The Legend of the Greenbrier Ghost

Sara B

The only trial in history that included the testimony of a ghost.

January 23, 1897, Elva Zona Heaster Shue was found dead at the bottom of the stairs, one year after being married to Edward. Her body was discovered by a neighbor boy who helped around the house.

According to the records, the body was found ¨ the body found lying straight, with feet laying together, one hand by the side and the other across her body, head slightly tilted to one side¨. He thought she was asleep, but when she did not respond, he ran for help.

The young boy went to call for the doctor, police, and Edward. When the boy returned to the house, Edward had already cleaned up the body and dressed her for burial. The husband did not usually prepare the body for burial; in the 1800s, the town's women did.

He was also found cradling her head, rocking her back and forth, appearing grief-stricken. When the doctor attempted to examine the neck, Edward was known to grieve louder; the doctor then declared her dead, stating, ¨an everlasting faint, ¨ also known as a heart attack. Later it was found that the doctor changed this to ¨complications during pregnancy¨.

Mary J. Heaster (Elva's mother) disapproved of her daughter marrying Edward, as everything seemed to happen quickly. She did not trust Edward and was desperate to find out what had happened to her only daughter.

Then, Mary began to pray that her daughter's spirit would return and tell her what happened. After about a month of praying, Mary started seeing her daughter's spirit; she appeared to her four nights in a row.

Elva confirmed that Edward had abused her. The spirit of Elva also confirmed that he choked her. He crushed her vertebrae and windpipe, which killed her. Of course, no one would believe Mary; who would believe in the 1800s; that a ghost appeared and confirmed a mother's suspicions?

It sounds kind of fishy to me.

Yet Mary did it; she convinced her brother and neighbors. They then went to a lawyer and spoke to the doctor, who confirmed her death. The doctor confirmed he did not examine her body closely, as Edward would not allow it due to his grief.

The visitors to the funeral also confirmed that Edward had bizarre behavior; they were then able to obtain a warrant to exhume her body for further examination and a proper autopsy.

Edward was required to be there during the autopsy; apparently, he remained unphased until the doctor began to examine her neck. The autopsy revealed a broken neck exposing her windpipe crushed, confirming she had been strangled. It confirmed what the spirit told Mary, and she was murdered. Edward was then arrested for her murder.

A local newspaper, The Pocahontas Times, later reported that, "On the throat were the marks of fingers indicating that she had been chosen [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."

During the trial, the defense called Mary to speak about her encounter with the spirit of Elva. The testimony was so vivid and did not waiver that it led to the conviction of Edward being found guilty by the ghost of Elva.

At Trout Shue's trial, Mary Heaster testified, "It was no dream," according to The Greenbrier Independent. "She came back and told me that he was mad that she didn't have no meat cooked for supper … but the second night, she told me that her neck was squeezed off at the first joint and it was just as she told me."

During the trial, it also came out that Edward stated he wanted to be married seven times during his life and had already been married twice before Elva. Her first wife also reported in the divorce documents that he had been abusive. The second wife died under ¨mysterious ¨circumstances. Edward also was found to have been in prison for two years for stealing a horse.

Many people in the community, if not the jury, seemed to believe Heaster's story, and Shue did 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 reported that his "testimony, manner, and so forth, made an unfavorable impression on the spectators." The jury deliberated for just an hour and 10 minutes before returning a guilty verdict.

He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died in prison in 1900 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

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I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news. Living nomadically since 2018, currently in Colombia.

Pasadena, CA
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