Greenbrier Ghost Solves Murder Mystery

Portrait of Zona Heaster Shue: Murder Victim | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Greenbrier County, West Virginia was a densely populated area. Nothing out of the ordinary ever occurred there until 1897, when a shocking death created an outburst and made headlines. Elva Zona Heaster was victim to a horrible murder that had originally been judged as “death by natural causes.”1

In 1895, Heaster gave birth to an illegitimate child. The next year she met Erasmus Stribbling Shue, and the couple soon married and were known to be inseparable. Despite the love the couple had for one another, Mary Jane Robinson Heaster, Zona Heaster’s mother, was not very impressed by Erasmus Shue, and disapproved of their marriage. Despite this, the couple continued to live together.

Picture taken during the wedding ceremony

Erasmus Shue had initially moved to Greenbrier County to work as a blacksmith. Months went by and the couple seemed to live a normal life. On January 23, 1897, Shue sent a young boy that worked with him in the blacksmith shop to run an errand for him. The young boy obliged and walked to the couple’s house to do as he was told. Upon entering the house, the boy found Heaster lying at the bottom of a stairwell. Knowing that Heaster was dead, the young boy ran to his mother and notified her of what he had seen. The local doctor, police, and Shue were notified. Shue was the first to arrive on the scene; he carried his wife up the stairs and laid her on their bed, where he proceeded to dress her. His actions were very out of the ordinary considering the custom was for the ladies of the community to dress her in appropriate burial wear. Shue dressed her in a stiff-collared dress and a large veil. The local doctor, Dr. Knapp, was sent to examine the body, but was having difficulties since Heaster’s husband refused to let go of her, cradling her head and hysterically crying. As a result, Dr. Knapp declared her cause of death to be “an everlasting faint,” but then changed his statement to “childbirth.” What was particularly interesting was that Heaster had told no one that she was pregnant, nor did she appear to have signs or symptoms of pregnancy. Soon after, Heaster’s mother was notified and she immediately blamed Shue for Zona’s death.2

Mary Jane, Heaster’s mother, began praying and asking God to give her the name of the person guilty of her daughter’s murder. About four weeks after the death of her daughter, Mary Jane claimed to have had visions of a ghostly appearance telling her that Shue had killed her daughter. This occurrence happened four nights in a row, and began to make Mary Jane very ill. She decided to take her testimony to a prosecutor, John Alfred Preston. The prosecutor was hesitant about taking her case, but decided to do research on his own before believing Mary Jane. He went around the town asking for testimonies on the matter and found that Dr. Knapp admitted to not having been able to conduct a complete examination of the body. Neighbors noticed that during the viewing of Heaster, Shue never left the side of the coffin and didn’t let anyone look at her closely. As the pieces of the mysterious death finally fell into place, the prosecutor decided to take on the case. The prosecutor was able to obtain a warrant that allowed the body to be exhumed for re-examination.3

After a complete autopsy was performed, doctors found that Heaster’s neck had been broken and the bruising around her neck indicated that her windpipe had been severely crushed, as if she had been strangled. After the autopsy had been concluded, Shue was arrested and taken into custody for a later trial.4

The trial started on June 231897, and lasted for eight days before the jury decided on a verdict. During the trial, the prosecutor tried to avoid using Mary Jane’s testimony due to the misunderstanding the jury might have. Regardless of these allegations, Mary Jane went ahead and revealed how she knew that Shue had murdered her daughter. Shue’s attorney immediately rejected the idea claiming that Mary Jane was crazy and unstable. The jury, however, found her story credible but did not mention it again after the first statement. The evidence against Shue was overwhelming and on the last day of the trial the jurors finally decided on a verdict. Ten of the twelve jurors voted on execution, but since it was not a unanimous decision, Shue was eventually sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder of Elva Zona Heaster.5

After the sentence, Shue was sent to prison, but the overwhelming disagreement on behalf of the community caused an outraged. Greenbrier County citizens felt that Shue should be hanged for his crime. On July 11, 1897, an angry mob gathered and threatened to lynch Shue, but the sheriff heard what was happening, and hid Shue in the woods before the mob could reach him. The Sheriff calmed the mob and eventually everyone went home.6

On July 13, 1897, Shue was placed in the state penitentiary where he eventually died of natural causes on March 13, 1900.7

The ordeal of the Greenbrier Ghost has sparked interest in many paranormal investigators and has made West Virginia a popular tourist attraction. No real evidence has been found on the Greenbrier ghost that Mary Jane claimed revealed her daughter’s murderer. The case is particularly interesting because at the time, investigators could not have revealed the murderer, due to the obvious lack of technology or forensic evidence. The only person that could have any other reliable testimony on the case would be the young boy that found Zona Heaster dead.  From what was uncovered, the case can only be concluded as “Murder Solved by Ghost.”

  1. Katie Lyle, Man Who Wanted Seven Wives: The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897 (Charleston, W. Va: Quarrier, 1999), 6.
  2. Katie Lyle, Man Who Wanted Seven Wives: The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897 (Charleston, W. Va: Quarrier, 1999), 6.
  3. “EDITORIAL: West Virginia ghost stories recounted in new book,” Charleston Gazette, The (WV), November 01. Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed October 10, 2017).
  4. Mike Conley, “Mike Conley’s Tales of the Weird: Ghost brings murderer to justice,” McDowell News, The (NC), August 27. Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed October 10, 2017).
  5. Katie Lyle, Man Who Wanted Seven Wives: The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897 (Charleston, W. Va: Quarrier, 1999), 6.
  6. “EDITORIAL: West Virginia ghost stories recounted in new book,” Charleston Gazette, The (WV), November 01. Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed October 10, 2017).
  7. Mike Conley, “Mike Conley’s Tales of the Weird: Ghost brings murderer to justice,” McDowell News, The (NC), August 27. Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed October 10, 2017).
Greenbrier Ghost Solves Murder Mystery
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Greenbrier Ghost Solves Murder Mystery

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  • This was such an interesting article to read. The way the article is organized in events makes it so much easier to read and understand with so much going on in the story. It also makes the reader think about the murder and perhaps even create their own theories about the murder as well. Part of me wants to believe that it really wasn’t Shue who murdered his own wife. I feel like Shue loved his wife far too much to want to hurt her in any way let alone kill her.

  • What a cool story! A few years back, I had the privilege of staying at the Greenbrier resort. Never in my life have a seen such opulence and wealth. Walking through the tunnels of the Presidential bomb shelter was equally stunning. But then we have this case, one of violence and intrigue. The fact that Hester’s mother was able to communicate with this ghost and even use the evidence in court is amazing. Such things would never work in the modern world; its like the fun and life of mysterious events are no more. Great read, thank you!

  • This was such an interesting article to read. I found it personally enjoyable because I am a fan of horror and ghost like stories. I myself had never heard about this story of a husband and the brutal murder he committed. I found it kind of incredible that the jury accepted Hester’s ghost encounter as evidence in the trial. Again great article!

  • This was a great article to read. I like to read about ghosts and people encounters with them so that is what drew my attention was the title. I was very shocked when I read that the ghost came and told the mother who killed her daughter and it was used in the trial as evidence. when people think of ghost they think of death and scary things and this shows how there is not always a negative encounter with them.

  • This is a very interesting story! I was entertained and engaged throughout due to the background information and details she provided throughout the article. This article really got me thinking about how much things have changed in regards to trials and evidence and how if something like this were to happen today, it would not be taken to trial simply because the victim’s mother claimed a ghost told her that her daughter’s husband was the killer. Overall, one of my favorite articles on this page!

  • This story is exactly what a thrilling movie would be about. It has a ghost and an alarming murder. I wish it was fiction, and was simply a story from a scary book or movie, and not real. It is so sad how Elva lost her life in such a tragic way. It will never make sense to me, or probably anyone, how spouses can turn to murder the one they are married to. The actions of human beings sometimes get no explanation. It was also very creepy to me how the husband tried to stay at his wife’s side after her murder to obviously get no one to look closer at how she had died. And the fact there was a ghost involved really amplifies this story to a new level. As someone who has had paranormal encounters, I can easily relate to the mother who had the ghost encounter. I hope one day we will be able to prove the presence of ghosts.

  • The title of this article drew me in and its perplexity did not disappoint at all. Since the beginning, I did not get a good vibe from Mary Jane’s mother and the fact that her ridiculous “dreams” landed Erasmus in jail does not seem fair to me. I do not believe there was enough evidence to arrest her husband, or that he had anything to do with it. This is yet another case of an unsolved murder that does not serve justice.

  • Very interesting article. I really enjoyed this article because it had to do with murder and i always find murder mysteries intriguing. I remember reading about the Joe Bennett murder case and how it was never solved due to all the missing pieces in the possible theories. It makes you wonder why people would kill someone they really care about and the type of psychological trauma that has to be in that person to do something as cruel as that.

  • Well written article! I am not really sure that I am convinced that Shue was the murderer though because no information, speaking just in this article, was given that gave him any motive. The evidence does kinda point towards him, but they way he was described made things sound like he really loved Heaster, so why would he kill her?

  • It is defiantly a true mystery how Elva Zona Heaste died. The husband did act odd when he found his wife body. For instance, how he changed her clothes himself and sort of protective over her body. It is suspiciously weird that he also did not want people to get close to the body. He probably did not want to see her have any bruises and suspect something. I do have to agree with Mary Jane that the husband did have a part in the death of her daughter.

  • Very interesting article! I have never heard of this story before but it is sad how a husband could murder his wife in a way that was in such violence. I think it is very odd how the main witness claimed that she was told by a ghost that it was the husband who had done the murdering. This article makes me wonder how a case like this would be handled in the court room today. But in way I believe that if this case occurred today then it would have been solved a lot sooner due to the enhanced technology we now have in the world.

  • This was a very interesting article to read, what seemed like a happy couple and a happy marriage ended in complete disaster and murder. I liked the way you presented your article, beginning with the couple meeting and the mother not liking Erasmus Stribbling Shue. I was shocked at how it was a child who discovered Zona Heaster had been killed and that her husband evaded the law for as long as he did.

  • I had never heard of this topic before reading this article, and it ended up being a very worthy read. The story of the Greenbrier ghost essentially reaching out to Mary Jane Heaster and revealing to her the actual person who murdered her daughter seems like something extremely ridiculous and can be hard to believe, but it was relieving to know that it was not a piece of evidence that the jury had relied on when it came time to reach a verdict. This article was very entertaining to read and I could easily follow the story thanks to the clarity and flow of how it was written.

  • This is a fantastic article! Great job! I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen for one second. I love a good murder mystery and even further a murder solved by a ghost?! It is quite strange though that the ghost of Zona Heaster confessed her killer to her mother, a woman who already believed Shue was guilty. Her mother could have said this without it happening and I believe the same outcome would have happened.

  • This story kept me interested the whole time. Whether or not Mary Jane was crazy or delusional, it was clear that there was some foul play involved in the death of Elva and Mary Jane’s claims lead them to further investigate, leading to a proper prosecution. You choose a very interesting topic to write about and I thought that it was a great article overall.

  • Very interesting article! I have never heard of this paranormal case before! I really enjoy reading about criminal murder cases such as this. You gave a lot of great details which allowed the story to keep me engaged throughout. It is very interesting that the court found the mother’s visions reliable, I do not think the legal system today would take her word as evidence.

  • Great article there! Reading it reminded me of this book I had once read when I was younger. I don’t remember the name of the book, but it sounds similar to this article, plot wise. It is interesting how this whole case played out, the fact that it turned out to be her own husband who killed her. I wonder what the motives were exactly. The whole ghost aspect of it was ominous as well, great way to end the article.

  • This was a very interesting article. The fact that the only lead investigators had to go on was a lawyers word based on a statement of a woman who saw a ghost. Is very interesting because it feels like something out of a fictional mystery. This kind of story could only happen back then because today with more advanced tests, a testimony of someone who they would deem to be crazy would not be used. Overall this was well formatted article.

  • Alondra Aviles creates an interesting and captivating story on Heaster’s ghost which solved her own murder. The part that most captivated my attention was the fact the fact that her own husband killed her. The article is arranged well as Aviles created a great story arc introducing a protagonist, antagonist, climax, rising action, and finally falling action. The tragic part of the story is that her own husband was capable of killing her.

  • Nice article. I liked how you gave some background information on the marriage; describing their love and detailing what their relationship was like. The transition into the murder was sudden, just like the murder, and I thought that was pretty neat. You gave a lot of detail and followed the story very well. What I thought was most interesting was obviously that a jury believed someone who had “visions” of who it was.

  • I personally really like to read about murder cases. Although it is a sad and sometimes frustrating situation they all have their own unique cases and stories. This one is a pretty interesting story because they actually took Hester’s mothers testimony about her visions. In todays legal system those kind of things would never be used as there is no proof that these visions are reliable sources. It makes me wonder how many crimes were unsolved or people were wrongly accused due to a lack of technology and rules on what can be used in court.

  • This was a very interesting article that. drew me in quite well. I am one to believe that paranormal forces and ghosts do infect exist. And in this case the paranormal force helped solve the death of Mary Jane’s daughter. I find that violent deaths are more likely to bring out paranormal activity rather than peaceful deaths. Overall good article.

  • It is really interesting to read about how this case was solved because Heaster’s mother had visions. It is not something that I had ever heard about, but the murderer was found. It is very surprising how the mother was even feeling physically ill due to the things she was seeing. It is unfortunate that she died but at least justice was achieved. This was a very well written and interesting article.

  • This is a pretty interesting article. I’ll never understand why someone would murder their spouse. Why not just leave them? Anyways, its crazy how a ghost proved this murder. I would like to see a case like this in modern day to see how far it gets dragged out. Imagine how the mother felt after the ghost went and spoke to her, did she have PTSD after that?

  • This is a very interesting article! I have never heard the story before the article. The story is very shocking. I have never read a story so impacting in which the husband kills her wife and in such way. The case if it was held today it would be solve very quickly in comparison to back at the time. Great article!

  • Wow, what a story! According to accounts Zona Heaster and Erasmus Stribbling Shue were “known to be inseparable”, so what could have caused him to kill his wife? We may never know the answer to that, however, thanks to Mary Jane her daughter was able to get justice for what happened to her. This story makes me wonder if it was a mother’s gut feeling and the need for justice for her daughter’s death or was the paranormal involved? Great article!

  • I do agree that Shue was acting very odd by not letting anyone carefully examine her body or be too close to it. When he dressed her in a “stiff collared” dress it foreshadows he was covering up the bruises on her neck. Although I still do think that there is a possibility that Shue did not murder Zona due to lack of sufficient evidence.

  • What I found fascinating about this article were the events following Zona’s death. As a political science major, learning about old criminal justice practices is exciting. While I understand that the same understanding of forensic science did not exist in the 1800’s I find it interesting that Shue did not receive any repercussions after he moved her body. I also found Dr. Knapp’s actions to be particularly intriguing, why would he not conduct an actual examination of Zona’s body before declaring the cause of death? Overall this article does a fantastic job of providing insight on outdated criminal justice practices.

  • I usually don’t like reading stories about ghosts and paranormal activities because I get scared easily and start to overthink, but this was a very well written article. I had never heard of this mystery and it is crazy to think that someone could kill their spouse. Also, the boy must have been dramatized from seeing the body. The weirdest part is that Shue carried her up the stairs and dressed her.

  • This article was very interesting to me, I love a good ghost story and reading about one is so cool. I have never heard of the Greenbriar ghost story, so I really liked getting informed on the story and the situation that was at hand. You did a great job on this article, and I think this will inform a lot of people on the story and get a better understanding of it.

  • Although I have never heard of this case before, it is definitely one of the more interesting ones. I can’t help but think however, what if it really wasn’t Shue? What if it was the mother instead because her hatred for Shue and perhaps her daughter’s betrayal pushed her to take drastic action? I also wonder if Shue or the young boy that found Heaster said anything after all about the death. The young boy’s testimony could have very well proved the innocence of Shue.

  • This was a very interesting article. I have never heard of this case before and I find it very interesting that the prosecution based their whole case around something that came from a ghost. It is highly possible that Shue could have killed his wife because he does seem very guilty in the way he handled the death and the entire situation. However, it is entirely possible that he is innocent of the crime and they could not identify the real killer because of the lack of technology that you mentioned. Many people today have been exonerated because technology found new evidence in their case that proved they were innocent. Great article!

  • This was a really interesting story and is certainly unique as I have never heard of it before. It is kind of creepy how the girl had visions of who killed the women. Also, it is interesting that her testimony actually held up in court as having visions is not really evidence. Although it is fishy how he handled the death, he could be innocent because visions is not really hard evidence. The real killer could have been someone else maybe. Great article

  • This article was very entertaining and well written. Very clear and also just concise enough to keep me reading. I loved reading about this mystery and have so many questions. Did anyone every suspect the mother? What did the husband have to say about it? Did the messenger kid get traumatized? Was the mother even sad about what happened? In the end, was her death really even justified?

  • Prior to reading the article, I had never heard of the, “Murder solved by ghost.” I was extremely fascinated while reading it because I absolutely love articles like this. Surprisingly, I don’t think the craziest part about the article was that the ghost basically helped solved the case, I think it was that the mother always somehow knew that something was not good about Shue. It’s crazy, but somehow mothers really always know best.

  • This is a very good article. I have never heard of this topic previous to reading this article. I dismissed paranormal activity due to Shue’s suspect behavior toward not letting anyone get close to Hester. It is always possible that the true murderer could of gotten away. Or perhaps it could of been the ghost and paranormal activity did occur.

  • This article was a very easy and interesting read. It is a real shame that there was absolutely no proof for the murderer of Elva Zona Heaster. It amazes me how much we have advanced in technology to where the FBI or any investigator can solve a case similar to this one. It is unusual that Elva’s mother had those dreams but it makes me think that that was an actual sign from God after she had begged and prayed to him.

  • Awesome article!. Ive never heard of this case before, but i find it amusing how it was solved by a ghost. This reminds me of the Salem witch trials almost which is scary to think about. The first image you use is great as well. Its almost haunting the way it looks at you. Could you imagine getting killed by your spouse! This is just creepy! Great job keep it up. I cant wait to read more like this.

  • I wonder why the doctor did not do a full examination of the body before when he was in the house. Also, if he did not do a full investigation then how did he come to a conclusion the death was a natural death? Furthermore, why didn’t anyone else find her death strange other than her mother? This article was very well written. It was intriguing and interesting to read.

  • I’ll never understand why some people murder their spouses. Why couldn’t they leave the relationship instead? I mean I understand that sometimes one partner is being abused, and kills the other in extreme cases of self defense. Another thing this makes me think of is how I read that it’s estimated 1-3% of the US population are sociopaths. Judging from what I’ve read on the topic, I’m pretty sure Erasmus Shue was one of them.

  • Really great article. I was not familiar with this case until reading your article and I feel like it is something we should know about. It is fascinating to me that someone could die from an “everlasting faint” and I think it is terrible that women could be written off so easily as the weaker sex. I think it would be interesting to see if a case like this would even make it to court today if the main witness said she was told by a ghost who killed the woman. Modern society is more accepting of psychic phenomena, in my opinion, but the court of law is not.

  • The story told by this article is fascinating. I am a huge fan of mystery and crime, and this perplexing murder is combination of both. I would love to research the case and trial even deeper so that I could understand exactly what motives they thought that Shue had for the murder, because I could not imagine any at this point; it seems they had a good relationship before this tragedy.

  • What a great article, I have never actually heard of this case, or even a case remotely like this. I believe Shue was definitely guilty though as the way he handled the death and the way he handled himself during the enquires was very suspect. I do also believe that if this was a case in our modern day it would have been solved a lot faster due to all of our modern technology and DNA etc. Great article on a very fascinating topic.

  • How interesting how this case was solved: because of the apparition of a ghost to Heaster’s mother. I have never believed much in the paranormal, so I would be more inclined to believe that it was Mary Jane’s unconscious saying it was Heaster’s husband the one who murdered her because she despised him. Shue’s actions suggest it was actually him who murdered his wife because he didn’t permit aybody to get close to Heaster, but there is a chance that the murderer could have actually been somebody else, and Shue been wrongfully imprisoned. Great article!

  • A well written and put together article that was interesting to read. I never heard of this story before but you did an amazing job telling it. At first your think the husband was under to much grief to function but no he was the killer all along. It makes you wonder if Marry Jane saw the ghost of her child or her grief brought out what she new all along.

  • This is a very interesting article. I have never heard of anything like this. It really is sad how a husband could murder his wife in such a violent way. I find it very fascinating how this ghost came and told Hester’s mother who killed her daughter, but even for interesting then that is the fact the her testimony held up in court. I feel that if something like that happened today then the jury would not use it as evidence, they would say that there is not enough proof. Very well written, and easy to follow.

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