On the morning of September 12, 2011, the bloodied bodies of three young men were discovered in an apartment on a dead end street called Harding Avenue in Waltham, Massachusetts. One of those men was 31-year-old Erik Weissman – one of the co-owners of a bong company called Hitman Glass, and a friend of mine. It was Erik who turned me on to my very first dab, gifted me my first oil rig, and assisted me in putting together the first-ever dab feature in HIGH TIMES. In short, Erik Weissman was one of the kindest, most generous guys I knew, which is what made the circumstance of his death so difficult to understand.
The crime scene was a gruesome one, described by one investigator as "the worst bloodbath I have ever seen in a long law enforcement career." According to The Times of Israel, the victims had been dragged one by one into separate rooms, where they sustained multiple knife wounds, had their throats slashed so deeply that they were nearly decapitated, and their corpses mutilated and covered with marijuana. Original suspicions that the murders were drug-related didn’t hold up, considering that close to seven pounds of marijuana and $5,000 in cash was left behind at the scene.
As I reported in my interview with Weissman’s partner “Dougie Fresh” in our May 2013 issue, none of Erik’s friends or family knew who could have done such a thing or why. We had all just assumed he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The case remained cold for a year and a half, with investigators unable to establish any motive, leads, or suspects. That is, until a few weeks ago, when I saw a photo of Erik’s face flash on the screen during a CNN report about the Boston Marathon bombings and felt an icy chill run up my spine.
It wasn’t until that very moment that I learned the identities of the other two men who had been killed that day: one was 37-year-old Raphael Teken; the other was 25-year-old Brendan Mess – the “best friend,” sparring partner, and former roommate of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect shot by police on April 19.
In light of this new information, both the Middlesex DA’s office – and then the FBI – began investigating possible links between the terror suspects and the unsolved triple homicide. According to ABC News, unnamed officials in the investigation now say they have identified some forensic evidence from the crime scene that may implicate the Tsarnaev brothers. And while they’ve yet to confirm what that is, the circumstantial evidence implicating one or both of them is mounting. What follows is a summary of what’s been reported so far:
Though originally recorded as taking place on September 12, police now believe the murders were actually committed the night of September 11 – the 10-year anniversary of the terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. One of the victims’ relatives told the Boston Globe that he’d been texting with one of the victims about a football game until about 8:15 that evening, at which time communications suddenly ceased.
“The three of them were definitely killed on September 11,” the relative said. “They all stopped using their cellphones at about eight o’clock that night.”
Apparently the murder must have occurred slightly later than that though, as the victims had ordered food from Gerry's Italian Kitchen at 8:54 p.m. using Weissman’s phone.
When the delivery person arrived around twenty minutes later, no one answered either the door or phone. According to Tsarnaev’s relatives, the brothers had actually worked as pizza deliverymen, and several area residents claim to remember Tamerlan delivering food to them in the past. The restaurant, however, denies that the brothers ever worked there. What’s more, just over a week after the bombing, authorities recovered two bins of discarded fireworks, from which the gunpowder had been removed, in a parking lot next to Gerry's.
Police reports indicate that neighbors claimed to see two men leaving the house that night, and that the murder scene showed no signs of forced entry – indicating that at least one of the victims knew the assailant(s). It turns out that Tamerlan lived just a few blocks from the apartment, and there are rumors that Mess had stayed over at Tamerlan's apartment on several occasions. Cell phone records also place the brothers in the area at the time of the killing.
The “Waltham Three” were all involved in selling marijuana. The younger of the brothers, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was an admitted “pothead” who according to the Atlantic Wire, was a “go-to source for marijuana on campus” at the University of Massachusetts. As a small-time dealer, it’s quite possible that he was being supplied by one or all of the victims.
Before becoming radicalized, Tamerlan was also reported to be a known pot smoker. His friend Sebastian A. Freddura claims that he’d frequently gotten high while visiting friends at a home in nearby Watertown.
“He’d wash his hands and lay [his prayer rug] out in the backyard and pray for 20 minutes or a half-hour a handful of times a day,” Freddura told the Globe. “We’d smoke a jay and he’d come out and pray.”
It was during the months leading up to the murders that friends noticed a significant change in Tamerlan’s political and religious views (becoming increasingly “radicalized”). According to his family and friends, Tamerlan stopped drinking alcohol, began growing out his beard, talking more about Islam, and praying up to five times a day.
"Given how religious the older brother was, and we have heard information from the college about how the younger brother was 'a pot head,' is there a chance that Tsarnaev was angry that Brendan was selling his brother marijuana? ... We don't know, but we are certainly interested in finding out,'' said an unidentified source involved with the investigation.
One of Mess’s relatives told police he was aware of some tension between the two friends "over Brendan's lifestyle,'' and that he considered it odd that, despite being his “only American friend,” “Tam” (as they called him) didn’t attend Mess’s funeral. Yet it's not all that odd if you consider that it was directly after the murders that Tamerlan left the country for a six month visit to Chechnya and Dagestan, where TIME magazine reported he “became very close” with his distant cousin Magomed Kartashov, “one of the region's most prominent Islamists.”
It’s also of interest to note that both Teken and Weissman were practicing Jews. Local Boston news site WCVB.com reports that Weissman was “active in his synagogue” and had relatives in Israel. Teken was even buried in Israel. Could religious hatred have been a motivating factor?
In phone messages between Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, intercepted by Russian authorities, he reportedly discussed jihad and his “willingness to die for Islam.” His mother suggested he go fight against Israel in Palestine, to which he replied that he couldn’t because he didn’t speak Arabic.
According to the Boston Globe, the victims’ relatives suspected that Tamerlan’s brother Dzhokhar may have also been involved in the murder, pointing out that since Mess was a skilled mixed martial arts fighter and Teken a personal trainer, Tamerlan would’ve had difficulty subduing them all by himself. However, if new evidence indicating that Tamerlan was in possession of guns proves accurate, it may not have been that difficult at all.
Given this avalanche of interconnected information, the dots are practically begging to be connected. It’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to postulate that a newly-radicalized Tamerlan, having given up alcohol and marijuana, came to view his supposed best friend and his two devout Jewish roommates (who were most likely selling marijuana to his younger brother) as enemies. Nor is it hard to believe that, having watched numerous jihadist videos on YouTube and wishing to prove himself a true warrior of Islam, he could have chosen to slaughter them execution-style on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
If authorities find DNA or other evidence that proves it was Tamerlan that killed the Waltham Three, then justice has already been served. And if Dzhokhar was involved as well, then there’s little doubt he will be facing charges for those murders in addition to those he already faces for those killed in the Boston bombing and for MIT campus police officer Sean Collier. And while nothing can ease the pain of our loss, Erik’s friends and family (myself included) may finally get the answers and closure we so desperately desire.