Charles Stuart

It has been over twenty-five years since this case turned the city of Boston Massachusetts upside down and sadly it seems like they learned nothing.  This case initially brought disruption to the city for one reason but in the end the disruption it caused was for another reason and the ramifications have never seemed to go away.

On the night of October 23, 1989 Charles Stuart and his wife, Carol, who was seven months pregnant with their first child, had just left a birthing class when initially according to Charles they had gotten lost.  He would then say that while sitting at a light in what was considered to be a "seedy" side of town a black man had carjacked them, forced them to drive away, robbed them and then shot them.  Carol had been struck in the head while Charles was shot in the stomach.  Still wounded Charles would say he drove away when the perpetrator left and he called 9-1-1 from his car phone.  Yes, 1989 and he car phone, a rarity in those days but he was a general manager at one of the largest fur companies around and Carol was a tax attorney.  

Officers and EMT's would arrive on the scene along with cameras for the reality show Rescue 911 who were filming in the area that night.  Both Charles and Carol were whisked away to different hospitals.  Carol's prognosis was very weak and one of the first things doctors did was deliver her child, two month premature.  Carol would die several hours later from her wounds.  Christopher, the name the couple had chosen for their child would live seventeen days.  Along with being premature, Christopher had suffered from trauma and lack of oxygen.  

Charles would reportedly have very serious injuries that would keep him in the hospital for nearly six weeks and require at least two operations.  A surgeon stated at the time, or maybe even later too, that he did not feel that Charles' wounds were self inflicted. Everyone seemed to believe Charles' story as to what happened.  He would vaguely describe the perpetrator as about six foot tall, wearing a black sweatshirt, and looking to be about thirty years old.  The city was outraged.

Carol was laid to rest and even the mayor went to her funeral along with it seemed several other dignitaries.  I tried to determine if they were there because of the nature of the crime and attempting to show unity in finding the killer or if they were friends of the family.  At any rate several of them, including the mayor, would make very public statements as to the manhunt they planned, and later did conduct to find the murderer of this mom to be.

Authorities soon arrested a man named Alan Swanson.  He was a homeless man who authorities say fit the description, right down to the black sweat suit.  I cannot tell you if Swanson was ever charged, but it was said that he was held for about three weeks. Apparently having nothing more on him they were forced to release him, but not before they had arrested Willie Bennett.  On December 28th it was widely reported that Charles Stuart had identified Bennett in a police line up.  It was later said that it was less of an identification that Stuart gave than a "strong physical reaction" which convinced authorities they had their man.  City leaders and the general public, well the white general public, were calling to have the death penalty reinstated (something that to this day has not happened at a state level).  Willie Bennett had been accused, and if you asked some identified, as the killer of an innocent woman and her unborn child.  This man, Bennett, had ruined the lives of the Stuart family and the people wanted him to pay.  And then the case against Bennett blew up in their face.

On January 3, 1990 apparently racked with guilt that an innocent man was being charged with murder, Matthew Stuart, Charles' brother went to authorities.  The story he would tell would turn the city of Boston on it's head.  Matthew Stuart told authorities that they had the wrong man in the death of his sister in law because the right man was his brother, and he knew it.  Matthew would say that on the night of October 23rd his brother had called him and asked him to come help him.  He stated he did believe it had something to do with insurance fraud but when he arrived to meet his brother he would see Carol in the car with a gunshot wound to the head.  Charles then shot himself in the stomach and gave his brother a bag that included things such as the couples wedding rings and other valuables and the gun he had just used.  Matthew, along with a friend, would take the bag and the gun and throw them into the river.  According to Matthew his brother had gotten at least $82,000 in a life insurance payment for his wife's murder and had bought a new car.  It would later be said that just a few days prior Charles Stuart was seen buying jewelry for a "new" girlfriend.

The police were left scrambling and apparently so was Charles Stuart.  While the authorities were preparing to arrest Stuart he was first meeting with his lawyer.  Just after the meeting on January 4th he would park his car on a bridge over the Mystic River and jump.  His body was recovered the following day.  He had left a suicide note in his car in which he of course did not admit to killing his wife but said new allegations had "beaten" him and he just no longer had "strength."  

The African-American community in Boston was outraged to learn that this man had falsely accused one of them of murder and the police had so willingly and viciously believed him.  Of course they were mad at Charles Stuart for accusing a black man to begin with, then perpetrating it longer but supposedly identifying Willie Bennett but they were more upset with the police, and the leaders of the city who had just seemingly took Stuart's word.  There had been raids all over town in areas with a predominantly African-American presence.  Homes had been ransacked, innocent men were interrogated, and why?  Because a prestigious, or thought to be anyway, white man had said a black man was guilty.  The newspaper reported that the Mayor had apologized to Willie Bennett in his family but that seemed to be more of a show than anything.  According to the Bennett family there was no real apology.  They claim the mayor did little more than sit with them and a picture was taken.  

In 1991 Matthew was indicted for obstruction of justice and insurance fraud. In 1992 he pleaded guilty and received a sentenced of three to five years.  He was released in 1997 but reports are that he was almost immediately re-arrested for cocaine trafficking although those charges would be dropped.  Sadly in September of 2011 Matthew Stuart was found dead of an overdose in a homeless shelter.  I say "sadly" because in general any death is sad, but I also say it because I believe Matthew likely truly suffered and was another one of Charles' victims. While he may have participated in a crime, and had agreed to do so, I truly do not believe that he thought that crime was murder.  Most reports stated that there were four Stuart boys and that they were all very close with each other and their parents.  The fact of the matter is that all was going the way Charles had planned and had it not been for Matthew there would likely be an innocent man in prison right now.  But, because he revealed his brothers' crime his brother took his life. That had to weigh heavily on him.

Over the years this case is often brought up for a few reasons.  The biggest is to show what can happen to a community when the provisional "black man" is blamed by a white person for a crime they themselves committed.  It was attempted again by Susan Smith in South Carolina in 1994 with much of the same results although it did not last as long as this case did or completely at the scale this case was.  However, in both cases from the get go the actual perpetrator of the crime was believed and the African-American community were scrutinized.  

One of the saddest things about this case is that it appears that when it comes to race relations Boston learned nothing.  They made few apologizes for the way they openly believed Charles Stuart's story and how they citizens in their community were treated. Those who did apologize or gave the impression that they did seemingly did so without any heart in it and no real desire.  They could have used this as an opportunity to learn and come together.  A poll was done in 2012 and Boston was ranked number two, behind Birmingham Alabama, as the racist city in America.  Lessons can be taught but only when those around are willing to learn them.


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