Before Stuart was out of the hospital, the police dragnet found a suspect: William Bennett, 39, an unemployed black who had spent 13 years in prison for crimes that included shooting a police officer. According to the police, Bennett bragged to his 15-year-old nephew that he had robbed the Stuarts and taken their jewelry. In the warrant the police obtained to search Bennett's home, they underlined the recollection that Bennett said he told Stuart, ^ "Don't look in the rearview mirror." Those words were almost identical to the ones that Stuart, in a brief interview with the police right after the shooting, claimed the killer used. Already in custody on a charge of robbing a Brookline video store, Bennett was placed in a lineup as soon as Stuart was well enough to come to the station. Stuart picked out Bennett as a man who resembled the killer. With that, hope vanished that the police might look for flaws in Stuart's story...
earlier in the story
By identifying the killer of his seven-months-pregnant wife as a raspy- voiced black man dressed in a jogging suit, Stuart tapped into assumptions about race and crime so powerful that they overwhelmed skepticism about his tale. His fabrication raised the curtain on a drama in which the press and police, prosecutors, politicians and the public played out their parts as though they were following the script for the television movie that CBS will make about the case.
Instead of suspicion, Stuart was showered with sympathy. The media apotheosized the couple as starry-eyed lovers out of Camelot cut down by an urban savage. Some politicians attended Carol's funeral; others called for the death penalty. Mayor Raymond Flynn ordered all available detectives to work on the case. Hundreds of men in Mission Hill whose only connection to the case was that they were young and black were stopped and frisked.
The massive manhunt in all the wrong places tied up police for weeks. No one had time to look for cracks in the smooth facadeof the husband who tended his rhododendrons, jogged with his wife and shoveled snow off an elderly neighbor's steps. Few of the leads were followed that might have revealed a psychopath who had taken out large amounts of life insurance on his wife, possibly to finance the opening of a restaurant, a pathetic aspiration that shattered two families and a city's racial peace.
Stuart's story was made more believable by the media. First came broadcasts of the tape of his frantic call from his car phone to the police dispatcher as he fought off unconsciousness to summon aid for his dying wife. Then came videotape of the crime scene, recorded by a television crew that just happened to be traveling with emergency workers on the night of Oct. 23. Too gruesome to be broadcast in its entirety, it showed 30-year-old Carol Stuart, her head blasted open, her abdomen bulging, being pulled from the bloodstained front seat of the couple's Toyota.
Stuart's story gained even more credibility because of the severity of his wound. Though he apparently meant to shoot himself in the foot, he somehow ended up with a bullet in his abdomen. It was hard to imagine that anyone would inflict injuries so severe that he would need two operations, ten days in intensive care and six weeks in the hospital, that he would damage his bowels, gall bladder and liver merely to deflect suspicion from himself.
Stuart, 30, played the role of tragic victim with the boyish charm of a Ted Bundy, the dazed innocence of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald. His farewell letter to his wife, composed in his bed at Boston City Hospital and read at the funeral by his best friend, was a tour de force of grief. "You have brought joy and kindness to every life you've touched. Now you sleep away from me. I will never again know the feeling of your hand in mine." Many at the crowded funeral at St. James Church in Medford, the very church where he had been married four years earlier, sobbed out loud. Among those who attended: Governor Michael Dukakis and the mayor. Lying in the hospital with tubes running in and out of his body, Stuart asked to hold his son Christopher one last time. Delivered two months prematurely by caesarean section, the baby died after 17 days. Every emotionally wrenching moment made the newspapers and nightly news.