Is City on a Hill a True Story?

‘City on a Hill’ is a crime drama television series that follows the corrupt FBI officer, Jackie Rohr, and newly appointed assistant District Attorney of Boston, Decourcy Ward, in their efforts to take radical actions against the criminal activities in the city driven by different personal motives. It is created by Chuck MacLean based on an original idea from Ben Affleck, who also serves as an executive producer on the show.

The many references to Boston’s history and actual crimes committed during the 90s in the city are sure to make the viewers question if ‘City on a Hill’ is based on a true story. If you are curious to find out more details about the show’s inspirations and connections to real-world events, allow us to separate the facts from the fiction for you.

Is City on a Hill Based on a True Story?

‘City on a Hill’ is based partially on a true story. The show tells a fictional story; however, the backdrop it is set against is very much real. It also incorporates certain real incidents, fictionalizing them to best suit the show’s narrative. The series is set in the early 1990s and deals with the crime and corruption in Boston during the era, taking inspiration from various events in the city that led up to the Boston Miracle.

The show’s origins can be traced back to Ben Affleck’s film ‘The Town,’ which is based on the Charlestown armored car robberies. Affleck extensively researched Boston’s history for the project and came up with the rough idea for a television show set in 90s Boston. He presented this idea to Chuck MacLean, who further developed the concept and designed much of the show’s story, characters, and world.

‘City on a Hill’ begins in the aftermath of a shocking true-crime case that rocked the streets of Boston in 1989. This case is the renowned Charles Stuart Case, which continued to fuel the city’s socio-cultural conflicts and violent criminal activities for a good part of the next decade. On October 23, 1989, Charles Stuart and his wife were allegedly shot by an assailant while driving home from their childbirth classes. Stuart was shot in the stomach, and his wife, Carol, was shot in the head. Carol passed away shortly after she was taken to the hospital. In his subsequent police statement, Stuart said that he was shot by a black man and provided a description based on which the BPD organized a manhunt.

A suspect, William Bennett, was identified by Stuart as the assailant. However, Stuart’s brother, Matthew, identified Stuart as the killer and provided the police with crucial information that led them to recover the murder weapon and incriminate Stuart. The radical measures, including the indiscriminate stop and frisk tactic and the false murder allegation against a black man, created racial tensions in Boston. The incident also created a rift between the local police and the black community. This tension is ever-present in the show.

Image Credit: Charles Stuart and Carol Stuart

The armored car robberies in Charlestown are the central conflict of the show’s first season. These are likely inspired by the real-world gang of Stephen Burke, Patrick McGonagle, Anthony Shea, Michael O’Halloran, and Matthew McDonald, who committed various robberies from a period between 1990 and 1994. During one of their heists, they also murdered two guards. The gang was convicted, and Stephen’s brother, John, testified against him at the trial. All these events factor into the show, with the show dramatizing them and taking certain liberties. In the show, the perpetrators of the robberies are apprehended in 1992, but in reality, they weren’t caught until 1996.

It is possible that the characters of Jackie and Ward are also inspired by real people living in Boston during the 90s. The character of Ward is likely based on the first black District Attorney of Suffolk County, Ralph Martin, who was appointed to the position in 1992. Unlike the character, Martin did not arrive from Brooklyn and instead had been practicing law in various cities in Massachusetts for almost five years. The origins of the character Jackie Rohr are slightly harder to trace. The first episode hints that Rohr has connections to the real-world (now deceased) gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger. The former FBI officers John Connolly, H. Paul Rico, and Dennis Condon, all of whom allegedly had ties to the mobster and worked in the Boston area during their careers, likely serve as inspirations for the character of Rohr.

Image Credit: John Connolly/ GBH News/ YouTube

Lastly, during development, the show was believed to be a fictional retelling of the ‘Boston Miracle.’ However, the show is set in 1992, and the Boston Miracle took place in 1996. It was a city-wide patrolling program aimed at reducing youth gun violence in the city. The show deals with the events in Boston, such as the racial tensions and increased violence that resulted in the need for the program also known as Operation Ceasefire. It is possible that the show could adapt the events of the Boston Miracle in a future season. In conclusion, ‘City on a Hill’ is a fictional story that looks at real-world events and people as inspirations to create an intriguing and entertaining drama.

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