By indexer
2 years ago

The Greenbriar Ghost

Most ghost stories are just that – stories. However, when an account of ghostly visitation is used as evidence in court to convict a murderer, something very strange is happening. Read on!

Zona Heaster was born in 1873 near Greenbriar, Virginia. In 1896 she met a blacksmith, who was new to the area, and fell in love with him. This was Edward (or Erasmus) Shue. Zona’s widowed mother, Mary Heaster, took an instant dislike to him but could not prevent the pair from marrying, which they did on 26th October.

On 23rd January 1897 Edward Shue was at work when he asked an 11-year-old boy, Andy Jones, to go to the Shue house to see if Zona needed any help. When Andy opened the door he found Zona lying dead on the floor. Andy rushed back to summon Edward.

When the local doctor, George Knapp, arrived, he found that Edward Shue had dressed Zona in her Sunday best and was cradling her in his arms in a state of utter distress. Dr Knapp therefore found it impossible to examine the body. He assumed that Zona had died in childbirth.

However, Mary Heaster, Zona’s mother, was far from satisfied with this explanation. She was particularly suspicious of the fact that Edward Shue insisted that Zona’s body could not be seen without her favourite red scarf round her neck.

Mary then came up with the story that Zona’s ghost visited her one night and told her that she had had her neck broken by Edward who had flown into a violent rage because Zona had not cooked his supper properly. The ghost then spun her head round in a complete circle.

Mary insisted that the local prosecutor must order the body to be exhumed, and this was done on 22nd February. An autopsy revealed that Zona’s neck had indeed been broken, just as Mary claimed the ghost had told her. Edward Shue was arrested and tried for murder.

Despite all the evidence against him being circumstantial, Shue was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in 1900.

Was justice served?

It seems quite likely that Shue did kill Zona, but there were other possibilities. One suggestion has been that Mary had found her daughter dead and broke her neck in order to frame Edward.

At all events the jury at Edward Shue’s trial did seem to find convincing Mary Heaster’s evidence of being visited by Zona’s ghost, especially when Mary was able to state that the ghost had said that her neck had been “squeezed off at the first vertebra”. However, this does seem to betray remarkably detailed anatomical knowledge on the part of a simple countrywoman, and should lead us to wonder if the “ghost story” was an invention on Mary’s part, whatever role Edward might have played in Zona’s death.

For one thing, could Mary have seen the autopsy report at some stage before the trial? Another interesting point is that the “Greenbriar Independent” that carried the story of Zona’s death also contained a report of a case in Australia in which a ghost had been invoked as providing evidence of a murderer’s guilt. It would be a remarkable coincidence if Mary had come up with her story without having read about the Australian case in the same newspaper that reported her daughter’s death.

Either Edward Shue did kill Zona, and Mary made sure that he would be convicted, or Zona died of natural causes and Mary used the ghost story to frame Edward with her murder. In either scenario there are disturbing details that don’t quite add up. This is probably a case in which the truth will never be established to everyone’s satisfaction.
2 years
Violeta Very interesting story
2 years