Elva Zona Heaster Ghost Creepily Convicts Her Husband of Murder

In 1897, a supernatural occurrence influenced and solved a murder investigation. This is not only a true story; it is a genuinely creepy one. After a young 24-year-old Elva Zona Heaster Shue had been found dead, the case was reopened when her mother claimed that Elva had appeared to her with an explanation of her murder. Surprisingly, this account was used to not only open the case; it ended up in the conviction of Elva’s husband, Erasmus Shue.

The Foreshadowing

Elva Zona Heaster had a child before her marriage to Erasmus Shue. Shue was divorced as well as a widower before his marriage. His first wife divorced him while he was jailed for stealing a horse. Later on, she told investigators that Erasmus had beaten her frequently during their marriage.  Shue’s second wife died of mysterious causes after only eight months of marriage. Shue was also heard boasting to prison mates that he was planning to marry seven different women throughout his lifetime. Somehow, this all went unnoticed until much later because Shue was a well-liked person in his town.

The Finding of Mrs. Shue

It was January 23 of 1897, only three months into Elva Zona Heaster’s and Erasmus’s marriage when a young neighbor boy discovered Elva’s lifeless body. He had been sent by Erasmus to see if she needed anything from the market. This fateful errand had the boy staring at poor Elva lying at the bottom of her staircase with her hand on her chest and her head tilted to the side. The boy thought she might have been asleep, so he called her name. When no response came, he was frightened and ran off to tell his mother about what he found. His mother immediately called a local doctor – George W. Knapp.

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The “Everlasting Faint.”

By the time Dr. Knapp was able to get to the house; Erasmus had returned home and washed the body, dressed her in a high neck dress with a stiff collar and put a veil over her face. The doctor attempted to inspect the body thoroughly for signs of how she died but when he needed to examine her neck and head, Erasmus sat cradling her head, crying and throwing a fit when the Dr. Knapp got close.

Not wanting to upset Erasmus more, he admitted that he found nothing wrong with her and proclaimed that the cause of death was an “everlasting faint.” Later, he changed this diagnosis to “complications from pregnancy” because he had treated Elva a couple weeks earlier and this seemed more accurate to him. In general, it was still a mystery to everyone how she died.

The Other Oddities

Before Elva’s body was taken for burial in her hometown of Little Sewell Mountain, there were some odd occurrences at her funeral. Some people noted that her head flopped around unusually when she was moved. Erasmus also was reported to have covered her neck with a scarf that didn’t match her burial clothing, but he claimed it was her favorite. He was also intent on propping her head up with not just a pillow, but a rolled up cloth as well. Then at the funeral, he kept walking back and forth in front of her casket and moving her head around.

The Power of Prayer

Elva Zona Heaster’s mother was a spiritual woman and not only did she strongly dislike Erasmus; she was convinced that he must have murdered her daughter. She had no proof of this, so she kept her mouth shut and simply prayed incessantly for the truth to come out. Her prayers were answered when she reportedly had a dream where her daughter appeared and told her the story of how she was murdered.

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Elva’s mother claims that the spirit of her daughter made the room cold and recounted how Erasmus used to abuse her. She also claimed that the ghost told her that Erasmus had gotten angry one night about not having meat for dinner and had attacked her and broken her neck. To demonstrate this, the ghost of Elva spun her head around completely.

The Case Reopened

The tale of the ghost appearance was not the sole reason the case was reopened but it did cause the local prosecutor, John Preston, to look into the case further. It is uncertain if Preston believed the story of the apparition that Mrs.  Heaster told him, but that along with the odd stories from Erasmus’ neighbors and finding out that the examination of Elva’s body was incomplete, gave him enough information to investigate further.

The Confirmation

The autopsy confirmed the ghost’s story – that Elva Zona Heaster died from a broken neck and being strangled, so Preston was able to take Erasmus to trial. Although he had no witnesses and no actual proof that Erasmus killed Elva, he had a strong case against him after digging up his history with former wives and learning of his odd behavior at the doctor’s inspection and the funeral.

The Trial

Preston did not plan to share Mrs. Heaster’s supernatural story with the court but Erasmus’ lawyer actually opened up the subject when he questioned her. Theoretically, the defense attorney was probably trying to make her sound unreliable and crazy, but this backfired on him since it struck a chord with the jury and the community. Erasmus also acted oddly on the stand that made him look even more suspect. After only a little over an hour of deliberation, the jury proclaimed Erasmus guilty.

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The Story Lives On

Erasmus ended up dying in prison, and Mrs. Heaster stayed steadfast about her story of the ghost, so the story is still held as true to this day. A commemorative monument was made in the county much later to bring attention to this unusual story and claims that it is the only case in history where a ghost was a key witness in convicting a murderer. Whether people believe Mrs. Heaster’s story or not, it is true that without that story, she wouldn’t have gone to the prosecutor and the case would never have been re-opened.