Greenbrier County Courthouse - Atlas Obscura

Greenbrier County Courthouse

Step into the courtroom to learn details of the only case in history where ghostly testimony led to a murderer's conviction.  


In the late 19th century, the mysterious death of Zona Heaster Shue raised the perplexing question: Did she die of natural causes, or was it murder? It was true Zona’s mother, Mary J. Heaster, never approved of her daughter’s marriage to Erasmus Trout Shue, but did he kill her?

On the fateful day of Zona’s death in 1897, Trout Shue asked a neighbor to call on his wife at home. When the young man walked inside, he found Zona dead on the floor.

Curiously, Shue prevented a thorough examination of the body and helped dress her with a high collar and veil “tied in a large bow under her chin.” Despite his efforts, witnesses reported that Zona’s head was noticeably “loose upon the neck.” She was buried with no charges filed against her husband, but Mary Heaster knew his secret—her daughter’s spirit appeared to her, revealing foul play.

Upon exhumation and autopsy, Zona’s broken neck and crushed windpipe provided clear evidence that she, indeed, had been murdered. Trout Shue was put on trial, and Mary Heaster’s testimony of her daughter’s visits from beyond the grave told the real account.

Within an hour, the jury convicted Trout Shue of first-degree murder, sentencing him to life in prison. This bizarre Greenbrier County case is the only trial in which ghostly testimony led to a murderer’s conviction.

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October 2, 2023

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