The case has remained unsolved since the bodies were discovered on Sept. 12, 2011. It is now back in the investigative spotlight as evidence mounts, according to law enforcement officials, that one of the suspects in the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, participated in the killings.
On Wednesday, Mr. Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the surviving suspect in the bombings, appeared in court for arraignment, the first time he had been seen by the public since he was discovered, covered in blood, hiding in a boat in a Watertown, Mass., backyard. He pleaded not guilty to all 30 counts against him.
But the emerging evidence against his brother, who died on April 19 after a shootout with the police, has led some law enforcement authorities to contend that if the local murder investigation had been more vigorous it could have led to his apprehension well before the bombings left 3 dead and more than 260 wounded — in short, that the bombings might never have happened.
Even before Ibragim Todashev, his friend and boxing partner, implicated himself and Mr. Tsarnaev prior to being killed during an F.B.I. interrogation in late May, federal investigators had been gathering information against Mr. Tsarnaev using “old-fashioned” police work, a senior law enforcement official said. They “went through his phone, did interviews, got his contacts — a combination of all that.” They believe the two men targeted the victims, one of whom was a close friend, in a drug-related robbery.
Relatives and friends of the Waltham murder victims — Brendan Mess, 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37 — have long contended that the authorities were too quick to write off the murders as the unfortunate outcome of a low-level drug dispute and that they failed to do basic policing work that could have solved the case.
Mr. Mess, a popular martial arts instructor, was believed to have been running a drug-dealing operation from the apartment. Mr. Weissman, a chess player and Chinese food lover who was a founder of a glass pipe company and had been temporarily staying at the apartment, was working on a plea deal stemming from an earlier drug arrest. Mr. Teken, known as Rafi, was a 1998 graduate of Brandeis University.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was, by many accounts, one of Mr. Mess’s closest friends and a frequent visitor to the Harding Avenue apartment. But three law enforcement officials familiar with the case said that Massachusetts state troopers and the Waltham police, working under the auspices of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, never questioned him — either as a potential suspect or as someone who could provide valuable information about the victims.
Several friends said in recent interviews that they told the police about Mr. Tsarnaev when they were questioned. “The police wanted to know who all the friends were in the group, and I told them about Tamerlan,” said one close friend of Mr. Mess, adding that at least three other friends gave the authorities Mr. Tsarnaev’s name, as well.
When Mr. Tsarnaev did not show up at either Mr. Mess’s funeral or memorial service, the friend became uneasy.
“We did mention Tamerlan again to the police after he was not there for Brendan’s services,” said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the notoriety of the case. “I felt that the police were not really looking in the right places.”
In the immediate aftermath of the murders, investigators theorized that the killings had been the work of professionals, based on the savageness of the attacks on the three victims, at least two of whom were adept at martial arts, and the lack of evidence at the scene. One early theory was that the assailants might have been part of a “cartel” that felt betrayed by one of the men, according to two law enforcement officials. They said that at least two people had been at the apartment near the time of the deaths, that the killers most likely knew their victims, and that the homicides were not random.