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Boston Bombings Prompt Fresh Look At Unsolved Murders

May 17, 2013
Originally published on May 17, 2013 6:52 pm

An unsolved triple murder in the Boston suburbs is getting a closer look in the wake of the marathon bombings. One of the victims may have been a friend of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. That's prompting authorities to revisit the 2011 case.

The murders took place in Waltham, Mass. On Sept. 12, 2011, police responded to a house in the leafy suburb a few miles west of Boston.

"They went to the second floor and saw a very graphic crime scene — three dead bodies in the apartment," said Gerry Leone, who was then district attorney for Middlesex County. He spoke to reporters outside the house later that night.

Leone: "It does look like the assailants and the decedents did know each other. We have no evidence of a break in the apartment."

Reporter: "You're saying assailants plural — more than one person responsible?"

Leone: "We're not sure at this time. We know there were at least two people who are not in that apartment now, who were there earlier."

There were no witnesses to the murders. Neighbors reported no loud noises, nothing unusual — until the bodies were discovered by a woman who ran screaming out of the apartment and called the police. Authorities identified the victims as Brendan Mess, 25; Erik Weissman, 31; and Raphael Teken, 37. All three were discovered with their throats slit and their bodies sprinkled with marijuana. The brutality of the crime shocked Waltham residents.

"It doesn't happen in Waltham. A triple murder is rare. I can't recall there being a triple murder in Waltham prior to this one," says Gary Marchese, a lawyer and the Waltham city councilman for the neighborhood where the killings occurred. "Three young men, in very good shape, to have been killed quietly, without a sound — it said to me that whoever did the killings, there were either several that overpowered them, or one or two that were extremely strong and obviously prone to violence."

The crime was never solved. Most people assumed it was connected to drugs, since police discovered marijuana and $5,000 in cash in the apartment. Weissman, one of the victims, had been charged with intent to distribute before, and another victim, Mess, was apparently an avid marijuana smoker. A posthumous video tribute posted on YouTube shows what appears to be Mess smoking a blunt.

But the case has gotten a fresh look since the marathon bombings because Mess was reportedly a friend of one of the bombing suspects. Tamerlan Tsarnaev would sometimes spar at the same mixed martial arts gym in Boston where Mess worked as an instructor. Two of the victims were Jewish. And while their bodies were discovered on Sept. 12, at least one family member reportedly believes they were killed on Sept. 11, suggesting a very different motive.

The district attorney's office says the investigation into the Waltham murders remains open and that it's "eager" to pursue new leads. But a spokesperson for the D.A. was careful not to make any connection between the marathon bombing suspects and the 2011 killings. City councilman Marchese says the case may hinge on whether forensic evidence was discovered at the scene.

"If there are any forensics that tie suspect No. 1 or No. 2 to the crime scene, I'm going to be a happy man. I do hope that we get some finality," Marchese says.

But if authorities do have evidence linking Tamerlan or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the killings, they are not sharing it with the public — which means Marchese, and the rest of Waltham, are still waiting to find out how this story ends.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

An unsolved triple murder in the suburbs of Boston is getting a closer look in the wake of the marathon bombings. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, one of the victims may have been a friend of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: On Sept. 12, 2011, police responded to a house in Waltham, Mass..

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

GERRY LEONE: They went to the second floor and I saw a very graphic crime scene. There are three dead bodies in the apartment.

ROSE: Gerry Leone, who was then district attorney for Middlesex County, spoke to reporters outside the house later that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

LEONE: It does look like the assailants and the decedents did know each other. We have no evidence of a break in the apartment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're saying assailants plural. It means you're thinking more than one person is responsible?

LEONE: We're not sure at this time. We know there were at least two people who are not in that apartment now, who were there earlier.

ROSE: There were no witnesses to the murders. Neighbors reported no loud noises, nothing unusual, until the bodies were discovered by a woman who ran screaming out of the apartment and called the police. Authorities identified the victims as Brendan Mess, aged 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37. All three were discovered with their throats slit and their bodies sprinkled with marijuana. The brutality of the crime shocked this leafy suburb a few miles west of Boston.

COUNCILMEMBER GARY MARCHESE: It doesn't happen in Waltham. I mean, a triple murder is rare. I can't recall there being a triple murder in Waltham prior to this one.

ROSE: Gary Marchese is a lawyer and the Waltham City councilman for the neighborhood where the killings occurred.

MARCHESE: Three young men, you know, who is, you know, in very good shape, to have been killed quietly, you know, without a sound - it said to me that whoever did the killings, there were either several of them that overpowered them, or one or two that were extremely strong and obviously prone to violence.

ROSE: The crime was never solved. Most people assumed it was connected to drugs, since police found marijuana and $5,000 in cash in the apartment. One of the victims, Erik Weissman, had been charged with intent to distribute before, and another, Brendan Mess, was apparently an avid marijuana smoker. A posthumous video tribute posted on YouTube shows Mess in a happy moment.

But the case has gotten a fresh look since the marathon bombings because Brendan Mess was reportedly a friend of one of the bombing suspects. Tamerlan Tsarnaev would sometimes spar at the same mixed martial arts gym in Boston where Mess worked as an instructor. Two of the victims were Jewish. And while their bodies were discovered on Sept. 12, at least one family member reportedly believes they were killed on Sept. 11, suggesting a very different motive.

The district attorney's office says the investigation into the Waltham murders remains open and that it's eager to pursue new leads. But a spokesperson for the DA was careful not to make any connection between the marathon bombing suspects and the 2011 killings. Waltham City Councilman Gary Marchese says the case may hinge on whether forensic evidence was discovered at the scene.

MARCHESE: If there's forensics that tie suspect number one or number two to the crime scene, I'm going to be a happy man. I do hope that we get some finality.

ROSE: But if authorities do have evidence linking Tamerlan or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the killings, they are not sharing it with the public, which means Marchese and the rest of Waltham are still waiting to find out how this story ends. Joel Rose, NPR News, Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.