On 11 September 2011 in Waltham, Massachusetts, three powerfully built strong men were murdered in one apartment. One was a known martial arts fighter, one a bodybuilder, and the other a personal trainer. All three men had their throats slit with such force they were almost decapitated and all were found face-down in different rooms. There was no evidence of forced entry into the apartment and no noisy disturbance according to the neighbouring apartments whose residents were home and had heard nothing. With thousands of dollars cash at the crime scene and large quantities of marijuana, much of which purposely left over the dead bodies, robbery does not appear to have been a motive.
Police were convinced early on that these murders were not random. They believed that 25-year-old Brendan Mess, 31-year-old Erik Weissman, and 37-year-old Raphael Teken knew their killers and there were at least two killers inside Brendan’s apartment the night the men were killed.
With the dead men’s alleged connections to the local drug trade, it was theorized their murders were a drug deal gone wrong, however, two years later, after the Boston Marathon bombing, some surprising details emerged about this triple murder with the FBI eventually naming two men as official suspects.
On 15 April 2013 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, two homemade bombs were detonated, killing three people and seriously injuring over 200 others. A total of 16 victims lost limbs in the attack, devastating life-changing injuries. The suspects behind the bombings were two brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. In a shoot-out with police on 18 April, Tamerlan was shot, dying immediately after his own brother ran him over and dragged his body several feet as he scrambled to escape police. The following day, Dzhokhar was found hiding out inside a drydocked boat in a Watertown man’s backyard, being shot and wounded during his arrest.
A month later, on 22 May 2013, a man called Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was being interviewed at his apartment in Orlando, Florida by the FBI and Massachusetts State Police. He told police Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Brendan Mess had known each other well, working out together at the gym. In this interview, police reported Todashev had implicated Tamerlan in the Waltham triple murders and confessed to his own involvement. Without warning, while he was writing a formal statement, Todashev attacked the interviewing FBI agent with a knife, leading to him being shot and killed by another officer in attendance. After a full investigation, the officer who shot him was cleared of any misconduct with a ruling he took those actions in self-defense.
With Todashev dead the main lead linking Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the triple murder case was gone with many questions left open. Was he telling the truth? Or was it a false confession coerced by police keen to get some names associated with a brutal unsolved triple murder?
Boston Magazine obtained a photograph of the confession Todashev was writing before he unexpectedly attacked the FBI agent leading to his death. The confession has led to even more questions on how truthful and valid it actually is. The details Todashev gave about the murder were compared with the crime scene evidence. The confession suggests the killers entered the apartment with a gun, presumably used to control three well-built men used to training, boxing, and martial arts.
He had written that they had “taped their hands up”, suggesting the three victims were tied up before their throats were slit. Hiba Eltilib, however, Brendan Mess’s girlfriend who found the bodies, told Boston Magazine the men’s hands were not bound when she found them. Erik Weissman had injuries to his face along with Brendan Mess, indicative that both men tried to fight off their attackers before they were killed.
The confession claims the motive for the murders was robbery, although a great deal of cash and drugs were found at the apartment. It is an incomplete confession with little explanation included in the short text he wrote, therefore, what he meant by these statements cannot be 100-percent determined. Often a key feature in determining a false confession from a suspect is that the information they provide regarding the crime scene contains inaccurate details, simply because they didn’t commit the crime and were not at that crime scene, so cannot report the accurate and correct details of the crime.
A further question is whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving younger brother who was now on trial for multiple murders in the terrorist-related bombing in Boston, knew about his older brother’s alleged involvement in the triple slaying? Dzhokhar was eight years younger than his brother and was reported to have looked up to him and followed his lead.
This question was an ongoing source of debate and an issue within the trial process for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. If older brother Tamerlan was confirmed to have been involved in the triple murder it could be a point the defense team could use in order to suggest the younger brother was not the lead in the bombings and “corroborate Tamerlan’s dominant role” wrote the Atlantic in October 2014. The Boston Herald reported the following month that the judge in the case had denied the defense team access to the files on the 2011 triple murder preventing them from bringing this argument into his defense.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts including multiple murder, using weapons of mass destruction, and bombing a place of public use. In June 2015 he was formally sentenced to death. Officially, the murders of Brendan Mess, Erik Weissman and Raphael Teken remain unsolved with any further answers to exactly what happened and why unlikely to emerge. In the same month as Tsarnaev’s death sentence was handed down, the Attorney General confirmed the Waltham triple murder case was still open and ongoing and while the FBI have formally indicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev, both now dead, as suspects, there may have been others involved.