Investigators say they are closer to linking a grisly 2011 Boston-area triple murder to one of the brothers suspected of carrying out the marathon bombing earlier this year, with some claiming that the bombings could have been avoided had police acted quicker in solving the crime.
The bodies of Erik Weissman, 31, Raphael Teken, 37, and Brendan Mess, 25 were found on September 12, 2011 with knife wounds, slit throats and marijuana sprinkled on their bodies.
After the Boston bombings, suspicions arose that suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was friends with Mess, may have been involved in the murders.
Now, some law enforcement officials say that had local investigators been able to finger Tsarnaev earlier, the bombings might have been avoided altogether, The New York Times reported recently.
Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police after a several-day manhunt, and last week his brother, Dzhokar, who was wounded but survived, pleaded not guilty to 30 counts connected to the April bombings, which left three dead and 260 wounded, and led to a shootout in which a security officer was also killed.
The 2011 triple murder case has stymied police since the bodies were discovered. “It’s been an open case since 2011 and that hasn’t changed,” Stephanie Guyotte of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office told The Times of Israel in May, amid reports of mounting evidence against Tsarnaev.
There were strong indicators the murder was related to soft drugs. The three men were known to smoke, and also deal in, marijuana. In 2008, Weissman, who was Jewish, was pulled over by police, who found marijuana in his car and heard him admit he had been arrested for possession of the controlled substance before. Teken, also Jewish, was known locally as a marijuana dealer, according to classmates and neighbors.
Police also noted there were no signs of a break-in, suggesting that the victims knew their assailant and raising speculation in the press that the assault may have started with a drug deal gone awry.
“We have indicated in the past that we do believe it was drug-related,” Guyotte noted.
Relatives and friends of the three victims, though, say police were too quick to conclude that the murder was drug-related, and did not do simple legwork that could have netted them a suspect earlier.
Tsarnaev was a frequent visitor to Mess’s Waltham apartment, where the murder took place, but police did not question him, despite the fact that he was conspicuously missing from the funeral. Friends told The New York Times that they even gave police Tsarnaev’s name, among other friends of Mess.
Sparring partner Ibragim Todashev implicated himself and Tsarnaev in the murders in May, before being killed by law enforcement authorities during an interrogation.
Investigators still think the murder may have been motivated by drugs, despite the fact that some $5,000 was left untouched in mess’s apartment and the gruesome nature of the murders.
Others, however, point to the date — September 11 — and the fact that two of the victims were Jewish, and say the motivation may have been religious or nationalistic.
Aside from being the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the murder date also corresponds to the period during which the FBI believes Tamerlan was becoming radicalized. Tamerlan became increasingly pious in his habits, including growing a beard and rejecting alcohol. In 2011, Russian authorities intercepted telephone and SMS conversations between Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who lives in Russia, that discussed jihad and Tamerlan’s willingness to die for Islam. Zubeidat had suggested Tamerlan go to fight against Israel in “Palestine,” but Tamerlan objected that he did not know Arabic.
That comment now weighs heavily in the speculation. Local Boston news site WCVB.com said Weissman, who has relatives in Israel, was “active in his synagogue.” After his death, trees were planted in his honor in the Carmel Mountains outside Haifa, according to a message on a Facebook page devoted to his memory.
Teken, 37, was a Brandeis graduate who was buried in Israel.
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.