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Murder in Boston Podcast: Guide to episode 8

Thirty-four years later, many reporters are still dragging the sins of their Stuart coverage around, in one form or another. This includes your host, Globe columnist Adrian Walker. There’s no doubt, the media screwed up. Journalists moved on without any corrections or apologies, but not without a gnawing sense that something had broken down. And it’s time to reckon with that coverage.

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For more about this episode:

– Read the epilogue of the Globe’s written series on the Charles Stuart case

– Find out more about the characters interviewed throughout the podcast

– Look at documents related to this podcast

Transcript

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Before we begin, this episode contains some offensive language and descriptions of violence. It may not be appropriate for all listeners.

Sally Jacobs: Yesterday, several members of the Stuart family sat in a crowded Revere apartment, looked at one another through red-rimmed eyes and tried to make sense of the past 24 hours. But they could not. “You know, I see this kind of thing all the time in my work,” said Mike Stuart, a Revere firefighter and the brother of the infant’s father, Charles “Chuck” Stuart. “But this doesn’t happen to us. Not to us.” But it did.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): These words – this story – ran on the front page of the Boston Globe two days after Carol’s murder, on October 25, 1989. This was before Chuck jumped to his death, before the Stuart family’s charade was exposed.

Sally Jacobs: Over in Revere, where Chuck’s brothers and his friends gathered, a moment of silence hung heavy late in the afternoon. “We are numb from it,” Mark Stuart whispered, hoarsely. “Numb.”

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Sally Jacobs wrote this article. She was a general assignment reporter with the Globe. At the time, her story was a coup – Sally had managed to get inside the Stuart’s home just hours after the shooting.

Today, she can still see that room… still remembers the image of the grief-stricken family – including Chuck’s brother, Matthew.

Sally Jacobs: All I remember is that couch. I remember them sitting on the couch. I remember one of them sitting on the side. And there were several of them in the middle and one standing. I remember them being just profoundly upset. I felt like they were genuinely just shattered.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Sally’s story was just one of the many media pieces that portrayed Chuck and his family as sympathetic victims. The family was – in many ways – the picture of tragedy… at least through the mostly white lens of big Boston media. And by getting inside the home Sally was able to gather intimate details about Chuck and Carol.

Sally Jacobs: I was surprised they let me in there, a little bit. We talked a bit. They were telling me more stuff about their relationship, how much they had loved each other. And I came up with that phrase about their relationship, “so warm that it touched even those at their edge.” Like, I lived to regret that one.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): It makes Sally wince today… She wishes she could go back and show more skepticism.

Sally Jacobs: You know, he killed his baby. Like, who would ever have thought that he was the killer? It was just such a violent crime. It was hard to imagine. I mean, that he could have done it. I’m saying this now. I feel sort of silly, like, how could I have missed that? But that was the truth that day. It didn’t last more than a day, but that was the truth that day. I was totally with the program. I had bought the storyline so far, and we were out there to get that story and we got it… for better or worse.

Joey Bennett: You can’t make this shit up. Oh, but they did make it up.

Michelle Caruso: We went along with it, we printed it.

Archived Recording (Don Muhammad): I want to know now! Will you call Mr. Charles Stuart “animal”?! (CROWD CLAPS)

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Thirty-four years later, many reporters are still dragging the sins of their Stuart coverage around, in one form or another.

This includes me.

To be fair, I was a small cog in this whole machine – just a low-level reporter. But in the eyes of the public, all of us in the press corps shared blame.

And when it comes to the Stuart debacle, no one in the media covered themselves in glory.

Archived Recording (Reporter): The city’s media outlets face criticism from readers, from listeners and from viewers, from investigators, from academia. And quite frankly, from ourselves.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): And now, it’s time we reckon with that coverage. You see, at some point in 1990 or 1991, we all moved on, without any corrections or apologies, but not without a gnawing sense that something had broken down. And we were all part of it.

Archived Recording (Louis Elisa, President of Boston NAACP): Every person involved in this on an official level, including the media, failed to do their job to look at it objectively. They went to the issue of race. Came out with a stereotypical idea of who this person was, and they went no further than a cub reporter.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Were we fooled? Sorta. Could we have done a whole lot better? Definitely. And this much is clear: The questions that the Stuart story raises for the media are just as relevant today. So let’s dive in.

I’m Adrian Walker and this is Murder in Boston: The Untold Story of the Charles and Carol Stuart Shooting, Episode 8: Setting The Record Straight.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Right from the jump, all of the elements were in place for this to become a media circus.

First, there was Chuck’s dramatic 911 call.

Archived Recording (Chuck Stuart): Ohhh, I’m blanking out.

Archived Recording (Dispatcher): You can’t blank out on me. I need you, man. Chuck. Chuck.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Right away networks ran with it… some even played 13 uninterrupted minutes of the call.

Archived Recording (Panel Host): I think we decided it was news because of the audiotape, the 911 audiotape.

Archived Recording (Panelist): We all ought to be honest, that tape is irresistible.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): You even had a Rescue 911 television crew in the ambulance and operating room, showing paramedics trying to keep Chuck and Carol alive.

Archived Recording (Doctor): That hurt buddy? Does your belly hurt? That hurts when I press?

Archived Recording (Nurse): Archived Recording (Chuck Stuart) Yeah. (GRUNTS) Charles.

Archived Recording (Chuck Stuart): Yes.

Archived Recording (Nurse): Is there someone you want us to call for you?

Archived Recording (Chuck Stuart): No.

Archived Recording (Nurse): No?

ADRIAN WALKER (host): You had a remarkable, gruesome snapshot of the couple bleeding out in the front seats of their car.

Archived Recording (Boston Police Department Officer): Alright guys, step back, step back!

Archived Recording (Boston Police Department Police Officer): Archived Recording (Unidentified) Evan, you got that one? (CAMERA SHUTTER SOUNDS) Push me again you’re going to jail, now push back!

ADRIAN WALKER (host): And of course, you had the narrative of the moment: a white suburban couple in the dangerous Black and brown inner city.

Archived Recording (Kenneth Chandler, Boston Herald Editor): Here was a guy trapped in the car watching his wife die. I mean, this was a major story even before we had any idea who had pulled the trigger.

Greg Moore: So I gotta– I gotta to tell you a quick story. I know we got to go but—

ADRIAN WALKER (host): This is Greg Moore. He was an editor at the Globe back in 1989 and my boss. He made many of the calls about how the paper covered the Stuart shooting. Starting with that first night.

Greg Moore: Every night I would get a phone call about any breaking news.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): And when I sat down with him recently, I couldn’t even get a question in before he launched into this story.

Greg Moore: So I got a phone call, right? Telling me that this couple had been shot in Mission Hill and I was like, okay, well, there’s been a lot of people shot, right? I mean, she’s a pregnant woman and all that, but she wasn’t dead. So I was like, “Yeah, talk to the Page One folks, it should be on Page One.”

ADRIAN WALKER (host): The next morning, Greg headed into the newsroom a little earlier than usual.

Greg Moore: I’ll never forget this – I stop at Burger King on Dot Ave [Dorchester Ave] to get a little sandwich, right. And I’m sitting there reading our paper, getting a sandwich and looking out the window, watching people walk by the two newspaper boxes, which were a little bit apart. Right? And then they would just stop and take two steps back, look at the Herald box, put the quarter in and get the newspaper and just stop. Right there!

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Look, this is how newspapers wars were won back in ‘89 – sales of the actual papers. To Greg, the Herald was his main competition – not TV news, not the national papers – the Herald. And people at the Globe – well, we hated the Herald.

Greg Moore: I’m like, what the hell is going on there? Right? Because I hadn’t looked at her Herald. I didn’t subscribe to the Herald because I wasn’t giving them my money, right? But I would read it every morning. So I get up from the table and go out and look at the newspaper and go, “Damn.” Put my quarter in stand right there looking at that front page and then walk back into the restaurant, grab my briefcase and go to myself, “Nothing’s going to be the same again.” That’s what I said to myself. I knew it at that moment.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): It was THAT gruesome photo – the one of Carol and Chuck in the front seat of their car – on the front page of the Herald that caught everyone’s eye – and earned their twenty-five cents.

Greg Moore: I just knew from that moment on that everything was going to be different and this story was be like no other I’ve ever seen. I was like, “Oh, shit.” And like, when I came in the newsroom, I got there, like, probably quarter to eight.

Adrian Walker: Yeah.

Greg Moore: So we were calling up people on the phone, okay. We’re calling people up on the phone. We gotta get moving.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): This was the kind of story that gets everyone’s juices flowing in a newsroom. Right from the first moment, it felt like the kind of story that rarely comes along.

Greg Moore: You know, those were great times, man. Those were great times. We were rolling. Yeah, we were rolling… You know, you just don’t forget days like that.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): The eyes of the nation were on Boston.

Greg Moore: We were feeling pressure to break the story. Like every morning, every morning, you know, the senior editors on my team, we met and we used to say to each other, whoever can break the story is going to win a Pulitzer Prize.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): People at the Herald were fired up too.

Gary Witherspoon: I was one of those breaking news reporters. I had a lot of success on the street talking to people and getting them to talk to me.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Herald reporter Gary Witherspoon and I were part of the small cadre of Black reporters in Boston. Both of us had been called the n-word while reporting in certain neighborhoods.

Covering crime kept Gary pretty darn busy. He ended up in the same spots, talking to some of the same people, again and again. And even he initially bought Chuck’s story:

Gary Witherspoon: And it was certainly plausible, we thought that this could happen. You know, kids were killing each other left and right in Boston.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): After the shooting, Gary spent day after day in Mission Hill, talking to Black teens.

Gary Witherspoon: And they all felt like they were being rousted. And I was talking to these kids about what was going on. And almost right away, I heard two things. One was that the husband did it. (LAUGHS) And I, like most people, dismissed that notion, thinking, no, they’re going to catch the guy who did it. And almost right away, folks were saying there were cops saying, we’re looking for the n*** who pulled the trigger. (LAUGHS) And I could believe that too.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): While the cops searched for the killer, reporters were working their sources.

Gary Witherspoon: And there was an intense competition between the local newspapers. The Herald and The Globe were going at it everyday, trying to kill each other. (LAUGHS) We wanted to beat the hell out of them and they wanted to beat the hell out of us. And they had, we felt like the Globe had, you know, more resources. They had the money to do it.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Gary’s Herald colleague Michelle Caruso put it in blunt terms.

Michelle Caruso: They paid good salaries. They were considered to be prestigious. And the Herald at that time was owned by Rupert Murdoch. It was a tabloid and there was always a joke: If it bleeds, it leads. We wanted to be on the same playing field with the Globe. This was war.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Michelle was a veteran beat reporter with great law enforcement sources and a love for gory true crime stories.

Michelle Caruso: I would read like 50 books a year, true crime. And a lot of them were husbands killing wives, men killing girlfriends or sick old men that would, like, kidnap teenage girls and put them in a box or a coffin and keep it under the bed. And so my mind, perhaps twisted by such a heavy diet of true crime, had no trouble… Yeah. Men do some really sick shit to women.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): In her telling, she was skeptical of Chuck early on.

Michelle Caruso: I was very open with my bosses that I felt that Chuck did it.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): There were other journalists who questioned Chuck’s story too. Former Globe editor Greg Moore remembers that the newsroom juggled hundreds of tips about Chuck – from all corners.

Greg Moore: And they were crazy. There were wild, you know, he was dealing drugs, he was selling jewelry. He was selling furs.

Adrian Walker: The baby was Black. Remember that rumor?

Greg Moore: Yeah, the baby was Black! You know, I mean, there was just all kinds of stuff. And we probably had, like, almost a dozen reporters off and on, knocking on doors, going in, you know, projects that they had never been in before, knocking on doors, saying, “Hey, is there a woman here that had an affair with Chuck Stuart?” And they go like, “no,” right?

ADRIAN WALKER (host): But this skepticism didn’t exactly bleed into the coverage.

Michelle Caruso had listened to the 911 tapes and drove the same route as the Stuart’s Toyota Cressida. She sensed there were problems with the story.

But when it came to nailing things down… Well, she and other reporters hit wall after wall when they went to police and prosecutors.

Michelle Caruso: I had figured out in my mind how to structure a story that questioned Charles Stuart’s story.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Michelle says she just needed one thing… a key source to tell her that her hunch wasn’t way off. She wanted some kind of confirmation.

And she had the lead prosecutor, Francis O’Meara, on speed dial.

Michelle Caruso: All I needed was for Francis O’Meara to say one word — yes — when I asked him, “Are you investigating Charles Stuart as a potential suspect in this case? Are you looking at him? Are you looking at insurance policies, phone records, bank records? Are you looking at him?” And… quite the opposite. He wouldn’t even hint that they were. He said, “No, in fact, we’re going in a different direction. The investigation is going in another direction.”

ADRIAN WALKER (host): So… nothing came of it.

Michelle Caruso: I can recall going to a cocktail party with a bunch of mid-thirties to forty-ish lawyers. And they knew that I was a reporter and worked at the Herald and, you know, a couple of the wives asked me, “Oh, what do you think of that kismet?” And when I said that I thought Charles Stuart might be involved, the wives turned on me like you know, “Oh, that’s disgusting! You want to blame the victim? You want to blame the victim for this crime?” And that was very sobering to me, because I realized, if The Boston Herald were to do a story questioning Chuck Stuart’s integrity and honesty and we turned out to be wrong, we would have been destroyed.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): And then Chuck leaped to his death.

Michelle Caruso: I was too pissed to cry. I was mad. I was mad at myself, like, “How did you not get this in the paper? How did you let this slip through your fingers?” Now he’s dead. I consider it the biggest failure of my entire 27-year journalistic career. We failed the city of Boston, particularly the residents of Mission Hill.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Gary Witherspoon:

Gary Witherspoon: I think the media bought it hook, line and sinker. We were guilty, for sure. He played us like a fiddle, and we went along for the ride. In hindsight, I wish I’d done my job differently.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): The media’s self-reflection was intense, but fairly short-lived.

Archived Recording (Host): Tonight, the Boston hoax, the police, the press and the public.

Archived Recording (Reporter): Tonight, Eyewitness News reporter Dan Rea examines the way newsrooms reported this story.

Archived Recording (Media Analyst): It was a compelling American soap opera. A racist American soap opera.

Archived Recording (Reporter 2): It was a white couple and therefore we’re going to be here a lot longer. That a white life is worth more than a Black life.

Archived Recording (Bill Kovach, Curator, Nieman Foundation): We have organized ourselves as an institution to cover urban America in the wrong way. We do not cover it well.

Archived Recording (Charles Yancey, Boston City Councilor): The media bought into this Camelot image of Chuck Stuart and the Stuart family.

You make it sound as if the next day we went to a book of stereotypes, looked at and said, “Oh, yes, they must be the Camelot couple. Go out and get Camelot.”: Archived Recording (Kenneth Chandler, Boston Herald Editor)

Archived Recording (Fred Friendly, Moderator): Inside your head didn’t that happen?

Archived Recording (Kenneth Chandler, Boston Herald Editor): No it did not happen.

Archived Recording (Fred Friendly, Moderator): You don’t have to deify the dead.

Adrian Walker: Archived Recording (Greg Moore, Boston Globe Asst. Managing Editor) We didn’t deify them. (CROSSTALK) Archived Recording (Fred Friendly, Moderator) So somebody said it was almost like Camelot and you put it two full pages, screaming headlines, “Camelot.”

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Though many in the media pledged to do better, some of the worst offenses came in the wake of all this reflection. A lot of it appeared in the Globe. And most of the bylines were from columnist Mike Barnicle. At the time, he was the biggest name in the newsroom – a self-styled street poet, a columnist for the working class, and a staunch defender of nearly all-white South Boston.

Archived Recording (Mike Barnicle): South Boston has managed to cling to its essential character. You can still find many, many people who know and live the meaning of the word neighbor. No other area of this town took the kind of public beating that was consistently administered to South Boston over school busing. South Boston remains a place where more people than not make the daily effort to lead lives of honest pride and hard work.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): At the same time, Barnicle was tough on crime and regularly appeared on TV to decry drugs and violence in neighborhoods like Roxbury and Mission Hill.

Archived Recording (Mike Barnicle): Something has happened in this country recently, something that’s all mixed up with crack and cultural depravity with ignorance and indifference. Something bad, something truly evil. There are too many kids in too many neighborhoods who have absolutely no fear and no respect for anything or anyone. They would just as soon shoot you as look at you. They are not damaged by juveniles. They are raped, robbed, maimed and sometimes killed by young criminals, beasts who are growing up in a cave where there is no light, no hope, and very little future.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Barnicle had a wealth of sources within the Boston Police Department, including his own brother Paul, who happened to be a homicide detective. Barnicle hardly wrote about the Stuart shooting or the police manhunt in late 1989. That changed once Chuck jumped.

Greg Moore: I mean, he was the one that broke the story about the fact that the family members knew from the beginning that Charles Stuart had killed Carol. He was the one that had the tape recording from the fire department of them on the telephone, talking about whether or not to tell their mother. I mean, he had the whole story. He had it. And whatever it took to share that with the public, even if that meant breaking some conventions, I think that, you know, at the highest levels of the Globe, we felt like we had an obligation to put that information out there. And we did.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Barnicle penned a top-of-the-fold page one story saying Chuck’s motive was a $482,000 insurance policy he’d taken out on Carol just weeks before her murder.

But it wasn’t true. The story was wrong.

Yes, Chuck and Matthew plotted to profit from an insurance payout on Carol’s jewelry. But Chuck didn’t take out a big-ticket life insurance policy from Prudential in the lead up to her death, as Barnicle claimed.

We know now, Chuck killed Carol for a host of reasons: he didn’t want to be a dad, was eyeing other women and didn’t like how Carol – as he put it – had the “upper hand” in their marriage.

Was there a financial incentive too? Maybe.

But a half-a-million dollar life insurance plot? Didn’t happen. Even the company publicly denied it. And when editor Greg Moore asked Barnicle about his source for the column, Barnicle straight-out refused:

Greg Moore: And the fact that we could not force Barnicle to produce documentation for where he got that information, that was a wake-up call for me, like, you know, but nobody should be bigger than an institution. And in that case, he was.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Still, Barnicle’s most controversial column centered on Willie Bennett’s seventh-grade report card. It was written well after Willie had been cleared in the Stuart killing. In essence, Barnicle justified the police department’s myopic focus on Willie.

Barnicle wrote that 14 year-old Willie had an extremely low IQ. And Willie got D’s in science and geography. The column read:

“The man’s pathetic, violent history is so much a part of the unyielding issues of race, crime and drugs tearing daily at America that it is amazing how any Black minister or Black politician could ever stand up and howl in public that his arrest was a product of police bigotry and a volley of discrimination aimed at all Black residents of Boston.”: Wow.

I called Mike Barnicle and asked him to comment. He said in so many words – no thanks. And he made clear that he believes there’s no story here and no value in revisiting it. Barnicle has always stood by his words.

Archived Recording (Bryant Gumbel, Host): Two prominent members of the Boston media who’ve been on the Stuart story from the start are at our Boston affiliate this morning.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Here he is in February 1990 on The Today Show with Bryant Gumbel.

Archived Recording (Bryant Gumbel, Host): Let me with the accusation: media partly to blame. Guilty or not guilty, Mike?

Archived Recording (Mike Barnicle): Well, why not blame the media? We’re now blaming the media for the Vietnam War, but the answer is no. You had a made for TV movie in the process of being made that night, Bryant, you had a CBS network TV crew filming the EMTs as they assisted a dying woman and a critically wounded husband. You had this enormously dramatic tape that was going to be replayed and replayed on every TV broadcast, news broadcast, for weeks on end and reprinted in every paper in the country. So you had an unusually dramatic sequence of events occurring. But the answer is no. The media has nothing to be defensive about. But more importantly, nor do the police.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Even his editors defended him back then. In 1990, Barnicle declined many requests to appear on panels dissecting the media’s coverage. Mike just didn’t do that. So Greg Moore took the heat.

Archived Recording (Charles Ogletree, Moderator): I guess should direct it to the Boston Globe, Mr. Moore, because one of your columnists, Mr. Barnicle, went to great lengths to talk about Mr. Bennett, his IQ and other basically negative images of William Bennett, and that became front page copy. Isn’t it extraordinary that a columnist would have a column on the front page in a story like this?

Archived Recording (Greg Moore, Boston Globe Asst. Managing Editor): Well, no, I don’t think so. Was the question, why did Barnicle write about Bennett?

Archived Recording (Charles Ogletree, Moderator): In that way.

Archived Recording (Charles Ogletree, Moderator): Archived Recording (Greg Moore, Boston Globe Asst. Managing Editor) About his IQ and about his criminal past, the criminal record and stuff? I haven’t talked to Barnicle about it. I don’t know but my guess— But shouldn’t you, I mean, as a Black man and as an editor of The Boston Globe, doesn’t that offend you that he would cover the story on the front page in an article like that?

Archived Recording (Greg Moore, Boston Globe Asst. Managing Editor): There’s some aspects of the story that I don’t like, some aspects of his columns that I disagree with. But there are some things he writes that I like. There’s some things that I don’t like, there’s some things that make me mad, but that would apply to any columnist.

Archived Recording (Charles Ogletree, Moderator): Did that bother you, though? Did that bother you? Did that column bother you when it talks about his IQ and that he’s a criminal? He has been. He will be. So why have sympathy for William Bennett? Did that? I mean, you read that column, right?

Archived Recording (Greg Moore, Boston Globe Asst. Managing Editor): Yeah, there was. Yeah I read the column.

Archived Recording (Charles Ogletree, Moderator): All right. Did it bother you on a personal level?

Archived Recording (Greg Moore, Boston Globe Asst. Managing Editor): Some aspects of it, yes.

Adrian Walker: You were frequently called on to defend our honor.

Greg Moore: Mmhmm.

Adrian Walker: What was that like for you?

Greg Moore: It was a crucible moment for me, but it was one that I relished. I mean, look, as an African-American charged with that responsibility, I wanted to make sure that I discharged it fully, not just in the coverage day to day that I was responsible for, but I wanted to be able to defend what we did. And even though early on there were people telling me, “Yeah, don’t go on television because they’re trying to trap you.” I was like, “I’m the metro editor, like, if I can’t defend the coverage, all right, that I was in charge of, who can?”

ADRIAN WALKER (host): This is when I realized just how deeply people mistrust the media. For so many Black folks this was confirmation of what they always believed. That the media fundamentally couldn’t be trusted to be fair.

Renée Graham: Man. It’s been a long time, you know? I mean, it’s just, it’s really weird thinking back on this stuff, and I’m almost surprised how kind of still angry I am about some of it.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): I sat down with my colleague Renée Graham recently. We’ve been talking about the Stuart case for 34 years.

Renée Graham: What year did you get hired?

Adrian Walker: ‘89.

Renée Graham: ‘88.

Adrian Walker: I know.

Renée Graham: Yeah. So, damn, you’ve been here 34 years.

Adrian Walker: Don’t remind me. I just passed the 34 year anniversary.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): So, today, Renée is a columnist on the Globe’s opinion page. But at the time, she was a young Black reporter in the Globe newsroom. She was from New York. She had worked at the Miami Herald. When I arrived, we just kind of naturally fell into the same social circle.

Renée Graham: There were the Black reporters, you know, and a lot of us were young. We hung out. We went bar hopping. We went to restaurants. We went to each other’s homes. We watched boxing matches, you know, I mean we, we just—

Adrian Walker: Yeah, we’d go to brunch and bitch about Greg.

Renée Graham: We’d go to lunch and bitch about Greg.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): So both of us were outsiders when the Stuart shooting happened. And I think that made it easier for us to question the official story right from the beginning. We didn’t have relationships with these cops, or with the mayor, or the DA.

It always looked to me like they knew they needed to go out and find a Black guy and they went out… and found a Black guy.

And we never bought this idea that Chuck was some kind of evil genius that had everybody fooled.

Renée Graham: It’s how Charles played the fault of American history. He sort of turned that in this case. You know, I’m not even saying he was some sort of criminal mastermind. You don’t have to be in this country to do that. It’s been done before and it’s been done since. You know, Susan Smith with the children in South Carolina, you know, “Oh, my God, the Black man jumped in the car” and – nah, she killed those kids. And that was another one that never made sense, you know, but everyone was just, like, looking for this Black man. It’s always somehow the mysterious Black man who’s done the terrible thing.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): In this case, the mysterious Black man was Willie Bennett.

Renée Graham: It made me think of what it was probably like in the South when there was lynching. Like, if people could have gotten their hands on Willie Bennett, he would have been gone, you know? He became Boston’s boogeyman, Boston’s Black boogeyman.

It just took hold so quickly because it was intended to take hold so quickly. Everything about that story was engineered to inflame racial tensions and to distract from the facts. You know that a lot of it didn’t make sense because people reacted emotionally to that story. They didn’t react to it intellectually. It was all emotion.

What the coverage did was ignite white fears, which are always there, which are never far beneath the surface, but this was the nightmare for them, you know. And everything about Boston just being lawless and overrun by animals and no one is safe. And “no one” always means white people aren’t safe. That’s what that really means.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): You could feel that emotion inside the newsroom. There were a lot of tense conversations.

Renée Graham: Let’s talk about Mike Barnicle. Let’s talk about Mike Barnicle, shall we?

Adrian Walker: Let’s talk about Mike Barnicle, shall we?

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Renée is still angry that Barnicle never faced any accountability. Not for playing into racist tropes. And not for basic reporting failures. After he got the life insurance story so wrong, even the insurance company issued a rare public statement saying it was incorrect.

Renée Graham: Usually you get something wrong in a story, you have to write a correction. They never wrote a correction! And I don’t know. I always assumed it’s because they just didn’t want to make Barnicle look bad that he’d gotten something that big in the biggest story of the year wrong.

They never corrected it! Because in the middle of all that, you were like, “Okay, well we screwed that up, but let’s just move on.” And that’s what they did. So here we are, you know, 34 years later, still no correction. They’ve never said we got that wrong.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): As far as we know, nothing ever came of those columns…

Years later, Barnicle was caught plagiarizing. He left the Globe in 1998. He’s now a TV commentator and contributor for MSNBC.

Renée Graham: That should end a career. You know, when you get tagged with the two great sins of journalism, plagiarism and fabrication, that should be the end of it. But this is America, you know? And, you know, life is never over for a white man in America. (LAUGHS) Nothing personal. Just saying.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): When it comes to the Stuart case, another person Renée thinks about is Greg, our old boss. I like Greg a lot. Renée has never quite forgiven him.

Renée Graham: I trusted Greg. Greg had hired me, and Greg was the highest ranking Black person at the Globe, and he was my editor. And so I was sort of saying to Greg things that didn’t feel right to me, that didn’t sound right. But he wasn’t listening. He was swept up in it.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): I asked Greg if he had any regrets about how the Globe handled the Stuart story.

Greg Moore: No, I don’t.

Adrian Walker: Zero?

Greg Moore: No. And I’m not a person who is not self-reflective.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): That answer really surprised me. It’s mind boggling to me that he doesn’t regret anything about it. I have regrets. I think most reporters have regrets.

Greg Moore: I’m really proud that almost immediately we talked about race and class. We talked about, you know, sort of, white lives matter more than Black lives. We talked about race! Like, one of the things that we were comfortable doing, you know, is talking about race in a very aggressive, upfront way. And that was a part of our theme in our coverage from the beginning.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): And Greg is right. In the wake of the shooting, the Globe did go pretty deep on race. Remember Eileen McNamara’s column on James Moody, the Black man who was also killed that night but whose death got hardly any notice?

The Herald didn’t do anything like that. It seemed as if the Herald front pages trotted out one racist trope after another, rarely portraying Mission Hill as a place where good people were just trying to live their lives.

I’ve said it wasn’t a proud moment for anyone in my business, and it wasn’t. But talk to Black Bostonians today, and you’ll hear that the Herald’s coverage still stings.

We all learned a hard lesson about trusting official sources.

Greg Moore: In retrospect, I don’t trust anything or anybody. You know, if somebody tells me something like that, I want to know exactly what is that based on. And again, I think that’s another legacy of Stuart, at least for me.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Another legacy of this story can be seen in the city’s newsrooms. Here is a taste of the conversation back then:

Archived Recording (Charles Ogletree, Moderator): Would it make a difference if we consciously, all of us, made an effort to increase the representation of minorities?

Archived Recording (Paul Friedman, Executive Producer of ABC’s World News Tonight): I think that we all benefit from our colleagues and their perspective on things.

Archived Recording (Tom Morgan, President of NABJ): You know, it’s been very hard for me to sit here just now to listen to this, because more than half the newspapers in this country don’t have any minorities within broadcast.

Archived Recording (Ken Chandler, Boston Herald Editor): No question. I mean, the more culturally diverse a newsroom is, it’s got to be a benefit.

Archived Recording (Tom Morgan, President of NABJ): The media in this country has done a terrible job.Too many of the decision makers are white men.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): It wasn’t just seasoned journalists who were paying close attention.

Howard Bryant: I owe my career to the Stuart case in so many ways, because looking at the way the Black community was treated during that time, I told myself, “If you leave it to them, this is how you’re going to look to everybody. This is how you’re going to be perceived by everybody. You need to represent yourself. If you don’t have a chance to speak for yourself, this is how you’re going to look.” And that’s one of the big reasons why I got into journalism in the first place.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Today, Howard Bryant is a successful author and commentator. Back in ‘89, this kid from Boston was at Temple University, watching the case unfold.

Howard Bryant: I felt like there were two conversations taking place. There was the case itself, and there was what we were reading in the Globe and in the Herald. And I remember my sister bringing up something that would become a story later on in [the] media, which was, “They don’t do this when Black people get killed. Why is this one person, Carol Stuart, God rest her soul, obviously, why is she so special?

The Black community in Boston just gets beaten on and told to take it, and written about by everybody but us. And so essentially when you look at what took place, media-wise following the case, you essentially had white people talking to each other. There were very few Black voices, with the exception of Adrian Walker or maybe Derrick Jackson in the Globe, who provided the counter. Who provides the counterbalance to those stories? Who provides the counterbalance that says, “Hold on, wait a minute, this doesn’t quite fit?”

ADRIAN WALKER (host): In spite of the early ‘90s conversations about newsroom representation, Howard felt he couldn’t make it in Boston. He had to become a success elsewhere first.

Howard Bryant: You have to make a reputation, a professional reputation somewhere else. And then after you’ve done that, maybe you can come home and then they’ll claim you, because who doesn’t want to claim a success story? But you’re not going to be able to grow up through the ranks here. You’re not going to be able to climb through the ladder because those jobs and those opportunities are already taken and you’re not on the list. So that’s the real piece of the hostility that I always felt about Boston.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): I know firsthand that Howard has a point. Though some Black reporters covered the Stuart murder and a Black editor led the Globe’s coverage, the so-called stars of Boston media in those days were overwhelmingly white. They were the ones that police and prosecutors leaned on to sell the notion that Willie Bennett was behind this murder. And editors trusted them.

That was maddening to reporters like me and Renée who were skeptical but didn’t feel like we had the experience or credibility to get the attention of editors. Walking around Boston in those months, I heard plenty of criticism of the media – especially from Black people. And after a while I stopped pushing back on it… because a lot of it rang true.

Howard Bryant: I remember Barnicle had a line in one of his columns that said something like, you know, “What were they supposed to do, beat a confession out of him while he was bleeding to death?” And I remember that really bothering me because I remember thinking that you’re not going to get off the hook that easily. This was not handled right. You can’t tell me that this was handled properly. You can’t tell me that this is how you would have handled it if a Black person shot another Black person. So you’ve got to own up.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): So did the media learn a lesson? Renée doesn’t think so.

Renée Graham: I don’t know that journalism has gotten better since the Stuart case. You know, I think that the media, still, is attracted to heat, not light. Like you always say, this is what changed everything but it didn’t really change anything. I mean, look, they couldn’t even run a damn correction, it changed nothing.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): I’ve said over the years that there’s never been any consensus on the lessons of the Stuart case, or what should have changed. But after all the media panels and analysis and self-reflection, this much is clear to me: We didn’t ask the right questions until it was much too late.

I want to tell you about one more person who’s still carrying this around.

Evan Richman: Tough stuff.

Adrian Walker: Really is tough stuff.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): I’ve known Evan Richman since we were both young journalists covering crime in Boston. He’s the Herald photographer who took that infamous crime scene picture of Chuck and Carol Stuart, bleeding out in their car.

Evan Richman: It’s tough to look at. It’s such a gruesome picture. I didn’t even know they ran it until I saw it on the front page.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Evan was young. Right out of college.

Evan Richman: I really wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): When I called him, Evan was hesitant to talk about the picture. He felt like this was opening an old wound.

Evan Richman: I was pretty shaken at the time. And I was, I wasn’t really following the story after that. You know, there was a lot of negativity towards me. Hate mail.

Adrian Walker: You got hate mail?

Evan Richman: Yeah, I got, I got a lot of hate mail. And of course, back then, it wasn’t just, you know, email. You had to write it on, write on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope with a stamp and mail it. And I got a lot of that mail. It was, it was harsh. “How could you sleep at night?” “I hope this happens to you and your family.” And, you know, I thought a lot of the questions that were brought up were valid, and I took it hard.

Adrian Walker: Wow. What did you do with the hate mail?

Evan Richman: I can show you a couple of them if you like. I have. I have a file I kept.

Adrian Walker: I’d like to see it.

Evan Richman: Sure.

Adrian Walker: Sure. Absolutely.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): So Evan walks over to a cabinet and grabs a folder. This is something I did not see coming. The stack of letters and a few clippings, they’re pristine.They’re old, but not yellow, because Evan has perfectly preserved them.

Evan Richman: Yeah. I kept a little file over the years of information regarding the story. These are some of the letters. This was the editorial page of the Herald, I think the day or two after, with some of the responses that we got from some of the readers.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): I asked if he would read the letters out loud.

Evan took a pass.

But he said I could read them.

Adrian Walker: “I found your pictures sick. Your publication went beyond the boundaries of journalism and sensationalism into the realm of morbid and sick. How dare you intrude on the pain and sorrow of death that this family must now endure?” Wow. And there are a dozen of these.

Evan Richman: Well, that’s just the—

Adrian Walker: One day.

Evan Richman: Well yeah that’s just the one day. That’s kind of a drop in the bucket of the kind of mail that – mail and phone calls we got. A lot of people wanted to speak with me personally. I wasn’t really taking calls or interviews at that point, but I got the gist of what the people were feeling out there. Yeah. And there were, like I said, there were hundreds of phone calls that first day.

Adrian Walker: Hundreds?

Evan Richman: Hundreds. Hundreds.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): Evan eventually agreed to read snippets of a couple of them. He grimaced the whole time.

Evan Richman: “I am absolutely outraged that you could put a picture like this of the shooting victims on the front page of the Boston Herald. What kind of person are you? You have absolutely no compassion for her family. It’s people like you in the media that create people who have sick, little twisted minds to try this. After looking and reading about this, I will never pick up a newspaper again. From a very, very angry United States citizen.”

Adrian Walker: Wow. Now these letters are in pristine condition all these years later. Why did you save them?

Evan Richman: I mean, I knew at the time that this was probably a pretty rare occurrence and that hopefully it would never — wouldn’t happen again. But it was, it was, you know, for me, it was very moving and I felt I wanted to keep some of it so I could, I could just have it. And like I said, I’m not sure I ever read these letters before because I kind of knew what was in them. But maybe I knew 33 years later that Adrian Walker would come ask me about them.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): This case felt that way for a lot of us… not just a story, or even a big story… but a moment that might come to define us.

Evan Richman: You know, I’ve shot a lot of pictures in the years since. And, you know, what would you be known for if today were your last day? And that might be it.

ADRIAN WALKER (host): That might be it.

On the next and final episode of Murder in Boston, we’ll look at the long tail of this case and ask how far the city’s come… or not.

Credits

Murder in Boston: The Untold Story of the Chuck and Carol Stuart Shooting is presented by The Boston Globe and HBO Documentary Films. This podcast was reported and written by Globe journalists Evan Allen, Elizabeth Koh, Andrew Ryan, and me – your host, associate editor Adrian Walker.

The project was led and co-written by Assistant Managing Editor Brendan McCarthy and Globe Head of Audio, Kristin Nelson. Nelson served as senior producer. Melissa Rosales is the associate producer.

Our theme music is Speak Upon It by Boston’s own Edo G. Reza Dahya is our sound designer. Voice over direction by Athena Karkanis. Research from Jeremiah Manion. Fact-checking by Matt Mahoney. The Boston Globe’s executive editor is Nancy Barnes. Thanks to former Globies Brian McGrory and Scott Allen and to Boston Globe Media CEO, Linda Henry.

Additional interviews and audio courtesy of Jason Hehir and Little Room Films.