A SECRET OF YEARS IS REVEALED IN THE LOCATION OF A MURDERER’S HIDDEN GRAVE
Lies in the Garden Patch of One Who Doesn’t Know It. The Story of the Night Burial (as published in the January 6, 1911 edition of the Gazette)
This story is not worth telling, perhaps. In a degree, it’s both morbid and gruesome. The only excuse for printing it is that it will satisfy a curiosity on the part of an elder generation in this county – and this a curiosity that has almost ceased to exist. So, don’t read it – unless you want to, or unless you are full 60 years old and lived in Medina County in the year 1864.
During the past year, an elderly man, whose boyhood was spent in Medina County and who well knew Fred Streeter, murderer of the Coy family in Medina, returned to the scenes of his youthful years. He fell in with an old neighbor, who also had known Streeter and his history, and naturally the story of his crime was talked over. In the course of the talk, one of these old people paused and looking the other one dead in the eye asked: “Do you know how Streeter’s body was disposed of and where it lies buried today?” The other elderly person seemed startled a bit, and after a long pause said: “No matter what I know, do you know?”
“Yes, I know,” was the reply; “and Streeter’s body was not sent back east to his old home in Brattleboro, Vt., as most people supposed at the time, nor it wasn’t buried in any woods nor in some other man’s new-made grave, as a few others supposed. It was buried in a garden, in the heart of a village in Medina County, within a stone’s throw of a half-dozen houses, and there it lies today. Am I right?”
The other nodded assent, and out of the conversation that followed, relating how each came in possession of the secret, comes this story.
On the night of July 1, 1863, in what is still known in Medina as the “old Coy house”, Fred Streeter butchered with a knife his friends, Shubal Coy and wife, and their little son Ferdinand, seven years of age. It was as inhuman a murder as was ever committed, and done by as black-hearted, soul-seared a wretch as ever got his partial deserts on the scaffold. He was all that was bad and worthless, and probably a murderer before the commission of this crime. On Feb. 26, 1864, he was hanged in an open lot in the northeast part of Medina village before a curious crowd of thousands. It is at the foot of the gallows and when the body was placed in the coffin over which he had ridden to the scaffold, that this story begins.
The coffined body was taken in an open spring wagon by Wm. Stowell from the place of execution to the home of the heartbroken mother, Mrs. Hiram Gore, at Chatham Center. The house then stood and now stands perhaps a hundred yards west and south of Dr. M.M. Moody’s former residence there, now owned by Mr. Franks, on a back street. We believe it is now called “Back Street”.
The mother was a truly good woman. Every neighbor knew her only to respect and pity her in her awful trouble. She was the second wife of Hiram Gore, who, with a daughter, had gone from Chatham back to his old home at Brattleboro, Vt., several years before Streeter’s crime was committed, for a winter’s visit, and while there met the widow Streeter and married her there. His daughter, at about the same time, married there Mrs. Streeter’s oldest son, Henry. These four, with Mrs. Streeter’s other two children, Fred and a widowed daughter, a Mrs. Dr. Ayers, returned to Chatham (about 1860) to make their homes there. Fred was then 20 years old, a sort of fop and dandy, petted and indulged by his mother since babyhood beyond all reason, with the usual result of his becoming the “black sheep” of the family.
To this Gore home at Chatham Center the body of Fred Streeter was brought on that cold, raw, dismal afternoon of Feb. 26, 1864. There were present to receive it the agonized mother, Mrs. Gore; the widowed sister, Mrs. Ayers; and old Mr. Gore, an invalid. The brother Henry and his wife had returned to Brattleboro, Vt., soon after Fred Streeter’s arrest for the crime. It was a straitened home, where money was scarce, and the mother without means of her own.
So life-like was the appearance of the dead murderer’s face on the body’s arrival from Medina that the mother hurriedly sent for a neighboring doctor, the body was taken from the coffin and resuscitation attempted. On the doctor’s arrival, he found the neck broken and efforts in this direction ceased. The coffin was removed to an upper room and the body laid in a room below where it remained for a week, when a funeral was held which was generally attended by the neighbors. Among the unexpected attendants, arriving by stage from Wooster, was his 17-year old wife, completely veiled from all gaze. She was a strikingly handsome girl, “Dode” Whitmore, daughter of a former postmaster of Medina and married to Streeter when 16 years old. Preacher Vance took as his text Christ’s words to Barabbas, the robber: “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
The house was literally barricaded by the family from the hour when the corpse was received into it. “Body snatching” was more common in those days than now, and the family doctor had been approached with a proposition to leave a window unfastened so that the body could be abducted. Not only was the house barricaded, but a trusted neighbor, heavily armed, guarded the body each night.
After the funeral, the body was heavily wound in sheets and for two weeks remained coffined in one of the lower rooms of the house. Morbid curiosity was watching every move at the Gore home to discover the disposition of the body, and more than likely “body snatchers” had guards on duty, too.
But back of the delay in disposing of the body was something more than the fear of “body snatchers”. The poor mother had promised her murderer son before his execution that she would see that his body be taken back to the old home at Brattleboro, Vt., and buried beside that of his father. “My baby”, she called him. The promise lay like tons’ weight on her broken heart. She moaned that promise over and over thru long, sleepless nights. The husband couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give her money for the sealed casket and shipment. How could she get it? She tried to borrow it and couldn’t. She must get it – she would get it – and she would keep the body till she could. At Lodi she sought credit of a tinner to tin over and solder the coffin in which he had been brought from the gallows, and so have it prepared for shipment whenever she could pay the railroad’s charge. But in this she failed, too.
Two weeks after the funeral the mother, still hoping to be able to ship the body back east, had several planks removed from the loose floor of the raised woodshed (a brick wall several feet high supporting it), and thru this opening in the woodshed floor the coffin and body was lowered onto a bed of shavings prepared for it, the plank floor replaced and for weeks the mother continued to hope and plan how to ship the body east.
From the day of Fred Streeter’s conviction of first degree murder by a Medina County jury and sentence of death by Judge Burke on the same day, in the previous November, Hiram Gore and family began preparations to sell their home in Chatham and move back to Brattleboro, Vt., the old home of them all. These preparations had been going steadily on, and in the following May Mr. Gore had found a purchaser for his place at Chatham Center. The family’s goods were being boxed and packed for shipment east, and when the family should finally go Mrs. Gore was still hoping to be able to take along the murderer’s body. As the day for the family’s departure drew near she still lacked the necessary funds, and some permanent disposition of the body became imperative.
Among the numerous boxes containing the goods of the Gore family shipped away about this time were several of the size and dimensions that might have held a coffin. Neighbors jumped to the conclusion that the body had been shipped. The Gore family took pains not to refute this rumor and it gained general credence in the county.
But it was never so shipped.
Just at dusk, one Saturday evening in that May of 1864, two women stole out of the Gore house, the mother and sister of the murderer, and began watch, one of the roadway in front of the house and the other of a much used path leading to the village center across the Gore lot. At the same time, two neighbors, Edw. Richards and Justin Allis, sworn to secrecy and touched with pity by the mother’s sad plight, emerged from the small barn then standing a few rods north of the ( _______) found on the Gore lot (since moved), spades in their hands, and hurriedly but noiselessly began excavating a shallow grave close up to the east side of the barn. They were well concealed by their position as well as the gathering darkness, while the two women sentinels were to give warning of the approach of any possible passer-by. The hour of grave digging and secret burial was also cunningly chosen when the village band was playing over on the Chatham (_________) attracting thither everybody likely to be out.
A few minutes were (__________) to make the secret grave and (______) in the darkness that had (________) the coffin was raised from beneath the floor of the woodshed where it had (______) for weeks, borne out from the (________) by the two sympathetic neighbor men to the gruesome garden grave, hurriedly lowered, and the dirt silently filled in. One final set of concealment, that of covering the disturbed earth with the straw emptied from several bed ticks (natural litter at moving time), and the body of Streeter, the heinous murderer, had found its last resting place. And there its dust lies today, in a garden spot, a little southwest of the Chatham square. Whoever might count 60 paces almost directly north from the northeast corner of the old Gore house (now the Hart property) would find himself above the secret grave of the murderer. We doubt if the present owner of the land where it lies had ever suspicioned the fact.
A few days after that night burial, the Gore family departed the Chatham community forever, and all who took part in the murderer’s secret sepulture, have since passed from this life’s scenes. Several years after the events above related, the broken-hearted mother, aged and gray before her time, out of her meager savings was able to come on from Vermont and pay a visit to Chatham – and for what? Was it to revisit the scene of so much anguish and heartache and torture? Not that, but with a mother’s undying maternal love, in the darkness of the night, to crawl on her hands and knees to the secret grave of her murderer son, and make sure that he, “her baby”, as she said, was there.
That’s the story of the burial of the murderer Streeter, true in every essential detail. How it came in possession of the Gazette must remain a secret, for that concerns one still living who made discovery of the buried murderer’s coffin shortly after the burial, and wrung from one of the five present at that night burial, nearly 50 years ago, the details of the gruesome occasion, but with the solemn promise that the matter should never be told while any of the five still lived. To this person the Gazette gave its promise of secrecy as long as the life of this person should last. How many others may have known the secret before us, we don’t know, but they are few.
How old memories are revived by any reference to this awful tragedy, is shown by the fact that since the Gazette stated last week that it would publish a sequel to Streeter’s execution, it has been brought to our notice that W.H. Albro of Medina has the “black cap” drawn over Streeter’s head when hanged; the bed on which little Ferdinand Streeter was murdered is in the possession of Mrs. V.E. Canfield living on the Grangerburg road; and the handcuffs which bound Streeter’s wrists as he rode to the gallows have been placed on exhibition in G.F. High’s jewelry store.
We can add one more fact to the history of the Streeter case and not before made public. We have it on the authority of a member of the family of the late Hon. H.G. Blake to whom he told it. Mr. Blake, who with John McSweeney defended Streeter, told in private of Streeter’s calling him to the jail three different times and beginning a confession, but each time stopping suddenly short.