What do dreams, murders and spirit revelations have in common? They have plenty in common and that “plenty” is often more enthralling than the most highly rated crime thriller. Believe it or not many a macabre crime has been solved through a dream. But wait, that’s not all—there’s much more that is truly amazing, like ghosts who have solved their own murders, murder victims ghosts who have possessed the living to name their killer, murder victims ghosts who have haunted their killers and compelled them to confess, murder victims ghosts who have given their murderer’s name to psychics, murder victims ghosts who have revealed where to find their remains.
And even more astounding, in India a few years ago there was a case, not far from Delhi, of a murder victim who took rebirth to expedite bringing his murderer to book. I have written in detail about this gripping case, which also received considerable media coverage, where the reborn murder victim testified in minute detail before a fascinated magistrate in a fast track court. Unfortunately, there was no provision in law to admit such evidence.
But there is a case where testimony from an apparition was relied upon by a court. Described as the “only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer” and a haunting was allowed as evidence in a murder trial, the case took place in West Virginia, an eastern US state. A plaque pays tribute to the murder victim Elva Shue, “who got her killer from beyond the grave” and provides a succinct enumeration of the unique case.
The inscription reads: “Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Hearter Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from ghost helped convict a murderer.” According to writer Mark Hill, for four nights in a row, the ghost of the murdered Elva herself supposedly appeared in her mother, Mary Jane’s dreams, explaining that her husband had crushed her neck because he hadn›t liked his dinner.
Amazing, astounding, astonishing, unbelievable, gripping, intriguing—often one runs out of adjectives, even after consulting a thesaurus, to describe many of the cases on record. Last month, for instance, author Lucas Reilly recounted yet again a case in England which became infamous more than a century ago as ‘the murder in the Red Barn’. “I never knew or heard of a case in my life which abounded with so many extraordinary incidents as the present,” M. Wyatt, a magistrate, explained at the time.
Putting this case in perspective, Reilly wrote: “Ann Marten was tired of the awful dream. Twice now she’d woken after terrible visions of her stepdaughter, Maria, dead and buried under the dusty floor of a barn a half-mile from the cottage Ann shared with her husband, Thomas, in Polstead, England…” Finally, she suggested to her husband Thomas to go and examine the Red Barn, the last known meeting place between Maria Marten and her lover, William Corder. The pair had apparently eloped to Ipswich but thereafter Maria’s family hadn’t heard from her in the 11 months since.
At the Red Barn, Thomas didn’t have to dig more than two feet to discover that his wife’s dream might be true: in a shallow hole lay a decomposed human skeleton wrapped in a sack. It had long hair and a green handkerchief around its neck. Thomas stopped digging any further and returned home, where his wife confirmed that Maria had wrapped a green handkerchief round her neck the day she left home. In Hill’s words, “… the crime captured people’s attention and imaginations: Here was the story of a poor country girl, a single mother no less, who was seduced and fooled by a wealthy cad who lured her to her death with the promise of marriage. No less amazing was the fact that the poor woman’s body was purportedly discovered thanks to a dream…
“By the start of Corder’s trial… the whole country was familiar with the twisted story. Thousands of people flocked to Polstead to witness the proceedings…The jury deliberated for just 35 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty…” A part of Corder’s sentence read: “…that you there be Hanged by the Neck until you are Dead; and that your body shall afterwards be dissected and anatomised…”
The following day, the body became the centerpiece of an autopsy attended by doctors and medical students from across the county. Corder’s organs were removed and inspected and his body stripped of its skin, which was tanned and wrapped around the cover of a book chronicling his misdeeds. The book bound in Corder’s skin, is still stored at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England. And Hill reveals further that the Cock Inn, where Polstead’s coroner carried out his inquest to identify the skeleton of Maria Marten, is still in operation.
Hill also illustrates how sometimes unconnected dreams can result in important discoveries. In 2010, Australian psychic Cheryl Carroll-Lagerwey claimed she had a dream which showed her where to find the body of Kiesha Abrahams, a missing six-year-old girl. “She didn’t find Abrahams, but she did find the macabre consolation prize of an adult woman’s decomposing torso. The mangled torso was eventually identified as the remains of Kristi McDougall, who had been strangled to death and chopped into pieces by her boyfriend”—in an area incidentally, which had already been searched by the police. Carroll-Lagerwey’s dream and discovery led to the arrest and conviction of McDougall’s killer.
In India, I know of and have written about several instances where the ghosts of murder victims have identified their murderers and/or their own remains. As Mark Hill notes, “Being the ghost of a murder victim must be so frustrating. Not only do you know for a fact who your killer is—you were, after all, an eyewitness—but you also have to float around watching a bunch of bumbling mortals screw around failing to put all the puzzle pieces together. So it makes a lot of sense that some of these spirits want to roll up their intangible sleeves… and get to work solving their own cases.”