January 3

This Day in History

Crime

Jan 3, 1990:

The husband did it: The controversial Stuart case

Matthew Stuart meets with Boston prosecutors and tells them that his brother, Charles, was actually the person responsible for murdering Charles's wife, Carol. The killing of Carol Stuart, who was pregnant at the time, on October 23, 1989, had touched off a national outrage when Charles Stuart told authorities that the couple had been robbed and shot by an African-American man while driving through a poor Boston neighborhood.

In the summer and fall of 1989, both Boston daily newspapers had been trumpeting a so-called crime explosion. Actually, the screaming headlines had more to do with a desire to sell papers than any actual crime wave, but the public was on edge. Charles Stuart, a fur salesman, used the public mood to his advantage when he planned the murder of his wife.

"My wife's been shot! I've been shot!" screamed Stuart into his cell phone as he drove through the Mission Hill area of Boston. Paramedics responding to the call for help found that both Charles and his wife had been shot. Carol was barely hanging on to her life and Charles had a fairly serious wound to the stomach. Immediately, Charles identified an African-American male in a black running suit as the perpetrator.

The crime was the biggest story in Boston that day and even led some national newscasts. Across the country, the story was portrayed as an example of what could happen to affluent people traveling through bad neighborhoods. In many papers, liberal policies were attacked and held responsible for the tragedy. Carol Stuart died, and although doctors were able to save her baby temporarily, the child also died days later. Charles Stuart underwent intestinal surgery for 10 hours, but his life was not endangered.

The Boston police began to comb the housing projects in Mission Hill. African-American men were strip-searched on the streets on any pretense. Meanwhile, Stuart was showing unusual interest in a young female co-worker, asking that she phone him at the hospital where he was recovering. Detectives, fixated on finding the black perpetrator Stuart had described, didn't bother to find the ample evidence that Stuart was unhappy in his marriage and particularly upset with his wife for not having an abortion. Stuart had discussed both his obsession with the co-worker, and his desire to see his wife dead, with several friends and family members in the months before the murder.

In December, Willie Bennett, an African-American ex-con, was arrested after his nephew jokingly bragged that he was responsible. Stuart picked Bennett out of a lineup in which the others were all clean-cut Boston police officers. This was the last straw for Matthew Stuart, who had assisted his brother in carrying out the scheme. Matthew thought he was helping Charles with an insurance scam when he carried a bag away from the murder scene. In it was the gun and the couple's wallets and jewelry. In return for immunity, Matthew testified against his brother.

Charles Stuart found out that Matthew was going to turn him in and immediately fled. The next morning, Charles Stuart drove to the Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River, and jumped to his death. Willie Bennett was released after witnesses told a grand jury that the police had pressured them into identifying him.

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