By Bob Hohler | Globe Staff May 25, 2013
The girlfriend of one of three men brutally killed in a Waltham apartment in 2011 said Friday that she told police soon after the slayings that Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been a frequent visitor to the apartment. She is the first to assert that police investigating the killings were aware that Tsarnaev, who previously had been questioned by the FBI for possible terrorist connections, had ties to the victims.
Waltham police and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan have declined to comment on the homicide investigation, which appeared stalled until friends and relatives of Brendan H. Mess reported last month a possible link to Tsarnaev after his picture was released as a suspect in the bombings. Ryan declined to comment again last night.
The woman also said her boyfriend, Mess, kept a handgun in the apartment before the slayings and that police told her after the bodies were discovered that the firearm was missing. Friends of the victims had previously said they feared a gun stolen from the apartment had been used to kill MIT police Officer Sean Collier late on the night of April 18 and wound other officers shortly afterward in the shoot-out with police in Watertown.
The woman asked that her name not be used in this report for fear of retribution, although she was named in a previous Globe article.
Authorities have been looking at Tsarnaev in connection with the triple homicide, along with Ibragim Todashev, who was fatally shot this week by an FBI agent after he allegedly attacked the agent with a blade during an interview in Orlando, Fla.
It was Mess’s girlfriend who discovered the bodies of the three men in the Waltham apartment on the morning after they were slain on Sept. 11, 2011.
She said she found the victims — Mess, 25; Erik H. Weissman, 31; and Raphael M. Teken, 37 — in separate rooms, their throats slashed, their bodies covered with marijuana.
The woman said she did not describe Tsarnaev to police as a suspect in the triple homicide but rather identified him as one of many visitors to the apartment. Police did not ask her about Tsarnaev after she gave them his name, she said.
“But if they questioned everyone whose fingerprints were in the apartment, I’m sure Tam’s fingerprints had to be there,’’ she told the Globe in a phone interview Friday.
The woman said Tsarnaev, who was born and lived his early years in former Soviet republics, had told Mess in the weeks before the killings that the FBI had placed him on a terrorist watch list.
“Brendan said, ‘The FBI is watching him; they think he’s a terrorist,’ ’’ the woman recalled. “We laughed about it. We never took it seriously.’’
Federal authorities have said that the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev in 2011 at the request of the Russian government.
Mess’s girlfriend said she knew with certainty that he kept a handgun in the apartment. Another friend said earlier this week that Mess had been badly beaten by his marijuana supplier years earlier when he was short on his payment and then familiarized himself with firearms.
Mess and his girlfriend shared the apartment with Weissman, who was struggling financially after Boston police had seized a large amount of cash and drugs in a raid on his Roslindale apartment.
“They were pretty peaceful people, but I know Brendan had one gun,’’ his girlfriend said. “I think it was for protection. I don’t understand why he couldn’t have used it’’ during the deadly assault.
The woman said she never understood what the motive for the killings could have been, other than perhaps a robbery. Although about $5,000 remained in the apartment after the slayings, she said, she was aware that Mess and Weissman had a much larger amount of cash. She could not estimate how much.
She said Mess was such a close friend of Tsarnaev that he often asked her to cook only halal meat for Tsarnaev to honor his Muslim customs when he visited.
“I just can’t believe Tam would back stab Brendan like that,’’ she said. “It’s so painful to me, because Brendan was so open and loving with Tam.’’
In the week before the slayings, she said, she had an intense quarrel with Mess. She said she went to Florida to visit a friend and “clear my head.’’
She was scheduled to return on the morning of Sept. 12, 2011, and expected Mess to pick her up at Logan International Airport. She said she called him at 7:30 the previous night.
“It was the last time I heard his voice,’’ she said. “He said, ‘I love you.’ ’’
She said Mess, Weissman, and Teken planned to watch a football game on television, but when she called back later to say good night, no one answered. And when she called Mess the next morning, he did not answer.
When she finally reached the apartment and opened the door, she said she was shaken by the grisly scene. Lying in the entry room was Weissman’s body. She discovered Teken’s in the kitchen, then Mess’s in the bedroom. Furniture throughout the apartment had been toppled, she said.
The woman took strong exception to friends of the victims who initially had considered her a suspect in the killings and reiterated their suspicions in Friday’s Globe. The friends said, for instance, that she held radical Muslim beliefs and spoke with Tsarnaev of their distaste for American culture.
“To be honest, I am not a practicing Muslim,’’ she said. “I don’t pray much. I don’t cover up. I drink. Tam would look at me and say, ‘You’re not doing the things Muslim women do.’ To me, religion is about how you treat people.’’
Some other friends of the victims questioned why Mess’s girlfriend, an African immigrant whose family lived in a mid-Atlantic state, left the Boston area a week after the slayings.
“After what happened, I was completely shocked and traumatized,’’ she said Friday. “I needed to be with my family.’’
She said she suffers symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which have been exacerbated by the suspicions about her.
“It really hurt my feelings that anyone thought I could be involved in something like this,’’ she said. “I am completely confident in my innocence. I’m a victim in this, too.’’
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.