The 1989 Charles and Carol Stuart shooting set off an intense police investigation and media frenzy that still haunt the city. “Murder in Boston,” the nine-part original investigative podcast produced by the Globe and presented along with HBO, reexamines the case, exploring new clues, what went wrong, and the scars it left on Mission Hill’s Black community.
It has been more than three decades since Charles placed the 911 call claiming he and his pregnant wife had been shot and carjacked in Mission Hill, identifying a Black male as the alleged attacker. While Charles survived, Carol died of her gunshot wounds. Their baby, Christopher, was born the night of the shooting after a C-section, but died 17 days later from respiratory failure.
Black residents of Mission Hill faced increased police scrutiny and surveillance due to the investigation, with law enforcement homing in on Willie Bennett, a Black man, as a suspect. Ultimately, Matthew Stuart confessed in 1990 that he helped his brother Charles hide the gun used to murder Carol. Although Bennett’s name was cleared, the wounds inflicted on the Mission Hill community are still fresh.
“There was always this sense that this story was something that they never let go,” said Globe associate editor and columnist Adrian Walker, who hosts the podcast, launching Dec. 4. “Murder in Boston: Roots, Rampage, Reckoning,” a three-part documentary presented by HBO in association with The Boston Globe, also debuts Dec. 4, on HBO and Max. The Globe’s “Nightmare in Mission Hill” eight-part investigative series is now available to read.
Ahead of the release, Walker spoke about revisiting the story three decades later, what surprised him about the case, and what’s needed to start the healing process for the residents of Mission Hill.
Q. In the intro for the podcast, you talk about how it’s time to “tell the story the right way.” What went wrong with the initial coverage of the case?
A. Going back and looking at a story 34 years later is nothing like reporting a story in real time. And I was on that story when it happened. Looking back on it, I think we all kind of got caught up in the competitive pressure of it, wanted to beat the [Boston] Herald, wanted to beat TV, all that kind of stuff. I think, at times, certainly judgment was a casualty.
Q. What kind of reporting did you do on the investigation back then?
A. I was just going wherever they sent me, like the day [Charles] jumped off the [Tobin] Bridge. The gun had been thrown into the Pines River, right where Lynn meets Revere, and my assignment was to just go there and stay there until they found the damn gun and fished it out.
Q. In addition to reexamining the shooting and its aftermath, the podcast features interviews with Mission Hill residents who were impacted by the police raids and chaotic investigation. Why did you want to center their experiences?
A. That was always the missing part of the story. Those voices have just not been heard to the degree that they needed to be. I always thought that was the missing piece.
Q. And the scars are still there.
A. You’ll see it in the documentary, but you’ll hear it even more in the podcast because there’s so many more voices. It was just such a traumatic event at the time. One of the things that drew me to it, and drew all of us to it, is that it was such a cataclysmic event when it happened, and yet three quarters of people in Boston probably weren’t here in 1989 and, for a lot of people, the story is new.
Q. Did anything surprise you while revisiting this story?
A. I was surprised by how many people knew [Charles had] done it who never came forward. That was the biggest surprise to me.
Q. Retired Boston detective Bill Dunn, who was involved in the investigation, is featured in the podcast and documentary. At one point he says “we’ll never know” who murdered Carol, and that police “never got the chance to finish the investigation.” Is this still an open case?
A. It’s crazy. I mean there are these guys, Billy Dunn and some of the prosecutors, who are still like, “You know, I still think Willie Bennett was involved. I still think they knew each other.” That’s all just nonsense: “We didn’t get to finish the investigation”? The investigation was finished. His brother Matthew went to the police, he said Charles did it. The next day Charles jumped off the bridge. That will end any murder investigation.
Q. Is there any kind of justice that needs to take place for Willie Bennett, who was wrongly suspected of the crime, and his family?
A. There’s a reckoning that’s never occurred with this case. I think an apology would go a very long way. I mean they never got anything. [Former Boston mayor] Ray Flynn went to their house for like 30 seconds. He wouldn’t even sit down, that kind of thing. I think some kind of public acknowledgment of the pain and suffering of, first the Bennett family, but also the wider Mission Hill community, is long overdue. It would be great if that was one of the things that came out of this.
Q. The podcast highlights how the media, police, and politicians all had roles in this case becoming chaotic, but does anyone deserve the lion’s share of the blame?
A. No, because it’s so multifaceted. A lot of these entities were acting independently, so there’s not like one bad guy. I think there are a lot of people who wish, or should wish, they had made some different choices.
Interview was edited and condensed. This story has been updated to clarify production credits on the “Murder in Boston” podcast and documentary.
Listen to “Murder in Boston: The untold story of the Charles and Carol Stuart shooting” beginning Dec. 4 wherever you get your podcasts. “Murder in Boston: Roots, Rampage, Reckoning,” debuts Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. on HBO and will be available to stream on Max. “Nightmare in Mission Hill” is now available to read.
Matt Juul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.