The Lady Dicks are tackling the story of the Greenbrier Ghost, the ghost who kinda, sorta, maybe testified against her own murderer, and it’s going to be a wild ride.
On January 23, 1897, a neighbourhood boy dropping by to handle some chores for the newly-married Zona Heaster and Edward Shue, discovered the body of Zona lying lifeless on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. He described her as being stretched out with on hand on her abdomen, the other lying next to her with her head turned slightly to the side, eyes wide open. It had appeared that she had fallen down the staircase and died due to head trauma.
But the death of Zona Shue was not that cut-and-dry, and with the help of ghost testimony, her ever-persistent mother and her loud-mouthed husband, the murderer of Zona Shue was eventually brought to justice.
Join the The Lady Dicks as they travel back in time to 1897 in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, to tell the story of Zona, the Greenbrier ghost who testified at her own trial.
- Listen to the episode
- Zona Heaster Shue
- The murder of Zona Shue
- Edward Shue
- The Greenbrier Ghost
- The trial of Edward Shue
- History of ghost testimony accepted at trials
- Did you love this episode? Check these other true crime gems out:
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Note: This podcast was recorded under the name “The Haunted True Crime Podcast” which later became The Lady Dicks Podcast. So pardon the name change. We assure you that the real Lady Dicks are standing up!
Zona Heaster Shue
There isn’t much we know about Elva Zona Heaster Shue, or Zona, as she preferred to be called. As far as we can tell she spent her entire life in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.
Born in 1873, she was raised around Richlands and gave birth to a child out of wedlock (scandalous for those times) in 1895, at 22 years old. Whoever the father was, he did not marry Zona, and she was in dire need of a husband.
One October day following the birth of her child, during a visit to the local blacksmith shop she became infatuated with a young, handsome Edward Stribbling Trout Shue. The two had a whirlwind courtship and married on October 26, 1896, Methodist Church at Livesay’s Mill despite her mother Mary Jane Heaster’s protests, as she did not like him.
The newly married couple moved into a two-story frame home that had once been the residence of the founding father of Livesay’s Mill, William G. Livesay.
The murder of Zona Shue
Three months after the wedding Trout Shue stopped by the house of Aunt Martha, a well-known local woman, to ask if her 11-year-old son Anderson “Andy” Jones could stop by the Shue house.
He wanted Andy to do some chores for the young Mrs. Shue or ask if she needed anything from the store (there are a few stories floating by). Apparently, to make certain that Andy did drop by, Trout made no less than four more trips to remind him.
When Andy entered the house, he found Zona Shue lying dead on the floor of the home at bottom of the stairs. He described her as being stretched out with her feet together, and one hand on her abdomen with the other lying next to her. Her head was turned slightly to one side with eyes wide open and staring straight ahead.
It appeared, based on the description, that Zona Shue had fallen down the staircase and possibly hit her head on something causing death on impact.
Upon discovering the body, Andy ran home to alert his mother. Aunt Martha summoned Doctor and Coroner George W. Knapp, who took a while to arrive and Trout Shue arrived first.
Trout Shue took Zona’s body from the bottom of the stairs to upstairs bedroom, placed her on bed and changed her clothing into something he considered far more proper. You could take this behaviour one of two ways:
If you think he’s innocent: he did this because he did not want anyone to find his wife in an awkward position at bottom of stairs in bedroom clothing. Instead, he wanted her to be properly dressed when people began arriving at their home and so that there was no reason for embarrassment.
But if you think he’s guilty: It could be said that he created an alibi by making it look like he was elsewhere at the time of Zona’s death and then went home to take care of all the evidence
Trout Shue remained beside the body the entire time.
The “proper” clothes he put Zona in was a high-collared dress that completely covered her. He then wrapped her in a large scarf that he said was her favourite, and also placed a veil on top of her face. He had placed a pillow on one side of Zona’s head and a rolled-up cloth on the other, as if keeping it propped in place.
Questions about Zona’s death
Dr. Knapp was unable to properly examine Zona’s body to determine the official cause of death. Trout Shue was described as sobbing bizarrely due to extreme grief and yelled every time the doctor got “too close” to her body.
Due to his violent and bizarre actions, Dr. Knapp eventually gave up trying to examine Zona’s body and listed her cause of death as “everlasting faint.” He later changed the cause of death to childbirth, even though Zona was not known to be pregnant at the time.
Zona’s mother Mary Jane did not believe the cause of death was natural, and screamed that devil killed her upon receiving the news.
At Zona’s wake, Mary Jane’s suspicions deepened. Trout was acting strange—one moment he was grief-stricken and the next he was highly agitated and nervous. He was not acting like a husband in mourning.
She wasn’t the only one who noticed his odd behaviour. Neighbours in attendance noticed it as well. some of the neighbours in attendance also noticed it.
He refused to leave the side of the coffin, and never let anyone look too closely at the body. Inside the coffin, he had wedged her head between a pillow and a sheet to keep it straight and covered her neck with a large scarf that didn’t match the dress that he claimed was her favourite and wanted her buried in.
At the end of the wake, as the coffin was being prepared to be taken to the cemetery, several people noticed the odd looseness of Zona’s head. Despite this, she was buried in an unfinished coffin on January 24, in the graveyard of Soule Methodist Church on Sewell Mountain.
Edward Stribbling Trout Shue was born sometime in 1861. He was a drifter who had wandered into town to start fresh and was working as a blacksmith.
Prior to his marriage to Zona, Edward Shue was married twice. In 1885, he married Ellen Cutlip, and in 1887 they had a daughter Girta Lucretia Shue. The separated in 1888 and were officially divorced in 1889. Ellen then went on to charge Edward with with cruelty and abuse (which is quite progressive considering the time). Girta was raised by Ellen’s parents.
Edward Shue married Lucy Tritt in 1894. Less than a year later. While there is no record as to how she died, it appears to have been mysterious circumstances. Stories of her death range from falling on the ice while pregnant, to being hit on the head by a brick accidentally dropped by Edward, to being deliberately poisoned by him.
Between his first two marriages, Edward Shue was arrested for stealing a horse and spent two years in prison. It is said that while in prison prior to marrying Zona, he openly boasted to inmates that he wanted to marry seven times.
After Lucy’s death, Shue moved to Greenbrier County to start a new life working as a blacksmith, a lucrative trade he learned from his father. His marriage to Zona was supposed to be another step toward a better life (or towards his seven wives?). In short, Edward Shue’s life seemed nothing but tumultuous.
The Greenbrier Ghost
As we mentioned, Zona Shue’s mother Mary Jane was not convinced that her daughter had died accidental. She believed Edward Shue had a hand in her murder.
She had taken the rolled-up white sheet from Zona’s coffin before it was sealed, and went to return it to Edward Shue a few days after the funeral,. He refused to take it so she brought it home with her.
Deciding to keep it, she noticed that it had a strange, indefinable odour. She filled a basin with water to wash the sheet, but when she submerged it, the water turned red. But when she took a pitcher and scooped up some of the water from the basin, it was clear. The sheet then turned a pink colour that could not be removed and Mary Jane concluded it was a message from Zona telling her that her death was not natural.
She prayed that her daughter would come back and tell her about her death. Four weeks after the death she began having visions. For four nights in a row, Zona’s ghost came to Mary Jane and told her that Edward Shue had abused her.
On the day of her death, they had had an argument that went too far. Edward became irrationally angry at her when she told them she had no meat for his dinner. He was overcome with rage and lashed out attacking Zona and breaking her neck.
Mary Jane said that as the ghost was leaving, she turned her head around until it was completely facing backward.
Alternative to the Greenbrier Ghost testimony
Obviously, there is an alternative version of this story—one that involves no ghost testimony.
Some believed that the story came from a Black woman who helped dress Zona for her wake and told Mary Jane of the broken neck. In the 1800s, slavery still existed and the testimony of a Black woman wouldn’t have been believed.
So, it was suggested that that Zona’s mother create the story of her ghost appearing and telling her what had happened to her and not to stray from it.
In either case, Mary Jane took her story to the prosecutor, John Alfred Preston. He originally told her he would not reopen the case for a ghost story but Mary Jane was persistent enough that he began asking questions around.
When confronted, Dr. Knapp admitted that his examination had been incomplete but he had in fact seen bruises on her neck. Neighbours also shared with Preston Shue’s strange behaviour at the wake.
Satisfied that the case should be re-opened, the body was exhumed for reexamination. Naturally Shue protested but couldn’t do anything to stop it, apparently after hearing she was murdered, he said publicly that he knew he would be arrested for the crime, but that they would not be able to prove he did it.
Knapp and two other doctors laid Zona’s body out in the town’s one-room schoolhouse to give a thorough examination. They found that Zona’s neck had been broken due to being dislocated between the first and second vertebrae. Her windpipe was crushed and her neck was bruised as if she had been strangled.
The Pocahontas Times, a local newspaper reported that:
On the throat were the marks of fingers indicating that she had been choken [sic]; that the neck was dislocated between the first and second vertebrae. The ligaments were torn and ruptured. The windpipe had been crushed at a point in front of the neck.
It was clear that Zona Shue’s death was not natural. Following the autopsy, Edward Shue was arrested for the murder of his wife. It is said that Zona’s spirit seemed to be at peace, never having been spotted since the arrest of her husband.
The trial of Edward Shue
After his arrest, Edward Shue awaited trial in a Lewisburg jail where his bizarre behaviour continued as he boasted would never be convicted due to lack of evidence.
The trial started in late June. John Alfred Preston was Edward’s prosecutor. Much like most, if not all of the evidence, Shue’s previous wife’s mysterious death and his history of abuse were circumstantial, but enough for Preston to bring him to trial.
Preston lined up several people to testify against him regarding his peculiar behaviour and his unguarded comments. However, there were, unfortunately, no other witnesses to the crime. He had not been placed at or near the scene at the time the murder allegedly took place.
The prosecution’s star witness was Mary Jane Heaster, but the court had ruled that prosecuting testimony about the ghost and what it claimed was inadmissible. But perhaps in an attempt to bias the jury against Mary Jane by framing her as unbalanced, Edward’s defense lawyer brought up the matter of Zona’s ghost. She told the attentive jury and packed courtroom the story of how Zona’s ghost appeared to her and accused Edward of the murder.
Edward Shue’s sentence
Edward took the stand on his own behalf. It was not convincing enough, as the jury handed down a guilty verdict and he was sentenced to life in prison (as opposed to death) due to the circumstantial nature of the evidence.
The life sentence did not sit well with many residents of Greenbrier County who felt that Shue should hang for his crime.
On July 11, 1897, an armed mob gathered with the intention of lynching Edward Shue but Sheriff Nickell got wind of the plot and managed to hide him in the woods before the mob reached the jail.
Sheriff Nickell then confronted the mob and persuaded them to lay down their arms and go home. Four of them were later indicted for attempted lynching.
On July 13, 1897, Shue was sent to the state penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia.
He died there on March 13, 1900, of natural causes. He was 39 years old—which was not great considering the life expectancy was 46.3 years old at that time.
No one attended his funeral, his remains were left unclaimed and no records were kept of where he was buried.
History of ghost testimony accepted at trials
This case is largely noted as being the only one in which the testimony of a ghost was used as evidence, unfortunately this is not the case…
More recently a judge accepted testimony from the ghost of late singer Michael Jackson in a dispute between MJ’s family and AEG Live—late singer testified to Brenda Richie that his death was accidental and in no way Dr. Murray’s fault
Did you love this episode? Check these other true crime gems out:
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The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with this information themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky Apple Podcast reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- Urban Legends: The Greenbrier Ghost, “williamdefalco” on YouTube.
- The Ghost Who Helped Solve Her Own Murder, Mental Floss.
- Zona Heaster Shue – The Greenbrier Ghost, Murder by Gaslight.
- 1897- Greenbrier murderer, Ghostbusted!, Twisted Sisters.
- Testimony From Beyond The Grave, American Hauntings.
- Things to Do near The Greenbrier, Trip Advisor.
- Greenbriar Ghost, patriciahysell.wordpress.com.
- Greenbriar, Scary for Kids.
- The death, resurrection and retribution of Zona Heaster Shue, The Greenbrier Ghost, GothicHorrorStories.com.
- 10 Real Ghost Sightings That Will Terrify You, BackpackerUniverse.
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. This episode was produced, written and edited by Tae Haahr, and researched by Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr.
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