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Failure to Investigate Waltham Murders Aided Boston Bombers

A report details how authorities could have gotten to Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011

Adam Chandler
July 11, 2013
Neighbors Gather at the 2011 Waltham Crime Scene/(TheHoot)
Neighbors Gather at the 2011 Waltham Crime Scene/(TheHoot)

One story we’ve been following closely over the past few months has been the investigation into a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts, which has been linked to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the deceased suspect in April’s Boston Marathon bombing.

The three killed were Brenden Mess, one of Tsarnaev’s friends and sparring partners, as well as two Jewish men, Erik Weissman and Raphael Teken, whose affiliations with the others seem unknown.

As authorities have posthumously implicated Tsarnaev in the grisly killings, which are believed to have taken place on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a hefty Times report today suggests that had the Waltham murders been more thoroughly investigated, Tamerlan Tsarnaev might have been questioned and detained by authorities before the Boston Marathon bombing took place.

Several friends said in recent interviews that they told the police about Mr. Tsarnaev when they were questioned. “The police wanted to know who all the friends were in the group, and I told them about Tamerlan,” said one close friend of Mr. Mess, adding that at least three other friends gave the authorities Mr. Tsarnaev’s name, as well.

When Mr. Tsarnaev did not show up at either Mr. Mess’s funeral or memorial service, the friend became uneasy.

“We did mention Tamerlan again to the police after he was not there for Brendan’s services,” said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the notoriety of the case. “I felt that the police were not really looking in the right places.”

Ostensibly, the wrong places led police to theorize that the murders had been the work of professionals or a cartel hit, given that the victims knew martial arts and had been killed without much of a struggle. According to the report, police never showed up at the gym where Brenden Mess and Tsarnaev trained, which also likely would have sent the police on Tsarnaev’s trail:

John Allan, the gym’s owner, said that he was struck by Mr. Tsarnaev’s unemotional reaction to Mr. Mess’s murder. In an interview, he recounted a conversation a few days after the killings.

“As I said something, there was kind of a smile on Tamerlan’s face, and he laughed it off,” Mr. Allan recalled. “He laughed off the fact that he was murdered, like: ‘Aw, man. It’s crazy right? Huh huh. It’s crazy right? I guess if you do that, that’s what’s going to happen.’ ”

Mr. Allan said there was no hint of grief. “That really shocked me.”

Not everyone believes that more could have been done. Representative John J. Lawn, who has followed the case closely, said the investigation was “thoroughly done.”

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.