Boston mayor apologizes to Black men wrongly accused in 1989 murder that shone spotlight on racism
Dec 20, 2023, 6:05 AM | Updated: 1:14 pm
BOSTON (AP) — Boston Mayor Michelle Wu issued a formal apology Wednesday to two Black men who were wrongly accused in a 1989 murder of a white woman, a case that coarsened divisions in a city long split along racial lines and renewed suspicion and anger directed at the police department by the city’s Black community.
“I am so sorry for what you endured,” the mayor said during a news conference. “I am so sorry for the pain that you have carried for so many years.”
Alan Swanson and Willie Bennett were wrongly named as suspects in the Oct. 23, 1989, death of Carol Stuart, whose husband, Charles Stuart, had orchestrated her killing.
Stuart, who was also white, blamed his wife’s killing – and his own shooting during what he portrayed as an attempted carjacking — on an unidentified Black gunman, leading to a crackdown by police in one of the city’s traditionally Black neighborhoods in pursuit of a phantom assailant.
“We are here today to acknowledge the tremendous pain that the city of Boston inflicted on Black residents throughout our neighborhoods 34 years ago,” Wu said, handing both families a written apology.
“The mayor’s office, city officials and the Boston Police Department took actions that directly harmed these families and continue to impact the larger community, reopening a wound that has gone untended for decades,” she added.
Wu said that in response to the killing of Carol Stuart and her unborn baby “and acting on a false racist claim framing a Black man for her death,” the city launched a systemic campaign targeting Black men in Mission Hill neighborhood and across the city.
Wu said there was no evidence a Black man committed the crime, but that did not matter to many because the story was one that confirmed and exposed the beliefs so many shared.
Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox also acknowledged the failings of police at the time.
“As commissioner I apologize for the hurt, pain and suffering experienced by everyone affected by the Boston Police Department, for their poor investigation, overzealous behavior and more than likely unconstitutional behavior,” Cox said.
Willie Bennett’s nephew Joey Bennett accepted Wu’s apology Wednesday on behalf of his uncle and family and Alan Swanson.
“We are truly humbled to finally be receiving this apology,” he said. “Most importantly, we would like to acknowledge our family patriarch, Willie Bennett, who has shown resilience and strength throughout his entire life no matter what anyone said.”
“This moment is not just a personal triumph for our family, but a testament to the incredible support we received from the Mission Hill community and friends alike,” he added.
Joey Bennett said it took courage on Wu’s part to issue the apology for the actions of earlier city leaders.
“Your apology is accepted,” he said, embracing Wu.
Members of Bennett’s family and Swanson both called for some kind of payment for their suffering. Swanson told reporters after the news conference that he was broke.
“I just need some financial compensation for all the trouble and pain I’m still going through,” he said, adding he was “glad this is happening today.”
Charles Stuart said a Black man forced his way into their car as the couple left a birthing class at a city hospital in 1989. The man ordered them to drive to the city’s Mission Hill neighborhood and robbed them before shooting Carol Stuart in the head and Charles in the chest, according to Charles.
Carol Stuart, 29, died the following morning at the same hospital where the couple had attended birthing classes. The baby, delivered by cesarean section, survived just 17 days.
Charles Stuart survived the shooting, with his description of a Black attacker eventually sparking a widespread Boston police “stop and frisk” crackdown of Black men in the neighborhood, even as some investigators had already come to doubt his story.
“What was done to you was unjust, unfair, racist and wrong,” Wu said Wednesday.
During the crackdown, police first arrested Swanson before ruling him out, and then took Bennett into custody. Stuart would later identify Bennett in late December. But by then, Stuart’s story had already begun to fall apart.
Swanson and Bennett denied having any involvement in Carol Stuart’s death. Neither were formally charged. Charles Stuart’s brother, Matthew, eventually confessed to helping him hide the gun.
On Jan. 4, 1990, Charles Stuart parked his car on the Tobin Bridge that leads in and out of Boston and jumped, plunging to his death. His body was recovered later that day.
The Boston Globe and an HBO documentary series has cast a new spotlight on the case.
Wu said the apology is “just the beginning of a much longer journey of accountability and action.”