A Dark Night of the Soul in Boston

updated 11/13/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1989 01:00AM

The Monday-night birthing class at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital ended just before 8:30, but Carol and Charles Stuart lingered. As the other couples filed out into the night, Carol said her usual friendly goodbyes. Like the 10 other women in the session, she was about seven months pregnant; the baby would be her first Carol, 30, was eager to head back to her comfortable gray two-story house in the affluent suburb of Reading, Mass., but she had another question for instructor Gayle Hylen about one of the evening's topics. "She asked how quickly an emergency cesarean section can be done," Kimberly Woodward, a classmate, later recalled. "It was eerie."

The gathering on Monday, Oct 23, was the Stuarts' third in preparation for their child's birth. Charles, known as Chuck, 29, seemed blissful. "During the classes he would look at his wife a lot and just beam," recalls Steve Woodward. "He was a rather quiet reserved man, but you could see it in his eyes. They'd really sparkle when he was talking about the baby."

Their questions answered, Carol and Chuck left the hospital. They walked outside to the street where their car was parked and got into the blue Toyota Cressida for what should have been a 25-minute ride home. Although not a notoriously dangerous section of town, the hospital's neighborhood borders crime-plagued Roxbury. Chuck and his brother Mike, a Boston fireman, had talked about the menacing feel of the place. "I told him it's not the best of areas," Mike said later. "I told him I didn't like parking my car there. And I would never send my wife in there by herself."

Chuck was right by Carol's side, though, when, two blocks from the hospital, they pulled up to a red light at the corner of Huntington and Francis streets. As Chuck recounted to police later, a black man, brandishing a silver .38 snub-nosed revolver, forced his way into the car. He ordered them to drive for two to three minutes to an isolated section of the Mission Hill neighborhood, where he demanded Carol's cash and jewelry. Chuck protested truthfully that he had left his wallet at home. The gunman suddenly concluded that Chuck was a cop trying to conceal a badge. "You're 5-0! You're 5-0!" he bellowed, using street slang for policeman. With that, he shot Carol through the back of the head. Chuck ducked down in the seat and was struck in the abdomen. The gunman fled with the car keys, $100 and a few pieces of jewelry.

At about 8:35 the call came through to Gary McLaughlin at Massachusetts police headquarters, some two miles away. "My wife's been shot" gasped a man's voice. "I've been shot"

"Where is this, sir?" asked McLaughlin.

"I have no idea," came the reply from Chuck, who, fighting to stay conscious, had found his car's cellular phone and called 911.

McLaughlin immediately hooked the call into the Boston Police Department dispatcher, and several cruisers and paramedic units scrambled to hunt for the wounded couple. Meanwhile, McLaughlin struggled to learn Stuart's location. At one point, Chuck managed to pull a spare set of keys from his pocket start the car and drive toward an intersection. He still could not identify the cross streets. The chilling conversation between the wounded man and the dispatcher seemed to go on and on (see box). McLaughlin managed to keep Stuart conscious, pleading and cajoling. Bleeding profusely, Stuart was fading fast. He finally stopped talking.

Fortunately, though, the car phone line remained open. "I knew he was still alive," says McLaughlin. "I could hear him breathing and moving." When Boston police dispatcher Brian Cunningham was told that a siren could be heard over the car phone, he hit on the idea of using the sound to locate the car. He had patrol units blast their sirens in turn and, judging by the volume through the phone and the location of the cruiser, he pinpointed the Stuarts' location. Just 13½ minutes after Chuck's call came in, police found the wounded couple.

"He was incredible," says McLaughlin of Stuart. "Here's this poor man, shot, his wife beside him, and he had the ability, the guts and the gristle to get help to his family. If there's a hero in all of this, it's him." Robin Groth, a segment director for the CBS show Rescue 911, and a cameraman happened to be riding with a Boston paramedic crew that night. They arrived on the scene moments after police and found the Stuarts still seated in the car, Carol's head resting on Chuck's shoulder, his arm around her. Says Groth: "It was as if even at that moment he was still trying to protect her."

Barely 30 minutes after she had asked her questions about an emergency C-section, Carol Stuart was back at Brigham and Women's undergoing precisely that procedure. Realizing the young woman's wound was inoperable, doctors made a desperate bid to save the life of her unborn child. They could not take the time to move her into surgery; the operation was performed in the emergency room. Carol delivered a son, eight weeks premature. Some time before daybreak, a Catholic priest was summoned, and a few relatives gathered. As his mother lay close to death, the frail, 3-lb., 13-oz. infant was baptized Christopher, a name picked by his parents months before. Meanwhile, his critically wounded father, who had been rushed to Boston City Hospital across town, underwent seven hours of surgery. After coming out from the anesthesia, Chuck was unable to speak, but he repeatedly wrote notes asking about Carol.

The horrible attack on Chuck and Carol Stuart destroyed one family and left in its aftermath a dismally familiar scene of citywide fear and recriminations. Just as the gang rape and savage beating of a female jogger in Central Park outraged New York City last April, the shooting on a deserted Mission Hill street and the attendant nationwide publicity plunged Boston into a common anguish. "The whole thing has absolutely paralyzed the city," says childbirthing classmate Kimberly Woodward's husband, Steve. "It seems like Boston has become a war zone." Conservative politicians called for reinstatement of the death penalty. Frustrated black community leaders asked once again why, with so many people in the inner city victimized daily by violent crime, an assault on suburban whites drew so much high-level attention.

Within hours of the shooting, as many as 100 police fanned out into Roxbury's neighborhoods in search of the killer. Authorities insisted that the response was appropriate, given the nature of the crime. As Police Superintendent Joseph Saia put it: "You have a complete disregard for human life in this case. If he'd kill a pregnant woman, he'd kill anyone." No one, of course, is ever prepared for the kind of tragedy that befell the Stuarts. "She was an angel," says Tom Samoluk, Carol's classmate from Boston's Suffolk University Law School. "She literally lit up your day." Carol grew up in Med-ford, the second child of Giusto and Evelyn DiMaiti. Chuck, who once wanted to be a chef, attended Salem State College in Salem, Mass. He first met Carol at the Driftwood, a restaurant in Revere; he was a cook and she was waitressing to help pay for law school.

Married in 1985, the Stuarts delayed having a child until they had launched their careers. Early on, Carol thought about becoming a prosecutor but then abandoned the notion, pronouncing herself "too thin-skinned" for such gritty work. Instead she took a position as a tax attorney for Cahners Publishing Company in Newton. After eight years on the job, Chuck was general manager of Edward F. Kakas & Sons, a Boston furrier. "They were hugely excited about their baby," said Chuck's brother Mark, 26. The child was due on Dec. 26.

Carol was pronounced dead at around 3:00 A.M. the day after the attack. In the neonatal intensive care unit, baby Christopher remained in guarded condition, his prospects uncertain. In addition to his premature birth, he was deprived of oxygen and blood supply for half an hour because of Carol's injuries, raising fears that he might have serious brain damage. After surgery, Chuck was placed on the critical list, but within a week his condition had improved to stable. Chuck's brother Mike voiced the sentiment that was to echo throughout Boston's middle-class neighborhoods. "This doesn't happen to us. Not to us."

Outrage over Carol's murder was universal, but in a city often divided along racial lines, many expressed dismay at the seemingly disproportionate concern for white victims of crime. "We can have a 14-year-old boy shot and killed, a mother on a playground shot and killed, and that doesn't spur people to move," says Louis Elisa, president of the NAACP's Boston chapter, referring to recent black victims of inner-city violence. "We've got to look at our values in this society. If people don't value black lives, fine, but the cancer continues to spread. Now maybe people will realize that this violence won't stay in the inner cities."

As of midweek there had been no arrest. The Stuarts' relatives were left to struggle with their grief. "We've lost our darling Carol," says Rosemary Leone, Carol's aunt and godmother. "She's gone." The women in the family had planned a baby shower; some gifts were already hidden away. "My mother had bought the high chair," says Leone. "I was buying the carriage. It was going to be a surprise...a wonderful surprise."

Instead, the Saturday following the assault, 800 mourners, including Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, Bernard Cardinal Law and Gov. Michael Dukakis, attended Carol's funeral at St. James Church in Medford, where she and Chuck were married. Chuck's friend Brian Parsons read a letter written to Carol by Chuck from his hospital bed. "My life will be more empty without you, as will the lives of your family and friends. 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, but I will always feel you. I miss you and I love you."

Carl DiMaiti, Carol's older brother, took the risk of voicing the wishes of the one person who could not be heard. "My sister really believed in the innate goodness of every one of us," he said. "She was perhaps the most unselfish person I have ever known. Carol would stand totally against all calls for vengeance or retaliation."

—Montgomery Brower, Dirk Mathison and S. Avery Brown in Boston

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