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The Greenbrier Ghost

Zona “Elva” Heaster Shue

It looked like an accident.

The young boy who found the body said so, as did the doctor who examined the body. To all visual evidence Zona “Elva” Heaster Shue had, as the doctor said, experienced an “everlasting faint” and fallen at the foot of the bed (some sources say at the bottom of a staircase) in her house in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. It was January 23, 1897.

Earlier in the day, Elva’s husband Edward had gone to work at a local blacksmith shop as usual. In the middle of the day Edward sent an errand boy to his house to ask Elva if she needed Edward to pick up anything from the store on his way home. The boy dutifully ran to Edward’s house and discovered Elva’s body. He ran with the awful news to his mother, who called for the local doctor/coroner.

Before the doctor arrived, Edward heard the news and ran to his house. Seeing the body, he sobbed uncontrollably and placed Elva’s body on the bed. He proceeded to dress the corpse — which was odd. At that time in rural West Virginia it was customary for the nearby women to wash and dress the body of a female who had died, but Edward insisted on doing this himself, choosing a dress with a very high collar. When the doctor arrived, Edward became hysterical, barely letting the doctor touch the body. Unable to continue with the examination, the doctor proclaimed that Elva had died from natural causes and quickly left the house.

Elva’s body was buried soon after with a small ceremony.

The case may have ended there had Elva not decided to come back from the dead and tell the true story.

Elva’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, had always hated Edward and was convinced that he was behind her daughter’s death. Her first “proof” came the day of the funeral. After taking a white sheet from inside the coffin, she attempted to wash it, but when she put it into the water, the water turned red.

Mary Jane thought this was an indication of something, but she didn’t know what. She prayed for a month that somehow she would get some kind of sign that Elva had died at her husband’s hands.

She got more than she bargained for.

About one month after her daughter’s death, Mary Jane woke to find Elva floating in the bedroom. The ghost told Mary Jane that Edward was a cruel man who had attacked her and broken her neck because he believed she had not cooked any meat for dinner. To prove her claim, Elva turned her head around until she was looking backward.

This haunting repeated itself for the next three nights.

Having had enough, and now believing for sure that Edward had killed Elva, Mary Jane went to the local prosecutor, demanding that Elva’s body be dug up and examined again. The prosecutor was unconvinced to take such action until the doctor confessed that he had not done a thorough autopsy due to Edward’s extreme protectiveness of the body.

On February 22, Elva’s body was exhumed, despite Edward’s numerous protests. At the examination it was easily determined that Elva’s neck had been broken and Edward was quickly charged with murder.

Zona “Elva” Heaster Shue’s gravestone

One of the key prosecution witnesses at the subsequent trial was Mary Jane, and she testified to the four visitations by the Greenbrier Ghost. The defense tried to make her look like she was crazy, but the jury evidently believed Elva (through Mary Jane) and found Edward guilty of Elva’s death and he was taken to the local jail.

A cluster of men in the area did not think enough justice had been done, and a lynch mob formed and started towards the jail.

Edward escaped that fate but eventually died in jail only three years later, still proclaiming his innocence.

The Greenbrier Ghost never appeared again and is presumably resting in peace.

SOURCES:
“Greenbrier Ghost,” Wikipedia, pulled 19-Sept-11
“The Greenbrier Ghost,” Prairie Ghosts website, pulled 19-Sept-11

About Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published three books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

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