Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Call The Ghost of Elva Zona Haester Shue To The Stand!

As you can see this post is published on October 31st and that means only one thing, its time for a creepy story about American History. No, I will not be talking about the 2000 Presidential election, but rather of an eerie yet interesting event that took place in West Virginia around the turn of the century. Everyone has watched a TV show that featured a climax in the courtroom, so one can picture all the crazy defenses and unexpected surprise witnesses. But this 1897 murder mystery takes the cake and no writer today could even imagine handing this type of story over to a publisher, well unless they work for the Fox Network. To most, it has been forgotten, but lets revisit the ever-so-spooky case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

The above photo is of Elva Zona Haester Shue. Not much is know about her except that she born in about 1873, lived in Richlands, West Virginia, had a child out of wedlock in 1895, married a drifter by the name of Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue in 1896. Her mother hated Erasmus and then in 1897 Elva is killed. So pretty easy case to close right? Wrong, see late 19th century police work in West Virginia wasn't top notch. The way it was recorded is that Elva's body was found by a boy, who sent to the Shue home by Edward. Upon discovery, the boy freaked out and ran to tell his mother. The mother then alerted the officials which then took well over an hour to arrive at the Shue home.  By then, Edward had moved Elva's body, cleaned her and dressed her. Now if you know anything about turn of the century funeral practices, this job mainly was done by women, so this was considered odd by the coroner. The coroner also noted that there was bruising around the neck but, due to the husband's "grief", he had to cut his examination short. The official report states Elva's cause of death as "everlasting faint" which was then changed to "childbirth" as a local doctor had been treating her for pregnancy. When the news reached her parents, her mother stated, "that devil killed her!"

Although the story can be considered weird and it seems almost like Edward committed the murder, he wasn't charged with anything. At the funeral, he started to lay it on really thick. He refused to leave the coffin, and acted with extreme sadness and then extreme happiness. He also did everything he could to cover her neck. First, he wrapped a scarf around Elva's neck claiming it was her favorite scarf. Second, he placed a pillow and rolled up sheet next to her head, and said it would help her rest easier. Finally, people paying their respects commented on a looseness in Elva's neck. It is pretty apparent to everyone that some type of foul play was involved in Elva's death, especially to her mother, Mary Jane Haester. She was convinced that Edward had killed her daughter. Supposedly, Mary Jane found a bloody sheet and saw this as a sign that her daughter was murdered.

Mary Jane did what any grieving mother would do, she prayed. She prayed asking for Elva to give her a sign that proved she was murdered, and after four weeks she got her sign. According to Mary Jane, Elva appeared in a dream and told her what a horrible man Edward was. He was abusive, a drunk and would attack her when he believed that Elva hadn't cooked meat for dinner. Now here is where the real evidence comes into play. Elva's ghost said Edward had snapped her neck, and to prove it,  she spun her head a complete 360 degrees. The ghost visited Mary Jane for four nights in a row and every time, she'd appear as bright as the sun and then eventually had away leaving the room in a freezing chill. Now, with the truth from beyond the grave, Mary Jane went to the authorities and demanded her daughter's body exhumed and reexamined. Edward tried everything he could to stop it but on February 22, 1897 Elva was dug up, examined and was found to be murdered by having her neck broken and windpipe crushed.

Cue the theme from "Night Court!" Get me the detectives from Law & Order! Send in the Perry Mason and Matlock and lets get this case under way! After the autopsy of Elva was published, Edward was quickly arrested and held in custody at the Lewisburg town jail. It was at this time that Edward's past came to light. He was married twice before, having his first marriage end in divorce due to extreme cruelty and his second ending with the mysterious death of his wife. The case got underway in June of 1897 and the star witness was the ghost of Elva...via Mary Jane of course. As the defense cross examined Mary Jane, she never faltered and ultimately cost the defense the case. They tried to have her testimony stricken from the record, but the jury and town seemed to believe in the ghostly evidence from the great beyond. In the end, Edward was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Edward died a few years later in prison from an "unknown" epidemic.
Today, the legend of Elva Zona Haester Shue lives on. The state of West Virginia has placed a historical marker in the cemetery which she is buried in, Sam Black Church in Lewisburg. There have also been, plays, musicals and books all covering the story of the Greenbrier Ghost. The legend of Elva is a great piece of American History. The first and only time a ghost was used as any kind of witness in a legal proceeding. Aside from that, it is a pretty cool ghost story, as it has everything a ghost story needs and more. So, I hope you enjoyed the read and please feel free to share it at anytime, especially at night and preferably on a creepy or spooky one.


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