Eyewitness: Waltham Crime Scene Didn’t Match Description of Triple-Murder in Todashev’s Confession

The English is awkward and the handwriting in places illegible, but the threadbare narrative that emerges from Ibragim Todashev’s alleged confession note seems to contradict the facts of the crime to which Todashev was allegedly confessing.

On Tuesday, Boston magazine obtained what appears to be an unredacted photograph of the confession that law enforcement officials say Todashev wrote just before an FBI agent shot him to death on May 22, 2013. (A redacted version was released earlier Tuesday as part of the Florida state attorney Jeff Ashton’s long-delayed, 600-plus page report on the incident.) In the unredacted note, Todashev appears to implicate himself and his friend Tamerlan Tsarnaev—a suspect in the Boston marathon bombing—in an unsolved triple murder from 2011.

But the note raises as many questions as it answers. The note seems to state that Tsarnaev was armed with a gun when he and Todashev arrived at the house where the murders took place. There were “3 guys in there,” the note reads. “We put them on the ground.” The story breaks off after four clearly written words: “taped their hands up.”

The “taped their hands up” detail may seem glancing. Yet it drew particular attention from investigators; it was cited in the Ashton report as having demonstrated “the gravity of his [Todashev’s] involvement with the crimes being investigated at the time.”

But when Hiba Eltilib discovered the bodies of her boyfriend Brendan Mess, 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37, their hands were not bound or taped, she said Wednesday in a phone call from Sudan. Eltilib said that she found the bodies in three different rooms, all belly-down, in neat pools of blood, heads turned to the side.

“None of their hands were tied as I recall,” she said.

In an interview Wednesday, Aria Weissman, Erik’s sister, said she’d never heard mention of any of the victims having their hands taped, either. “That was the first time hearing anything about it being him tied up, that’s really bizarre,” she said.

And while the note’s claim that “we put them on the ground” sounds as if the victims were ordered down at gunpoint, at least two of the victims showed signs of a fight, according to friends who saw the bodies. Weissman had a bloody lip, and Mess had puncture marks on his temple and the top of his head, another mark by his ear, bruises on his face and scratches on his arms.

The confession mentions a gun, but it doesn’t mention the murder weapon. When Eltilib discovered the bodies on September 12, 2011, the victims’ throats had been slit with enough force to nearly decapitate them. The note suggests the motive for the crime was a “robbery,” even though eight and a half pounds of marijuana and $5,000 in cash was left in the apartment—and all three of the victims knew Tamerlan. Mess was a close friend.

Of course, by all accounts, the confession was incomplete. And because of the difficulty in deciphering the document, it’s impossible to say for sure that the note is inconsistent with reports of the crime scene. “Put them on the ground,” for example, might have been Todashev’s way of describing a physical fight. The note ends abruptly; there was almost certainly more to the story, but Todashev never finished it.

“Clearly it doesn’t seem like he was writing for very long, and typically those types of statements can be pages long,” said former FBI agent Mike German, a fellow for the Brennan Center for Justice.

German, who is not involved in the case, said it’s unusual for a written confession to contradict the crime scene. Typically, German said, agents address any inconsistencies in a suspect’s story before the confession is written.

“You would go back and say, ‘Well, there is one detail that’s not quite right, maybe you’re remembering that wrong,’” he said.

German also said the length of the interview, which went on for four and a half hours on a sweltering Florida night, could have affected the confession.

“You always have to worry about false confessions,” he said. “Particularly in an interview that’s gone on for so long. The person is sometimes just trying to give the answer that you want.”

According to the Florida state attorney’s report, the FBI has audio recordings of the Todashev interview which end just as he is beginning to hand-write his confession, near midnight, into the fifth hour of his interview. “Okay, I’m telling you I’m you I was involved in it, okay, I, I had no idea [redacted] was gonna kill anyone,” Todashev allegedly said just before a Massachusetts State Trooper got him to sign a form acknowledging he’d been read his Miranda rights.
Minutes later, he was dead.