Long Read: “The Murders Before the Marathon”

For those who don’t watch the Oscars and / or True Detective. Susan Zalkind, in Boston magazine:

It’s nearly midnight in a nondescript condo complex a few blocks from Universal Studios in Orlando, and Tatiana Gruzdeva has been crying all day. Though neither of us knows it yet, as she sits on the corner of her bed and sobs in tiny convulsions, the fact that she’s talking to me will lead to her being arrested by federal agents, placed in solitary confinement, and deported back to Russia.

Next to us on the bed are nine teddy bears. Eight of them came with her from Tiraspol, Moldova. The ninth was a gift from her boyfriend, Ibragim Todashev. Today would have been Ibragim’s 28th birthday, but he is not here to see it, because in the early hours of May 22, 2013, a Boston FBI agent shot and killed him in this very apartment, under circumstances so strange that a Florida state prosecutor has opened an independent investigation. According to the FBI, just before Ibragim was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.

I’m sitting awkwardly at one end of the twin bed. She’s crying quietly, cross-legged at the other end, wearing shorts and a white shirt with sequins. Most of her outfits have sequins or rhinestones. She’s 19. I’m 26. We both have long blond hair. We’ve both been close to men who were in trouble with the law, and lost them violently. We’ve been talking for about an hour, mostly about men, and parties, and moving forward after a tragedy. Ibragim was a good man, she says. He could never have committed a murder…

I try to comfort her, but it’s complicated. We both want to know why Ibragim Todashev was killed. She wants to clear his name. For me, and for the families of the Waltham murder victims, Ibragim’s shooting may have snuffed out the last chance at finding out what really happened that night. In the back of my mind is this question: Did her dead boyfriend kill my friend Erik?…

If you believe the FBI’s account, then you must also believe this: If Waltham police had figured out who hacked three men to death on September 11, 2011, there’s a good chance we would not be talking about the Boston Marathon bombings. Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev might be alive and in jail. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might be just another mop-headed, no-name stoner at UMass Dartmouth. There would be no One Fund. Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and Martin Richard would still be alive. Sean Collier would have graduated from the MIT police department to the Somerville Police Department by now. And for the friends and family of the three men who died in Waltham, perhaps their grief would not still be paired with such haunting questions…

Warning: Graphic photos at the top of the second page of the link.

And you thought the True Detective storyline was weird and convoluted… Zalkind’s report was done in collaboration with This American Life, which will be broadcasting its own report this Friday, March 7. The independent investigation by the Florida prosecutor is due for release ‘by the end of March’. Since the FBI is best known in the Boston area for more than thirty years of aiding & abetting Whitey Bulger, our hope of getting honest information are understandably not high.

19 replies
  1. 1
    Keith G says:

    This story sure make it seem like something hinky has been going on in this Justice Department. Certainly they are not acting like the good guys.

  2. 2
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @AL: this is off – topic, but any news on the “Overdressed” book chat?

  3. 3
    GregB says:

    A friend of mine lived a few blocks from where this murder took place. His take which I assume was what the Waltham Police were promoting was that this was a professional hit by likely South American drug cartels and the killers would never be found.

    If they were talking like that no wonder they never followed up and investigated this case properly.

  4. 4
    NotMax says:

    The FBI never bears any onus in a shooting. Just ask them.

  5. 5
    the Conster says:

    Yeah, Todaschev’s killing was sketchy and went down the memory hole as fast as you could say Boston Strong. The anniversary of the bombing is coming up, so put your tin foil hats on.

  6. 6
    beltane says:

    @GregB: That’s funny, because there are plenty of South American drug cartel members in federal prison, which means that they’ve obviously been found. Was this ineptitude or something else?

  7. 7
    Cassidy says:

    I think it’s a lot simpler than any conspiracy theory. My guess, a lot of older cops are a little on the “not in shape” side. I think that somehow an altercation was instigated and the agent, facing a young and very in shape professional fighter, panicked and unloaded his weapon into him. You can’t put “I was scared shitless of getting my ass beat” in an official report.

  8. 8
    Cervantes says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    Since the FBI is best known in the Boston area for more than thirty years of aiding & abetting Whitey Bulger, our hope of getting honest information are understandably not high.

    Wait — you mean you’ve found that the FBI can’t be trusted? You must be joking.

  9. 9
    Tommy says:

    I’ve read a long form story on this at least 2-3 times.

    I just wanted to know how a person in FBI control, being interviewed, can be shot by them 5-7 times. I am not remotely a conspiracy guy, but even Rachel Maddow has gotten in here. How does that happen. That the FBI questions me and they end up shooting me 5-7 times?

  10. 10
    aimai says:

    The whole thing is ridiculous, obscene even. On the one hand the FBI is playing massive hardball with a cast of characters–creating arrests out of thin air, deporting people, holding them in detention. On the other hand they can’t be buggered to actually bring their prime suspect into custody, cuff him, and question him properly with a tape running?

    As for the Waltham police, I assume that is half incompetence and half corruption. Even though the murder turned out not to be about drug cartels it sounds like the Waltham police were neck deep in it with the various drug groups running and even growing shit in Waltham–which, btw, is just a few blocks from me and where I routinely do my shopping. In other words, they weren’t interested in solving the murder in case it implicated any of their paymasters.

  11. 11
    aimai says:

    @Cassidy: He was not killed by old waltham cops. He was shot by the FBI.

  12. 12
    Wapiti says:

    I’ve thought for a while that the FBI headquarters in DC should be renamed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Building. Just so some of them might think, every so often, that sometimes they get it very, very, wrong.

    I’d be ok with it being named the Whitey Bulger Building, for the same reason. Some display inside explaining the reason for the name and listing all of the people that died while the FBI sat by.

  13. 13
    drkrick says:

    @Wapiti: In the ’70’s a story was going around that they considered taking Hoover’s name off of the building after the Church Committee information started coming out, but that they decided the building was so ugly that keeping his name on it was more like punishment than an honor.

  14. 14
    Cervantes says:


    As for the Waltham police, I assume that is half incompetence and half corruption.

    My best estimate: 90% incompetence and 90% corruption.

  15. 15
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Cervantes: Well, it’s a group effort. It would only take a small percentage of cops actively involved with the big-money drug dealers, or at least more interested in ‘protecting their (snitch) sources’ than in worrying about three low-level scumbags getting removed from the ecosystem. Plus a larger percentage busy with, you know, solvable crimes and/or unwilling to step on their fellow lawn-order defenders’ turf. Or so I’ve been told.

    Especially if The Feebs happened to let it slip that the dead Chechen guy was “of interest” to the NatSec people. I’m sure one of the first things that every rookie cop in America learns is “nothing good ever comes from standing too close to the FBI”...

  16. 16
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Tommy: well, I guess with the subject at hand, you call the suspect a motherfucker, and he loses it. The guy had a few anger issues that way.

  17. 17
    Cervantes says:

    @Anne Laurie: Yes, I was just exaggerating with that 180% gag.

  18. 18
    Cassidy says:

    @aimai: I know. Federal agents don’t drink a magical “not pear shaped” elixir.

  19. 19
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Cervantes: Waltham Shitty Government fucks up everything they touch, in my experience. Can’t they bring in the Feds or something? And by that I mean Justice not the fucking Boston FBI!!

    (Problem with Waltham is that a lot of the assholes that live there like living like a pig in shit and don’t care.)

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