were talking about Edward Shue’s strange behavior following the death of his wife, and Zona’s mother, Mary Jane, was convinced there was more to her daughter’s death than had been revealed. Mary Jane told people that she lay in her bed night after night praying that the truth about Zona’s death would be revealed. Apparently, her prayers were answered.
Four weeks after Zona’s death, her mother reported that she had appeared at her bedside. The first night, Zona only looked sadly at her mother before disappearing. Was it a dream? Mary Jane insisted that she had been wide awake, praying, when Zona came to her.
The apparition came again the next night, and then for two more nights in a row. Mary Jane reported that Zona had told her that Edward Shue had been a violent man and had flown into a rage the night before her body was discovered, because dinner had not been waiting on the table when he arrived home from work. Zona reported that after screaming at her and pushing her, Edward Shue had grabbed her by the neck and violently twisted it, killing her instantly.
When Mary Jane revealed the information she had been told by Zona’s ghost, many neighbors at first thought they were only hearing the ramblings of a grief-stricken mother, while others thought she might have been dreaming. Mary Jane insisted she had been wide awake on all four visits and began to describe Zona’s home and other spots around Livesay’s Mill, which she had never seen. People began to think that there might be more to Mary Jane’s story than they first believed.
Mary Jane was able to convince the prosecuting attorney in Lewisburg that the death needed further investigation, and Zona’s body was exhumed. An autopsy revealed that Zona had indeed died of a broken neck and crushed larynx!
Edward Shue was arrested and held for trial in Lewisburg. Soon dark details from his past began to emerge. In 1886, Shue and his first wife had lived in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Shue had reportedly beaten his wife on a regular basis, until she finally divorced him while he was in prison serving a term for horse theft. It didn’t take Shue long to remarry, this time to another young woman, who died under mysterious circumstances. Shue reported that the woman had been killed when she tripped and struck her head on a rock, though there had been no other witnesses to the accident, and Edward Shue had insisted the body be buried without an examination.
Perhaps because he may have gotten away with murder once before, Shue was confident he would this time, too. He boasted to friends from jail that “they cannot prove I did it!” He was in for a letdown when his trial began in Lewisburg, on June 30, 1897. Edward Shue’s defense attorney tried to discredit Mary Jane’s testimony about her ghostly visitations, trying to make her admit that they were mere dreams. But Mary Jane would not be swayed. She insisted from the witness stand that she had been wide awake and that Zona’s visits were indeed very real. A jury apparently felt Mary Jane made a credible witness, because Edward Shue was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Local residents, enraged by the murder, attempted to take the matter into their own hands, and a lynching was attempted, but lawmen snuck Shue out of town before the mob could get to him. Shue was lodged in the Moundsville Penitentiary, where he died a few years after his trial.
Skeptics may doubt the claim that Zona Shue’s ghost really came back from the grave to reveal the truth about her death, but old newspapers in the Historical Society in Lewisburg report the story of Edward Shue’s trial, and according to Case Comment, a nationally published attorney’s magazine, the case of the murder of Zona Heaster Shue is the only one in the United States where a person was convicted of murder based upon the testimony of a ghost.
The roadside marker about the Greenbrier Ghost is located on US Highway 60, just a few feet south of Exit 156 off Interstate 64. Zona Shue’s grave is in the cemetery of the Soule Chapel Church, which is located on Farmdale Road, about 1/4 mile off the James River and Kanawa Turnpike (Old Highway 60), approximately seven miles south of Rainelle, West Virginia.
Despite the impressive name, the old turnpike is a very narrow mountain road, and not suitable for large vehicles. Zona’s gravestone reads “In Memory of Zona Heaster Shue, Greenbrier Ghost 1876-1897.” If you are visiting the hills of West Virginia, take the time to stop by and pay your respects to the Greenbrier Ghost.
Thought For The Day – We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.