Wicked Good Guide to Bizarro Boston /

True Crime

Compiled by Adam Gaffin

Share your opinions of these bizarro attractions - click on the "Comment" links below. Is something missing from the list? Report it.

Charles Stuart

Brigham and Women's Hospital, 75 Francis St., Roxbury
Sheraton-Tara Hotel, Braintree
Tobin Bridge, northbound side

On Oct. 23, 1989, Charles and Carol Stuart left childbirth classes at the hospital. Moments later, Charles Stuart called police on his cellphone to report he and his wife had just been shot. Carol Stuart died that night - their son 17 days later. Charles Stuart told police a black man had shot them. The police promptly began a manhunt in the largely black Roxbury neighborhood that the Irishman picked up in the Parkman case would have understood only too well.

As the Boston Globe put it at the time: "Two weeks ago, Carol and Charles Stuart were merely expectant parents. Then their relatively anonymous, happy lives came to an end on a dark side street in Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood. An assailant robbed them of their jewelry and money, then pumped a few slugs into their bodies."

Only it turned out that while they might have been anonymous, they were not happy. Charles Stuart was having an affair and had money problems. No black man had come near them - Charles Stuart shot his wife, then himself. On Jan. 3, 1990, with police increasingly suspicious of him, Stuart checked into the Sheraton-Tara Hotel in Braintree. The next day, he drove to the Tobin bridge, stopped his car mid-span and did what is now known as ''pulling a Chuck.''

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The 99 Restaurant

31 Austin St., Charlestown

The steak tips here are to die for. On Nov. 6, 1995, four alleged goodfellas were killed (and one was injured) while getting ready for a huge mid-day meal of steak tips. "There was so much beef spread out in front of the five victims that their table-top resembled a cattle drive,'' Mike Barnicle of the Globe wrote at the time.

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The Brinks Job

165 Prince St., North End

On Jan. 17, 1950, nine armed bandits made off with $2.7 million in cash and securities - after two years' of planning. It took six years to indict the 11 living robbers (the 12th had died in the meantime). More than $1.2 million was never accounted for.

More info:

The Brinks Robbery - From the files of the FBI.

The Brinks Job - The Peter Falk movie.

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The case of the dismembered doctor

North Grove and Fruit streets at Charles Circle

Today, this is part of the vast Massachusetts General Hospital complex, hard by Storrow Drive. In 1849, however, it was home to the Harvard Medical School - and on the shores of the Charles River.

The crime
Pow! Webster does Parkman in. Click on image for more detail (then scroll down a couple pages).

George Parkman, prominent physician and member of the Boston Brahmin elite, had donated the land for the school a few years earlier. Unfortunately for him, he had loaned some money to John White Webster, a professor of chemistry at the school who had no way to pay it back. Even more unfortunately, Parkman began to get cranky about the money. He went to Webster's lab on Nov. 23, 1849 to demand the money. They got into a fight and Webster knocked him out. Webster then dismembered him and shoved his body parts into a vault under his office.

Boston police, deferential to Webster as another Boston Brahmin, at first believed his story that he didn't know anything about the doctor's disappearance (instead, one of the first people they picked up was an Irishman who tried to use a $20 bill to pay a bridge toll; the theory being that no Irishman could possibly have earned such a bill by honest labor).

But Ephraim Littlefield, a janitor at the school, suspected Webster from the beginning - even more so after Webster gave him money to buy himself and his wife a turkey for Thanksgiving (Littlefield had worked at the school for seven years, and Webster had never given him anything). So while the turkey cooked, Littlefield broke into the sealed-off vault, where he found what was left of Parkman.

Webster's trial made the Louise Woodward trial look like a misdemeanor hearing - more than 60,000 people from across the country attended (they were rotated in and out of the courtroom in ten-minute shifts). The trial marked the first time dental work was introduced as evidence (Parkman had an unusual set of false teeth due to the way his lower jaw jutted out; for many years after his death, the falsies were kept on exhibit on the floor above Webster's lab). William Morton, better known for the discovery of ether, testified for Webster. Webster was found guilty and, shortly before he was hanged, confessed.

Note: Parkman's house still stands at 8 Walnut St. on Beacon Hill.

More info:

Detailed maps of the murder scene - To orient yourself, Cambridge Street is still in the same location; Vine Street has been renamed Parkman Street and North Grove Street is now basically the onramp to Storrow Drive and Leverett Circle.

Divine Providence and Dr. Parkman's Jawbone: The Cultural Construction of Murder as Mystery - A loooong piece on mystery writing that finally gets around to the Parkman case about two-thirds of the way down.

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The human-skin book

Boston Athenaeum, 10 1/2 Beacon St., Beacon Hill

James Allen was your basic early 19th-century burglar and highwayman. In 1833, he tried robbing John Fenno, Jr. of Springfield on the Salem Turnpike. Fenno resisted and Allen shot him - but Fenno lived because the bullet was deflected by a suspender buckle.

Allen was eventually caught and sent to jail, where he wrote an account of his life called ''The Highwayman.'' Allen admired Fenno's bravery in standing up to him and decided that on his death, Fenno should get a copy - bound in his skin. When Allen died in 1837, his body was brought to Massachusetts General Hospital, where enough skin to cover a book was cut off and then delivered to a bookbinder, who died it gray and added some gilding before shipping it to Fenno. Later, a Fenno descendant donated the volume to the Athenaeum.

More info:

Narrative of the life of James Allen - The Athenaeum Library's catalog listing for the book.

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