of you who read my novel Till Life Do Us Part know that Barbara, the main
character in this paranormal mystery, can hear voices of the dead people. They tell
her how they died and she is able to help the police solving some case.
what I am sharing with you today is not fiction. It really happened in west Virginia, on
January 23, 1897.
years old Zona Heaster Shue
dead in her own house.
is buried, though witnesses do notice her head flopping around limply when she
is moved. Cause of death? “Everlasting faint,” and
“complications from pregnancy,”
according to the local doctor who also acts as coroner. The doctor tried to examine the
victim, but the violent protestations of Shue, her husband of three months, kept him from doing much more than glancing at
praying every day for a month, Zona’s mother, has a dream. Zona’s ghost confesses to her that Shue
cruelly abused her, and one night attacked her in a rage because she hadn’t
made any meat for his dinner. He broke her neck, the ghost says, and it turns
its head completely around to show her mother what happened. Then the ghost
turns and walks away, disappearing into the night while staring back at her
with this information, Zona’s mother goes to the local prosecutor, Mr.
Preston, and demands him to open an investigation. She is persistent and
convincing enough so that he begins asking questions around town.
neighbors and friends tell the prosecutor about the man’s strange behavior at
the funeral. They say that Shue paced by the casket, fiddling with Zona’s head
and neck. In addition to the collar and the veil, he covered her head and neck
with a scarf. It didn’t match her burial dress, but Shue insisted that it was
her favorite and that she would have wanted to be buried in it. He also propped
her head up, first with a pillow and then a rolled up cloth.
Knapp also admits, at last, that his examination was incomplete.
An autopsy is done.
local newspaper, The
Pocahontas Times reports that, “On the throat were the marks of fingers
indicating that she was strangled; 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.”
is clear the young woman’s death was not natural, but there is no evidence
pointing to the killer, and no witnesses.
Shue’s strange behavior since his
wife’s death stuck in the prosecutor’s
mind and cast some suspicion on him.
prosecutor continues to investigate and begins looking into Shue’s past. He
learns that Shue was married twice before. The first ended in divorce while
Shue was in prison for stealing a horse. That wife later told police that Shue
was extremely violent and beat her frequently while they were married. His
second marriage ended after just eight months with the mysterious death of the
wife. In between these marriages, Shue boasted in prison that he planned to
marry seven women in his lifetime. The previous wife’s mysterious death and Shue’s
history of abuse were circumstantial, but enough for Preston to bring him to
Jane, Zona's mother is the prosecution’s star witness, with what the ghost revealed her. Many people in
the community, if not the jury, believe Heaster’s story, and Shue does
himself no favors taking the stand in his own defense, rambling and appealing
to the jury “to look into his face and then say if he was guilty.” The
Greenbrier Independent reports that his “testimony, manner, and so forth, made
an unfavorable impression on the spectators.” The jury deliberate for just an
hour and ten minutes before returning a guilty verdict.
Shue is sentenced to life in prison, but dies soon after as epidemics of measles
and pneumonia tore through the prison in the spring of 1900.
Mrs. Heaster lived
until 1916, and never recanted her story about Elva’s ghost. Maybe Mrs. Heaster's story story
swayed the jury and won the case. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe her daughter spoke to
her from beyond the grave, maybe the ghost was all in Heaster’s head, or maybe
it was a strategic lie. But no matter who saw or believed what, without the
ghost story, Heaster may have never gone to Preston, and Shue might not have
gone to trial.
What strikes as unusual is the fact that the state erected a monument in remembrance of the ghost who solved the death mystery!