The 2011 Waltham Murders, Why This Anniversary is More Difficult Than the Last
When someone you know is murdered, it messes with your sense of trust. It’s different than just reading about a murder since the grief and loss is compounded with the knowledge that another human being did this on purpose, and if the murder is unsolved, those feelings are mixed with a sense that killer or killers are still out there too. Basically, the violence hits you in your gut, and you’re never truly able to shake it.
Today September 11, 2013, marks two years, since my friend Erik Weissman was killed. His body was found on September 12th, with Brendan Mess and Raphael Teken in Brendan’s Waltham, MA apartment. Somebody slit their throats. Then like some sort of sick demented joke, the killers threw marijuana on their bleeding bodies.
Full disclosure: Erik and I became friends around 2007 and my father Norman Zalkind, a criminal defense attorney, was representing him for a 2011 drug charge at the time of his death.
In the months after the murder, I used to stay up at night imaging what the people who killed my friend must be thinking, must be doing out there, walking freely among society. Were they buying soda from 7-Eleven? Were they going out to eat with their friends? My optimistic worldview was shattered and I suffered because of it. Then, I took a leap of faith. I convinced myself that law enforcement was doing everything in their power to solve the case, and that the killers would one day see justice. It was naiveté, but I slept better.
If I took a leap of faith, I fell with a hard crash on May 22, 2013, when the news broke that the FBI shot Ibragim Todashev to death. This was a man who, according to reports leaked to the press by the FBI, implicated himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the alleged bomber of the Boston Marathon, in the Waltham triple murder. Reports from FBI agent leaked to the press say Todashev was about to sign a confession, before the situation escalated and he was killed by an FBI agent from the Boston office, in his own home in Orlando, FL, hours into one of several interviews Todashev agreed to participate in.
The families of the three young men in Waltham are not taking the FBI’s reports at face value.
Aria Weissman, Erik Weissman’s younger sister is skeptical of Todashev’s death and the connection FBI agents made about her brother’s murder. “My more immediate response was that they’re pinning the dead guys.”
Brendan Mess’ younger brother Dylan, summarizes the root of the predicament well. “Anytime you kill a suspect, it’s suspect.”
Not only did the FBI kill a suspect, someone who could have given the families some much needed closure and potentially detailed additional suspects, FBI agents released contradictory reports as to why they killed him. Some reports say he lunged at an FBI agent with a metal pole, others say he had a knife, or a broomstick, or nothing at all. Why couldn’t the FBI keep its story straight? Even on it’s own, all of these various tales are suspicious because Todashev did not have a gun. Why did the FBI shoot him dead?
There are so many ridiculously suspicious things about the FBI killing of Todashev, I’m at risk of becoming repetitive. The FBI barred the Florida Medical Examiner from releasing Todashev’s autopsy, but Todashev’s father Abdulbaki Todashev has photos which seemingly show his son was shot seven times, including in the back of his head, execution style. Federal agents, of the immigration variety, essentially ensured Todashev’s roommate/girlfriend Tatiana Igorevna Gruzdeva, would not be there to bear witness by arresting her for overstaying her visa prior to his death.
More outrageous still is how Massachusetts officials reacted to this information. Originally the FBI, and only the FBI, were going to investigate the shooting of Todashev. It turns out the FBI is about as reliable in investigating their own fatal killings as one would assume an organization with unchecked power would be. In the last 150 FBI shootings, including 70 fatal, that the FBI has investigated itself in, it has found it’s own shootings to be justified 100% of the time, according to a NYT report.
Apparently, even though independent investigations of FBI shootings have been conducted in the past, and even though two Massachusetts State Troopers, on the Massachusetts State payroll, were there in Todashev’s apartment working with FBI agents when Todashev was killed, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is not interested in looking into this case any further. She declined a plea by the ACLU to conduct an independent investigation, saying the unsolved Massachusetts triple murder case, was out of her jurisdiction. Governor Deval Patrick is seemingly uninterested as well; he deferred to Coakley’s decision.
Aria Weissman, a Massachusetts resident who is finishing up her master’s degree in social work, says she is left with a feeling that Massachusetts authorities don’t care about her brother’s unsolved murder case.
“Why are they not supporting the people who live here?”
“If there is any kind of movement or lead into our case why wouldn’t you jump on trying to solve it?”
If an unsolved triple murder in a Boston suburb isn’t enough to pique the interest of our elected officials, shouldn’t a connection, even an indirect connection to a terrorist attack in our own state warrant curiosity? This is after all the area that lived though Whitey Bulger and infamous FBI corruption. Why on earth would anyone take the FBI on it’s own contradictory word?
Luckily, Florida State Attorney John Ashton is going to take on the case and do an independent investigation. However, there is no timeline for when the investigation will take place and because the FBI does not digitally record its interviews as a written rule it’s unclear what information Ashton will be able to review that was not documented by the FBI itself.
It is important to note that a Mass politician has been outwardly vocal about the FBI’s lack of disclosure and that’s Massachusetts Congressman William Keating, a member of the Homeland Security Committee. He’s criticized the FBI for “stonewalling” information about their investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev before April 15th saying, “I got more information from Russia than I did from our own FBI.” Congressman Keating says he is also seeking answers to what information FBI agents had on Todashev.
My own frustration with the handling of the 2011 Waltham murders extends beyond the FBI. Last July, the NYT ran an article citing several of Brendan Mess’ friend who reportedly told police Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in Brendan Mess’ group of friends, and another who mentioned Tsarnaev to police again after he did not show up to Mess’ memorial. But the article also states that Waltham Police, who were working under the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, never questioned Tsarnaev.
Note: the NYT reporters spoke to me about the story, and I’m quoted.
Whether or not Tsarnaev killed the three men in Waltham, it is disturbing that officers did not follow up on leads in an unsolved murder case. And Tamerlan wasn’t the only lead detectives let fizzle out. Because this is still an open murder investigation, a lot of people I spoke to prefer not to give their names. That said, someone who spoke to Erik in the last hours of his life, was questioned by Waltham PD. He gave detectives the name of one of Erik’s best friends, who might possibly have had information due to his close relationship to Erik. That best friend, who again wishes to remain anonymous because of the nature of the case, tells me that to this day, he still has not been contacted by detectives. This unnamed best friend does not think he has any information that could lead to a conviction or arrest, but my point is detectives could never have known that without contacting him.
Despite FBI reports to the press implicating two suspects, Stephanie Guyotte, a spokesperson from the Middlesex DA’s office told me again just yesterday that the 2011 triple homicide, “is an ongoing and active investigation.” She told me that because the case was still open, she was not able to comment any further expect to say that those with information should call State Police at 781-897-6600.
Just to be certain I wasn’t missing some key part of standard homicide detective work whereby clues are neglected, I consulted Mark Safarik, who has worked solving violent crimes for more than 30 years, first as a Sacramento, CA homicide detective, and later in the FBI.
“If you are trying to do a good [job] at the investigation you are going to follow all kinds of leads.” Some leads might be prioritized over others, but if there is an unsolved murder, “you get them all done.”
Whoever killed Erik, Brendan and Rafi, wanted this case to be deemed “drug related.” There are some who think the reason this case wasn’t investigated thoroughly or covered widely in the press prior to April 15th is precisely that – drugs. The lack of interest from police and elected officials is clearly a victory for the killers.
Perhaps there are some who might argue that victims of murder are somehow less than victims if they were involved in other illegal activities. Personally, I disagree with that sentiment. But logistically, the job of police is to end cycles of violence, turning a blind eye to crime effectively perpetrates it. And, if Todashev’s alleged confession is correct, then the lack of rigorous investigation on the 9/11/11 killings essentially paved the way to the largest terrorist attack on US soil since exactly ten years before.
Meanwhile Aria Weissman, who told me the superficial reports from the FBI after Todashev’s death, “Felt like we’re never going to get closure and this is how they are going to close it,” is still waiting for her brother’s murder case to close. Family and friends of the Waltham victims will be holding a commemoration vigil outside the Trinity Church today at 6:30pm.