Charles and Willie

The Kennedy School of Government had banned all smoking within the building, but had not yet banned smoking just outside the doors facing the Charles River, to the south of the complex. An African American woman, about fifty years of age, took a light from me, and we stood in the falling snow enjoying our smokes. That was a heavy year for snow. It seemed that every day about the same time the two of us would be standing here in a blizzard.

I never knew her name, but I knew she worked in the cafeteria. We talked about a wide range of topics, including (and possibly mainly) the weather. A week or so earlier, we had an especially interesting conversation.

"He’s my nephew, you know."


"That Bennett boy. We live on the same street. We’re blood, and I know him as well as I know anybody, and I can tell you he didn’t do it."

She was talking about Willie Bennett, who had just a few days before that conversation been picked out of a lineup as the killer of Carol DiMaiti Stewart.

"I'm not saying he couldn’t have done it. Willie is NOT a good boy; I’ll leave it at that. But everybody knows where he was that night. He wasn’t near that place. We know he didn’t do it."

Charles and Carol Stewart were at a childbirth class at the main baby hospital in town. I remember this really well, because two of my best friends were taking childbirth classes at that time at the same hospital on the same evening. So, when I heard on the news that a couple leaving that hospital from a childbirth class had been attacked, the woman killed and the man shot in the gut, I checked on my friends. It wasn't them.

The event made national news in part because one of those cop shows was filming that night in Boston. Charles called on a cell phone to say his wife and he had been shot, but he was disoriented and he didn’t know where he was. The dispatcher got on the radio to all of the Boston cops at once, and had them run their sirens one at a time, asking Charles if he could hear the sound. Using this method, they located the car containing the victims, and were able to save Charles. Carol died later that night, and the fetus, delivered months early, died several days later.

And they picked up Willie because he was a known bad guy and resembled the description Charles had given of the assailant. Charles then picked Willie out of the lineup, apparently confirming that he was the assailant.

This would be a good time to mention that Charles and Carol were white people from an inner-ring suburb of Boston, and Willie was African American from the "inner city." This matters if you consider the broader social context of this event. Boston has its race problems.

Then a little time went by and the police, quietly and without fanfare, started to get suspicious of the story. In fact, it would later be understood that they were suspicious from the beginning. A little pushing here and a little poking here, and suddenly Charlie's brother, Matthew, confesses.

It turns out that on the fateful night, Charles called Matthew and gave him an address. When Matthew arrived, he found his sister in-law shot in the head and for all practical purposes dead, and his brother with a gut wound, both in Charles' car. Charles gave Matthew a bag containing the firearm used by Charles to shoot his wife and himself and some valuables, like a wallet and stuff, and told him to get rid of the goods. So Matthew, apparently about as dumb as his brother, tossed the bag into a shallow creek not far from where they all lived. This was a creek where everybody tosses shit like this. The first place the cops would look.

Anyway, Matthew ratted out his brother, Willie was released, and Charles became the main suspect.

So, we were standing there in the snow, looking at the river. And I remembered what I had heard just a few minutes earlier.

"Did you hear about Charles Stewart?" I asked her.

"What about him?" blowing smoke.

"He jumped into the river this morning. He jumped off the Tobin Bridge. He did not survive."

"Well," she said, staring out into the river, looking at the nearest bridge, at the thick ice below the bridge, and the swirling snow and blowing drifts. It would be impossible to imagine how anyone would survive the jump off the bridge we were looking at into that water, and the Tobin Bridge was significantly higher. "Well…that"s something."

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That brings back memories. At the time of the Stuart murder, I was working in the MIS department at Harvard Medical School. The site where Charles Stuart claimed that he and his wife were attacked was right behind the complex that included the medical school campus and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

A couple of months later, some of the spouses and families of my co-workers were still literally afraid to come to that part of the city in broad daylight to go to the office Christmas party. To those of us who worked there, this made no sense; yes, the neighborhood abutting that side of campus was a poor one, but the typical crime in that neighborhood that affected a member of the medical community was usually some resident getting relieved of his wallet while trudging home from a late shift after midnight. I certainly had no fear of walking down the street there during the day to run an errand at the drugstore (either before or after the Stuart shooting.) But for a few months after the murder, it was almost as though white suburbanites expected the neighborhood to burst into open race and class war. It was all really venomous for a while. Besides being a murderer, Charles Stuart caused a racially charged situation of fear and distrust that plagued the city for a long time.

Sadly, the same night that Carol Stuart was killed, there was another domestic-violence murder in the same neighborhood. The victim and killer were neither white nor rich, and the poor woman's death got barely a mention in the back pages of the papers.

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 18 Feb 2009 #permalink

I don't really remember what I thought at the time, having been in high school. I can say that my dad was a cop at the time and the scuttlebutt in the local law enforcement community was that Carol DiMaiti Stuart was Connected and that Charles' swan dive off the Tobin Bridge may have been "assisted". (Considering the Tobin is still the tallest bridge in the area, Stuart most likely had a couple of extra seconds to contemplate the results of his actions, assisted or not...)