Elva Zona Heaster, fondly known as Zona, was a beautiful bride on the cusp of life. She had fallen madly in love with the town heartthrob – a blacksmith named Erasmus Shue. They courted for a brief time before deciding to tie the knot. Zona’s mother, Mary Heaster, was concerned about her daughter’s rugged new suitor from the start. There was something unsettling about this man, but at the time, Mary could not explain her uneasy feelings. These wary emotions, however, were not without reason. Unbeknownst to both Zona and Mary, Erasmus had been married twice before. His first wife divorced him on terms of abandonment, and his second wife died from mysterious circumstances. Furthermore, Erasmus had relocated to their town and set up shop under the alias “Edward” Shue. Had this information been known, perhaps Zona would have survived.
Concerned by the eeriness of Erasmus’s character, Mary urged her daughter to pursue other suitors for a husband. But Zona could not pull herself away, spellbound by the handsome blacksmith. The pair eloped, and Zona became Mrs. Shue – a title she would not hold for long.
On a bleak morning in 1897, Zona was found dead on the floor of her West Virginian home. She was discovered by a local boy that her husband sent to run household errands. Erasmus, who was working in his blacksmith shop that morning, had instructed the boy to stop by the house and ask Mrs. Shue if she needed any assistance. The boy, upon discovering a motionless Zona, immediately returned to Erasmus’s shop crying that a doctor was needed. Erasmus and the errand boy returned to the Shue household, finding Zona dead. Overcome by grief, Erasmus cradled his deceased wife in his arms and commanded the boy to summon Dr. Knapp, the local physician. The boy left, returning soon after with the doctor in toe. During this time, Erasmus carried Zona upstairs and dressed her in a heavy, high-collared gown with an oversized bow wrapped around her neck. He lay in bed, arms wrapped around her body, wailing with grief. When Dr. Knapp approached, Erasmus forbade him from performing a thorough examination. At the time, the doctor attributed Eramus’s unusual behavior to a man grieving the sudden death of his wife and followed his wishes. After a brief exam, Dr. Knapp labeled Zona’s cause of death as “childbirth.”
Zona was buried with no charges being made against Mr. Shue. However, many witnesses who attended Zona’s funeral noticed a few oddities about the situation:
- Zona’s burial garment was nontraditional. The obnoxious bow wrapped tightly around her neck was particularly strange to onlookers.
- Erasmus was acting neurotically. If anyone approached Zona’s casket too closely, he would shoo them away.
- Against Eramus’s best efforts, a few guests got close enough to Zona’s body to notice her head looked loose and drooped to the side when it was unsupported.
After the funeral, life was tremendously bleak for Mary. She had lost her only daughter, and her son-in-law’s behavior was unnerving. Mary became convinced that Zona’s death was not the result of childbirth but of something more sinister. However, her beliefs were based on intuition, and she had no physical evidence to use against Shue… until one night.
Mary sat upright in her bed, her eyes locked on a faint silhouette perched in the corner of her room. Although she had been awoken in the middle of the night, Mary did not fear the spirit. Something about it seemed familiar.
“Zona, is that you?” Mary whispered into the darkness. The apparition appeared in its full form. It was a ghost of a young woman, dressed in a dark gown…with a bow wrapped around her neck.
According to Mary, Zona’s ghost visited her a few nights in a row. With each encounter, Zona shared more details about what happened to her on that fateful day, until the whole story came to light: Erasmus was an angry, abusive husband. He had returned home from work, hungry and in a poor mood after a long work day. Zona had prepared a delicious meal of bread, butter, fruit, and jams. No meat, however, as she did not have time to run to the store. The lack of meat in his dinner set Erasmus into a rage. He grabbed Zona by the neck, breaking it at the first joint and crushing her windpipes. She died by his hand.
Mary knew these visits were not dreams. It was her daughter begging for justice, and Mary had to do something. She met with the county’s prosecuting attorney and shared the information she recieved about Zona’s death. The prosecutor did not dismiss her; however, he informed Mary that, to open a case against Shue, he would need physical evidence. This evidence was granted when the prosecutor discovered Erasmus had prevented the doctor from examining Zona’s body post-mortem. On these grounds, they were able to exhume Zona and discover her neck was crushed exactly where the ghost identified.
Erasmus was tried for the murder of Zona. Zona’s autopsy record (that now showed her cause of death as strangulation) and Mary’s ghostly testimony were used as evidence against Shue. Although the evidence was mainly circumstantial, the jury came to a consensus in less than an hour. They found Erasmus Shue guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison. He died in his cell three years later.
The most compelling aspect of the Greenbrier case is that it’s the only known instance where a spirit’s testimony helped solve a murder. But was it truly a voice from beyond that brought justice to Zona Heaster, or was there a more earthly explanation? Well viewer, while it’s clear Erasmus was the culprit and murdered his wife, it’s difficult to truly ascertain where the evidence came from. Perhaps Dr. Knapp came forward and voiced concerns about Erasmus’s behavior and Zona’s lack of examination. Perhaps it was a grieving mother’s intuition, and the pieces fell into place. Or perhaps… this case truly was solved by a beautiful and determined ghost.
The explanation, dear viewers? We’ll let you decide.