Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Fate Of An Accomplice, After The Fact

When fur salesman Charles "Chuck" Stuart murdered his pregnant wife Carol in 1989, a furor erupted not merely over the crime itself, but over the lies Stuart told in his attempt to get away with it. On the night of October 23rd, Stuart drove his wife to Mission Hill, one of the Roxbury neighborhoods closest to downtown Boston. He parked the car, shot his wife once in the head, and then shot himself in the abdomen. Seriously injured by this self-inflicted wound, he called up his 23-year old brother Matthew and had him swing by and pick up the gun. Then he called 911, informing the police that he and his wife had been robbed and shot by a black man. This promptly led police on a grim wild goose chase to find the inner city tough who had dared to assault this up-and-coming young golden couple from the suburbs. They even apprehended a suspect, a hapless fellow by the name of Willie Bennett.

One has to understand the context of this event to understand how heinous Stuart's accusations were. 1989 was only a year after Michael Dukakis was clobbered in the 1988 presidential election, in large part due to an infamous campaign ad that held Dukakis responsible for the actions of one Willie Horton. Willie Horton, who was serving a life sentence for the vicious murder of a Bay State gas station attendant in 1974, was released on furlough in 1986 - and soon after absconded to Maryland, where he brutally raped a woman. The ad, possibly concocted by Karl Rove's mentor, Lee Atwater (who later died of a brain tumor for his sins), introduced the strategy of race-baiting to the 1988 campaign - a strategy that, unfortunately, worked all too well and swept the charisma-challenged George Bush The Elder into office. The Willie Horton scandal not only sunk Dukakis. It also smeared Massachusetts as soft on crime and a breeding ground for sinister black criminals. Stuart's ruse exploited that reputation, and for a while only made it worse.

Trained in the culinary arts, but blessed with good looks and the gift of gab, Stuart had left the kitchen for the glamor of selling fur coats on high-toned Newbury Street in Boston's Back Bay. Married to a lawyer named Carol DiMaiti, the 29-year old Stuart apparently grew distant from his wife when she became pregnant. He started staying out late, and even began to fantasize about a new relationship with a young Brown University grad who worked alongside him at Kakas Furs. One might say the lad was overreaching, but such behavior certainly exemplifies the delusions of grandeur to which sociopaths are prone. At any rate, Stuart eventually decided that his wife (and their unborn child) would have to die. At first, he actually seemed to be getting away with it. But when his brother Matthew confessed to his part in the slaying, attention shifted to Stuart and he knew that he was doomed. Already afflicted with a colostomy in the wake of his rather stupidly aimed self-injury, Stuart leaped to his death off Tobin Bridge. Not the site I would have chosen for such a thing, but hey.

The idea of some felonious white suburbanite blaming the murder of a loved one on a Black Man rapidly became a toxic meme in the American psyche. There were a number of copy cat cases, including the very high profile example of Susan Smith, who murdered her own children by drowning them in a lake in South Carolina, and then pointed a finger at the local bloods. There was even a movie made about Charles Stuart, starring Thirtysomething's Ken Olin - who, incidentally, was a classic example of bad casting as Olin was a gloomy Gus who couldn't charm his way out of a paper bag, much less sell anything. Variations of the Stuart and Smith cases found their way into crime novels like Robert B. Parker's Small Vices and Richard Price's Freedomland.

More importantly, the case inflamed racial tension nationwide, perhaps helping to ramp up the tenor of black outrage over the treatment of Rodney King barely a year and a half later, which led to the catastrophic L.A. riots of 1992.

Matthew Stuart was never charged with murder for his part in the crime, but he was convicted of conspiracy, insurance fraud and the illegal possession of a firearm in 1992, and served three years. On parole in 1997, he was arrested for dealing cocaine, but this charge was later dropped. Regardless of how little time he served, the crime ruined his life. His time in prison may well have been harder than most. Although prison is never a paradise for any good-looking white kid, there must always have been the additional threat of vengeance from black inmates who hated his brother for his racist lies. Matthew continued to have a troubled life on the outside, and died of a drug overdose in the bathroom of a Cambridge homeless shelter earlier this month.

Charles (Chuck) Stuart (Wikipedia)
Matthew Stuart dies, helped brother cover up killing (Associated Press)
Stuart found dead in shelter (Boston Globe)
Charles Stuart’s brother found dead (Boston Herald)

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