In January 1897 Greenbriar County, West Virginia, Zona Heaster Shue has died. A young bride, married just two months earlier to the strapping blacksmith, Edward (known as Trout) Shue a mere two weeks after they met. Now she lay dead on the floor at the foot of the stairs.
An hour after the discovery of her body the doctor appeared only to find Trout had moved her into the bedroom and dressed her for her funeral. The husband was too distraught to allow the doctor to do more than a cursory examination of the young woman.
Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, was devastated by her daughter's death and was suspicious of Trout. Many people noticed that during the wake he kept the others away, not allowing any to really see her body well. He had placed a large scarf around her neck, saying it was her favorite and would have wanted it to be used. A sheet had been placed in the coffin to cover the body and a veil covered
The sheet was removed just before interment. Mary Jane took it home and washed it. She was startled when the water turned red and the sheet became pink. Though she boiled it in water and hung it on the line, the stain persisted. Mary Jane was convinced her daughter had indeed been murdered, a thought shared by many of her neighbors.
Mary Jane prayed fervently for her daughter to come see her and tell what had happened. A short time later her prayers were answered when Zona came to her one night. Over the course of four nights Zona told her mother that Trout was indeed a mean man. They had argued that day and he grabbed her by the throat and strangled her.
Not one to sit idly by, Mary Jane went to the prosecutor, demanding he take action against Trout, relating what Zona had told her. The prosecutor was not one to rely on dreams to solve a crime. But he was aware of some of the rumors making the rounds. He decided to make the rounds, talking to those who could be involved. The doctor admitted to a limited examination due to Trout's distress over Zona's death.
It also didn't take long to dig back into Trout's life. They discovered Zona was his third wife. His first left him after a short marriage because of his whipping up on her. He married again and his second wife died mysteriously just a few months later. When the law told Trout they were checking into Zona's death he replied to the effect, "They'll never prove I did it."
During the trial the prosecutor did not mention Mary Jane's conversations with Zona. However, his defense attorney knew of her statements and spent a lot of time asking her about it on the stand in an effort to paint her as unstable and unreliable. She answered all his questions and never varied her statements. His efforts didn't work, though, for the jury didn't take a lot of time to find him guilty.
Trout got life in prison as his sentence, and died only three years later, possibly of measles.
On her gravestone there is engraved the following: "only known case where a ghost's testimony sent a man to prison." Outside town, on Highway 60, is a roadside plaque with a short statement of the death and trial.
Zona had not testified, of course, and normally the statements her mother testified to would not have been allowed. After all, Zona was not available for questions. However, since the defense attorney elicited her statements, the judge said he had to allow them.