On Oct. 23, 1989, Charles Stuart shot and killed his pregnant wife, Carol Stuart. His accusation that a black man was responsible inflamed racial tensions in Boston.
Charles Stuart Murders Wife
Charles Stuart and his pregnant wife Carol left a maternity class at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston on Oct. 23, 1989. As they drove home, Charles drove to Mission Hills, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, and shot Carol in the head.
Charles then shot himself in the abdomen and called 911, saying that he and his wife had been shot. A film crew for CBS’ “Rescue 911,” which had been shooting at the Boston Emergency Medical Services, captured the entire event on camera.
As Charles was strapped onto a gurney and taken inside an ambulance, he gave police details of the alleged crime. A policeman asks him, “Who did it? Was he a white guy?” Charles responds, “He was a black man.”
Carol Stuart died the following night. Her son, Christopher, was delivered via caesarean section, eight weeks before the due date. After suffering a series of seizures, he died two and a half weeks later. Charles Stuart authorized the discontinuation of life support.
Unable to attend his wife’s funeral due to his injuries, Stuart wrote a message to be read aloud. Of the murderer, he said, “In our souls we must forgive this sinner, because he would too.”
The Investigation and Revelation of Stuart’s Lie
Stuart gained widespread sympathy for his tragic story, and few questioned his account of the events, even though there were numerous inconsistencies and suspicious details. Police began a citywide search for the culprit, described by Stuart as a black man with a raspy voice who wore a tracksuit.
Officers used “the ‘stop-and-search’ method: the idea being that if you stop every black man within a ten-mile radius, you are going to find your killer much more quickly,” wrote Jeanne Theoharis and Lisa Woznica in Was it Worth It? “Civil liberties thus suspended, a number of black jogging-suit-clad men soon turned up.”
The investigation was responsible for “instantly igniting the racial tension and suspicion that are never far from the surface of daily life in Boston and most of America,” wrote The New York Times.
In December, police fingered 39-year-old Willie Bennett, a black man who had been arrested on unrelated charges, as the prime suspect. Examining his mug shot, Stuart confirmed that Bennett was the man who killed his wife.
Stuart’s elaborate deception collapsed in early January 1990, when his brother Matthew told his family that Charles had killed Carol. Matthew had participated in the cover-up of the crime, taking a bag of valuables and the murder weapon from the crime scene and disposing of them in a nearby creek.
On Jan. 3, before his brother went to the police, Charles Stuart confessed him crime to his lawyer. That night, he checked into a hotel, woke up at 4:30 a.m., and went down to the Tobin Bridge to jump into the Mystic River, killing himself.
Key Players: Charles and Carol Stuart
Both born and raised in the Boston suburbs, Charles and Carol Stuart had met in 1980 at the restaurant where they both worked, and married five years later. They had supportive families, were liked by their neighbors and had well-paying jobs: Carol was a tax lawyer and Charles the general manager at a fur store.
The media originally portrayed the couple as having the perfect marriage. After Charles’ suicide, the media searched for a reason for the murder. There were rumors, later shown to be incorrect, that Charles had a relationship with a 23-year-old co-worker. There were also reports that “Charles considered Carol’s pregnancy a hindrance to his plans to open a restaurant and wanted her to have an abortion,” wrote Time.