Tag Archives: Evidence

FORENSIC HYPNOSIS FOR MEMORY ENHANCEMENT

A6Forensic hypnosis is the scientific application of memory enhancement—an investigational aid to law enforcement leads and admissible courtroom evidence. Hypnotic recall assists witnesses to reliably relay hidden details of events and descriptions that aren’t extracted through conventional interview techniques.

In my police career, I’ve had many cases using hypnotic memory enhancement. Several had amazing success.

A5I’m fascinated with the human mind. I think modern medicine and psychiatry are just beginning to understand the complexity of how our consciousness works. Hypnosis is a tool to assist in entering our subconscious and unlock the vault where memory is stored. Its magic is the ability to alter the subject’s state of consciousness which is what Shamanism is all about. But, then, Shamanism is for another discussion.

The best forensic hypnotherapist I’ve had the pleasure to work with is Dr. Lee Pulos of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Here’s how Dr. Pulos explains it.

A1“Hypnosis is a natural state of consciousness that we drift in and out of quite regularly. For example, while driving along a highway and then suddenly discovering that you ‘lost’ several miles without being aware of it. This can also happen during reading when you may notice that you have ‘read’ a chapter or two without being mindful of the content. Hypnosis is basically a technique for focusing consciousness by entering a deep state of absorption. It allows you to shift from your outer to inner awareness and tap deeper levels of consciousness so we can re-educate and reprogram the subconscious with empowering suggestions or beliefs.”

The word hypnosis comes from the name of a Greek god Hypnos, who presided over sleep. In the late1700s, Anton Mesmer brought the technique into popular consciousness in Europe and in 1843 Scottish physician James Braid coined the term hypnotism for the experience that was passing in many circles as animal magnetism.

A8Hypnosis places a person in a trance state that can resemble sleep, but instead is an altered state of consciousness more akin to lucid dreams. Often, people in a trance are quite alert but focused in a way that differs from their normal conscious state. Contrary to popular notions, subjects in a light trance are aware of everything going on.

A7I’ve seen a rough and tough biker-witness under hypnosis who was instructed to play “patty-cake” by clapping his hands on his knees.  He couldn’t stop laughing at the fact that he couldn’t control his hands, though he seemed perfectly conscious in a way that ought to have enabled him to resist the instruction. His hands changed to patting his head and stomach at the hypnotist’s instruction. They looked at each other the whole time and even had a conversation with his hands patting about.

The trance-state, which has its own ebb and flow, is the result of a trusting and cooperative process between the subject and the hypnotist. It’s not one person controlling another and there’s no way the hypnotist can make the subject do something they would not do while they’re in a normal state, such as an illegal or immoral act.

A9“Hypnosis,” says Kevin McConkey, President of the Australian Psychological Society and co-author of Hypnosis, Memory, and Behavior in Criminal Investigation, “is essentially a phenomenon that reflects genuinely experienced alterations of reality in response to suggestions administered by a hypnotist. The subject’s testimony is what confirms the trance, although susceptibility varies among individuals. Those who are highly suggestive will behave as if going through truly significant cognitive alterations.”

Hypnosis involves concentration that is heightened to the point where one can recall details that seemed to elude that same person in a conscious state. It’s a powerful forensic tool for criminal investigation, although some researchers challenge the notion that hypnosis leads to significant increases in memory.

There are two basic purposes for using forensic hypnosis.

The most common is inducing relaxation when anxiety and stress may obstruct a witness’s ability to recall as much information as possible. The second occurs when retrieval of information from witnesses cannot be acquired through other means.

A4The first court case involving forensic hypnosis was Cornell v. Superior Court of San Diego in 1959. Although forensic hypnosis is mostly used by prosecutors, in this particular court case, it was the defense that used hypnosis as an aid in preparing its strategy. Since then, many famous cases have used hypnosis as an aid, including the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, and Sam Sheperd.

Currently, no overriding judgment has been handed down regarding the admissibility of evidence achieved through forensic hypnosis and the use of hypnotic evidence varies between jurisdictions. Adding to the reliability problem is that solid evidence can be devalued as a result of unprofessional circumstances in obtaining evidence through hypnosis.

I remember one judge rejecting evidence from a witness who had been subject to hypnotic recall stating “There’s nothing more unreliable than an eyewitness, never mind one who is tainted by hocus-pocus.” One the other hand, I recall another judge being fascinated by the process and readily accepting witness evidence, particularly because the information obtained under hypnosis was corroborated by independent facts.

As in all types of evidence, the key is reliability.

To ensure solid forensic hypnosis used in criminal investigations is not devalued, it’s become standard and vital operating procedure that all hypnosis sessions are video/audio recorded and the session is witnessed by independent observers. To strengthen the case, the hypnosis must be performed by a trained forensic hypnotist.

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Before a forensic hypnotist is allowed to begin a session, one very important condition must be met. The subject must be assured that during the hypnotic session no attempt shall be made to elicit any information that is not directly relevant to the investigation. In addition, the forensic hypnotist must also assure the subject that no information retrieved will lead to self-incrimination.

Critics of forensic hypnotism center their attacks on the accuracy and reliability of the evidence that’s obtained. The concern is that suggestion(s) implanted during hypnotism may create false memories through the use of leading questions.

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One thing that a forensic hypnotist cannot do, and is never called to do, is to help a suspect confess to a crime. Not only is this impossible, but any confession arrived at through hypnosis would never be admissible in court.

Here’s a true case I investigated where forensic hypnosis for memory enhancement led to a break through in solving the crime. It was conducted by Dr. Lee Pulos.

A12In wintery April, a lady was alone in her cabin on a remote gold claim in northern British Columbia. A masked man with a handgun appeared at her door, demanding she hand over her gold stash. She refused. He proceeded to blindfold and hog-tie her, then began torturing by burning her hands and ribs with a red-hot knife heated on her wood stove.

Now this lady was one tough old bird, as you’d expect a gold miner to be. She later stated she’d worked so hard to build her gold stash that she’d “rather die than turn it over to this asshole.” Realizing his interrogation technique was going nowhere, the bad guy quit in frustration. He set the cabin on fire with her still tied, blindfolded, and left her to die. She was able to wiggle over and boot the door, then crawl outside where she laid in excruciating pain on the snow in sub-zero temperature until her husband returned.

Because this was such a horrific crime, we “pulled the stops”.

A13We flew her to Vancouver to undergo hypnosis with Lee Pulos. He was able to extract two things that led to solving the case. One, she recalled the bad guy was using a two-way radio or ‘communicator’, as she called it. Second, he used the term for her gold stash as being ‘squirreled away’.

A14Now knowing an accomplice was involved, we focused the investigation on a neighbor who’d been involved with a gold claim boundary dispute. We identified the suspect as a Hells Angels striker who’d been hired by the neighbor, so we ran a wiretap which caught him using the term ‘squirreled away’. This led to an elaborate, clandestine sting operation resulting in his confession to an undercover agent. He was convicted and got twenty years.

Like I said, I’ve always been fascinated with how the human mind works. One thing I’m positive about—there’s more to consciousness than modern medicine and psychiatry know—except for the Shamans.

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Dr. Leslie Gray is a professor at UCLA Berkley and the Core Shaman who’s altered states of consciousness teachings inspired “No Witnesses To Nothing”. Her website is www.WoodfishInstitute.com in San Fransisco.

But, then, Shamanism is for another discussion.

DID A DINGO REALLY GET HER BABY?

A10Azaria Chamberlain—a nine-week-old infant—disappeared from her family’s campsite at Ayers Rock (now called Uluru) in the central desert of Australia’s Northern Territory on August 17, 1980. Despite a massive search, Azaria’s body was never found and the question of whether she was taken from the tent by a wild dog or whether she was killed by her mother, Lynne (Lindy) Chamberlain, lingered on.

Lindy Chamberlain was charged with Azaria’s first-degree murder and convicted of her daughter’s slaying. After thirty-two years, eight legal proceedings, and tens of millions spent in the investigation, Lindy was finally exonerated by a coroner’s inquest that declared Azaria’s death was an accident—the result of a wild animal attack, to wit—a dingo.

The case was entirely circumstantial and supported by incriminating points of forensic evidence that convinced a jury to find Lindy Chamberlain guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But how credible were these “forensic facts”? Where did the case go wrong? And what led to Lindy’s conviction being overturned?

A3Lindy Chamberlain, 34, her husband Michael, 38, son Aidan, 6, son Reagan, 4, and infant Azaria were on a family vacation and pitched their tent in the Ayers Rock public campground at the famous World Heritage site. At eight p.m. and well after dark, Lindy finished breast-feeding Azaria and took her to the tent—thirty feet from the picnic table where she placed the baby in a bassinet and covered her with blankets. She’d taken Aidan with her and Reagan was already asleep inside.

Lindy went to their car that was parked beside the tent and got a can of baked beans to give Aidan as a bed-time snack, then returned with Aidan to Michael at the picnic table. At 8:15 p.m Azaria cried out. Concerned, Lindy walked toward the darkness of the tent-site and claimed she saw a dingo at the opening of the unzipped tent door. It appeared to have something in its mouth and was violently shaking its head.

Lindy hopped a short parking barricade which made the animal flee into the night. She checked inside the tent.  Azaria was gone and there were fresh blood stains on the floor, bedding, and other articles. Lindy rushed out, yelling to Michael and the other campers “Help! A dingo’s got my baby!

A19The adjacent campers formed a search party which was re-enforced by authorities and local residents, eventually totaling over three hundred volunteers including Aborigine expert trackers with their dogs. Dingo paw prints were noted in the sand outside the tent and a trail was followed which showed marks indicating a dingo was partly dragging an object, periodically setting it down to possibly rest or readjust its grip. (Azaria weighed just under ten pounds.) The trail indicated its destination was toward known dingo dens at the southwest base of Ayers Rock.

By daylight, no sign of the infant was found and the search was called off. The Chamberlain family cooperated in a preliminary investigation conducted by police from the nearest town of Alice Springs, then they returned home to Mount Isa.

A4Initially, there was no doubting the Chamberlains’ story. A dingo was seen in the campground before dark by campers. Others heard a dog growl minutes prior to the baby’s cry. They also heard Lindy’s scream “A dingo got my baby!” Further, the park ranger had warned that the dingo population was increasing and becoming very aggressive. And young Aidan backed up his mother’s story of going to the tent and the car, being with Lindy throughout.

The police investigation stopped. But, seven days later, a hiker found some of the garments Azaria was dressed in, nearly three miles away by the dingo dens. The clothes were a snap-buttoned jumpsuit, a singlet, and pieces of plastic diaper, or “nappy” as they say in Australia. Still missing was a “matinee” coat that Azaria wore overtop.

A17The examination found bloodstains on the upper part of the jumpsuit which showed a jagged perforation in the left sleeve and a “V”-shaped slice in the right collar. The singlet was inside out and the diaper fragments were shredded. The police officer who retrieved the garments failed to photograph their original position as had the original police officers attending the incident failed to photograph the scene. They also failed to properly examine and photo the tent’s interior which others reported was pooled and spotted with blood.

By now the Dingo’s Got My Baby case was getting international attention and the speculative rumor mill was alive in the media. “Dingos don’t behave like that!” self-appointed experts were saying. “It’s unheard of for a dingo to do this!” “Dingos can’t run with something in their mouths!”

A15Bigotry was emerging because the Chamberlains were Seventh Day Adventists with Michael being a professional pastor. “They’re a cult!” “They believe in child sacrifice!” “They were at Ayers Rock for a ritual!” “They always dressed the baby in black!” “The name ‘Azaria’ means ‘Sacrifice in the Wilderness’!”

When the first inquest was held in February, 1981, the media was in a frenzy and the police were covering their butts. The coroner ruled Azaria’s death was due to a dingo attack, despite there being no physical body to examine, and was critical of shoddy police investigation and of certain government officials of the Northern Territory who failed to provide the police with resources to investigate.

This threw fuel on the media fire and caused the authorities to start damage control.

A7A task force was formed to re-open the case, fittingly named Operation Ochre after the red sands of Ayers. It was headed by an ambitious police Superintendent with an aggressive field detective and was overseen by a politically-protective prosecutor. Collectively, they ran the investigation with the mindset that the dingo attack was implausible and that Lindy fabricated the story because she’d killed her own kid.

On September 19, 1981, Operation Ochre did a massive round-up of the original witnesses for re-interviews and raided the Chamberlains’ home. They seized boxes of items in a search for forensic evidence and impounded their car.

The investigation theory held that Lindy took Azaria from the tent to the car where she slit her baby’s throat, then stuffed her infant’s body in a camera bag. With husband Michael’s help, and after the searchers went home, they took their daughter’s body far away to the dingo dens, buried their little girl, then planted her clothing as a decoy.

There wasn’t the slightest suggestion of motive or any consideration of how the Chamberlains were stellar in reputation.

A6The vehicle was forensically grid-searched over a three-day period by a laboratory technician with a biology background. Suspected bloodstains were found on the console, the floor, and under the dashboard which was described as at trial as an “arterial spray” pattern.

Blood was also found on various items taken from the Chamberlains’ home, known to be present in the tent at the time Azaria disappeared. The lab-tech confirmed the blood on Azaria’s jumpsuit was not only human—it was composed of 25 % fetal hemoglobin which was consistent with an infant’s blood.

This was the forensic cornerstone of the prosecution’s circumstantial case.

A8A second inquest was held in February, 1982. It was run as a prosecution—an indictment with the focus on proving a theory, rather than discovering facts. The Chamberlains were not privy to the “evidence” beforehand and had no ability to defend themselves. “Information” was presented by the lab-tech that blood from the car was consistent with fetal hemoglobin and, therefore, the baby must have bled out in the car.

Another forensic expert testified the cuts and bloodstain pattern on the jumpsuit were caused by a sharp-edged weapon, probably a pair of scissors, and were in no way caused by canine teeth.

Despite all the civilian witnesses testifying consistently as before, and corroborating the Chamberlains claims, the inquest deferred judgment and referred the case to the criminal courts.

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Lindy was tried for Azaria’s murder in September, 1982, and her husband was accused of being an accessory-after-the-fact. Over a hundred and fifty witnesses testified, many of those being forensic experts—some of considerable note. The Chamberlains were forced to defend themselves, funded by their church and donations by believers in their innocence. They had no access to disclosure of evidence by the prosecution and were kept on the ropes by surprise after surprise of technical evidence which they had no time nor ability to prepare a defense.

A20This trial was not just sensational in Australia. It was carried by all forms of world news—TV, radio, print, and tabloids. As big as the O.J. Simpson trial would become in America, the public were split on the question of Lindy’s guilt or innocence.

The jury bought the prosecution’s case that science was far more reliable that eye and ear witness testimony and the Chamberlains were convicted. Lindy was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor and Michael was given a three-year suspended sentence. A pregnant Lindy went directly to jail where their newest baby—a daughter—was born. Two appeals to Australian high courts fell on deaf ears. They found no fault in the application of law.

The Dingo Got My Baby case never faded from public interest. Many groups petitioned, calling for changes in the law and for a new, fair trial to be held. Pressure mounted on the Australian Northern Territory officials.

A18On February 02, 1986, a British rock climber fell to his death on Ayers Rock. During the search for his body, Azaria’s missing matinee jacket was found—partially buried in the sand outside a previously unknown dingo den. The examination found matching perforations in the coat consistent with the jumpsuit cuts.

News of this find caused a massive public outcry against the Northern Territory government and they reluctantly released Lindy from jail pending a re-investigation. A third inquest was a “paper” review that recommended the matter be sent back to the courts.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction was held from April, 1986, to June, 1987. It focused on the validity of the scientific evidence, rather than on legalities of court procedure.

A21The jewel of the forensic crown—the fetal hemoglobin in the family car bloodstains turned out not to be blood at all. The drops were spilled chocolate milkshake and some copper ore dust while the “arterial spray” was overspray from injected sound deadener applied at the car’s factory.

The clothing cuts became an Achilles’ Heel and toppled the case because the expert witness by now was discredited in other cases resulting in wrongful convictions. New forensic witnesses, with more advanced technological expertise, testified the cuts were entirely consistent with being mauled by a dog.

In September, 1988, the Australian High Court quashed the Chamberlains’ convictions and awarded them $1.3 million in damages—far less than their legal bills, let alone compensating their pain and suffering.

A1The High Court never said Lindy was innocent, though. It rightfully set aside her conviction but made no amends in publically proclaiming innocence.

It wasn’t until 2012, that Lindy’s perseverance forced the fourth inquest. The presiding coroner classified Azaria Chamberlain’s death as accidental—being taken and killed by a dingo.

Coroner Elizabeth Morris had the decency to publically apologize to Lindy on behalf of all Australian authorities for a horrific, systematic miscarriage of justice.

Coroner Morris also had the class not to single out individuals. Without her saying, it was evident the police, prosecution, and forensic people instinctively reacted as they’d been trained to react—and that was to individually find evidence to support their case interest and not to follow what didn’t fit.

And Coroner Morris was careful not to burn the media.

A23Lindy’s situation was a media dream, having all the elements of a thrilling novel—mystery, instinctive fears, motherhood, femininity, family, religion, politics, and an exotic location combined with courtroom and forensic drama.

And it came at the expense of an innocent human mother who’s baby girl got taken by a wild animal—probably a mother dingo instinctively trying to feed her own family.

*   *   *

Here are links to more information on the Chamberlain travesty:

Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry  Click Here

Lindy Chamberlain – Creighton’s website  Click Here

HOW A GHOST’S EVIDENCE CONVICTED A MURDERER

A1In July of 1897, Edward Stribbling (Trout) Shue was convicted of first-degree murder for strangling his wife and breaking her neck. Trout Shue’s trial, held in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, rested entirely upon circumstantial evidence that strangely proved Shue’s guilt—beyond a reasonable doubt—to jurors who were presented evidence from beyond the grave.

The “facts” included postmortem statements from Shue’s wife, Zona Heaster Shue, who was said to appear before her mother four weeks after death and reported what truly occurred in her murder. It was the first—and only—time testimony from a ghost was admitted as evidence in a United States Superior Court trial and it secured a conviction.

A10At 10:00 a.m. on January 23, 1897, twenty-three-year-old Zona Shue’s body was found by an errand boy. She was lying on the floor in their house, face down at the foot of the stairs, stretched with one arm tucked underneath her chest and the other extended. Her head was cocked to one side.

Trout Shue arrived home before the coroner, Dr. George Knapp, attended. Shue had already moved his wife’s body to their bed where he’d dressed her in a high-necked gown. As Dr. Knapp began examining Zona, Trout Shue exhibited overpowering emotions and cradled Zona’s head and her shoulders, sobbing and weeping. Dr. Knapp stopped his exam out of respect for the grieving spouse and signed-off the death to “everlasting faint”.

A14A traditional wake was held before Zona’s next-day burial and attendants noticed peculiar behavior from Trout Shue. When the casket was opened for viewing, he immediately placed a scarf over Zona’s neck as well as propping her head with a pillow and blanket. Shue then put on another spectacular show of grief and made it impossible for mourners to get a close look at her face.

Zona Shue was buried in the Soule Chapel Methodist Cemetery in Greenbrier County. Initially, everyone who knew the Shules accepted Zona’s death as not suspicious—except for her mother, Mary Jane Heaster.

Heaster disliked Shue from the moment they met and suspected foul play at hand. “The work of the devil!” Heaster exclaimed. She prayed every night, for four weeks on end, that the Lord would reveal the truth.

Then, in the darkness of night, when Mary Jane Heaster was wide awake, Zona’s spirit allegedly appeared.

A9It was not in a dream, Heaster reported. It was in person. First the apparition manifested as light, then transformed to a human figure which brought a chill upon the room. For four consecutive nights, Heaster claimed her daughter’s ghost came to the foot of her bed and reported facts of the crime that extinguished her life.

Zona’s ghost was said to reveal a history of physical abuse from her husband. Her death resulted in a violent fight over a meal the night before she was found. Trout Shue was said to have strangled Zona, crushing her windpipe and snapping her neck “at the first joint. To prove dislocation, Zona’s figure turned its head one hundred and eighty degrees to the rear.

A4Mary Jane Heaster steadfastly maintained her daughter’s ghost was real and Zona’s reports of the cause of her death were accurate. Heaster was so compelling in her paranormal description that she convinced local prosecutor, John Preston, to re-open the case.

Preston’s investigation found Trout Shue had a history of violence. In another State, he’d served prison time for assaults and thefts. He’d been married twice before—one other wife dying under mysterious circumstances. By now the Greenbrier community was reporting more peculiar behavior from Shue. He’d been making comments to the effect that “no one would ever prove I killed Zona”.

Combined with Coroner Knapp’s admission that he failed to conduct a thorough exam, Preston established sufficient grounds to exhume Zona’s body and conduct a proper postmortem examination.

A17Zona was autopsied by three medical doctors on February 22, 1897 with the official cause of death being anoxia from manual strangulation compounded by a broken neck. Bruising consistent with fingermarks was noted on Zona’s neck, her esophagus was contused, and her first and second cervical vertebrae were fractured. Anatomically, they’re known as the C1 Atlas and the C2 Axis which combines to make the first joint at the base of the skull.

An inquest was held and Trout Shue was summoned to testify. Although he denied being present at the time of Zona’s death and bearing culpability, he was unable to establish an alibi and considered an unreliable, self-serving witness. It was ruled a homicide and Trout Shue was charged with her murder.

A12Trout Shue’s first-degree murder trial began in Greenbrier Circuit Court on June 22, 1897. A panel of twelve jurors was convened who heard evidence from a number of witnesses, including Shue himself.

John Preston was reluctant to subpoena Mary Jane Heaster as a witness, fearing her ghost story would damage credibility. However, Shue’s defense lawyer opened that can of worms and called Zona’s mother to the stand. Evidently, it backfired.

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This verbatim excerpt is from the transcript of Mary Jane Heaster’s testimony. It’s still on record in the West Virginia State Archives:

Defense Counsel Question I have heard that you had some dream or vision which led to this post mortem examination?
Witness Heaster Answer It was no dream – she came back and told me that he was mad that she didn’t have no meat cooked for supper. But she said she had plenty, and said that she had butter and apple-butter, apples and named over two or three kinds of jellies, pears and cherries and raspberry jelly, and she says I had plenty; and she says don’t you think that he was mad and just took down all my nice things and packed them away and just ruined them. And she told me where I could look down back of Aunt Martha Jones’, in the meadow, in a rocky place; that I could look in a cellar behind some loose plank and see. It was a square log house, and it was hewed up to the square, and she said for me to look right at the right-hand side of the door as you go in and at the right-hand corner as you go in. Well, I saw the place just exactly as she told me, and I saw blood right there where she told me; and she told me something about that meat every night she came, just as she did the first night. She cames [sic] four times, and four nights; but the second night she told me that her neck was squeezed off at the first joint and it was just as she told me.
Q Now, Mrs. Heaster, this sad affair was very particularly impressed upon your mind, and there was not a moment during your waking hours that you did not dwell upon it?
ANo, sir; and there is not yet, either.
Q And was this not a dream founded upon your distressed condition of mind?
A No, sir. It was no dream, for I was as wide awake as I ever was.
Q Then if not a dream or dreams, what do you call it?
A I prayed to the Lord that she might come back and tell me what had happened; and I prayed that she might come herself and tell on him.
Q Do you think that you actually saw her in flesh and blood?
A Yes, sir, I do. I told them the very dress that she was killed in, and when she went to leave me she turned her head completely around and looked at me like she wanted me to know all about it. And the very next time she came back to me she told me all about it. The first time she came, she seemed that she did not want to tell me as much about it as she did afterwards. The last night she was there she told me that she did everything she could do, and I am satisfied that she did do all that, too.
Q Now, Mrs. Heaster, don’t you know that these visions, as you term them or describe them, were nothing more or less than four dreams founded upon your distress?
A No, I don’t know it. The Lord sent her to me to tell it. I was the only friend that she knew she could tell and put any confidence it; I was the nearest one to her. He gave me a ring that he pretended she wanted me to have; but I don’t know what dead woman he might have taken it off of. I wanted her own ring and he would not let me have it.
Q Mrs. Heaster, are you positively sure that these are not four dreams?
A Yes, sir. It was not a dream. I don’t dream when I am wide awake, to be sure; and I know I saw her right there with me.
Q Are you not considerably superstitious?
A No, sir, I’m not. I was never that way before, and am not now.
Q Do you believe the scriptures?
A Yes, sir. I have no reason not to believe it.
Q And do you believe the scriptures contain the words of God and his Son?
A Yes, sir, I do. Don’t you believe it?
Q Now, I would like if I could, to get you to say that these were four dreams and not four visions or appearances of your daughter in flesh and blood?
A I am not going to say that; for I am not going to lie.
Q Then you insist that she actually appeared in flesh and blood to you upon four different occasions?
A Yes, sir.
Q Did she not have any other conversation with you other than upon the matter of her death?
A Yes, sir, some other little things. Some things I have forgotten – just a few words. I just wanted the particulars about her death, and I got them.
Q When she came did you touch her?
A Yes, sir. I got up on my elbows and reached out a little further, as I wanted to see if people came in their coffins, and I sat up and leaned on my elbow and there was light in the house. It was not a lamp light. I wanted to see if there was a coffin, but there was not. She was just like she was when she left this world. It was just after I went to bed, and I wanted her to come and talk to me, and she did. This was before the inquest and I told my neighbors. They said she was exactly as I told them she was.

Now, whether jury members accepted Mary Jane Heaster’s ghost story as being credible, or if it made any difference to their interpretation of the facts, will never be known. And it’s on record the trial judge cautioned jurors about the reliability of circumstantial evidence:

A5“There was no living witness to the crime charged against Defendant Shue and the State rests its case for conviction wholly upon circumstances connecting the accused with the murder charged. So the connection of the accused with the crime depends entirely upon the strength of the circumstantial evidence introduced by the State. There is no middle ground for you, the jury, to take. The verdict inevitably and logically must be for murder in the first degree or for an acquittal.”

A6The jury was out for an hour and ten minutes before returning to find Trout Shue guilty of murdering his wife, Zona, in the first degree. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died of an epidemic disease three years later.

I’d love to go back in time and be a fly on the wall during that deliberation. What they discussed in that sequestered room has long gone to the grave, but I find Mary Jane Heaster’s testimony about Zona’s fractured vertebrae to be downright spooky.