Charles Stuart: Monumental Murder Actually a Hoax

Last week’s case was the unsolved murder of Arkansas college professor Ruby Stapleton. The case this week takes us to Boston. There, in 1989, Charles Stuart reported a man shot him and his wife in their car. That story turned out to be a hoax designed to cover a cold-blooded murder.

Charles Stuart and Carol DiMaiti

Charles Stuart came from a blue-collar family of six, four brothers and two sisters from Revere, Massachusetts. In 1985, he married Carol DiMaiti, a lawyer. By the fall of 1989, Charles was manager of Kakas & Sons Furs and Carol was pregnant with their first child.

Charles and Carol DiMaiti Stuart (wbur.org)
Charles and Carol DiMaiti Stuart (wbur.org)

On October 23, 1989, the couple attended a childbirth class at Bingham and Women’s Hospital. After the class, they drover through the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston on their way home. At a stoplight, a Black man with a raspy voice forced his way into their car. He ordered Stuart to drive to Mission Hill, where he robbed them. Then he shot Carol in the head and Charles in the stomach.

Rescue workers treat Carol and Chales Stuart at the supposed scene of the shooting (investigativediscovery.com)
Rescue workers treat Carol and Chales Stuart at the supposed scene of the shooting (investigativediscovery.com)

Stuart then drove away and called 911 from his car phone.

The Boston Herald screams the news
The Boston Herald screams the news

Charles Stuart, Victim

Emergency services arrived quickly and extracted both Carol and Charles from their car and rushed them to a hospital. Despite lifesaving efforts, Carol died at about 3:00 the next morning. Shortly before, doctors delivered her child by caesarean section. The boy, named Christopher, was two months premature and had suffered trauma and oxygen deprivation. Sadly, he too died 17 days later.

Carol DiMaiti Stuart (WCVB-TV)
Carol DiMaiti Stuart (WCVB-TV)

Charles Stuart had lost both his wife and his newborn son. His wounds required two surgeries and a six-week stay in the hospital, but he ultimately recovered.

The Manhunt

Based on Stuart’s description of his attacker, police scoured Boston for suspects. Their use of indiscriminate “stop-and-frisk” tactics heightened racial tensions in the city. Before long, they focused on 29-year-old Willie Bennett. When Stuart picked Bennet out of a lineup on December 28, police felt they had their man.

Willie Bennett in 2017 (WBZ-TV)
Willie Bennett in 2017 (WBZ-TV)

The lineup wasn’t perfect, however. Bennet stuck out like the proverbial store thumb since the rest of the men were clean-cut Boston police officers. But Stuart’s positive identification was good enough for police.

The Undoing of Charles Stuart

The positive identification of Willie Bennett was the last straw for Stuart’s brother, Matthew. On January 3, 1990, he went to police and fingered Charles as Carol’s killer. He confessed to helping his brother in what Charles told him was an insurance fraud. He took the gun and valuables, including the couple’s wedding rings, and tossed them off Pines River Bridge in Revere. Divers later recovered the gun and some of the other items.

Matthew Stuart confessed to aiding his brother in what he thought was an insurance scam
Matthew Stuart confessed to aiding his brother in what he thought was an insurance scam

When Charles learned that Matthew had confessed, he bolted. Driving to the middle of the Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River, he jumped to his death in the river below. Rescuers recovered his body the next day.

 The Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River (Wikipedia user Chensiyuan)
The Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River (Wikipedia user Chensiyuan)

With Stuart’s death, the case against Willie Bennett collapsed. When witnesses told a grand jury that police had pressured them into identifying Bennet, there was no alternative but to release him.

Rescue workers recover Stuart's body from the Mystic River on January 5, 1990 (esquire.com)
Rescue workers recover Stuart’s body from the Mystic River on January 5, 1990 (esquire.com)

Why Did Stuart Do It?

Police later learned that Stuart wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of fatherhood and wanted Carol to get an abortion. She refused. Apparently, he felt she wouldn’t go back to work after the baby arrived, thereby curtailing the family income. Stuart apparently cashed some life insurance checks, although. The number of checks is unclear as is their amounts.

Divers search the Pines River in Revere, MA for the gun reportedly used in the murder of Carol Stuart on January 6, 1990 (Boston Globe)
Divers search the Pines River in Revere, MA for the gun reportedly used in the murder of Carol Stuart on January 6, 1990 (Boston Globe)

It further developed that Stuart had developed a romantic interest in Deborah Allen one of his employees at the furrier. Allen denied there was ever any romantic involvement between them.

Epilogue

The case had an adverse effect on Stuart’s brother, Matthew. He died in a homeless shelter on September 3, 2011, from an overdose of alcohol and cocaine.

Willie Bennett served 12 years in prison for an unrelated armed robbery in Brookline. He maintains his innocence and was released in 2002.

Stuart’s wife, Carol, and son, Christopher, are both buried under Carol’s maiden name, DiMaiti, in Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.

To read more about the Stuart murder case, check out Ken Englade’s Murder in Boston or Joe Sharkey’s Deadly Greed.

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Jenny Maxwell: Murder of a Popular “Elvis Girl”

Last week’s case was the murder of Sylvester Roberts, the true-life crime that helped inspire the novel Peyton Place. This week, we leave New England and return to California, specifically Los Angeles. There we’ll meet Jenny Maxwell. Jenny was an acting sensation in the 1960s, quit acting in 1971, and was murdered a decade later. Her murder has never been officially solved.

Jenny Maxwell Goes to Hollywood

Jennifer Helene Maxwell was born to Norwegian immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York on September 3, 1941. Known as Jenny, she was her parents’ only child. As a girl, she showed a passion for acting and the theater. Her parents sent her to the Violet Hill School of Drama in Brooklyn for lessons.

Jenny with her cousin Vera in New York in the late 1940s
Jenny with her cousin Vera in New York in the late 1940s

One day in 1958, when Jenny was 16, a man came to the studio during one of her acting lessons. The man was Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli. He was a friend of Gubie Mann, Jenny’s acting instructor. Minnelli insisted that Jenny come to Hollywood to audition for a part in Some Came Running. This film version of a 1958 novel was to star Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine. Her parents were reluctant, but soon Jenny and her mother were on their way to California.

The audition went well, yet Jenny didn’t get the part. After viewing the takes, Minnelli decided a brunette would work better with Sinatra. With her Scandinavian heritage, Jenny was blonde. However, right after telling her she didn’t get the part in Some Came Running, her agent had good news. The agent told Jenny she had an audition for the television series Batchelor Father the very next day. She got the part.

Jenny Maxwell

Jenny Maxwell, Starlet

That guest role on Bachelor Father was the beginning of several years when Jenny was in high demand for films and television. She guest-starred on an impressive number of television shows that were popular in the late 1950s and 1960s. These included Bachelor Father, My Three Sons, Route 66, Bonanza, 77 Sunset Strip, The Wild Wild West, The Twilight Zone, Death Valley Days, and many more.

Jenny (R) in the 1960 Bonanaa episode "The Gunmen"
Jenny (R) as Clara Lou Kinsey in the 1960 Bonanaa episode “The Gunmen”

Jenny also worked in films. In Take Her, She’s Mine, she worked with noted actor Jimmy Stewart. But her most famous role was as Ellie Corbett in Blue Hawaii, where she costarred with Elvis Presley. Even after she retired from acting in 1971, people still remembered her in that movie.

Jenny on the set with Joe E. Brown (L) and Buster Keaton (R) for filming the Route 66 episode "Journey to Nineveh"
Jenny on the set with Joe E. Brown (L) and Buster Keaton (R) for filming the Route 66 episode “Journey to Nineveh”

The Hollywood publicity machine said Jenny was from Norway and that she was Marilyn Monroe’s second cousin. Neither was true, but the film industry never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Jenny in her most famous role as Ellie Corbett starring with Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii
Jenny in her most famous role as Ellie Corbett starring with Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii

Jenny Maxwell’s Chaotic Personal Life

When Jenny went to Hollywood, she was only 16. Her parents, confirmed New Yorkers, refused to relocate to the left coast. Therefore, she found herself alone and mostly unsupervised in Tinseltown. Almost a year after arriving in California, she married 24-year-old Paul Rapp, a minor assistant director on April 17, 1959. Jenny was just 17.

Jenny was too young and immature to be a good wife. After the euphoria of young love wore off, she and Paul fought frequently. The arrival of a son, Brian in 1960 did little to improve things. She and Paul divorced in 1961.

Jenny was too young and immature to be a good mother, also. She had developed a taste for the Hollywood party lifestyle and often left young Brian home alone while she trolled the booze-and-drug scene. This led to her losing custody of Brian.

Early on, Jenny was in demand for high-profile films and television shows. She was one of the hottest young stars at the beginning of the 1960s. But by the end of the decade, her fast living gave her a reputation for being unreliable on the set. Her career suffered as a result. Although she still landed some guest roles on television, her last film was the 1963 turkey Shotgun Wedding. This film is forgettable except for the distinction of having the notorious Edward D. Wood, Jr. as one of its writers.

Murder of a Starlet

After divorcing Paul Rapp in 1961, Jenny married again in 1970, this time to Evan “Tip” Roeder (pronounced “raider”). Roeder was a former cop turned sleazy lawyer. He handled high-profile divorces, defended policemen and former policemen accused of wrongdoing, and palled around with mob types. And he was two decades older than Jenny.

With second husband Evan M. "Tip" Roeder
With second husband Evan M. “Tip” Roeder

Jenny’s second marriage was no more successful than her first. She and Roeder fought literally from day one. But Roeder had money, lots of money. Jenny determined to stay with him for 10 years, so she’d get half his assets when she divorced him.

By 1981, she’d put in her 10 years but, sadly, she never got the divorce or half Roeder’s money. On June 10, 1981, Roader picked her up at a hospital where she’d had a minor procedure. They had lunch, then he took her to her apartment on South Holt Avenue. There, a gunman shot them both. Jenny had one gunshot wounds to the temple and one to the right eye and was dead at the scene. Roeder was shot in the stomach and died 2½ hours later at nearby Cedars Sinai Medical Center. Detectives Mike Thies and John Dial told the lone reporter it looked like a robbery gone wrong. That’s the story the Los Angeles Times printed and that’s where the case remained. Police never arrested anyone for the murders.

Newspaper story reporting the Roeder murders, June 10, 1981
Newspaper story reporting the Roeder murders, June 10, 1981

Epilogue

In 2019, veteran journalist (and Jenny’s cousin) Buddy Moorehouse decided to investigate the case. He discovered that Detectives Thies and Dial had quickly learned there was much more to this case than a simple botched robbery. The gathered enough evidence to form a theory that Roeder, in a bid to prevent Jenny from taking half his assets, arranged the shooting. Jenny was to die, of course, but he would only get a nonfatal would in the abdomen. Unfortunately for Roeder, either he flinched or the gunman’s aim wavered. His wound ended up being serious enough for him to bleed out.

With Roeder dead and no way to identify the hitman, the case remained (and still remains) officially unsolved.

Jenny died without a will. What few assets she had, mostly personal property, went to Roeder, When Roeder died, everything went to his daughters. Jenny’s son Brian got nothing.

Jenny’s cousin Buddy Moorehouse wrote a book about his investigation, Murder of an Elvis Girl: Solving the Jenny Maxwell Case. It is a true crime novel in the manner of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

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Barbara Roberts: Evil Father Turns Girl into Surprise Killer

Last week, we looked at the 1948 killing of Dorothy Eggers by her husband, Arthur Eggers. This week I’m bringing you something a bit different. You’ve probably heard of Peyton Place. The 1956 novel, set in a fictional New England town, sold millions of copies. It also spawned a hit movie and a successful television series. But did you know that one of the major plot elements in the book comes from a real-life crime? The killing of Lucas Cross by his stepdaughter Selena in the book has its roots in the real-life murder of Sylvester Roberts. Roberts’ daughter, Barbara, shot him in 1946 after years of abuse.

Barbara Roberts

Barbara Roberts was born on January 27, 1927, the fourth of five children. Her father, Sylvester Roberts had immigrated from Birmingham, England in the early 1920s. But the factory jobs he found in Boston and New York were little different or better than those in Birmingham.

Barbara Roberts at the time of her trial
Barbara Roberts at the time of her trial

Shortly after Barbara arrived, Sylvester bought a small farm near the town of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. He had little interest in farming, it turns out. When her mother died in 1937, it fell to Barbara to be the woman of the house and raise her younger brother, Billy. She was barely 11 years old.

 In 1942, with America newly engaged in World War II, Sylvester Roberts and his oldest two sons joined the Merchant Marine. Now he was gone for long stretches of time. But when he returned, he ruled the roost with an iron hand—or fist.

Aerial view of Gilmanton, New Hampshire
Aerial view of Gilmanton, New Hampshire

Barbara Roberts Kills Her Father

In December 1946, Barbara received a telegram announcing that Sylvester would be returning home. When this occurred, he expected Barbara to pick him up at the train station, some 23 miles from the farm. This time, however, the family car was not running and in a garage for repairs. When Sylvester arrived at the farm on December 23, 1946, he was in a towering rage.

Violence was nothing new in the Roberts household. Sylvester had been abusive to his children for years. But this time, he chased Barbara and Billy around the kitchen table, all the while threatening to kill them. Barbara managed to get her hands on a gun—Sylvester’s gun—and shot him dead. Then, according to her confession, she covered the body with a sheet and dragged it into the barn. There she put it in the cellar under the floorboards of the sheep pen.

Barbara Roberts Confesses

Sylvester Roberts’ body reposed under the sheep pen until September 5, 1947. That’s when Barbara finally confessed to her brother Charles. Taken to the police station, she repeated her story of shooting her father. Stunned detectives could hardly believe the neat, slim girl sitting in the interrogation room could be responsible for such mayhem.

A December 2, 1947 news paper announces that Barbara and William (Billy) Roberts will go on trial for kuilling Sylvester
A December 2, 1947 news paper announces that Barbara and William (Billy) Roberts will go on trial for kuilling Sylvester

When Barbara’s trial began on December 2, 1947, she pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree. Judge William Grimes sentenced her to three to five years in state prison. Her little brother, Billy, also pled guilty to the same offense. As a minor, he got four years’ probation.

Epilogue

Shortly after Barbara went to prison, the truth about what had really gone on in the Roberts household came out. The story came from a group of journalists, including cub reporter Ben Bradlee of Washington Post fame. For years, Sylvester Roberts had physically abused his children. But he had also repeatedly raped his two daughters, Barbara and her older sister, Marjory.

The revelation of this ugly secret generated public sympathy for Barbara. Citing “the girl’s best interests,” New Hampshire governor Charles M. Dale pardoned her on December 21, 1948. She had served barely a year in prison.

Barbara Roberts eventually married and left Gilmanton. She died in relative obscurity, age 89, in Rochester, New Hampshire on February 7, 2016.

In the 1950s, New Hampshire housewife Grace Metalious began working on a book. One of the central plot elements involves a young girl, Selena Cross, murdering her physically and sexually abusive father. Nominally fiction, Peyton Place appears to be a composite of several small New Hampshire towns, including Metalious’ hometown of Gilmanton. Racy for its day, the book created quite a stir in New Hampshire, not least for dredging up the “Sheep Pen Murder.”

Grace Metalious used the Roberts murder as a plot device in her novel Peyton Place
Grace Metalious used the Roberts murder as a plot device in her novel Peyton Place

A new book by Renee Mallett, The Peyton Place Murder, explores the Roberts case and its relation to Peyton Place and author Grace Metalious.

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Arthur Eggers: Obsession with Wife Drives Man to Murder

Last week, I covered the Amityville Horror murders committed by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. This week, we’re back in California for a film-noir style murder case, that of Arthur Eggers. In 1948, Eggers killed his wife Dorothy and dumped her body in a remote mountain area. But his ineptness led to his quick arrest and ultimate conviction.

Arthur Eggers, Frustrated Husband

Arthur and Dorothy Eggers couldn’t have had a happy marriage. He was a shy and submissive man while she was the dominant personality in the marriage. She insulted him frequently, calling him “a little insect” among other things. She also slept around and didn’t care if Arthur knew it.

Arthur and Dorothy Eggers with neice Marie in 1937
Arthur and Dorothy Eggers with neice Marie in 1937

When Arthur discovered Dorothy with one of her lovers, he flew into a rage and tried to attack the man. Dorothy tried to stop her husband and her paramour escaped. She, however, was not so lucky. The gun Arthur was waving at the retreating Lothario “accidentally” went off, killing Dorothy.

Dorothy Eggers
Dorothy Eggers

With a dead body on his hands, Eggers went to work. He used a hand saw to remove Dorothy’s head and hands to make identification difficult. He then wrapped the body in a blanket and dumped it in what he though was a remote area of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Motorists Find Dorothy Eggers’ Body

On the morning of January 2, 1946, two men drove up the steep grade of Waterman Canyon. Their car began to overheat pulling up the steep mountain grade. So, they pulled into a wide turnout to let it cool and refill the radiator with water. There is no record today of what car they drove. But so soon after the end of World War II, it was likely no newer than a 1930s model. Cooling problems were not uncommon in older cars.

Arthur Eggers in court
Arthur Eggers in court

While waiting for the engine to cool, the two men took in the breathtaking view of the San Bernardino Mountains. One of them looked down into the ravine below. He saw a woman’s body wrapped in a green and white blanket tied with rope.

Sheriff’s deputies and detectives retrieved the body and noted the missing head and hands.The woman had been of middle age, probably mid-forties. The only distinguishing features were severe bunions on the feet. Police deduced that the killer was not familiar with the area. The dump site was an area where people often stopped to view the scenery, after all.

Arthur Eggers Confesses–And Recants

Eggers reported his wife missing at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Temple City substation, where he was a clerk. He attempted to mislead authorities, though, by misstating Dorothy’s height as 5 feet, 2 inches. Her true height was 5 feet, 7 or 8 inches.

On January 4, Eggers sold his wife’s wedding rings to a jeweler for $10 ($140 in 2021). He used a fake name and address. Two weeks later, he sold Dorothy’s 1940 Plymouth sedan to a deputy in the Temple City substation. He forged her name to the ownership certificate. Although he had cleaned the trunk, small spots of human blood remained. The blood was Type A, Dorothy’s type (this was decades before DNA testing).

Eggers was arrested on suspicion of murder on January 22. He maintained his innocence until questioned by retired deputy Robert Jones. The two men had worked together a long time and Eggers respected the older man. Before long, Eggers admitted that he’d killed Dorothy “accidentally” as they fought after he caught her with the other man. The next morning, he led deputies to the site where he’d dumped the body.

Eggers demonstrates how he dumped Dorothy's body
Eggers (C) demonstrates how he dumped Dorothy’s body

However, it wasn’t long before Eggers started revising his confession, tweaking it to minimize his level of guilt. Then he recanted completely, saying he never killed his wife, and the Waterman Canyon body wasn’t even hers.

Arthur Eggers on Trial

Arthur Eggers went on trial for murder on May 6, 1947. His attorney, James Starritt filed a motion to block the indictment. The motion failed, but Starritt did get Eggers’ confession set aside. However, there was plenty of evidence against him. One of Eggers’ nieces, who lived with the couple, identified the blanket used to wrap the Dorothy’s body. A neighbor testified to seeing Eggers vigorously scrubbing the trunk of his wife’s car.

Arthur Eggers (R) with attorney James Starritt (L)
Arthur Eggers (R) with attorney James Starritt (L)

There was also forensic evidence. There was, of course, the Type A blood found in the trunk of Dorothy’s car. Investigators found the same blood type in the couple’s bathroom. They also found bits of bone and flesh imbedded in a handsaw belonging to Eggers. Equally damning, test-fired from Eggers’ .32 calibre handgun matched the slugs retrieved from Dorothy’s body.

Arthur Eggers San Quentin mugshot

It was no surprise, therefore, when the jury of ten women and two men returned with a guilty verdict on June 29. Eggers still maintained that the Waterman Canyon body wasn’t Dorothy. As if that would negate the physical evidence and counteract his admission on the stand that he shot her.

After sanity hearing in which a jury rejected the argument that Eggers was insane, Superior Court Judge Clement Nye sentenced him to death.

Epilogue

Arthur Eggers died in the San Quentin gas chamber on Friday, October 15, 1948.

The Eggers case is one of the cases covered in Jason Lucky Morrow’s book, Famous Crimes the World Forgot.

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