Elva Zona Heaster was born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, in 1873. In the late 1890s, Zona married Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue, also known as Edward, a blacksmith who had moved to Greenbrier to start a new life. The marriage was entered into despite the protestations of Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, who had taken a strong dislike to Edward.
The couple lived happily for a while, but in 1897, Zona was found dead by a young boy sent to the house on an errand by Edward. The coroner, George Knapp, was summoned, but he didn't arrive until an hour later.
Upon his arrival, Knapp found that, contrary to custom, Edward had carried the body upstairs and dressed it himself, in a dress with a stiff neck. He then remained in the room, cradling the corpse, throughout Knapp's examination of the body.
This caused Knapp to keep the examination brief and the cause of death was determined to be "everlasting faint," although this was later change to childbirth, as Zona had been receiving treatment for "female trouble" in the previous weeks.
Upon hearing the news of her daughter's death, Heaster was reported to have exclaimed: "The devil has killed her!"
At the funeral, Shue reportedly behaved in a very strange manner, experiencing wild mood swings, and refusing to move away from the body. At one point he tied a scarf around the body's neck, explaining that it had been Zona's favorite.
Four weeks after Zona's death, Heaster experienced a visit from her late daughter during a dream. This nighttime vision explained that her death was a murder—that Shue had broken her neck in a fit of rage when he believed that she hadn't cooked any meat for dinner.
To prove this, the ghostly figure then span her head all the way around to demonstrate her injury.
Following this disturbing dream, Heaster spoke with prosecutor John Alfred Preston, eventually convincing him to reopen the case of Zona's death. There had been a recent rise in rumors that there had been foulplay involved with the death, and it is not known whether Preston reopened the case as a result of this hearsay, or whether he was swayed by Heaster's supernatural testimony.
After speaking with Knapp and learning about the brief and unusual examination of Zona's body, Preston ordered a full exhumation and an autopsy was conducted.
The autopsy revealed that Zona's neck had been broken and that her windpipe had been crushed. On this evidence, Shue was arrested.
Information about Shue's past then began to surface. He had been married twice before. His first marriage had ended in divorce, with his wife accusing him of "great cruelty." His second wife had died under mysterious circumstances.
In jail, Shue displayed great confidence that he would be released, insisting that there wasn't enough evidence against him.
The trial began on June 22nd, 1897. The prosecution avoided mentioning Heaster's ghostly visitation out of worry that the jury would find her to be insane and her testimony unreliable.
The defense, however, questioned Heaster about the ghost, hoping to expose her as being mentally unhinged in front of the jury. This backfired, however, when Zona proved to be unwaivering in her testimony—not a single detail changed and her certainty about the visitation convinced the jury that what she was saying was true.
As it had been the defense that had brought up the ghost, rather than the prosecution, the judge could not instruct the jury to disregard the information.
Shue was found guilty of Zona's murder on July 11th, 1897, and sentenced to life in jail. He was soon transferred to West Virginia State Penitentiary, where he died in 1900 and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Mary Jane Heaster died in 1916. Until her death, she remained resolute in her belief that she had been visited by the ghost of her daughter. The spirit has not been heard from since.