Marc Hoover: Ghost of Zona Heaster returned for vengeance in the late 1800s

In 1896, a young woman from Greenbrier County, West Virginia named Zona Heaster, 23, met a handsome blacksmith named Trout Shue, 35. Whether it was simply love at first site or lust, the romance between the couple wouldn’t last long or end well.

Zona didn’t really know enough about the man who had captured her heart. It would be a fatal mistake.

Marc Hoover

Trout Shue had a sordid past. Zona Heaster had just become wife number three. His first marriage was to a woman named Ellen Cutlip. The marriage lasted under five years and ended in divorce. The troubled union produced a daughter who was raised by Ellen’s family. 

Five years later, Shue married Lucy Tritt. Less than a year later, Lucy was dead. There aren’t any official records about her death, but the town gossips had assumed her death was no accident. Supposedly, she was either poisoned or struck in the head by Trout Shue. But then authorities didn’t file any charges against Shue since there was no evidence proving foul play.

Sometime between his first and second marriages, Shue spent two years in prison for stealing a horse.

After Tritt’s death, Shue moved to Greenbrier County in search of a new life away from the gazes of nosy neighbors. He soon found work as a blacksmith. After a brief two-week romance, Trout and Zona married. Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, however, didn’t support the union.

On January 23, 1897, a local boy who did chores for the Shues found Zona’s body at the bottom of a staircase. The boy raced home to tell his mother. She sent for Doctor George Knapp to help Zona. After the doctor arrived, he found that Trout had laid Zona’s body on their bed and changed her clothing. He didn’t seem too broken up about losing his wife.

Doctor Knapp examined Zona and ruled she had died of a heart attack. Zona was soon buried, but not forgotten by Mary Jane Heaster. She didn’t agree with the doctor’s findings and believed Trout had killed Zona. Mary Jane prayed for a divine intervention to prove her daughter was murdered.

A month after Zona’s death, her spirit appeared to Mary Jane for four straight nights. The ghost told Mary Jane how she had argued with Trout on the day she died. He attacked her and then killed her by breaking her neck. To make a point, the ghost of Zona’s head was turned backwards.

Mary Jane realized her daughter wanted justice for her murder. Mary Jane decided to make sure her evil son-in-law wouldn’t get away with killing Zona.

Mary Jane went to John Alfred Preston, the prosecutor who initially refused to reopen the case. After much badgering from Mary Jane, Preston ordered Zona Shue’s corpse to be unearthed and re-examined by Doctor Knapp.

After carefully examining the body, the doctor confirmed that Zona had died of a broken neck. Afterward, authorities arrested Trout Shue and charged him with first-degree murder. The case appeared to be an uphill battle because it was based on circumstantial evidence.

What I found most unusual is how the prosecutor couldn’t share details about a ghostly visit from Zona Shue with the jury. But Zona Shue wouldn’t be silenced. Her voice would find its way from the grave and into the courthouse.

To discredit Mary Jane, the defense attorney brought up the ghostly visit of Zona to persuade the jury that Mary Jane was delusional. The strategy failed because the jury believed Zona had indeed returned to tell her mother the truth. Trout Shue was convicted and received life imprisonment. He died in prison sometime in March 1900.

It’s been said nothing is more powerful than the bond between a mother and her child. Mary Jane Heaster made sure the man who murdered her daughter would spend his final days in a jail cell.

Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page at He also wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on