Elva Zona Heaster’s Ghostly Testimony

Greenbrier Ghost

Late October is a great time for ghost hunting… and not just on Halloween.

October 20th is also the wedding anniversary of Elva Zona Heaster and her murdering husband, “Trout” Shue.

If I were to investigate her grave (or his), I’d be there on October 20th. Anniversaries usually trigger extra ghostly activity. And, when the wedding soon led to murder… well, that improves the odds of an eerie graveside investigation.

Elva Zona “Zonie” Heaster is one of the few documented, ghostly detectives. According to her mother – and the jury at Trout’s trial – Elva solved her own murder.

elva zona heaster
Possible photo of Elva (may have been taken after her murder)

Elva was born in 1873 at Greenbrier, West Virginia (USA) to Jacob Hedges Heaster (1847 – 1917) and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson (1849 – 1916).

Elva was one of nine children in the family, and the elder of two girls. (Elva’s sister Lennie was born seven years after Elva.)

Elva was also one of the county’s most beautiful young women.

Her first boyfriend was Albert Carr. (He later married – twice – and named his daughters Elva and Zona. So, it seems like he never quite got over Elva Zona Heaster.)

Elva may have married George Woldridge. They had a baby boy in November 1895. The child may have died or been raised by someone else. The records aren’t clear about the baby’s fate, if George was Elva’s husband, or what happened to George.

A year later, Elva fell in love with Erasmus Stribbling “Trout” Shue, who’d been born in 1861 in Augusta, Virginia. (His parents were Jacob and Elizah Shue.)

elva and husband
Elva Zona Heaster and Trout Shue, in happier times

Evidence suggests that “Trout” was a heart breaker – and perhaps a wife-murderer – even before he arrived in town and courted Elva.

Trout had already been married to Allis (or Allie) Estilline Cutlip, Lucy A. Tritt, Ellen Estilline Cutlip, and Annie Williams. (Ellen and Allis may have been one person. Like many records of that time, spelling errors are commonplace.)

His first marriage (to Allis) ended in divorce, with cruelty cited.

His second wife (Lucy) died suddenly, hit on the head “by a falling brick.”

It seems as if most of Trout’s neighbors believed he’d killed Lucy, but they had no proof.

The other one or two wives… I haven’t found records for either of them, yet.

So, Elva was Trout’s fourth or fifth wife. (Apparently, his goal was to marry seven women.)

Trout was described as a drifter, and worked as a blacksmith near Elva’s home.

The couple married on October 20th, 1896, about a year after Elva’s baby (with George Woldridge) had been born.

From the start, it appears that Elva’s mother was uneasy about the ever-so-charming Mr. Shue.  In fact, some accounts say that Mrs. Heaster hated Trout on sight.

Then, on January 23rd, 1897 – shortly after the couple had been married just three months – Trout sent a boy to the Shue house on an errand. The boy found Elva, dead at the foot of the stairs.

By the time the doctor arrived, Trout had already brought Elva upstairs to her bed, wrapped her neck in a bright-colored scarf, and generally prepared the body for burial.

(The reference to the scarf, and the odd, flat appearance of Elva’s hair, face, and neck, suggest that the photo – near the top of this article – was taken after she’d died. Postmortem photos were common in some regions, as a memento of the deceased.)

Because Trout seemed so distraught at his wife’s death, the doctor did only a cursory examination. He decided that Elva had fainted and fallen down the stairs to her death.

(Only later were questions raised about the blood near her body, and the possibility that she was pregnant when she was killed.)

Elva was buried in an unmarked grave at Soule Chapel cemetery.

About a month after Elva’s death, over a period of four nights, her spirit appeared to her mother, Mrs. Heaster.

Elva’s mother said that Elva looked like she was “flesh and blood,” not a ghost.

Elva explained to her mother that Trout had killed her. To confirm that she spoke the truth, Elva told her mother several things that her mother could not have known at the time . And, to demonstrate that Trout had broken her neck, Elva (the ghost) rotated her head in a full circle.

Elva’s mother visited the sites Elva had named, and verified the details that Elva had shared. Everything confirmed that Elva’s spirit really had visited her mother.

So, Mrs. Heaster went to the county prosecutor and convinced him to open Elva’s grave for an autopsy.

As expected, it turned out that Elva’s neck was broken, but her windpipe had been crushed as well. She hadn’t been the victim of a fall.

Trout was charged with murder. On July 11th, 1897, he was sentenced to life in prison, where he died of an unknown epidemic on March 11th, 1900.

Elva’s mother’s story never wavered. She always insisted that her daughter’s ghost had appeared to her, and revealed the murder.

The story is so odd, I believe her.

Where is Trout Shue buried?

His body is in an unmarked grave near West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville. (That retired prison is open for tours, as well as overnight investigations.)

If you’d like to investigate the prison cemetery, it’s part of Whitegate Cemetery. You’ll find it along Tom’s Run, about 3/4 of a mile from the main route into Moundsville on Fourth Street.

Where is Elva Zona Heaster Shue buried?

To investigate Zona’s grave, go to Soule Chapel Methodist Cemetery. It’s in Meadow Bluff, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, off the old Kanawha Turnpike. (I recommend checking other parts of that cemetery, as well. She’s probably in the family plot, but – since the grave was unmarked for more than 80 years – it’s not her guaranteed location.)

The Man Who Wanted Seven WivesMore reading and resources

For the full story, read The Man Who Wanted Seven Wives – The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897. That book presents the most thorough account of the entire story.

Haunted HomelandOr, if you’d like to read more about the Greenbrier Ghost and others, I recommend Haunted Homeland: A Definitive Collection of North American Ghost Stories.

The writing style is colorful and the stories are well-researched.

[PA] Gettysburg 2013 – Still Active

Civil War statue at Gettysburg - Gettysburg ghostsThe biggest Gettysburg celebrations may be over for the summer, but I’d expect extra ghostly activity for several months. Re-enactments tend to stir up paranormal energy.  The bigger and more authentic the celebration, the more intense the hauntings during the event, and the longer the ghostly phenomena seem to linger.

If I were researching at Gettysburg, I’d visit the most popular haunts.  However, the problem is: Too much modern-day energy can dilute the older energy at the site.  That’s always an issue with haunted sites that attract a lot of attention (and ghost hunters).  Less-explored haunted locations may be better for serious investigations.

So, I’d also explore the off-the-beaten-path locations around Gettysburg and vicinity.  (They include the real haunts around Burkittsville, Maryland, made famous by the Blair Witch Project.  Burkittsville is 56 miles — about an hour’s drive — from Gettysburg.  See my articles: The real “Blair Witch” ghosts – Part One and Part Two.)

If you’re heading to Gettysburg for ghost hunting, the following article lists the top 10 haunts at Gettysburg.

Top 10 ghost-heavy spots: Gettysburg 150 (link no longer works)
PennLive.com, on Fri, 28 Jun 2013 08:24:31 -0700
We asked Gettysburg Ghost Tours, After Dark Investigations, Haunted Gettysburg Ghost Tours, Ghostly Images of Gettysburg and Mark Nesbitt’s Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours for the spots in Gettysburg with the most paranormal activity.

Here’s one person’s views of Gettysburg hauntings:

Haunted Gettysburg: How Can We Deny the Authenticity of Other Worldly Spirits …
Student Operated Press, on Fri, 05 Jul 2013 04:54:38 -0700
After studying the Battle of Gettysburg intensely for more than two weeks, I`m convinced this scene experiencing three days of intense fighting between the Blue and Grey, is HAUNTED beyond description or belief! The basis for an abundance of paranormal …

If you’re looking for Gettysburg ghost tours, this summarizes the top six.

Six Gettysburg ghost hunting tours: Gettysburg 150
Patriot-News, on Fri, 28 Jun 2013 07:23:01 -0700
Gettysburg Ghost Tours has multiple guides, including Johlene “Spooky” Riley, the host of the “Ghostly Encounters” radio show. It is located at 47 Steinwehr Ave. Cost: $8 adults, $5 youth. Ghost Hunts are $30 and $55. www.gettysburgghosttours.com; …

Related videos

The first video is a 10-minute slideshow of various “ghost photos.”  While I can suggest normal reasons for many of them (the first could be breath, the third could be hair), a few of the photos are worth serious consideration.

This next video is a well-produced, nine-minute, set of first-person stories about visiting the site of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The story told by the three men sound like a credible encounter with a residual energy haunting.  It’s unlikely that the same visual imagery would occur, over and over again.  In fact, the third man describes it as a “loop.”

As the tale continues, the conflicting numbers — and how Rich Mendoza explains them — are curious… and a little chilling.

I believe something weird happened to those men. Whether their story is entirely true or not,  it’s a great ghost story.

Planning to visit Gettysburg? Here are a few useful links for tourists:

Brandywine Valley Ghosts

hull-brandywineghostsBrandywine Valley Ghosts by Laurie Hull

3-half-stars

This is a fun book to read whether you’re a ghost hunter or someone who enjoys real ghost stories.

REVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

  • Chilling, true ghost stories
  • Good tips for ghost hunters
  • An entertaining book for all readers

Ms. Hull is the kind of ghost hunter and author that I admire. In this book, she mixes well-researched history, chilling ghost stories, amusing anecdotes, and first-person encounters with ghosts. There’s something for every ghost enthusiast.

This book features many photos. Some are excellent, and I’d question others. In a way, that’s typical of ghost research; no two people will get excited about the same photos. In fact, if I see too many startling photos, I question their integrity. This book seems to include a good balance of convincing, eerie and, “Well, maybe…” photos.

I especially like the stories in which Ms. Hull explores sites that have quirky folklore. Her visit to the Ticking Tomb is a wonderful anecdote. As preposterous as some ghost stories are, they’re always worth checking in person. Her experience is classic.

This is an ideal book if you like to read true ghostly encounters.

It’s also an excellent travel guide if you’d like to visit haunted places in southeastern Pennsylvania. Ms. Hull has even included a chapter about local, haunted bed-and-breakfasts. (My “gut feeling” is that Kennett House — in Kennett Square, PA — is worth staying at for a couple of nights.)

Some people are good ghost researches. Others are good writers. In Brandywine Valley Ghosts, Ms. Hull proves that she is both. My harshest criticism of this book is that it wasn’t long enough. I wanted more stories. The variety and personality in each chapter kept me turning the pages.

I look forward to reading additional books by Laurie Hull, and I hope that she’s working on another one right now.

— reviewed by Fiona Broome

Read more reviews of Brandywine Valley Ghosts at Amazon.com

NY and PA – Haunted Colleges

Ghosts are almost “normal” in many eastern seaboard states.

At times, it seems as if the entire northeastern United States is profoundly haunted.

If that’s true, it may be due to the northeast’s history. The more dramatic an area’s history, the more opportunities for ghosts and ghost stories.

In a part of the country with over 300 years of documented history — much of it violent from colonial times through 1812, and later — the odds of hauntings increase.

In addition, some people speculate that the northeast’s huge quartz deposits act as ‘magnets’ for ghosts and hauntings.

Colleges are especially likely to have ghosts. (See my article, College Ghosts – Reality and Urban Legends.)

Here are some well-known schools, colleges and universities in NY and PA that report ghosts:

New York

  • Albany – Sage Colleges of Albany.  I’d closely examine the history of the Albany Home for Children at New Scotland, and how the dynamics changed when the site became the home of the Albany Division, educating soldiers returning from World War II.
  • Albany – The College of Saint Rose.  If you’re investigating there, study the history of William Keeler, as well as any paranormal patterns connected with buildings by Frank J. Morgan.  Consider a closer look at his history when building Albertus Hall and Science Center, and if anything odd happened among the building crew.
  • Albany – University of Albany – Mohican Hall and Pierce Hall have the most reports.
  • Alfred – State University of New York – Alfred Mackenzie Complex.
  • Allegany – St. Bonaventure – Francis Hall. Allegany is on a ley line that extends from Barne and Newmarket (Ontario, Canada) through Toronto and past St. Catharines, then into the U.S. through Buffalo and then to Allegany.
  • Annandale-on-Hudson – Bard College‘s Blithewood Mansion (the Levy Economics Institute) reports ghosts.  It’s unusual to have such dramatic reports at a building associated with the study of economics.  Students working with math are usually more left-brained and less prone to diagnose paranormal activity.
  • Aurora – Wells College. Most of the stories are about the main building.
  • Brockport – State University of New York.  Several reports, mostly about Hartwell Hall.  It’s one of the oldest buildings on campus, originally a training center for teachers, called Brockport Normal School.
  • Bronx – Fordham University. This university reports so many ghosts at so many locations, I’d be very interested in the history of the land beneath it, or the site’s earlier history.  This is in the category I describe as too many stories per square foot.  There’s a bigger story at this location, and it’s not just about the individual ghost reports.
  • Bronxville – Concordia College.  This is another college with a few too many ghost stories.  Look at the history of the site, perhaps as far back as Native American activity, and the first settlers.
  • Buffalo – Canisius College has ghost stories about Griffin Hall and the village townhouses.  However, nearby neighborhoods have an unusually high number of reported hauntings.  The major, ghostly ley line that goes through Buffalo may explain some — but not all — of what’s going on there.
  • Buffalo – D’Youville College. The increased ghost reports since 2004 may be attributed to the popularity of the Ghost Hunters TV series, but I’d also look at the impact of the Hungarian exchange program, and ghost story traditions integrated among American students.
  • Buffalo – Medaille College reports residual energy hauntings, with images from the early- to mid-20th century. Like Brockport’s State University of New York, this was originally the site of a teachers’ college for women.
  • Canton – St. Lawrence University‘s governors and administration are firm:  Despite reports, there are no ghosts at St. Lawrence University. If the site has paranormal activity, I’d look for its roots in the V-12 Navy College Training Program at the university, around World War II.  Many of those students became officers and went to war with honor.  There have been many reports of ghosts connected with officers who went to war with high expectations, and may have wished they were back at their previous locations.
  • Cazenovia – Cazenovia College.  If you’re investigating there, first study its history and the frequent changes of name (all of them seminaries) starting in 1824. I always look for “what’s odd?”  The series of seminaries… that’s odd.
  • West Point – U.S. Military Academy
    Several buildings have reported ghosts, including the Superintendent’s House and the area around the 47th Division/4th Regiment barracks.
  • [If you know of other profoundly haunted campuses in NY, let us know with the contact form, linked above.]

Pennsylvania

Because Pennsylvania has considerable Colonial and mining history, it’s a perfect place to find ghosts. These are just a few of many colleges in PA with great ghost stories:

  • Allentown – Muhlenberg College
    Bernheim House is reportedly haunted by its former owner.
  • Allentown – Cedar Crest College
  • Bethlehem – Lehigh University
    According to stories, Linderman Library is visited by an annoying male ghost.
  • Doylestown – Bucks County Community College
    Tyler Hall may be haunted by Stella Tyler, for whom the building was named.
  • Easton – Churchman’s Business College
    She hasn’t been seen for many years, but according to stories, a woman haunted the old First Presbyterian Church, which is now part of the college.
  • East Stroudsburg – University of Pennsylvania
    Several haunting are reported here. They include ghosts at the Fine Arts Center, at Hawthorne Residence Hall, at Phi Sigma Kappa, and at Sigma Pi.
  • Gettysburg – Gettysburg College
    This college has too many ghost stories to list here. Many are from the Civil War era, as you would expect in this famous town.
  • Kutztown – Kutztown State College
    A 19th-century student apparently haunts Old Main, the administration building. A woman who once lived in Whiteoak Street may have haunted that building, too.
  • University Park – PA State University
    A ghost of a mule, once a sort-of mascot for the school, is reported at Watts Hall. Runkle Hall experienced poltergeist phenomena in the mid-1990’s.

For more about haunted colleges, see my articles tagged “Colleges – US” or search for “colleges” in the Search form at the top of this page.

Also see my article, College ghosts – reality and urban legends.

[MD] Burkittsville – The real ‘Blair Witch’ ghosts – part two

This continues the stories
about the real ghosts and spirits
that haunt the site of The Blair Witch Project.
Be sure to read The real ‘Blair Witch’ ghosts – part one.)

Hauntings are almost guaranteed at any site that’s witnessed battles, suffering… and graves where the dead were not allowed to rest.

Burkittsville and vicinity have all of these from Civil War times.

By 1862, wounded and dying Civil War soldiers in this area were placed in as many as 17 makeshift hospitals. Some of those “hospitals” were actually Burkittsville homes and businesses,  including the town’s tannery.

The soldiers’ ghostly voices are still heard throughout the town, but the tannery is particularly significant.

The tannery was torn down, but the site is still haunted. Anyone who parks his car there overnight may find the vehicle marked with footprints from soldiers’ boots, where the car was kicked or even trampled by the ghosts of marching men.

But there are other ghosts in the area, too.

Stories–loudly proclaimed as “fiction” by some Burkittsville historians–explain why the area may be haunted.

In one account, the retreating Confederate Army paid a man named Wise to bury approximately 50 bodies. Mr. Wise accepted the money, but then tossed the bodies in an abandoned well.

Shortly thereafter, he began seeing the ghost of Sergeant Jim Tabbs of Virginia, who complained to Mr. Wise about being uncomfortable. Mr. Wise returned to the mass grave and discovered that the body on top was that of Sergeant Tabbs, and the corpse was face down. Mr. Wise turned the body so it was facing upwards.

He thought that would be the last of it.

He was very wrong.

Perhaps the spirits of these men revealed the truth to the local officials. Whatever the cause, the authorities confronted Mr. Wise. They forced him to dig up–and properly bury–the fifty bodies that had been left in his care.

Stories say the ghosts never bothered him again, but did they truly rest in peace?

Many other fallen Southern soldiers were left behind as a necessity of war. The good people of Burkittsville recognized that something must be done for the dead, so they buried them in shallow graves. The local residents expected that, once the fighting stopped, the troops would return to bury the men properly.

When the fighting stopped, no one returned for these comrades’ bodies. Finally most — and perhaps all — of the bodies temporarily buried in the older section of Burkittsville’s Union Cemetery, were exhumed in 1868 and re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery.

Was this sufficient to put their souls at rest? According to Troy Taylor in his book, Spirits of the Civil War, there have been odd and ghostly occurrences in the vicinity of those shallow graves. Many nights since then, eerie lights from long-extinguished campfires appear in the nearby open fields, and dot the mountainside.

However, the mountainside is also the source of a ghostly energy that visitors to Burkittsville can experience even now. Its history is one of the great stories of the Civil War.

At sunrise on Sunday, September 14, 1862, both the Union and Confederate soldiers expected to surprise each other with an attack. It was later known as the Battle for Crampton’s Gap, but the location is now called “Spook Hill.”

On that fateful morning, the Union soldiers carried only rifles into battle. They were able to travel faster than their Confederate counterparts, who were still pushing cannons uphill when the fighting began. The Union Army’s First Division, Sixth Corps, were overwhelmingly successful in battle.

Many Confederate soldiers died struggling with the heavy cannons. Their lingering spirits are the “spooks” of Spook Hill.

The site of this battle can be found at the edge of Burkittsville, near the Civil War Correspondents’ Memorial Arch, in Gathland Park. If you stop your car at Spook Hill and set it in neutral, you will feel the car being pushed by the spectral hands of the Confederate troops.

They are still struggling to push their cannons to the top of the hill, and achieve victory in the battle which they lost over 130 years ago.

In public, Burkittsville residents claim that this is merely an optical illusion. However, a local resident, Stephen, quietly assures me that the road has been tested using construction levels and transits. Cars do indeed roll uphill, though not as readily as they did before the road was recently repaved.

trees-haunted-pennymathewsOthers insist that the hill is magnetic, and that force is what pulls the cars towards the top. No one has successfully tested that theory yet.

If Spook Hill contains massive amounts of a magnetic ore, this would explain why Heather’s compass did not work properly in the movie, The Blair Witch Project.

Nevertheless, with ghostly campfires, bodies in dry wells and shallow graves, footprints at the former tannery/hospital, and the events at Spook Hill, the tale of what happened to three college students in The Blair Witch Project seems almost pale by comparison to real life.

For more information about haunted Burkittsville and vicinity, ask your local library for these books and videos:

Websites about Burkittsville, and Civil War ghosts:

    • Burkittsville, Maryland’s website
    • Cathe’s Ghost Encounters of the Civil War Kind
    • Author Troy Taylor’s website, Ghosts of the Prairie
    • Ghostly photos, including some from Gettysburg, appear at the Ghost Web site (IGHS)

This two-part article originally appeared at Suite 101, in November 1999.

Photo credits:
Foggy sunrise, by Steven Soenens
Stone Angel, by Brenda Mihalko
Campfire, by Niels Timmer
Skull, by Benjamin Earwicker of Garrison Photography
Trees, by Penny Mathews

[MD] Burkittsville – The real ‘Blair Witch’ ghosts – part one

By now, most people know what’s fact and fiction in the movie, The Blair Witch Project.

Cannon at battleground near Burkittsville - Blair Witch countryHowever, few know the actual haunted history of Burkittsville, Maryland, where the movie was set.

The town began as “Dawson’s Purchase” in 1741. In the 1790’s, Joshua Harley and Henry Burkitt arrived in the area. From the start, they competed to control and eventually name the town.

Although Burkitt owned three-quarters of the land by 1810, the competition seemed concluded in 1824 when Harley secured the official Post Office as “Harley’s Post Office.”

However, Joshua Harley’s death in 1828 left Burkitt with the last word. He named the town Burkittsville before he, too, died in 1836.

The participants in this 40+ year rivalry may haunt the town, but there are far better explanations for Burkittsville’s ghostly spirits.

In fact, paranormal events and tragedy cover more than 100 years of Burkittsville’s history.

gargoyle-nidaros-sculptureAs early as 1735, nearby Middletown was settled by German immigrants.

According to legends repeated in the Middletown Valley Register in the early 20th century, the community was terrorized by a monster called a Schnellegeister.

The word means “fast spirit or ghost” in German, but neighbors nicknamed it the “Snallygaster.”

Whatever its name, its colonial reputation mixed the half-bird features of the Siren with the nightmarish features of demons and ghouls.

The Snallygaster was described as half-reptile with octopus limbs, and half-bird with a metallic beak lined with razor-sharp teeth. It can fly. It can pick up its victims and carry them off. The earliest stories claim that this monster sucked the blood of its victims.

It is disturbingly similar to the movie’s descriptions of the Blair Witch.

No one knows whether the Snallygaster caused the hasty sale of most of “Dawson’s Purchase” (later Burkittsville) in 1786, and the remainder in 1803. However, George Wine, who bought the final acreage, did not live to confirm the purchase.

The name “Snallygaster” has been a joke to some in the 20th century, but more sober minds recall that it has been documented in the Burkittsville area as recently as 1973.

Another 18th century German settlement, Zittlestown, a mere seven miles north of Burkittsville, was also plagued with supernatural events. Like Middletown, residents feared a large and vicious animal-spirit which was rarely seen.

An 1880’s book by Madaleine Dahlgren (widow of Admiral John A. Dahlgren), documented the troubles of that community.

However, most of Burkittsville’s ghosts are men who lost their lives in the Civil War.

Their stories, from an unscrupulous Civil War gravedigger to spectres of the dead who push cars uphill today, are in The Real ‘Blair Witch’ Ghosts – Part Two.

Photo credits:
Gettysburg at dawn, by Fiona Broome
Church sculpture, by Roar Petersen