Jason Hehir “vividly” remembers when Charles Stuart jumped off the Tobin Bridge to his death the morning of Jan. 4, 1990.
The director, who grew up in West Newton, was in eighth grade at the time and a “bit of a news junkie” who followed the coverage of the Charles and Carol Stuart shooting and its aftermath “on a daily basis,” he said.
Hehir recalled how shocked his teachers were when news broke that Charles had committed suicide; it was the day after Matthew Stuart confessed to police that he’d helped his brother dispose of the gun used to kill Charles’s wife, Carol, in Mission Hill on Oct. 23, 1989.
“We could hear them say, ‘This poor guy, he just couldn’t take the grief anymore,’” Hehir told the Globe in a Zoom interview Thursday. “I’ve always had that memory of, even when the truth came out and everything was obvious, it was very difficult for the community to wrap their heads around what the truth actually was and how monstrous an act this was.”
The Globe and Hehir, who directed the 2020 Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance,” revisit the 1989 case with “Murder in Boston: Roots, Rampage, Reckoning,” a three-part documentary presented by HBO in association with The Boston Globe that debuts Monday on HBO and Max. “Murder in Boston,” the nine-part original investigative podcast produced by the Globe and presented along with HBO, also launches across podcast services Monday, while the Globe’s “Nightmare in Mission Hill” eight-part investigative series is now available to read.
The multimedia project, which includes Globe reporting, explores the circumstances surrounding the shooting as well as how the media frenzy and police investigation impacted the members of Mission Hill’s Black community. In his 911 call on Oct. 23, 1989, Charles claimed a Black man had shot him and his pregnant wife in Mission Hill. The deaths of Carol and Christopher, the couple’s baby who was born by C-section the night of the shooting, heightened racial tensions in the city and set off a manhunt in the Boston neighborhood.
In addition to diving into the case and its aftermath, the multimedia project explores Boston’s history with racial violence stemming from the battles over busing in the 1970s and the rise of stop-and-frisk tactics in the wake of the 1980s crack epidemic.
“The Stuart case was always the No. 1 story that I wanted to tell,” said Hehir. “Not because it’s just a riveting true-crime story, but because there’s such another layer to it with the racial element and examining Boston’s fraught racial history through the lens of this case.”
Much of the first episode, titled “Roots,” examines flashpoint moments like the uproar by white Bostonians over the 1974 Garrity decision, which ordered the desegregation of the city’s schools through busing. Hehir felt it was important to shine a light on these tumultuous chapters in Boston’s past to provide context for the Stuart case.
“It wasn’t in a vacuum,” Hehir said of the racially charged events that led up to the case. “This had been bubbling for years, if not decades, in the city. I felt that it was really necessary to give the viewer all the background we could in order for them to appreciate exactly how and why this happened.”
For two years, Hehir, 47, traveled back and forth between New York and Boston to film the documentary, often staying in the basement of his parents’ West Newton home. The director and his team visited Mission Hill and Roxbury on many occasions, meeting with community members who “felt the consequences of the Boston police and of the justice system throughout their lives.”
The series features interviews with family members of Willie Bennett, a Black man who was wrongly accused in the Stuart case. The documentary highlights the mistreatment by police that Bennett, his family, and Mission Hill’s wider Black community faced during the investigation.
“This is a story about the victimization of the Mission Hill community and of the Bennett family,” said Hehir, who recently hosted a private screening in Boston for Bennett’s family. “It’s clear, just from the amount of tears shed watching that footage, how much this still stays with that family and what an injustice this truly was generationally.”
“It’s the reason why I wanted to tell the story,” he added.
Hehir and the team behind the project combed through emergency calls, tape recordings of interrogations, and a ton of archival videos, including footage from “Rescue 911.” The reality series happened to have a camera crew already embedded with the EMS personnel that first responded to Charles’s 911 call.
Looking back at all the details and new clues that emerged during research, Hehir said, he was surprised by the amount of people who seemed to know Charles was behind the shooting and the “ample information” available in the “days, if not hours, after the murder that would have led” police to him.
“This wasn’t the mystery that we all thought it was,” said Hehir. “If they had gone to Revere and knocked on some doors and been as persistent with the Stuart family as they were with the residents of Mission Hill — and I use ‘persistent’ euphemistically — then I think that this could have been settled a lot sooner and with a lot less pain felt.”
Hehir hopes the documentary will inspire a “larger discussion about these issues” and start the healing process for the people of Mission Hill.
“I would love to see an apology to the Bennett family,” said Hehir. “A formal public apology to the Bennett family would be hugely useful and would be a source of great healing for the community and for the family itself — for the city to acknowledge what the Bennett family went through unjustly.”
This story has been updated to clarify production credits on the “Murder in Boston” podcast and documentary.
Matt Juul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.