Testimony of a Ghost
January 23, 1897 - The body of Zona Heaster Shue was found on this day. The murder trial that followed would include the testimony of a ghost.
Less than a year before her death, Zona had married a blacksmith named Erasmus Shue. They lived in a farmhouse in Greenbrier, West Virginia. It's there at the foot of the stairs where Zona's body was found. She was laying face up with both feet together and one hand over her stomach. An errand boy sent by Erasmus had made the grim discovery.
Before a doctor could get to the scene, Erasmus carried the body into an upstairs bedroom and changed her into a buttoned up dress with a high stiff collar. When Dr. George Knapp finally arrived he found Erasmus cradling his wife's head and sobbing. Erasmus was so protective of the body, that the doctor was only able to do a cursory examination.
The cause of death was listed as "everlasting faint" which was later changed to "childbirth." Dr. Knapp had been treating Zona in the weeks prior to her death, but it is unclear whether or not she was pregnant.
At the funeral there was more odd behavior from Erasmus. He would not allow anyone to get close to the coffin and he wrapped his wife's neck with a scarf that he claimed was her favorite. As the body was moved to the cemetery, the caretaker noticed an unusual wobbliness in the neck.
Zona's mother was a woman named Mary Jane Heaster. She had never approved of Erasmus, and upon learning of her daughter's death she was convinced that he had killed her. Almost a month after the funeral, Mary Jane had a vivid dream in which her daughter's apparition told her she had been murdered by Erasmus. The ghost claimed that her husband broke her neck because he didn't like the dinner she cooked. To demonstrate, Zona's ghost swivelled her head all the way around. For the next four nights, the ghost returned to Mary Jane with more details about her murder.
Mary Jane told her ghost story to the local prosecutor, John Preston. He had also heard an earful from others in the community who suspected foul play. The decision was made to exhume Zona's body and perform a proper autopsy. True to the ghost's claim, her neck was indeed broken. Her windpipe was crushed and there were finger impressions that indicated she was choked. Erasmus was arrested and charged with her murder.
During the trial, more evidence came out including the fact that Erasmus had been married twice before. The first marriage ended in divorce after his wife accused him of abuse. His second wife died mysteriously just months before he married Zona.
The most damning testimony came from the victim's mother. Despite the defense's attempts to portray her as a kook, Mary Jane Heaster never backed away from her ghostly accounts. The jury was enthralled.
Erasmus was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. A lynch mob nearly killed him before he could be carted off to the Moundsville Penitentiary. He died three years later during an epidemic.
Zona's ghost never reappeared and Mary Jane never recanted her story. A plaque was placed near Zona's grave and 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 a ghost helped convict a murderer.