A woman murdered. A city torn apart. A crime that gripped a nation. And that’s just the beginning of the story.
Charles Stuart claimed it was a black man who carjacked him, shooting both himself and his wife, ending both her life and the life of their unborn child. The accusation and subsequent manhunt enflamed the long-simmering racial tensions of Boston, leading to the arrest of an innocent man. It was then discovered that Stuart had killed his wife and shot himself to cover up the crime, seeking a big insurance payout. When his crimes were exposed, Stuart jumped off a bridge to his death.
Ken Englade explores the story with panoramic vision and a stunning eye for detail. Looking at the crime itself and the police response, Englade shows how Stuart’s crime unraveled, how the truth came out, and what the media’s response can tell us about the biases through which we view the worst of crimes.
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October 23, 1989 Monday 8:10 P.M.
Carol Stuart crawled awkwardly into the Toyota's passenger seat, straining with a frustration familiar to every woman who has ever carried a child. At seven months Carol was obviously pregnant and feeling more bloated by the hour. Even everyday tasks, like putting on her shoes and getting in and out of a car, were becoming more strenuous, more aggravating. It was a burden, but it would soon be over, she reminded herself, and then it would have all been worth it. Her delivery would not only be a personal relief, but it would be the most wonderful gift she could give her husband, Chuck, both for Christmas and his birthday, which was one week earlier. Let it be a boy, she had been praying ever since she'd got confirmation from her doctor, a son to make Chuck happy. He loved children, she knew, because he spent hours working with them in his old neighborhood, refereeing their basketball games and coaching the Little Leaguers. Chuck himself had been through the programs, playing both baseball and basketball. Now, nearing thirty, he wanted to give something back, to help other clumsy youngsters as he himself had been helped. Soon, she hoped, he would have one more boy to coach: his own son. And one of the most wonderful things about her first pregnancy, Carol thought, smiling inwardly, was the timing. What better time could a good Catholic girl from a devout Italian family have picked to have a child than at Christmas?
These thoughts cheered her, made her feel less like a bandy-legged behemoth. But then the depression intruded again. As she struggled to stretch the seat belt across her distended abdomen, she wondered how many more times she was going to have to lengthen the strap to accommodate her growing bulk. But the concept was fleeting. A happy, cheerful person by nature, Carol seldom dwelt on negatives. All her life she had been a bubbly, extroverted person, one who invariably saw the good side of everything, especially people. Carol always had something nice to say about everyone, no matter how aggravating an individual appeared to others. It was a wonderful trait to possess in an increasingly cynical world, and it represented her true beauty. A pretty enough girl with long dark hair and flashing brown eyes, she could nevertheless hardly be regarded as glamorous. Her mouth was too wide, her nose a little too prominent, for her ever to be considered as a magazine cover girl. But her loveliness came from within. When she smiled, two rows of startlingly white teeth shone like a beacon to her soul. It was almost impossible for anyone to talk to Carol for more than five minutes and not come away feeling refreshed. She was intuitive about others' problems, seeming to know by instinct what to say and how to soothe. This in itself was a reflection of her intelligence, a mirroring of her ability to reason and understand — and the desire to want to — that made her a top student through high school and won her membership in the prestigious National Honor Society. At Boston College, a respected Catholic university only fifteen miles from her parents' home in suburban Medford, her grades put her near the top of her class. After she earned her undergraduate degree in political science, having early on abandoned the desire to follow her older brother into education and be, like him, a high school teacher, she enrolled almost immediately in the law school at Suffolk University, a Boston institution popular with fledgling politicians. With her J.D. degree and bar passage certificate in hand, she knocked on the door of a local publishing company and was immediately hired to work as a tax attorney. But at age thirty, a few months older than her husband, she began to think more about a family than a career. It was time to have a baby, she decided.
As she reached across to fit the buckle of the seat belt into the bracket between the front seats, her hand brushed an instrument resting silently in its cradle: a car phone, a present from Chuck the previous April to celebrate her first month of pregnancy. The blue Cressida was her car, and Chuck had said he wanted her to have the phone as added protection on her journeys through the city. Boston, like any metropolis, had its good areas and its bad ones, the safe parts sometimes blending without warning into the unsafe ones. It was possible to be driving one minute through a perfectly respectable, gentrified, yuppified neighborhood like the South End, and then, without benefit of notice, be traveling a minute later through a mean-streeted district of grim housing projects and rowdy bars. Here crack cocaine passed from hand to hand as a matter of ordinary commerce and addicts, desperate to find a way to finance their next fix, were all too eager to relieve naive interlopers of whatever cash or negotiable items they might have been foolish enough to tote with them.
Take the place they were in right then: the parking garage attached to one of the country's best-known health care facilities, Brigham and Women's Hospital. Carol and Chuck had been in the hospital to attend a birthing class. It was a famous and respected maternity hospital, and neither Carol nor Chuck wanted anything but the best. After all, they could afford it. Carol was making some $40,000 a year in her job, and Chuck, the general manager at the city's most respected independent furriers, Edward F. Kakas & Sons, located on tony Newbury Street, drew a salary of $103,000 a year. Plus, there was his annual bonus, which sometimes went as high as $35,000. In a good year the two of them could pull in more than $175,000, which wasn't at all bad for a young couple just starting out. It was not unreasonable for them to want the most attentive care possible for Carol.
Unhappily, though, Brigham and Women's was not located in one of the city's stellar neighborhoods, situated as it was on the fringe of Roxbury. A once fashionable section populated by the city's elite, Roxbury had, over the years, gradually eroded. Historian Theodore White, in his autobiographical tome In Search of History, recalls Roxbury when he was growing up nearby in the 1920s as a declining neighborhood that shortly before had been home to the city's prosperous shoe factories. But the factories closed during the Great Depression, and the neighborhood went farther downhill. As is common in large cities, the older inner neighborhoods were abandoned by their original inhabitants, who fled to the suburbs. Their old dwellings were taken over by poorer residents, the newer immigrants. In Roxbury, particularly Mission Hill, this meant first the Irish, then blacks and Orientals. In the spring of 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, blacks across the country rioted in their ghettos. In Boston the ghetto was Roxbury. Since then an uneasy peace, more like a truce, had settled over the area, but the currents of racial tension flowed strongly just below the surface. There was a lot of black/white antagonism in Boston, and much of it was rooted in Roxbury.
Although Roxbury proper is a little southeast of Brigham and Women's Hospital, the distance is not great. One thing many outsiders fail to realize about Boston is how small, how compact, the city actually is. Boston itself covers only 45.5 square miles, and its population is slightly under 500,000. Of this total, some 85,000 people, roughly 17 percent of the total, are black. The millions of people most think of as Bostonians are actually residents of the small communities that surround the city, bedroom communities like Lexington, Woburn, Quincy, Framingham, Groton, Revere, Medford, and Reading. Carol, in fact, grew up in Medford; Chuck in Revere. They currently lived in Reading, in a luxurious $239,000 home complete with a heated swimming pool in the backyard. But, like many others, they made their living in Boston and depended on the city for its facilities, like health care.
The neighborhood around Brigham and Women's can best be described as "mixed," mixed racially, culturally, and by class. On one side is Roxbury, another Mission Hill, and throughout are peppered some of the city's most distinguished institutions. Within a comfortable walk from where Carol and Chuck were getting into their Toyota was Northeastern University, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Latin High School (whose alumni include Theodore White), Beth Israel Hospital, Peter Brent Brigham Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, all of which have outstanding reputations in their respected fields. But despite the proximity of these celebrated institutions, the neighborhood was still regarded as an extremely dangerous one. It was, in fact, one of the city's premier high- crime spots. To the Boston police department, it is part of Area B, a 1.5- square-mile chunk that includes Roxbury, Mattapan, and part of Dorchester. From a criminologist's point of view, there is little comforting, intellectual, or healthful about Area B. In a forty-day period ending the previous week, there were 170 reported shootings in the district, an average of 4.25 per day. So far that year there had been seventy-seven murders in all of Boston, but more than half of them were in Area B, which is one of five districts the police use to subdivide the city. By the end of the year, one hundred murders were recorded in the city, fifty-five of them in Area B.
Neither Chuck nor Carol was ignorant of these statistics. Before he left work that afternoon to meet Carol, Chuck and a co-worker, Peter Jaworski, had talked about the dangerous neighborhood in which Brigham and Women's was located. As Chuck walked out the door onto Newbury Street, which was jammed as usual with upscale shoppers, Jaworski gave him a piece of advice: "Be careful," he said.
While Carol had some difficulty slipping into the Toyota because of her pregnancy, her husband had problems for a different reason. A husky, avid sportsman who kept fit with basketball and weight lifting when he could steal the time from his job and his wife, Chuck was not suited physically to the conflicting dimensions of a Japanese import; his legs were too long and his shoulders too broad for him to get comfortable. That may have been one reason he didn't own a car of his own. The Toyota was Carol's car and the family car. If he needed transportation, he usually borrowed his employer's van, which was considerably more commodious. But this was a personal errand, and he elected to drive the Toyota rather than take the Kakas vehicle. Scrunching behind the wheel, he fastened his seat belt and started the engine.
If the two made small talk, they may have commented on the beautiful weather they were enjoying. Although autumn is almost always a glorious season in Massachusetts, 1989 was particularly nice. Traditionally autumn is when the New England foliage takes on magnificent hues of gold and scarlet, and there is enough nip in the air to set the blood coursing wildly through summer-numbed veins. Bodies that have been lethargic through July, August, and part of September are miraculously rejuvenated when the nights turn chilly and the chlorophyll disappears from the oaks and elms. A New England autumn is one of the wonders of the American world, and each year thousands come from all points on the compass to revel in the splendor. This year the fall had been a particularly splendid one. In mid-October Indian summer made a welcome visit and surprised and delighted everyone by settling in for a prolonged stay. The sky turned a remarkable blue; the Charles River glowed with a penetrating incandescence. The sun shined brightly; the grass held its brilliant summer green, and the trees glowed as radiantly as if they had been touched by a modern Midas. It was a wonderful time to be alive. For Carol, that would be the final irony.
Maneuvering out of the hospital, Chuck came out on Francis Street, a narrow thoroughfare running northwest-southeast between Huntington and Brookline Avenues. Chuck's expected action would have been to turn right, toward Reading. Instead he turned left, toward Huntington, into the heart of Mission Hill. Carol, perhaps preoccupied with what she had learned in that evening's Lamaze class or reveling in the mild night, may not have noticed. Even if she had, it would not have made much difference. The decision was made. In roughly twenty minutes, about the time it takes to drink a sociable cup of coffee, Carol would be effectively dead.CHAPTER 2
October 23, 1989 8:36 P.M.
In the late 1980s, when car telephones began proliferating at a near astronomical rate, Massachusetts law enforcement officials set up a special computer network to handle emergency calls from motorists. Although there are two other ways of dialing the Massachusetts State Police from cellular telephones — either through 1-800-525-5555 or, much more simply, *77 — the emergency dialing number of choice across the country is 911. Planners figured that when dialing for help, motorists would not differentiate between a cellular phone and a regular phone, so they factored the 911 code into the system. In Boston, a regular phone user dialing 911 is connected to the Boston Police Department Communications Center area, also known as "the turret." But a motorist dialing 911 from his car is switched via computer to the Massachusetts State Police Communications Center, called "the bunker," which is housed in a twenty-foot-by-thirty-foot cavelike room buried in a drab, featureless building at 1010 Commonwealth Avenue, not far from Boston University.
Depending on the day (the weekends are far busier), the bunker is manned by one to three civilian dispatchers and a state trooper who acts as shift commander. The calls are handled by the civilians. The trooper is there in case law enforcement authority is necessary, since the state police have responsibility for investigating all felony crimes anywhere in Massachusetts except in Boston proper, where they are handled by the city police. In any given month the dispatchers field 250 to 300 calls a day; the heaviest periods are weekend nights. Monday nights are generally fairly slow. Experience has shown that dispatchers working the evening trick on a Monday will receive about seventy-five calls between three and eleven P.M., which is enough of a workload to keep two people busy, but not enough to justify having a third person on duty. On Monday, October 23, dispatchers Gary McLaughlin and Jack Moran were manning the desk, which runs down the center of the room and is flanked by stacks of metal boxes jammed with electronic gear. The trooper acting as shift commander, seated at a desk in a small alcove at the rear of the room, was Sergeant Daniel Grabowski. Among them, the men have some sixty years' experience in law enforcement work.
McLaughlin, a shy, graying thirty-five-year-old who signed on with the state police at the end of his freshman year at Boston State College, was taking a quick breather after a particularly harrowing call involving an attempted murder on the western edge of their territory. His pulse was just returning to normal when the phone at his elbow shrilled insistently.
"State police, Boston," McLaughlin answered, hoping to hear an angry motorist complaining about a reckless driver or a Good Samaritan reporting a fender bender. What he got was another crisis. Over the line came the unmistakable sound of tortured breathing: a wheeze, a grunt, a disembodied sound sending an immediate chill down McLaughlin's spine. Then a male voice sobbed, "My wife's been shot. I've been shot."
McLaughlin's pulse rate soared. "Where is this, sir?" he asked briskly.
"I have no idea," the voice replied, heavy with pain.
"Try to give me an indication of where you might be," McLaughlin pressed, "a cross street, anything."
There was a long silence. "Hello?" the voice said, sounding fainter.
"Yes, go ahead," McLaughlin replied, exchanging a significant glance with Moran, who was seated at the main communications console some three feet away. Without a word, both Moran and Grabowski reached for their phones and plugged into McLaughlin's line. The call, like all others that come in through the network, was being recorded, but McLaughlin, Grabowski, and Moran acted as a tight-knit team. When there was an emergency they all pitched in to help. As McLaughlin hunched over the desk, the voice of the caller fed through three receivers.
"He got into the car at Huntington Avenue," the voice said. "I drove straight through Huntington Avenue."
"Where are you right now, sir?" McLaughlin urged. "Can you indicate to me?"
"No," the voice said, beginning to sound panicky. "I don't know. He drove us ... he made us go to an abandoned area."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder in Boston"
Copyright © 1990 Ken Englade.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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