In this post, I’m going to pull together a number of facts, along with some speculation, to demonstrate how alleged Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be connected to a gruesome 2011 triple murder in Waltham MA, and how the murders are likely to be tied to drugs and drug dealing whether or not the Tsarnaevs were involved. I will suggest possible connections between the murders and two major drug busts that took place in the Waltham-Watertown area in 2011.
The reason this is important is that the FBI clearly wants very badly to pin the murders on the Tsarnaev brothers and Ibragim Todashev. I say this for two reasons:
1. The FBI has taken over the investigation of the murders, supposedly cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
2. On May 21 in Orlando, FL, an FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen man who was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev when they both lived in the Boston area. Anonymous sources have told multiple media outlets that the FBI was questioning Todahev about the Waltham murders and that he had “implicated himself” and was about to sign a confession to his involvement before he was killed.
I want to emphasize that I am not at all convinced that the Tsarnaev brothers or Todashev had anything to do with the Waltham murders; but it’s clear that the FBI thinks so, and they have more information than I do. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that if the Tsarnaevs were involved, it’s likely to be because of a drug connection rather than anything to do with Islamic “extremism” or terrorism. I also don’t believe the Boston Marathon bombings were inspired by Islamic “extremism,” but that’s a topic for another post.
NOTE: Please treat this as a regular morning reads post. As always, use the comment thread to discuss what I’ve written and/or post your own news links on any topic.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Connections to the Waltham Triple Murder
Law enforcement officials have said that they now suspect that Tamerlan Tsarnaev–and perhaps his younger brother Dzhokhar as well–may have been involved in the the murders of three men in Waltham, one of whom, Brendan Mess, was a fellow boxer and good friend of Tamerlan’s. It has even been suggested that authorities have DNA evidence that could connect both brothers to the crime.
The murders of the three men, Brendan Mess, 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37, took place on either September 11 or 12, 2011. The men’s throats were cut and their bodies were littered with large quantities of marijuana. In addition, $5,000 in cash was found in the apartment.
In my opinion it is most likely the motive for these murders had to do with drugs. There is evidence that each of the victims was not only a drug user but also at least a small-time drug dealer, active in the underground economy. If Tamerlan was a frequent visitor at this apartment, he was well aware of this; and there is evidence that Tamerlan and his family were also active in the underground economy.
One obvious question is why, if this were a drug-related murder, the perpetrators would leave behind large quantities of marijuana and cash. However, Brendan Mess’ girlfriend told the Boston Globe that Mess and Weissman had hidden in the apartment “a much larger amount of cash. She could not estimate how much.” Therefore, it’s possible that a large quantity of money was taken, and the marijuana and remaining cash were left in the apartment to send some sort of message.
A second question is why Tamerlan would kill his close friend. It has been reported that after he turned to religion and gave up drinking and smoking pot, Tamerlan became judgmental about his friend’s lifestyle choices. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar apparently had gone through some type of emotional transition that allowed them to kill and injure total strangers with bombs. Perhaps they grew to see their friends as somehow expendable also.
Mutual friends of Tamerlan and Brendan Mess said they noticed dramatic changes in Tamerlan after the murders. He did not go to Mess’ funeral and he seemed to drop out of sight, no longer going to the gyms he usually worked out at or staying in touch with former friends. One friend told Rosie Gray of Buzzfeed that immediately after the murders, Waltham detectives who questioned him told him that Tamerlan “may have been with Mess either the day of or the night before” the murders, so Tamerlan was apparently on law enforcement’s radar at the time.
The Waltham Victims and Drugs
As I’ve noted, the three murdered men each had a history of drug use and drug dealing as well as other run-ins with the law. According to The Boston Globe, Erik Weissman was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in 2008 and at the time he told police he had previously been arrested for possession. In 2011, Weissman was in trouble again.
According to court records reviewed by the Globe, on Jan. 17, 2011, Boston police searched Weissman’s Roslindale apartment and seized more than $21,000 in cash, along with drug paraphernalia and a wide assortment of drugs, including marijuana, hashish, cocaine, and Oxycontin.
After the bust, Weissman was broke and homeless, so he moved in with Mess. One important caveat: Weissman’s attorney told the Globe that Weissman was not trying to resolve his case by informing on anyone. He argued that the murders therefore could not be “an act of retribution by a drug supplier who may have been involved with Weissman.”
Also according to the Globe, Raphael Teken did not live with Mess and Weissman; he lived at another address in Waltham, “and two neighbors who asked to remain anonymous said they believed he was a drug dealer, saying he rarely left the house and had a steady stream of visitors.”
Brendan Mess had also been in trouble, though not for drugs. According to the Globe:
On a Sunday afternoon in summer 2010, Brendan H. Mess, a close friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and a specialist in mixed martial arts, was walking along a Cambridge street when he came face to face with a police officer. The patrolman was investigating a complaint that Mess, then 24, had attacked a group of people near Inman Square, breaking one man’s nose and leaving another with a bloody mouth.
Rather than cooperate, Mess began yelling at the officer, at one point saying, “I can knock you out if I wanted to,” according to the officer’s report. Soon, three additional officers arrived, and Mess was hit with a chemical spray, wrestled to the ground, and handcuffed.
Even then, police said, Mess continued threatening the officers.
Finally, Mess and Weissman told another friend shortly before the murders that they had big plans for their future in the drug trade. From NPR:
Christopher Medeiros, who described himself a close friend of Mess, said he believes the killings were drug-related. He said Mess and another one of the victims, Erik Weissman, were marijuana dealers and had been trying to start a major growing operation.
“The Friday before he died, (Mess) told me, ‘Listen, I’m getting ready to make this big move,'” Medeiros said. “And I think that’s what cost him his life.”
We’re heading into a heat wave here in the Boston area. It’s supposed to be hot and humid for the next few days with temps in the high 80s or low 90s. It will be a shock to my system, since it has been rather chilly here recently.
I’m going to focus on the ongoing Boston bombing story again, but you can treat this as a regular morning reads post/open thread. Don’t feel you have to comment on this topic. I haven’t paid much attention to other news for a few days, so I hope you’ll update me on the latest news in the comment thread!
A week ago, I wrote a post about the death of Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed in an apartment in Orlando, FL by an FBI agent from Boston in the early hours of Wednesday May 22. Todashev was being questioned by representatives of the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, and “other law enforcement personnel” about his relationship with deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and possible connections to an unsolved 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts. Todashev had reportedly been questioned for hours on Tuesday and was shot shortly after midnight. The FBI had been following him for about a month, calling him daily and questioning him on several different occasions.
At the time I wrote that post, there was a great deal of confusion about the circumstances of the shooting and that confusion has only increased during the past week. At first, anonymous law enforcement sources claimed Todashev had been killed after he attacked the agent with a knife. By he next day sources were walking back that claim, some saying Todashev had something in his hand but it wasn’t a knife, others suggesting it was a pipe or something similar.
I’ve been following this story closely, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Presumably, the events in question were fairly straightforward. A man was shot dead with at least four–perhaps more–law enforcement officers present. How hard would it be to figure out if the dead man had a knife in his hand or not? Something was obviously not right.
During the past week, the reported details of the Todashev shooting have continued to change. On May 25, the Boston Globe offered a new version of events, again based on anonymous sources.
An FBI agent from the bureau’s Boston office fired the shot, or shots, that killed a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev early Wednesday morning during an interview about an unsolved Waltham homicide, say officials briefed on the investigation.
Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter formerly from Allston and Cambridge, was shot in the kitchen of his apartment after overturning a table and attacking the agent with a blade, the officials said. The Globe has reported that the shooting came after Todashev had implicated himself in a grisly 2011 triple homicide in Waltham. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was friendly with one of the Waltham victims, and authorities suspect he may also have taken part in the slayings.
Two law enforcement officials said that the Boston FBI agent felt he was in grave danger when Todashev attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.
“This was a tough guy; he was a dangerous individual,” one law enforcement official said, speaking of Todashev. The official asked not to be named because the official was not authorized to discuss the case.
Okay, but with at least four trained law enforcement officers present, why was it necessary to kill a potentially valuable witness? Is it really credible that they couldn’t control one not very large (about 5’8″) man?
Yesterday morning there was another version. In this one, first reported by Fox Boston, Todashev not only knocked over a table, but also slammed the FBI agent’s head into a wall and attacked him with a sword. Yes, a sword. As in previous stories, the claim was that Todashev had been about to sign a confession about his involvement in the Waltham murders when things got out of control.
During the interview, investigators took notes and everything appeared to be going well. Eventually, Todashev was asked to write down, in his own handwriting and in his own words, what he had been telling authorities about his role in the murders when in the words of one source – all hell broke loose.
Todashev allegedly began writing, but then flipped a table over, knocking the Boston FBI agent into the wall hitting his head.
FOX 25’s Bob Ward was told the agent looked up to see Todashev waving in his direction what was described as a Banzai ceremonial sword.
Fearing for his life, the FBI agent drew his weapon and fatally shot Todashev. The entire incident taking only seconds.
During the course of the day, the story continued to change as more anonymous “sources” weighed in. WESH Orlando’s “sources” told a slight different tale than Fox Boston’s.
Sources said Todashev might have been lunging toward a sword, but he was not in possession of it.
Law enforcement officials said Todashev was in the process of confessing to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass., and was working on writing out the details of the crime when he snapped and turned violent.
Officials said Todashev pushed a table and possibly threw a chair.
Sources said a sword was inside the apartment, but the weapon was moved to the corner of the room before questioning began. Law enforcement said when Todashev lunged, the FBI agent believed he could have possibly been going for his gun or the sword in the room, and that’s when the agent opened fire.
Because of course the best law enforcement technique is to move any sharp objects to the corner of the room before questioning a suspect? WTF?!
Finally, last night several news outlets–among them The Washington Post–reported that Todashev had been unarmed when he was shot.
One law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Wednesday that Todashev lunged at the agent and overturned a table. But the official said Todashev did not have a gun or a knife. A second official also said Todashev was unarmed.
An official said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.
The shooting followed hours of questioning by the law enforcement officials that had begun the night before.
And exactly why did the other officers “step out of the room?” The source doesn’t say.
This story is becoming just plain ridiculous, and as Emptywheel wrote yesterday, it makes the FBI look just plain stupid. Last night on twitter, someone compared it to the old “Get Smart” recurring bit, “Would you believe…”
— streetwiseprof (@streetwiseprof) May 30, 2013
But as ridiculous as this story seems, we need to understand that something like this could happen to any one of us. A man was killed in an apartment with multiple law enforcement officers present, and after more than a week, we still don’t know for sure what happened.
At 7PM yesterday, the Florida chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) held a press conference with Todashev’s wife, her mother, and a close friend of Todashev’s in attendance and called for the Department of Justice to initiate a civil rights investigation of the shooting.
[T]he Tampa director of that group said not only was 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev unarmed when he was shot by the agent May 22, he was hit seven times, including once in the head….the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Florida chapter on Wednesday cited unnamed sources within the FBI as saying Todashev was not armed at the time of the shooting.
“We did confirm today with sources within the FBI that he was unarmed,” CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Hassan Shibly told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday afternoon. Later, Shibly told reporters that CAIR has an “intermediary” who said the FBI told him Todashev was unarmed. Shibly did not identify the intermediary.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Shibly showed what he said were photos of Todashev’s body after the shooting. The photos were taken at an Orlando funeral home after the Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner’s office released the body to Todashev’s next of kin, he said.
The photographer was Khusen Taramov — a friend of Todashev’s who lives in Kissimmee — and photos show at least a dozen wounds, although some may have been exit wounds, Shibly said.
In addition, Todashev’s widow Reniya Manukyan claimed that she has evidence to show that her husband could not have committed the murders in Waltham in September 2011.
Todashev’s widow said Wednesday that she has records proving her husband was with her in Atlanta on Sept. 11, 2011, so he could not have been in Massachusetts on the day of the triple killing. Manukyan was married to Todashev for about three years, she said.
In another interaction on Twitter last night Boston Globe reporter Wesley Lowery told me he wasn’t ready to accept the latest version of events until he can independently confirm it from official sources. His reporting on the Boston bombing generally and the Todashev story specifically has been very good, and I’ll be watching to see what he finds out.
Once again, I’ve used up most of my space on a Boston bombing story, but I still have room for a few more quick links, with an emphasis on law enforcement and civil liberties.
Cory Doctorow: Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state. At the link you can watch a short, powerful documentary about public surveillance in the UK.
Rob Fischer at The New Yorker: Watching the Detectives–a piece about “Floyd v. Floyd v. City of New York, a landmark challenge to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies.”
NYT: Former Bush Official Said to Be Obama Pick to Lead F.B.I. Obama is about to nominate James Comey as FBI Director–a man who was in the Bush DOJ during the torture deliberations.
Emptywheel: When NYT Accused Jim Comey of Approving Torture
And another Boston link: Dirty Old Boston Facebook page shows the city as it really was
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today?
Stunning news just breaking now from ABC News: ‘Mounting Evidence’ Boston Bombers Involved in 2011 Triple Murder
Massachusetts investigators have developed what they call “mounting evidence,” bolstered by “forensic hits,” that point to the possible involvement of both Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar in a gruesome, unsolved triple homicide in 2011, law enforcement officials told ABC News.
The officials cautioned that until more definitive DNA testing is complete, it is still too early to consider bringing an indictment against the younger of the two brothers, who officials said has admitted his role in the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured 260 more on April 15. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police days after the Marathon bombing attack, but Dhzokhar survived and was captured.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s “best friend” Brendan Mess was murdered along with Erik Weissman, and Raphael Teken in Mess’ apartment in Waltham, MA on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Knowing what we know now, that Tamerlan believed the 2001 attacks were a Jewish conspiracy to turn Americans against muslims.
Tamerlan and Mess were once roommates and did boxing and martial arts training together.
Now law enforcement officials tell ABC News that some crime scene forensic evidence provided a match to the two Tsarnaev brothers. The officials also said records of cell phones used by the Tsarnaevs appears to put them in the area of the murders on that date. Several officials confirmed the new findings but declined to be identified because they are not authorized to comment on the ongoing investigation.
A number of Tamerlan’s friends have reportedly begun to suspect that he may have been involved in the murders, but this is the first time I’ve heard any mention of a connection to Dzhokhar. One reason the friends became suspicious is that Tamerlan did not go to his supposed “best friend’s” funeral.
Back to the ABC story:
…the case went cold, until photos of the Boston Marathon suspects were released and family and friends of the Waltham victims recognized them and remembered Tamerlan’s strange behavior after the murders. He did not attend his friend’s funeral and vanished from the martial arts gyms where the men had sparred together.
Then, Gerry’s Italian Kitchen became a focal point again on April 24, nine days after the Marathon bombing, after investigators removed a Planet Aid charity donation bin from its parking lot. A driver had discovered discarded fireworks inside and law enforcement sources told ABC News the gunpowder had been removed from the cartridges.
This led to investigators questioning whether Tamerlan had ever worked at Gerry’s. “The eatery’s management” told ABC that neither of the brothers ever worked there. Still…
looking back, multiple residents of Waltham and Watertown remember Tamerlan Tsarnaev delivering food to their homes and Tsarnaev family members have told reporters the brothers worked as pizza deliverymen. The eatery’s management, however, steadfastly denied that either Tsarnaev brother worked there.
Scott Wood, a jiu jitsui trainer who befriended and trained Mess at a martial arts studio in Vermont, said he always believed whoever the killer or killers were, they got in Mess’ home “under the guise of being a friend.”
This is a breaking story. I’ll update if I get more information.