The television series Rescue 911, hosted by William Shatner, was an informational docudrama that featured reenactments and occasionally real footage of emergency situations. On the night of October 23, 1989, the show’s camera crew had been riding along with the supervisor of Boston Emergency Medical Service hoping to catch some good footage for the show. The cameramen had been riding with the Boston EMS for several days and had failed to catch much of anything they could use. It was beginning to look like it would be another unsuccessful night when a call about a car shooting came in over the radio. Little did the camera crew know that the footage they captured from that call would go down in crime history.
The caller was able to contact police through his car phone and had been lucid enough to describe to police the extent of his and his pregnant wife’s injuries. The caller, later identified as Charles Stuart, seemed abnormally calm for a person who had been shot in the abdomen, had no idea where he was located, and whose pregnant wife had been shot in the head.
Stuart passed out from blood loss during the call, but he was still on the line. Emergency responders, along with Rescue 911’s camera crew, were able to find him by strategically turning on their sirens, which dispatch would be able to hear through Stuart’s phone.
After locating Stuart’s car, he and his wife were transported to an area hospital. Stuart was treated for his injuries, but Stuart’s wife Carol did not survive. The couple’s son Christopher was delivered through an emergency c-section. He lived for 17 days before dying from complications. The footage Rescue 911‘s camera crews caught on the night of Carol’s shooting was later used in a special episode on the case.
In a city plagued by racial tensions, throughout the 1980s great strides were made to bridge the gap and make amends for the mistakes of the past. Stuart’s story single-handedly reopened the festering wound of Boston’s racial divide, sending police on a witch hunt through Boston’s primarily African American neighborhoods.
Mission Hill, the neighborhood Stuart had called from, had been the most impacted by the case. Hundreds of black men and boys were unfairly searched or detained, and several were treated as possible suspects. Police believed the case was closed when Stuart eventually picked out 39-year-old Willie Bennett from a lineup.
Bennett was never officially charged with the crime, but his name remains forever associated with the case. Reporters were quick to demonize the monster who robbed and killed a pregnant woman on the way home from a birthing class with her husband.
Bennett’s family had also been traumatized by the accusations. In a 2011 interview with Bennett’s niece, who was only 7-years-old at the time, she recalls 15 officers marching to her grandmother’s doorstep, kicking in their front door, and trashing the home in search of evidence. When they found Bennett wasn’t there at the time, they left the apartment in shambles.
Several months later the story would unravel when Stuart’s brother confessed to police that Stuart had been behind the shooting all along. Under the assumption that he was helping his brother commit insurance fraud, Matthew Stuart agreed to assist in a staged robbery. Bennett was cleared as a suspect, let go without even an apology.
In January of 1990, Stuart leapt to his death off the Tobin Bridge when he learned his brother had gone to the police. His motive behind the murder of his wife and unborn child was money. As soon as he was released from the hospital he collected $100,000 in insurance money, purchased a brand new Nissan Maxima with the proceeds and had plans to open an upscale restaurant.
Unfortunately, the effects of this particularly ugly blemish in Boston history still linger, but there is a silver lining. The family of Carol Dimaiti Stuart were so horrified by the toll her murder took on the Mission Hill neighborhood that they started a fund in her name. By 2006 the fund had raised $1.2m and is credited for helping 220 kids from Mission Hill go to college.