A new documentary is exploring Boston's infamous murder case and the racial tensions it stoked. "Murder in Boston" chronicles how, on the night of Oct. 23, 1989, Charles "Chuck" Stuart falsely claimed that a Black man shot him and killed his pregnant wife Carol in a violent carjacking — leading to an intense manhunt targeting young Black men all over the city. A little more than two months later, Stuart took his own life when his scheme to collect on Carol's life insurance unraveled.

Reported in collaboration with The Boston Globe, "Murder in Boston" takes a fresh eye at the original police investigation and the painful memories it still evokes today in the city's Black community.

Jason Hehir, the director and producer behind HBO's documentary, spoke with GBH News about his project. The first episode of “Murder in Boston: Roots, Rampage and Reckoning” premieres Monday on HBO at 9 p.m. Episodes 2 and 3 will air at the same time on subsequent Mondays, and will also be streaming on Max. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Haley Lerner: Why was it important for you to do a documentary series on this particular case?

Jason Hehir: It had always been in the back of my mind. And from the time that it happened when I was a kid, this is what I wanted to do. I always thought that the Stuart case would be great, not only as a true crime story with all the twists and turns and characters, but also as a way of examining Boston's fraught racial history through the lens of one case.

It's a good way of examining our past and examining the mistakes that were made. It's a cautionary tale. And I think, as difficult as it is to re-approach some of the details of the case — and I found that it was very difficult to get people to open up — it was a sad chapter in our history, and a tragic chapter in the city's history. And I felt like those kind of stories are necessary to keep on telling.

I was talking to [former Boston City Councilor] Tito Jackson, who appears in the film. I told him that, when I would tell people that I was doing this story, they would say to me, “Why do you want to open that wound?” And Tito said to me, “Well, for a lot of us, that wound never closed. And in order to heal a wound that's been open for that long, you have to do the process of disinfection.” Digging out all the nastiness and the infection from a wound is a very painful process. But it's necessary if you want to close it up and move forward and start to heal.

I felt tremendous responsibility to get the story right and to tell the story accurately and to offer the perspectives of everyone who was involved on all sides.

Lerner: This is a story that a lot of Bostonians know well, and it comes with a painful history. What details do you think the series explores that viewers might not have known about?

Hehir: I think we all remember that the city and its institutions were duped by Chuck Stuart. What I didn't realize is how soon the police could have solved this case if they looked in the right places. And how many people knew a very short time after the murders, how many people already knew this “secret” that Chuck was actually the murderer and that he was making up this phantom Black man who had killed his wife.

To go over the grand jury testimony and to listen to a lot of the police interrogations and to piece it together — and to realize that they had the information at their fingertips that they would have needed, if they had only dug a little bit deeper into Revere [where the gun that killed Carol was disposed of] instead of Mission Hill. If they had actually done a proper job of investigating this case, then there could have been a lot of pain avoided.

“What I didn't realize is how soon the police could have solved this case if they looked in the right places.”
Jason Hehir, director and producer of “Murder in Boston”

Lerner: There are multiple victims in this story. Carol Stuart, the family of one-time suspect William Bennett, the Black community in Mission Hill and throughout Boston. How did you make sure that you approached their stories with both honesty and sensitivity?

Hehir: It's difficult, but that's where spending the time and gaining people's trust comes into play. The DiMaitis [Carol Stuart’s family] elected not to participate. They declined my request for an interview — which I understand. I understand why this is something that they'd rather not revisit and they'd rather not retell and sit in front of the camera and talk about what a tragedy this was.

I think in the case of the Bennetts and the Mission Hill community, they've been waiting to tell their story accurately from their perspective for a long time. I was eager to reach out to them and to spend as much time as I could with them, to let them know that their story was in good hands and that I had their best interests at heart and the most accurate, honest portrayal of the story at heart.

Lerner: When covering true crime stories like this, how do you make sure you’re not sensationalizing these experiences that real people went through?

Hehir: That's a delicate balance. You know, I'm not a fan of gore porn and tragedy porn and just watching horrible stories for the sake of shaking your head and saying how horrible it is. There are certain visual elements — obviously, the crime scene you have, Carol, there and she is dying in front of you. And we had, you know, ample video from that "Rescue 911" tape [recorded by a CBS crew that happened to be riding along with Boston EMS that night]. So, we held back a lot on some of the more graphic scenes. But I also thought it was imperative to the story to show you how brutal a crime it was and how horrific that crime scene was, to let the audience realize just what a monstrous act this was.

You want to be sensitive to the families and you want to be sensitive to the viewers, but at the same time, you need to portray the horror of that night. So, we went through several cuts and really tried to feel it out and balance. The right level of sensitivity and accuracy for what happened that night.