The 1897 Schoolhouse Autopsy & the Greenbrier Ghost
Poor Zona Shue had been found lying at the bottom of the staircase in her home in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. The year was 1897 and she had only been married about a year to a blacksmith trained drifter named Edward Shue. Folks around those parts called him Trout and Zona’s own mother didn’t trust him as far she could throw him. She was correct in her assumption, as her daughter would suffer the ultimate price with her life.
On January 23, 1897, Zona’s body was discovered inside of her house by a young boy named Andy Jones. He had found Zona lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs in her home. Andy ran home to tell his mother and the word spread quickly that Zona was deada young girl just in her twenties. The local doctor, George Knapp, was brought to the house but by the time he arrived, Edward had carried his dead wife’s body upstairs and had laid her out on their bed. He had changed her clothes and put her in her very best dress, which had a high stiff neck. Edward, apparently stricken with immense grief, was sobbing and holding his wife’s head as Dr. Knapp tried to examine her. Because of Edward’s obvious grief, the doctor gave the body only a perfunctory examination but he did notice some bruising on her neck. As he tried to look closer, her husband reacted so violently that Knapp ended the examination. He stated her cause of death as “everlasting faint” and then changed it to “childbirth” as that was a plausible cause.
Zona’s mother, Mary, thought otherwise and believed Edward had committed the horrific crime of murder. “The devil has killed her,” she reportedly said. During the ceremony, Trout allowed no one to get close to the coffin, especially while he was placing a pillow on one side of her head so that his wife could “rest easier.” He also tied a large scarf around her neck and explained that it “had been Zona’s favorite.” Mary was hard pressed to believe her son-in-law’s apparent grief at the time and her thoughts were sadly soon validated. Weeks after Zona’s burial, she was visited by the spirit of her daughter claiming she had been murdered.
Mary went to the local prosecutor hoping she could convince him to re-open the investigation into her beloved daughter’s death. She offered the visitations from her daughter’s spirit as evidence that an error in justice had occurred. Prosecutor Preston agreed to speak with Dr. Knapp and a few others involved in this unusual case with testimony from a spirit. The now possible murder investigation did get re-opened.
Days later, an exhumation was ordered and an inquest jury was assembled. The autopsy was performed in the old Nickell School House. The children were dismissed on the day of February 22, 1897, when the body of Zona Shue was exhumed and brought inside. It was reported in the local newspaper that Trout “vigorously complained” about the exhumation but it was made clear to him that he would be forced to attend the inquest if he did not go willingly. In rebuttal, he replied that he knew that he would be arrested, “but they will not be able to prove I did it.” This careless statement indicated that he at least had knowledge that his wife had been murdered.
The autopsy lasted for three hours with the doctors working under the dimming light of kerosene lamps. A group of five men had been assembled to watch the autopsy which was carried out by the standard methods albeit in a rural mountain area. “We have found your wife’s neck to have been broken,” one of the physicians offered to Trout. His head reportedly dropped and an expression of sadness crossed over his face. “They cannot prove that I did it,” he whispered in the darkness.
A report listed in the newspaper observed, “the discovery was made that the neck was broken and the windpipe mashed. On the throat were the marks of fingers. The neck was dislocated between the first and second vertebrae. The ligaments were torn and ruptured. The windpipe had been crushed at a point in front of the neck.”
Edward Trout Shue was arrested and charged with murder. He was locked up in jail in Lewisburg where he was eventually indicted by a grand jury and was formally arraigned for murder. He immediately entered a plea of “not guilty” but the testimony offered by Zona’s mother and her spirit visit along with evidence shown at the schoolhouse autopsy, was damning. Edward was transferred to the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville where he served until his death in 1900. Zona’s memory still lives on and is noted on a historical road maker near her burial site. She is known as the Greenbrier Ghost.
Sherri Brake is a paranormal researcher, author and Haunted Heartland Tour owner. You may email her at SherriBrake@gmail.com or visit her website at www.HauntedHistory.net