At dawn, the bell at the Baptist Church on West Liberty rang the fire alarm. Someone had seen black smoke coming from Shubal Coy’s home on 227 South Elmwood Street and had sounded the alarm. As fire-fighting volunteers broke through the bolted door, they found Shubal Coy, his wife and eight year-old son dead of multiple knife wounds. A blood-stained envelope was found on the floor — empty. Missing was the $1,200 that Coy, a livestock dealer, had just earned in a sheep sale.
The murder shocked and terrified the village. In 1863 Medina did not have a police force — or even a constable.
Therefore, the city fathers decided to take justice into their own hands. They convened a meeting at the Medina County Courthouse and pondered the following question: “Was anyone in Medina nervy and depraved enough to commit this crime?” The answer was – yes. A secret ballot was taken and the name Frederick Streeter won by a large majority. And so, Streeter became the unofficial — and only — suspect.
Who was Frederick Streeter?
A handsome 23 year old wastrel, he had come to Medina the previous year from Bellows Falls, Vermont, where he was suspected of burning down a building. He had narrowly escaped imprisonment in Boston for circulating counterfeit money. He deserted the Union Army in 1862 and a few months later, appeared in Medina, styling himself as Captain Streeter, recruiting officer for the same Union Army.
Streeter was also a known drinker and gambler, had boasted of killing two men in fights over money, and had, according to the Medina Gazette, “a most unsavory reputation as to fast women.” While in Medina, he married 16-year old Dode Whitmore, whose family lived a few doors from the courthouse — neglecting to mention that he still had a wife in Vermont.
Six weeks after the murder, Streeter, who had skipped town, was sighted in Kenosha, Wisconsin “with lots of money” by a Medina resident. An Akron detective was dispatched to arrest him and bring him back to Medina.
What ultimately convicted Streeter was the bloodstained envelope.
There were blood smears on the money in Streeter’s possession–smears which matched perfectly those on the bloodstained envelope. Also, the bills Streeter stole were crisp and new and matched the fold in the envelope. Furthermore, Streeter was unable to explain how he had come into possession of the money.
Streeter’s trial lasted four days and the jury deliberated only one hour. The judge sentenced him to be hanged on February 26, 1864. The courtroom was so crowded with spectators the day he was sentenced that the floor dropped a foot, causing a general panic.
On Christmas Eve, Streeter escaped from the county jail and left a note under the door step of his wife’s parents, wishing her a Merry Christmas. The note also “asked her to remain true to him and hoped that they would yet spend a happy future with each other.”
He was apprehended a few days later, hiding in the barn of a relative.
On February 26, 1864, a scaffold was erected on a plot of land on the northeast side of the village. (Tradition maintains that it took place on the site of the present day County Administration Building.) Streeter was taken to the site sitting on his own coffin in a wagon drawn by two black horses.
Just before the hanging, he was approached by the father of Mrs. McCoy. Streeter shook his hand and said, “I beg your pardon and ask your forgiveness, but I assure you I did not kill your daughter.”
And then he was executed. It was to be Medina’s only public hanging.