Elva Zona Heaster’s Ghostly Testimony – West Virginia

Greenbrier Ghost

Late October is a great time for ghost hunting… and not just on Halloween.

October 20th is also the wedding anniversary of Elva Zona Heaster and her murdering husband, “Trout” Shue.

If I were in West Virginia and could investigate her grave (or his), I’d be there on October 20th. Anniversaries usually trigger extra ghostly activity. And, when the wedding soon led to murder… well, that improves the odds of an eerie graveside investigation.

Elva Zona “Zonie” Heaster is one of the few documented, ghostly detectives.

According to her mother – and the jury at Trout’s trial – Elva solved her own murder.

elva zona heaster
Possible photo of Elva (may have been taken after her murder)

Elva was born in 1873 at Greenbrier, West Virginia (USA) to Jacob Hedges Heaster (1847 – 1917) and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson (1849 – 1916).

Elva was one of nine children in the family, and the elder of two girls. (Elva’s sister Lennie was born seven years after Elva.)

Elva was also one of the county’s most beautiful young women.

Her first boyfriend was Albert Carr. (He later married – twice – and named his daughters Elva and Zona. So, it seems like he never quite got over Elva Zona Heaster.)

Elva may have married George Woldridge. They had a baby boy in November 1895. The child may have died or been raised by someone else. The records aren’t clear about the baby’s fate, if George was Elva’s husband, or what happened to George.

A year later, Elva fell in love with Erasmus Stribbling “Trout” Shue, who’d been born in 1861 in Augusta, Virginia. (His parents were Jacob and Elizah Shue.)

elva and husband
Elva Zona Heaster and Trout Shue, in happier times

Evidence suggests that “Trout” was a heart breaker – and perhaps a wife-murderer – even before he arrived in town and courted Elva.

Trout had already been married to Allis (or Allie) Estilline Cutlip, Lucy A. Tritt, Ellen Estilline Cutlip, and Annie Williams. (Ellen and Allis may have been one person. Like many records of that time, spelling errors are commonplace.)

His first marriage (to Allis) ended in divorce, with cruelty cited.

His second wife (Lucy) died suddenly, hit on the head “by a falling brick.”

It seems as if most of Trout’s neighbors believed he’d killed Lucy, but they had no proof.

The other one or two wives… I haven’t found records for either of them, yet.

So, Elva was Trout’s fourth or fifth wife. (Apparently, his goal was to marry seven women.)

Trout was described as a drifter, and worked as a blacksmith near Elva’s home.

The couple married on October 20th, 1896, about a year after Elva’s baby (with George Woldridge) had been born.

From the start, it appears that Elva’s mother was uneasy about the ever-so-charming Mr. Shue.  In fact, some accounts say that Mrs. Heaster hated Trout on sight.

Then, on January 23rd, 1897 – shortly after the couple had been married just three months – Trout sent a boy to the Shue house on an errand. The boy found Elva, dead at the foot of the stairs.

By the time the doctor arrived, Trout had already brought Elva upstairs to her bed, wrapped her neck in a bright-colored scarf, and generally prepared the body for burial.

(The reference to the scarf, and the odd, flat appearance of Elva’s hair, face, and neck, suggest that the photo – near the top of this article – was taken after she’d died. Postmortem photos were common in some regions, as a memento of the deceased.)

Because Trout seemed so distraught at his wife’s death, the doctor did only a cursory examination. He decided that Elva had fainted and fallen down the stairs to her death.

(Only later were questions raised about the blood near her body, and the possibility that she was pregnant when she was killed.)

Elva was buried in an unmarked grave at Soule Chapel cemetery.

About a month after Elva’s death, over a period of four nights, her spirit appeared to her mother, Mrs. Heaster.

Elva’s mother said that Elva looked like she was “flesh and blood,” not a ghost.

Elva explained to her mother that Trout had killed her. To confirm that she spoke the truth, Elva told her mother several things that her mother could not have known at the time . And, to demonstrate that Trout had broken her neck, Elva (the ghost) rotated her head in a full circle.

Elva’s mother visited the sites Elva had named, and verified the details that Elva had shared. Everything confirmed that Elva’s spirit really had visited her mother.

So, Mrs. Heaster went to the county prosecutor and convinced him to open Elva’s grave for an autopsy.

As expected, it turned out that Elva’s neck was broken, but her windpipe had been crushed as well. She hadn’t been the victim of a fall.

Trout was charged with murder. On July 11th, 1897, he was sentenced to life in prison, where he died of an unknown epidemic on March 11th, 1900.

Elva’s mother’s story never wavered. She always insisted that her daughter’s ghost had appeared to her, and revealed the murder.

The story is so odd, I believe her.

Where is Trout Shue buried?

His body is in an unmarked grave near West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville. (That retired prison is open for tours, as well as overnight investigations.)

If you’d like to investigate the prison cemetery, it’s part of Whitegate Cemetery. You’ll find it along Tom’s Run, about 3/4 of a mile from the main route into Moundsville on Fourth Street.

Where is Elva Zona Heaster Shue buried?

To investigate Zona’s grave, go to Soule Chapel Methodist Cemetery. It’s in Meadow Bluff, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, off the old Kanawha Turnpike. (I recommend checking other parts of that cemetery, as well. She’s probably in the family plot, but – since the grave was unmarked for more than 80 years – it’s not her guaranteed location.)

The Man Who Wanted Seven WivesMore reading and resources

For the full story, read The Man Who Wanted Seven Wives – The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897. That book presents the most thorough account of the entire story.

Haunted HomelandOr, if you’d like to read more about the Greenbrier Ghost and others, I recommend Haunted Homeland: A Definitive Collection of North American Ghost Stories.

The writing style is colorful and the stories are well-researched.

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[PA] Gettysburg 2013 – Still Active

Civil War statue at Gettysburg - Gettysburg ghostsThe biggest Gettysburg celebrations may be over for the summer, but I’d expect extra ghostly activity for several months. Re-enactments tend to stir up paranormal energy.  The bigger and more authentic the celebration, the more intense the hauntings during the event, and the longer the ghostly phenomena seem to linger.

If I were researching at Gettysburg, I’d visit the most popular haunts.  However, the problem is: Too much modern-day energy can dilute the older energy at the site.  That’s always an issue with haunted sites that attract a lot of attention (and ghost hunters).  Less-explored haunted locations may be better for serious investigations.

So, I’d also explore the off-the-beaten-path locations around Gettysburg and vicinity.  (They include the real haunts around Burkittsville, Maryland, made famous by the Blair Witch Project.  Burkittsville is 56 miles — about an hour’s drive — from Gettysburg.  See my articles: The real “Blair Witch” ghosts – Part One and Part Two.)

If you’re heading to Gettysburg for ghost hunting, the following article lists the top 10 haunts at Gettysburg.

Top 10 ghost-heavy spots: Gettysburg 150 (link no longer works)
PennLive.com, on Fri, 28 Jun 2013 08:24:31 -0700
We asked Gettysburg Ghost Tours, After Dark Investigations, Haunted Gettysburg Ghost Tours, Ghostly Images of Gettysburg and Mark Nesbitt’s Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours for the spots in Gettysburg with the most paranormal activity.

Here’s one person’s views of Gettysburg hauntings:

Haunted Gettysburg: How Can We Deny the Authenticity of Other Worldly Spirits …
Student Operated Press, on Fri, 05 Jul 2013 04:54:38 -0700
After studying the Battle of Gettysburg intensely for more than two weeks, I`m convinced this scene experiencing three days of intense fighting between the Blue and Grey, is HAUNTED beyond description or belief! The basis for an abundance of paranormal …

If you’re looking for Gettysburg ghost tours, this summarizes the top six.

Six Gettysburg ghost hunting tours: Gettysburg 150
Patriot-News, on Fri, 28 Jun 2013 07:23:01 -0700
Gettysburg Ghost Tours has multiple guides, including Johlene “Spooky” Riley, the host of the “Ghostly Encounters” radio show. It is located at 47 Steinwehr Ave. Cost: $8 adults, $5 youth. Ghost Hunts are $30 and $55. www.gettysburgghosttours.com; …

Related videos

The first video is a 10-minute slideshow of various “ghost photos.”  While I can suggest normal reasons for many of them (the first could be breath, the third could be hair), a few of the photos are worth serious consideration.

This next video is a well-produced, nine-minute, set of first-person stories about visiting the site of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The story told by the three men sound like a credible encounter with a residual energy haunting.  It’s unlikely that the same visual imagery would occur, over and over again.  In fact, the third man describes it as a “loop.”

As the tale continues, the conflicting numbers — and how Rich Mendoza explains them — are curious… and a little chilling.

I believe something weird happened to those men. Whether their story is entirely true or not,  it’s a great ghost story.

Planning to visit Gettysburg? Here are a few useful links for tourists:

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Brandywine Valley Ghosts

hull-brandywineghostsBrandywine Valley Ghosts by Laurie Hull

3-half-stars

This is a fun book to read whether you’re a ghost hunter or someone who enjoys real ghost stories.

REVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

  • Chilling, true ghost stories
  • Good tips for ghost hunters
  • An entertaining book for all readers

Ms. Hull is the kind of ghost hunter and author that I admire. In this book, she mixes well-researched history, chilling ghost stories, amusing anecdotes, and first-person encounters with ghosts. There’s something for every ghost enthusiast.

This book features many photos. Some are excellent, and I’d question others. In a way, that’s typical of ghost research; no two people will get excited about the same photos. In fact, if I see too many startling photos, I question their integrity. This book seems to include a good balance of convincing, eerie and, “Well, maybe…” photos.

I especially like the stories in which Ms. Hull explores sites that have quirky folklore. Her visit to the Ticking Tomb is a wonderful anecdote. As preposterous as some ghost stories are, they’re always worth checking in person. Her experience is classic.

This is an ideal book if you like to read true ghostly encounters.

It’s also an excellent travel guide if you’d like to visit haunted places in southeastern Pennsylvania. Ms. Hull has even included a chapter about local, haunted bed-and-breakfasts. (My “gut feeling” is that Kennett House — in Kennett Square, PA — is worth staying at for a couple of nights.)

Some people are good ghost researches. Others are good writers. In Brandywine Valley Ghosts, Ms. Hull proves that she is both. My harshest criticism of this book is that it wasn’t long enough. I wanted more stories. The variety and personality in each chapter kept me turning the pages.

I look forward to reading additional books by Laurie Hull, and I hope that she’s working on another one right now.

— reviewed by Fiona Broome

Read more reviews of Brandywine Valley Ghosts at Amazon.com

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