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Charles Stuart Murdered His Pregnant Wife—and Blamed it on a Black Man

Read an excerpt of Deadly Greed, the despicable full story behind HBO's Murder in Boston.


From the author of Above Suspicion comes Deadly Greed, the horrifying true story of the Stuart murder case. Joe Sharkey tells the terrible story of how Charles Stuart murdered his wife own and unborn child—and framed a Black man in 1980s Boston.

The epitome of true crime, Deadly Greed explores themes beyond murder and criminal behavior—readers are challenged to consider their opinions on morality, society, the media, and—last but certainly not least—how race plays a role in the real world.

We already know that Stuart committed these atrocious acts—so this book focuses more on the things we don’t know: why Stuart did it, how Stuart got himself to do it, and—most chillingly—how he got away with it for as long as he did.

Though this is nonfiction, it reads more like a psychological thriller. The story is so compelling—not mention culturally relevant—that HBO Documentary Films, in association with The Boston Globe, have recently presented it in documentary format with Murder in Boston: Roots, Rampage & Reckoning, A Little Room Films production. The series has received acclaim from audiences and critics alike—you can check out the trailer below.

After all, not many of us are sick enough to enter the mind of a killer—and if we are, we're not likely to feel comfortable once we're in there.

For answers to the questions on everyone’s minds regarding Stuart's abominable actions, continue reading for an excerpt from Joe Sharkey’s Deadly Greed




Deadly Greed

By Joe Sharkey

Nationally, most people who are murdered die at the hands of someone they personally know; in Boston, it is almost a certainty. According to police studies in the late 1980s, nearly nine out of ten Boston homicide victims knew their killer. The figures simply translate into the demographic fact that chances are exceedingly high in Boston that a murder victim is black and poor, and that the murderer is too. Focused against the backdrop of the city’s severe de facto racial segregation, indications are that a white person in Boston, statistically speaking, can expect a relatively high degree of security from violent crime. In the late 1980s, in fact, Boston was one of the safest metropolitan areas in America, especially for its citizens who were not black and who did not live in the ghetto. In 1988, when Boston had ninety-three reported homicides, it was ranked twentieth among U.S. cities—after Indianapolis—in per capita murders. It had long been a matter of civic pride to Bostonians, who tend to worry over their city’s national image with a fervor unmatched elsewhere in the cynical Northeast. Unlike New York, Bostonians would say with little prompting, their city was safe.

And so it came as a matter of shock, and no small civic dismay, that the news media began telling Bostonians a different story in the latter half of 1989, when there began a steady drumbeat of crime news that seemed to indicate, in its frequency and its breathless presentation, that all hell had broken loose in the Hub.

This impression came about mostly because hell had begun to break loose by the end of the 1980s with the relatively late arrival to Boston of the crack cocaine culture and its attendant public gunplay and gang activity. In a community where, since Colonial times, each segment of the loosely federated population had traditionally monitored the behavior of every other segment, the sudden rise of strutting sixteen-year-olds armed to the teeth on crack dollars caused a degree of alarm that hadn’t been felt by Boston’s white residents toward their black fellow citizens since the terrible days of the school-busing crisis had made the city a convenient national symbol for bigotry in the mid-1970s.

But there was another factor at work in Boston, which some news professionals consider to be the most media-conscious city in America: a good, old-fashioned newspaper circulation war, the likes of which had not been seen in Boston for generations, and a fierce battle for what journalists shudder to be told is “market share.”

It had begun quietly enough in the early years of the decade. Then, long after newspapers with names such as the Post, Advertiser, Record-American, Transcript, Herald Traveler, and Journal had been consigned to dusty clipping files, the city of Boston had two daily newspapers, the prosperous Globe, which bestrode the region like a great advertising-fattened colossus, and the anemic Herald-American, a tabloid that was the direct answer to what used to be known unkindly in the newspaper industry as the Publisher’s Prayer: “Dear God, if I must have competition, please let it be Hearst.” The reference was to the once fearsome Hearst newspaper chain, whose daily newspapers, mired in working-class demographics in old urban centers, had ultimately become a laughing stock among modern competitors.

Hearst was losing a million dollars a month on the skinny Herald-American, and the company was overjoyed when another tabloid press baron, the Australian Rupert Murdoch, offered to buy the paper in 1982. Again, there were jokes: The Boston Herald-American, it was said, was so bad that it was the only newspaper published in America that could conceivably get better under Murdoch ownership.

But the sneers stopped when the paper, beefed up, toned down, and renamed as simply the Herald, did just that, against all odds in a time when fewer than five United States cities had competing newspapers published within their borders. Patrick Purcell, a young tabloid veteran installed as publisher at the Herald shortly after Murdoch purchased the paper, saw the competitor across town as “arrogant.” Flabby from a lack of serious competition in recent years, it was also, he said, “a ponderous read,” a newspaper that was heavy on global think-pieces and light on news about Boston. With a young and hard-working staff, Purcell’s Herald went to work making the Globe’s life harder, emphasizing aggressive local-news and police coverage and, for good measure, also going after the Globe in an area where it never expected tabloid competition: political and foreign news. By the late 1980s, it was clear to amazed observers in the industry that Murdoch had succeeded to a degree no one would have anticipated at the start of the decade. While the Globe continued to dominate in circulation, advertising, and reputation, the Herald had at least become viable competition, at least for a while. By 1988, the newspaper had cut its losses to the point where Purcell believed it was about to begin showing an honest profit. In such a situation, this is little short of a triumph.

In the Herald newsroom, reporters accustomed to writing two and three stories a day had once held a contest to see which of the colleagues on the well-staffed other paper had the fewest bylines in a month. Suddenly, it was obvious by the quickening of pace that the competition was taking its toll at the slumbering Globe. As 1989 dawned, the two newspapers were slugging it out for every break in local news, especially the crime beat. The print reporting likewise energized the city’s television news operations. By the end of the eighties, as the crack epidemic broke in a wave over Boston, crime in Boston was suddenly being covered with a vengeance. As the summer of 1989 waned, the drumbeat became louder.

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  • Photo Credit: Maxim Hopman/Unsplash

On September 1, under the front-page headline “A Merciless Final Verdict on the Streets,” accompanied by the photograph of a black man who was the subject of the story, a Globe account began:

Jimmy Cade laughed at adversity. He was bad. He was down. He was an O.G.—original gangster—with the Corbet Street Crew in Mattapan.

When they hooked Jimmy on a murder rap a few years ago, he laughed. “Ain’t got no case, man,” Jimmy said. He was right.

Yesterday, Jimmy wasn’t laughing. He was lying dead on a metal slab at Southern Mortuary, across the street from Boston City Hospital.…

“Jimmy beat the justice system,” a Boston police detective was saying. “But he couldn’t beat street justice. It got him.”

Two days later the same newspaper acknowledged that gang violence in the city had occurred at an unexpectedly low rate during the summer. “We just be chillin’ out,” the article quoted a black gang member as saying. It added: “There are ominous signs for the future. In a six-day period last week, three gang-related murders shattered the relative calm.… School opens next week, and feuds that have been on hold since June will be renewed.”

The Globe attributed part of the decline in gang activity to the success of a controversial policy underway in the highest-crime police district, Area B, where police had been given the authority to stop and search suspected gang members on sight, a practice that had accounted for a 25 percent increase in arrests over the year-earlier summer.

“Give the devil his due,” the article quoted John Codwell, a lawyer who had successfully argued in court against the policy. “One thing about unconstitutional police tactics—they often work.” But he added, in an ominous note that would find an echo months later, “What they’re doing is alienating a whole generation of young black kids. And it doesn’t have to be done this way. You know why they’re calling this a war? So the good guys can cheat.… Now every black kid they arrest is in a gang. If you live on one of the streets that is known to have a gang, you’re in that gang. If you don’t, and they arrest you, they say you’re the leader of a newly emerging gang.”

Not long after, an almost eerie foreshadowing found its way into the news. On September 8, under a headline, “A Life Taken at the Peak of Its Promise,” the Globe had the story of a thirty-five-year-old white woman, Frances Cunningham—“a bright, straight-arrow, sensible person, in no way involved with shady people or with drugs”—murdered in her car in mostly black Mattapan. Said a relative: “It’s hard to comprehend that she is dead. She was so unlike a murder victim.”

But her story soon faded. A Globe headline on September 9 alluded to the police commissioner’s support of the search policy: “Roache Backs Crackdown on Hub Gangs” and quoted him, “police continue to walk a tightrope when they try to balance the rights guaranteed by the Constitution against the public safety needs of the community.” Later, the commissioner says that police in Area B were responding to an “unusual time in terms of violence in this country.”

In the September 10 Globe, a correspondent sent to compare Boston with the crime in New York City began: “For an indicator of what will happen to Boston’s drug scene next, look to New York.”

The same paper a week later:

Two men and one woman who were shot on a Mattapan side street Saturday night appear to be victims of a random shooting spree in the drug- and gang-infested area, according to neighbors.

On September 21, in the Herald: “4 Shootings Leave 5 Injured.” The next week, in a Globe column by Mike Barnicle:

Six cruisers sit like blue-and-white blocking backs at the corner of Castlegate Road. Cops with shotguns and rifles are going door to door, hallway to hallway, looking for a kid who has just taken a shot at two guys in a car.…

“Shots fired” the dispatcher is saying on nearly every call that comes across the police scanner.

October 2, in the Herald: “Mom Says Teen Shot over Drugs.”

Two days later in the Herald: “Youth Slain on Bike in Possible Gang Hit.”

October 8, in the Globe: “Another Life Is Lost to the Violence.”

The next day’s Herald: “Hub Gang Violence on Rise.”

Two days later: “Cops Shoot Dorchester Man; Bounty Reported on Police.”

The next day, on October 12, the Globe reported:

In the heart of the Franklin Hill housing project in Dorchester yesterday, police were doing what they and residents say they always do: frisking a group of teenagers.

The almost constant searching and questioning of young blacks by police has set off a series of eruptions and controversies that has been felt from the police stations to courthouses by a community torn by violence.

Tensions reached a new peak Tuesday night when a policeman, investigating reports that a Franklin Hill gang, the Giants, had put a bounty on the head of officers, shot a bystander after mistaking a set of keys for a weapon.

A story accompanying spoke of “rumors” that “one gang had offered a $1,000 bounty on the life of any Boston police officer” and quoted a police captain who bemoaned a recent court ruling curtailing the police stop-and-search policy, saying that the court injunction against searches of teenagers not suspected of committing a crime had “made them more bold and brazen. Officers say that the kids are saying, ‘You can’t touch me’ or ‘The judge says you can’t touch me.’ I think what’s happened is the kids have read the newspapers and become more brazen.”

A headline from the Herald the same day: “Bullets Fired at Apartment Door of Black Family in South Boston.”

The Herald, October 16: “5 Injured as Boston Streets Erupt in Gunfire.”

The same day, under a front-page headline bellowing “As Shootings Spread, Police Vow Searches,” the Globe said:

Boston police reacted to a rash of shootings among young people over the weekend by pledging to continue their disputed searches of suspected gang members.

Police say that gangs are believed to have been involved in at least some of the six shootings reported in a twelve-hour period Saturday night and early Sunday morning in Dorchester and Mattapan.…

“It was a very violent weekend,” said Deputy Police Superintendent William Celester, commander of the 320 officers who patrol Roxbury, Mattapan and part of Dorchester.

After a relatively quiet summer, the number of shootings has increased sharply in the past two weeks, Celester said.

On October 18, a Herald headline said: “Turf War Tied to Shootings—Retaliation Likely Motive in New Spree of Violence.”

On October 21, the Globe had this headline across the top of its front page: “Police Cite Reign of Violence in Neighborhoods.” One of two stories on the subject reported “a widening split within the black community over the police department’s role in ending an accelerating cycle of drug and gang-related violence.” And an accompanying article spoke of “an unprecedented reign of violence … more than 100 people were shot in the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston during a 40-day period that began in early September.… At the current rate, 10 persons are being shot every four days in Area B, an area of about 1.5 square miles.

In quiet, tree-shaded Reading, in the far reaches of the Boston suburbs where he kept careful track of the alarms being rung now with loud insistence in the news, Chuck Stuart, ever alert, sensed an opportunity.

Buy the book Deadly Greed to read the entire compelling story.

Deadly Greed

Deadly Greed

By Joe Sharkey