Sam Black Church/Lewisburg, Greenbrier County
Written by: Matthew A. Perry
Greenbrier County, West Virginia is a bucolic, outdoor lover's dream. The natural beauty of the Mountain State is no more prevelant than along the shining riverside of the mighty Greenbrier River. It is a rural county with very few large towns, so mountain culture and lore is important to the inhabitants of the area. Hidden in the beauty and the outdoor pursuits, is one of the strangest tales in American history.
Near the turn of the 20th century, the small, unincorporated town of Sam Black Church, would see the unexplained death of a local young woman. Zona Heaster was a 24 year old girl that worked in a local store. A new man in town started coming around, Edward Shue, and they soon fell in love. Despite the objections of her mother, Zona married Edward after a short engagement.
Things went fine for the newlyweds early on, but Mary Jane Heaster, Zona's mother, despised her new son-in-law. On January 23, 1897, Edward sent a local boy on an errand to his home. When the local boy arrived there was no answer at the door. The boy noticed that the door was ajar and slowly opened it wider. To his horror, he found the lifeless body of Mrs. Shue lying at the foot of the stairs. Her body position was quite odd, she laid out with her feet together and her hands on her chest. Not quite the positon one usually finds a victim from a fall. The local Doctor/Coroner, Dr. Knapp is called in to perform the autopsy.
During the autopsy, Mr. Shue was doting over the body of his dearly departed causing the Dr. much aggrivation. Every time that the Dr. would try and examine the neck of Mrs. Shue, Mr. Shue would become bilidgerant. Even with the odd behavior of Mr. Shue, Dr. Knapp ruled the death accidental and burial was set for two days later. As was common practice in rural areas, the wake was held in the front parlor of Mrs. Heaster's home. This was the tradition of "sitting up with the dead" that was popular near the turn of the century. The reasoning behind it was simple, there were many cases where rudimentary medical practitioners had declared people dead when they truly weren't. This led to many cases of people being buried alive. Unfortunately for Mrs. Shue, she was most assuredly dead. During the wake, Mr. Shue would not allow people to get near his wife. He had dressed her himself (quite out of the ordinary) in a high necked dressed. This behavior seemed odd, but noone attempted to re-open the case. Mrs. Shue was buried and life in Greenbrier County went on.
Life went on for everybody except Mrs. Heaster, she was convinced that her beloved daughter was murdered by Mr. Shue. This is where the story takes a paranormal turn. Starting a month after the burial, Mrs. Heaster claimed that her daughter came to her in a succession of dreams. She said that her ghost spun her head around fully to show that her neck was snapped. Mrs. Heaster pleaded with the local prosecutor to exhume the body and re-open the case. The prosecutor does so and the Dr. is allowed to examine the body without the interference of Mr. Shue. The Dr. finds that there was massive amounts of burising around Mrs. Shue's neck, finger prints on her neck and her windpipe was crushed. Mr. Shue was a blacksmith so he had the strength to crush her neck with his bare hands.
Charges of murder were brought against Shue and trial was held at the county seat of Lewisburg. The prosecution used cold hard facts, but the defense wanted to try and make Mrs. Heaster look like a crack-pot, the plan didn't work. Mr. Shue was convicted of murder and was sent to the infamous Moundsville State Penitentary written about earlier in this book. Mr. Shue was the first, and last, person ever convicted of murder in the United States on the testimony of a ghost. Only in West Virginia....