In A Nutshell
In 1897, newlywed Zona Shue was found dead in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. She was buried, presumed the victim of “woman troubles,” but a month later, Zona’s ghost appeared to her mother to spin a tale of cruelty and murder.
The Whole Bushel
In October 1896, twenty-something Zona Heaster of Greenbrier County, West Virginia, met a young man named Erasmus Shue. After a whirlwind courtship, the couple married within weeks. But their blessed union would end in tragedy on January 23, 1897, when Zona’s corpse was found by a young boy Shue had sent to the house to fetch something. Horrified by the discovery, he ran to get his mother, who dispatched a doctor to the house. In the time it took for the doctor to arrive, Erasmus had taken the body and clothed it in a dress with a high, stiff neck. In this era, it was not unusual to deal with death on a very intimate basis. However, the custom of preparing and dressing the body of a woman was generally undertaken by the ladies of the community.
When the doctor arrived, he found Erasmus stricken with hysterical grief, clutching his wife’s body. When he attempted anything more than a cursory examination, Erasmus railed with fury. The doctor, who had treated Zona some weeks earlier for unspecified “woman troubles,” perhaps did not find it unusual that she had passed. After all, this was an age when a fever, or even the infection from a bad cut, could prove fatal. Zona was laid out in the Shue home. Erasmus behaved in an odd manic-depressive manner during the viewing, seemingly defending the body from visitors and insisting on dressing her with a scarf he claimed was “her favorite.” Despite a number of red flags, Zona was buried the following day. She laid in the ground for four weeks, and there the story may have ended, the tragic snuffing of a young life, until her mother was visited by a specter in the night.
Mary Jane Heaster claimed that her daughter Zona appeared to her on four consecutive nights. The ghost told Heaster that Erasmus Shue had broken her neck when he was displeased with what she’d made for dinner, and rotated her head completely around to prove it. Heaster, who had always been suspicious of her son-in-law, went to the prosecutor, John Alfred Preston, to plead her case. While it is unlikely that Preston actually believed this paranormal tale, he thought it worthwhile to re-open the case. When Zona’s body was exhumed and autopsied, it was discovered that she had been viciously choked, her throat crushed, ligaments torn.
It was discovered that Zona was Shue’s third wife. He’d divorced his first amid allegations of great cruelty. His second died under mysterious circumstances. When he was tried for Zona’s murder, the defense attorney attempted to make a mockery of Mary Jane Heaster’s testimony, but she was unyielding in her conviction that Zona’s ghost had appeared to her. Shue was convincted of murder, and died of an unknown disease in prison three years later. Zona Shue’s spirit never returned.