Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Legend of the Greenbrier Ghost

On January 23, 1897 the lifeless body of Zona Heaster Shue was found by a young boy at her at her log home in Livesay's Mill in the western part of Greenbrier County.

Just three months prior, Zona had fallen in love with and married a blacksmith named Erasmus Stribbling "Trout" Shue, who hailed from nearby Pocahontas County.

A local physician and county coroner, Dr. George W. Knapp, initially ruled the young, vivacious 15-year-old had died of "an everlasting faint."

However, Knapp later changed Zona's official cause of death to "childbirth." Accounts of the story say Knapp had been treating Zona for "female problems," but whether she was "childing" is unknown to this day.

Three days after her death, Zona was buried at her childhood home on Little Sewell Mountain.

Disregarding Knapp's explanation, Zona's parents immediately cast suspicion upon the "drifter" from Pocahontas County.

A month later, Mary Jane Heaster began telling friends that Zona's ghost had appeared and recounted how Trout had choked her to death for her failure to cook meat.

Mary Jane Heaster told her story to authorities and after damaging evidence came to light about Trout's past relationships with other women, a judge issued an order to have Zona's body exhumed from the grave.

An autopsy revealed a crushed windpipe and broken neck Later, a grand jury indicted Trout for murder.

During the trial, Prosecuting Attorney John Alfred Preston sidestepped the issue of Mary Jane's ghost story and presented the jury with circumstantial evidence against the defendant.

However, the ghost story entered the record during Mary Jane Heaster's cross-examination by defense lawyer Dr. William Parkes Rucker.

The jury convicted Trout and sentenced him to life in prison. Trout died in prison about three years later.

Since then, accounts have normally included that Trout was sent to prison because of "the testimony of ghost," thus cementing the legend of this Greenbrier County murder mystery.

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