The husband did it: The controversial Stuart case - HISTORY
Year
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.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered

Two years after British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen near Luxor, Egypt, they uncover the greatest treasure of the tomb–a stone sarcophagus containing a solid gold coffin that holds the mummy of Tutankhamen.When Carter ...read more

Meiji Restoration in Japan

In an event that heralds the birth of modern Japan, patriotic samurai from Japan’s outlying domains join with anti-shogunate nobles in restoring the emperor to power after 700 years. The impetus for the coup was a fear by many Japanese that the nation’s feudal leaders were ill ...read more

Martin Luther excommunicated

On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X issues the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, which excommunicates Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, was a professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany ...read more

Jack Ruby dies before second trial

On January 3, 1967, Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, dies of cancer in a Dallas hospital. The Texas Court of Appeals had recently overturned his death sentence for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and was scheduled ...read more

Alaska admitted into Union

On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signs a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the Union as the 49th and largest state.The European discovery of Alaska came in 1741, when a Russian expedition led by Danish navigator Vitus Bering sighted the Alaskan ...read more

Noriega surrenders to U.S.

On this day in 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the ...read more

Franklin Roosevelt founds March of Dimes

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an adult victim of polio, founds the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which he later renamed the March of Dimes Foundation, on this day in 1938. A predominantly childhood disease in the early 20th century, polio wreaked havoc among American ...read more

Stephen Austin imprisoned by Mexicans

Escalating the tensions that would lead to rebellion and war, the Mexican government imprisons the Texas colonizer Stephen Austin in Mexico City.Stephen Fuller Austin was a reluctant revolutionary. His father, Moses Austin, won permission from the Mexican government in 1821 to ...read more

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts first woman

In 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its first group of inductees: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers. Since then, the Hall has added a new class of ...read more

Herman Melville sails for the South Seas

On this day in 1841, Herman Melville ships out on the whaler Acushnet to the South Seas.Melville was born in New York City in 1819. A childhood bout of scarlet fever permanently weakened his eyesight. He went to sea at age 19, as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Liverpool. Two ...read more

Dragnet TV show debuts

“Just the facts, ma’am.” On this day in 1952, Sergeant Joe Friday’s famous catchphrase enters American homes via a new entertainment device: the television. A popular radio series since 1949, the police drama Dragnet became one of the first TV series filmed in Hollywood, instead ...read more

Delaware rejects secession

On this day in 1861, just two weeks after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, the state of Delaware rejects a similar proposal.There had been little doubt that Delaware would remain with the North. Delaware was technically a slave state, but the ...read more

All-time Formula One champ born

Michael Schumacher, who won a record seven Formula One (F1) world championships, is born on January 3, 1969, near Cologne, Germany. In a 16-year Formula One career that began in the early 1990s, Schumacher’s numerous F1 accomplishments also included records for most Grand Prix ...read more