BOSTON, JAN. 5 -- After absorbing the news of a Hollywood-style hoax involving murder, suicide and a possible array of other crimes, Boston residents were buzzing today about a monstrous husband, an innocent black man and a duped law-enforcement system.
Denouncing a "lynch-mob mentality," black leaders in Boston demanded an apology from police, politicians and the news media for accepting at face value the story of a white suburbanite who said he and his wife were attacked by a black man.
Although police and prosecutors generally refused to discuss the case, new details suggested that Charles Stuart coolly plotted the murder of his pregnant wife, Carol, and nearly got away with the Oct. 23 crime.
Stuart, who killed himself by jumping from a bridge into Boston Harbor early Thursday, caught the attention of the city and the nation by depicting himself and his wife as victims of a mugger who commandeered their car, robbed them and shot them.
Instead, authorities now say Stuart, 29, was lying when he said a black man attacked him and his wife, 30, as they were returning to their suburban home in Reading from a childbirth class and that he was lying again when he steered police toward identifying William Bennett as his attacker.
Those bewildering turnabouts in the case sent investigators chasing after a host of new leads, pursuing reports that Stuart shot his wife for insurance money and that one of Stuart's brothers was involved.
"We're checking everything. That's all I can say," said John Julian, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan.
Flanagan made the stunning disclosure Thursday that Stuart's suicide occurred hours after he had been named a suspect in the deaths of Carol Stuart and the couple's son, Christopher, who was born prematurely hours after the shootings and died 17 days later.
The case burst open Wednesday evening when Charles's brother, Matthew, 23, approached Flanagan and offered Carol Stuart's engagement ring as evidence that no holdup had occurred. Based on that evidence and on incriminating statements by Matthew and others, police declared Charles Stuart a suspect and went to arrest him. He jumped from the Tobin Bridge before they could find him.
Those developments transformed Stuart from a sympathetic victim, whose voice was heard around the nation pleading on his car phone for help from police, to a cold-hearted killer, who apparently shot his wife in the head at close range. How he was shot in the stomach remains unclear.
In light of the new disclosures, many Bostonians said they were aghast at Stuart's actions in the weeks after the shooting. While recovering, Stuart wrote a moving eulogy for his wife that was read aloud at her funeral. Then, at a lineup arranged by police, he said Bennett, 39, a black man jailed on other charges, looked like his fictitious attacker.
"It's unbelievable. It's all anyone is talking about up here," said state Rep. Nicholas Paleologos, a Democrat from suburban Woburn, which borders the Stuarts's hometown.
Matthew Stuart, who could not be reached today, told authorities that he drove a car to the neighborhood of the shooting on the night of Oct. 23, according to his attorney, John Perenyi. The lawyer said Matthew described how Charles tossed a bag into his car and told him to dispose of it.
That handbag belonged to Carol Stuart and was retrieved by police divers from the Pines River in nearby Revere Thursday, authorities said. It contained a wallet and other items of hers but no weapon, according to prosecutors.
Based on Matthew's statements, divers searched the river again today looking for the snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun believed to have been used. The search was halted in late afternoon because of dangerous currents and is to resume Saturday.
Investigators told Boston television reporters today that the bullet removed from Charles Stuart's stomach at an autopsy matched the one that killed his wife.
Late tonight, Boston television station WCVB broadcast an exclusive report quoting an unidentified source who claimed to have heard Charles Stuart confess to killing his wife for money. Stuart reportedly planned to collect on several life insurance policies, although the source said he did not believe that Stuart needed cash for drugs or gambling, according to the report.
The television account also said Stuart intended to shoot himself in the foot but hit his stomach by mistake. The station's source said Charles was calm during the confession, earlier this week, and did not hint at suicide.
Jack Dawley, an attorney who represented the Stuart family until Charles Stuart became a suspect, suggested today that Matthew Stuart was involved in the crime and that others may have been.
Dawley said he withdrew his services as of 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, about 14 hours before Matthew contacted the prosecutor, because he perceived a criminal, legal conflict among Charles, Matthew and at least one other sibling.
"At some point, somebody contacted me . . . and created a conflict for me," Dawley said in an interview. He declined to elaborate, citing legal ethics in refusing to divulge information provided by a former client.
Dawley said he does not think that Charles Stuart used drugs, but he refused to comment on whether the dead man owed gambling debts or had another reason to need a large amount of cash quickly.
According to Boston news media accounts, investigators were checking reports that Stuart killed his wife to collect a $600,000 life insurance policy and either shot himself in the stomach or arranged for someone to do it.
Dawley said Charles Stuart was considered a suspect shortly after the shootings and was investigated by Boston police but cleared. "They did a very thorough investigation," Dawley said. "They gave him a clean slate."
Residents of Mission Hill, a racially mixed neighborhood where the shootings allegedly took place, said they were outraged that police and reporters swallowed Stuart's story and assumed that the killer was a black man.
Several black clergymen called for the resignations of Mayor Raymond L. Flynn (D) and Police Commissioner Francis Roache.
"I demand an apology from the mayor of Boston, not just to Mission Hill, but to every black person in the city of Boston who was traumatized and victimized by political hysteria," said Louis Elisa, president of the NAACP's Boston chapter. "Every white person was looking at members of the black community as a possible killer."
Flynn, who said he shares the concern about the image of the neighborhood and the city, defended his administration. "We handled that situation to the best of our ability," he said.