Boston Marathon bombings

Could Boston bombings been prevented with an arrest?

Suspected involvement of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in shootout with the police, in an unsolved triple homicide in the suburbs raises questions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 10:00pm

It was a shocking slaying in a Boston suburb that sometimes goes years without one homicide, let alone three at once.

The victims' throats had been sliced in a home on a tree-lined street, marijuana and cash strewn over their bodies.

The investigation languished for more than 18 months until Tamerlan Tsarnaevjust a few days after the Boston Marathon explosions, when the FBI identified the suspected bombers as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, ethnic Chechens who had emigrated from Russia to the United States about a decade ago.

The 2011 homicide case in Waltham remains unsolved, though Tamerlan Tsarnaev was linked to those killings after his death in a post-bombing shootout with police. Clues in the Waltham killing that might early on have led local investigators to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was already on the FBI's radar as a possible religious extremist, raise questions about whether the marathon bombings could have been averted.

"Let's put it this way: If they had arrested Tamerlan as one of the killers in the triple killing before the marathon bombing, it certainly would have affected the outcome of the marathon bombing," said Waltham City Councilor Gary Marchese. "He would have been in jail and would have been tried for murder."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and one of the slaying victims, Brendan Mess, were both boxers and sparred often at a local gym. Despite what friends described as a close friendship, Tamerlan did not attend Mess' funeral. And the owner of a restaurant where Mess was a regular and brought Tamerlan and another victim along with him a few times says police never interviewed him.

The brothers lived in Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston. In March 2011, months before the September killings to the west in Waltham, Russian authorities had told the FBI they worried that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother, who lives in Russia, were religious extremists. The Russians were unresponsive when pressed for more details. The FBI didn't find any derogatory information on Tsarnaev, and a criminal case was not opened. The FBI shared its results with Russia in summer 2011, shortly before the Waltham killings.

The US government has wrestled with what more it could have done to prevent the marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others a year ago Tuesday. The FBI believes the Tsarnaev brothers acted alone and had no ties to foreign terrorist organisations. A yearlong federal review into strands of information intelligence agencies had before the explosions found investigators could have asked more questions and shared more. But the review concluded it was unclear whether any additional steps by federal agencies could have prevented the attack.

Within weeks of the marathon bombings, Massachusetts authorities went to Florida to interview a friend of Tamerlan's, Ibragim Todashev, who implicated both himself and Tamerlan in the killings in the home in Waltham, a city of more than 60,000.

That it took more than 18 months for law enforcement to get a lead on the 2011 slayings has angered the victims' friends and relatives. They're asking the same pressing question the federal review didn't address: What might have happened on April 15, 2013, if one of the bombing suspects had been arrested months earlier for the Waltham deaths?

"If investigators didn't write it off as just another three drug dealers dead and assumed that these deaths were not as important, then maybe the Boston Marathon bombing might not have happened," said Krysta Voskowsky, one of Mess' friends.

Jamal Abu Rubieh, owner of Brookline Lunch, the restaurant in Cambridge that Mess frequented, said he was surprised he never heard from police. Weissman and Tamerlan Tsarnaev ate there with Mess a few times. It's routine for investigators of a killing to talk to anyone who had regular contact with the victim.

"Nobody ever came to talk to us," Rubieh said.

No one has indicated that Tamerlan's brother, heading for trial in the bombings, is also a suspect in the slayings.