Socialite "Cissy" Stuart was 74 when she was brutally murdered in her Princeton home by an intruder who's never been caught.
|1989: Who killed Cissy?|
|By PAUL MICKLE / The Trentonian|
|On the warm Sunday afternoon of April 2, 1989, a vibrant 74-year-old Princeton socialite named Emily "Cissy'' Stuart was tending the garden behind her stately home on Mercer Street.
As she stepped into the cellarway under the back porch to get a tool or fertilizer, someone came up behind her and pounded a knife between her shoulder blades five times, killing her.
Two days later, Stuart's elderly sister would find the body on the stone floor of a basement storage room just beyond the stairway to the cellar, and the greatest mystery in the history of Princeton would be born.
After the newspapers had their run with it, Stuart's murder, which remains unsolved to this day, had the stuff to become the subject of a book or movie or a cop show on television.
It involved, after all, a prominent family that would gain financially from the death.
Then, a year after the slaying, there emerged the Haitian-born young voyeur from across town who was arrested for jumping into the shower with the university coed he'd been peeping on and stabbing her nearly to death.
Like some soap opera, the story illustrated the links in the lives of uppercrust townies and urban figures and foreigners with strange names and stranger haircuts.
Only hours after Stuart was murdered, for instance, the 81-year-old widow who had been her maid and friend, Annie Ryan, fired a gun at an intruder in her Trenton home.
The story also is full of sad ironies, intriguing coincidences and baffling loose ends.
One of Stuart's two grown sons, for instance, had to write the story of his mother's murder in his capacity as editor of the local weekly paper, Town Topics.
With the presses warming up, Jeb Stuart pounded out the report on a manual typewriter at the newspaper office a half block up Mercer from the crime scene.
Mercer County's prosecutor, now Superior Court Judge Paul T. "Pete'' Koenig, had to fend off questions about his old friendship with the Stuart family.
Then there was the linguist brought in by Princeton investigators to look at some Stuart writings, and the expert's conclusion that certain phrasings in them indicated possible guilt by a family member.
The story touched off a feud between Princeton's upscale Stuarts and the working-class family of Gerald Geffrard, the Peeping Tom now doing 20 years for stabbing the young woman in the shower in June of 1990.
The Stuarts think Geffrard killed Cissy Stuart, as came out in a 1992 documentary, "My Mother's Murder,'' directed by another of the victim's sons, television journalist Charles Stuart.
The Geffrards, natives of Haiti, pointed back at the Stuarts. The head of the family, hospital custodian Camille Geffrard, charged the family knows who killed Cissy Stuart but won't tell police.
The story fascinated perhaps most of all because the victim was so beloved in Princeton. Known for energy even in her 70s, Stuart could be seen walking in town on almost any day of the year.
She took it upon herself to keep Princeton's trees well trimmed, and sometimes could be seen curbside stretching out with a long-handled pruner to cut dead and dying limbs off Princeton's old shade trees.
Stuart helped found Town Topics and had worked there for years as an editor, business manager and circulation director.
In the hours after she was found dead on Tuesday April 4, police expressed confidence that they would find the killer. Detectives worked for hours in the cellarway and adjoining basement storage room looking for evidence.
In the end, however, they found nothing helpful: No weapons, no fingerprints, no hairs or clothing fibers to help them link someone to the stabbing. No neighbors had seen anyone in the yard with her as she tended to her hybrid "Emily'' roses and daffodils she called "Mr. Einsteins" because the famed scientist Albert Einstein had lived on the street during his Princeton years.
All the cops could determine was that whoever did it didn't rape or take anything off the victim or enter the house in search of loot. Based on when people said they saw her last, cops estimated the time of the slaying as sometime after 1:30 on Sunday afternoon.
Almost 24 hours later, on Monday at lunch time, Jeb Stuart walked down the street from his office to see his mother, as he often did. The son thought she was out walking, maybe working on one of her projects, when he didn't find her home.
Within another 24 hours, however, he would report her missing to police not long before his aunt Margaretta Cowenhoven showed up at the house and found her sister dead in a cellarway storage room that the killer for some reason padlocked before leaving.
Within days, it came out from Stuart's will that her sons stood to gain from her death. The house, willed to the sons and their families, was said to be worth $600,000, and an undisclosed amount of money also was left.
Partly due to the will, local speculation about the murder centered on the Stuart family, which rankled the brothers, their wives and children. Charles Stuart, who lived in suburban Boston, wouldn't talk to the local press.
But he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992 before his documentary came out that talk about family involvement in the murder was "idle town gossip."
"It is horrible, but I understand the motivation. So I accept it even though I may not like it. It drove me crazy that the press was feeding off this and the town was gossiping and there was a possibility that at the end no one really cared,'' the filmmaker said.
Jeb Stuart also speculated in words that expressed the fear of many in the nearly crime-free town after the slaying: "Was it someone she knew? Was it a drug addict looking for quick money? Was it a psychopath, killing for the thrill of it or with some imaginary score to settle?" Jeb Stuart wrote.
Unlike most murders, the Stuart slaying also became politicized when some leaders found out the connection between the victim and the Trenton woman who had pulled a .38-caliber handgun and fired away at the burglar she surprised in her Spring Street home on the day of the find in Princeton.
Roy Innes of the Congress of Racial Equality came to Trenton to protest after learning Ryan's gun had been taken off her by police. If Stuart had had a gun, maybe she wouldn't have been killed, and Ryan might have been killed if she hadn't, Innes said.
When the cops found out Ryan's late husband had gotten the gun long before any regulation for keeping it had been established, Deputy Chief of Police Frank M. Brady made a bit of a show of returning it to her personally.
The suspicious glare of some shifted from the Stuarts to Geffrard 14 months after the murder. On the night of June 8, 1990, across town on Oakland Street, a young woman was taking a shower while a team of cops was staking out a nearby house in hopes of catching a Peeping Tom who for weeks had been looking in windows at neighborhood women undressing and the like.
The cops heard the shrieks of the woman being stabbed and molested in the shower, and the chase was on. Officers said they followed Geffrard to his nearby home, then found him hiding inside still wet with sweat and water from the shower.
None of the tops brass would admit it, but street officers said at the time that borough detectives immediately started questioning Geffrard about the Stuart murder. Geffrard and his family denied the killing.
Lemuel Blackburn, Geffrard's original attorney in the Peeping Tom case, said his client passed a lie detector test about the Stuart murder. A subsequent Geffrard lawyer, then Public Defender Robin Lord, said that if her client had killed Stuart, he wasn't being charged because borough police had blown the investigation.
"This wasn't someone being shot from 50 feet away,'' said Lord. "You'd think in the circumstances the killer would leave behind some forensic evidence. But I don't have much confidence in any investigation conducted by the Princeton Borough Police Department."
Officially, the murder investigation was and still is being conducted cooperatively by detectives from the borough and Mercer prosecutor's staff. But there's been some friction between the two.
After Geffrard's arrest, for instance, Koenig wrote a letter to Chief of Police Michael Carnevale urging him to count the young Haitian American the prime suspect and concentrate on finding links between him and Stuart.
But Carnevale said in an interview later that Geffrard was never considered a suspect, even though he had been convicted of the shower stabbing and had admitted to bringing a knife to class at Princeton High School in his days as a student.
"To me, it's a strong possibility that this was not a random killing by a stranger,'' the retired Carnevale said last year. "But all the theories have been tossed about and there's nothing new.''
Borough investigators criticized Koenig, meanwhile, for not listening more closely to the language expert who was helping them analyze some writings they had from some member of the Stuart family.
The expert, whom the authorities would never name, suggested that some phrases in the writings hinted at the murder being an all-in-the-family affair. But Koenig's detectives scoffed at the borough's experts and said he couldn't be that good a linguist because English was his second language.
These days, more than 10 years after the murder, the case remains open, but the trail is cold. Tom Michaud, chief of police, recently said the only way the case is going to be cracked is if someone talks.