Boston Mayor Michelle Wu issued a formal apology Wednesday to two Black men wrongfully accused of murdering a white woman in 1989, a case that exacerbated racial divisions in a city long divided along racial lines and reignited Black community distrust and anger toward the police department.
“I am deeply sorry for what you have endured,” the mayor stated at a news conference. “I am so sorry for the pain that you have carried for so many years.”
Alan Swanson and Willie Bennett were falsely named as suspects in the death of Carol Stuart on October 23, 1989, by her husband, Charles Stuart.
Stuart, who was also white, attributed his wife’s death – and his own gunshot during what he described as an attempted carjacking – on an unnamed Black gunman, prompting a police sweep in one of the city’s mainly Black districts in search 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, offering a written apology to both families.
“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 said in a statement.
According to Wu, in response to the murder of Carol Stuart and her unborn child, “and acting on a false racist claim framing a Black man for her death,” the city initiated a systemic campaign targeting Black men in Mission Hill and around the city.
Wu stated that there was no evidence that a Black guy committed the crime, but this did not matter to many because the narrative validated and revealed many people’s opinions.
Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox recognized the department’s shortcomings 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 in a statement.
Joey Bennett, Willie Bennett’s nephew, accepted Wu’s apologies on behalf of his uncle, family, and Alan Swanson on Wednesday.
“We are truly humbled to finally be receiving this apology,” he went on to say. “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 said in a statement.
Wu’s apologies for the crimes of previous municipal leaders showed fortitude, according to Joey Bennett.
“Your apology is accepted,” he remarked as he hugged Wu.
Bennett’s family and Swanson both demanded compensation for their pain and suffering. Swanson revealed to reporters after the press conference that he was bankrupt.
“I just need some financial compensation for all the trouble and pain I’m still going through,” he said. He went on to say he was “glad this is happening today.”
Charles Stuart claimed that in 1989, while the couple was leaving a birthing class at a local hospital, a Black man forced his way into their automobile. According to Charles, the man ordered them to drive to the city’s Mission Hill neighborhood and robbed them before killing Carol Stuart in the head and Charles in the breast.
Carol Stuart, 29, died the next morning at the same hospital where the couple had taken childbirth classes. The baby, who was delivered via cesarean section, lived only 17 days.
Charles Stuart survived the gunshot, and his description of a Black attacker sparked a broad Boston police “stop and frisk” crackdown on Black individuals in the neighborhood, despite the fact that some detectives were already skeptical of his tale.
“What was done to you was unjust, unfair, racist, and wrong,” Wu said in a statement on Wednesday.
During the sweep, authorities arrested Swanson before ruling him out and then arrested Bennett. In late December, Stuart would identify Bennett. But Stuart’s story had already begun to unravel by that point.
Swanson and Bennett both denied any knowledge of Carol Stuart’s death. Neither was charged formally. Matthew Stuart, Charles Stuart’s brother, later confessed to helping him hide the gun.
On January 4, 1990, Charles Stuart parked his automobile on the Tobin Bridge, which connects Boston, and leaped to his death. Later that day, his body was discovered.
The case has received new attention thanks to the Boston Globe and an HBO documentary series.
The apology, according to Wu, is “just the beginning of a much longer journey of accountability and action.”