Elva Zona Heaster, the murder victim, was born in Greenbrier County sometime around 1873. Almost nothing is known of her early life, other than that she was brought up near Richlands and that she gave birth to a child out of wedlock in 1895. In October 1896, Zona met a drifter named Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue; he had moved to Greenbrier County in search of a new life, and to work as a blacksmith. Shue found work in the shop of one James Crookshanks; Zona met him not long after his arrival in town. The two fell in love and soon married, despite objection to the match by Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, who had taken an instant dislike to Shue.