The horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon, to hear the FBI and the Boston Police tell it, is solved: One bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is dead, gunned down by police and then run over for good measure by his fleeing brother Dzhokhar, who was captured a day later in a citywide manhunt, after being hit by a fusillade of police bullets fired into a trailered pleasure boat he was hiding in.
Among the reasons law enforcement sources are so confident they “got” their men were video surveillance photos from a Lord & Taylor storefront area showing the two brothers as they arrived at the finish-line area, each wearing a backpack, allegedly carrying what the FBI now says were two identical 6-quart steel pressure cookers marketed by the Canadian corporation Fagor. Fragments of those pots, which the FBI says were packed with black powder (gathered from a collection of fireworks) as well as nails and BBs, were recovered at the scene.
Besides the photos of the two brothers wearing their packs, the FBI also has released a photo of the remnants of one of the backpacks, allegedly the black, or dark-colored, one worn by the elder Tamerlan Tsarnaev. There is also a photo of what is described as a white backpack, which was placed on the street side of a metal crowd-control fence. It was said to contain the second bomb, which exploded 10 seconds later, further from the finish line. This is presumed to be the same light-colored pack Dzhokhar is seen wearing in the store video as he arrives on the scene.
There are a number of serious problems with this supposedly damning evidence, however.
First of all, nobody looking at the evidence to date has tried loading up one of these Fagor pots with the amount of weight that would have been created by a big four or five quarts’ worth of black powder, perhaps two quarts of nails, and perhaps a pound or two of BB shot, to see what it would look like in a basic unstructured book bag of the type the two men were wearing.
WhoWhatWhy decided to do that.
The first problem was buying the pot. This reporter looked it up online and found that it was being sold by Macy’s. Going to the nearest Macy’s at the Montgomery Mall in Montgomeryville, PA, we discovered that the cookware section had no pressure cookers. The store clerk in charge of that section was asked where pressure cookers were.
“We don’t sell pressure cookers,” she said.
“How can a cookware section not sell pressure cookers? Anyhow, your website says you sell a line of Fagor pressure cookers.”
She replied, “We stopped selling them after the Boston Bombing.”
So it goes. Guns – even the gun used in the incident, still get sold in stores after the Newtown, CT, school massacre, but when someone makes a bomb with an ordinary kitchen implement, they are taken off the shelves. (What’s next, a demand for licenses to buy canning equipment?)
Luckily, we found several of the Fagor six-quart pots in a nearby Sears store, and purchased one, on sale for $76.00. The dimensions of the kettle are 10 inches in diameter and 7.7 inches bottom to top, not counting the handle (which cannot be detached without exposing four bolt holes through the top and side of the lid).
After getting a calculation that a quart of black powder weighs about two pounds (a very general measurement, because the compound changes weight according to the humidity, and can be loosely or densely packed like any powder), and testing a bag of small nails to find that they weigh about six pounds per quart, and after weighing the pot itself, we found that the whole contraption, fully loaded with four to five quarts of powder, two quarts’ worth of nails and BBs, and a battery and ignition device, would weigh about 30 lbs. So we put a sufficient number of exercise weight plates into our container, shut the lid, and tried carrying it in two backpacks similar in construction to the ones on the two brothers’ backs.
The results were instructive.
If you look carefully at the first set of photos, showing the surveillance photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the model wearing a similar pack containing the loaded pot, both packs being slung over the right shoulder using the right strap only, you can see a dramatic difference. There are stress wrinkles under the jacket of the right image on the model, caused by the 30-lb. weight pulling downward, but Dzhokhar’s jacket can be seen to be completely smooth under the strap. His pack is clearly extremely light on his shoulder (which may be why he’s not wearing it slung over both shoulders). As well, you can see that the weight of the pot, pulling down and outward in the model’s bag on the right, is causing a downward sloping of the top of the backpack, and is also causing many vertical stress lines on the face of the bag itself. Dzhokhar’s bag, however, is flat across the top, indicating no such downward pulling force, and it does not exhibit any downward wrinkles on its side. Whatever he is carrying, it is clearly not a 30-lb., or even a 20-lb. cylinder.
Here’s a close-up image of the shoulder straps on Dzhokhar’s and the model’s right shoulders:
Moving to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, check out the model’s slightly larger pack, which like Tamerlan’s is being worn with both straps over the shoulders. Again, the pack on the right, containing the loaded pot, is causing obvious wrinkles on the winter coat where the straps are bearing down on a small section of padded coat. Once again the weight of the straps of the shoulder – this time 15 lbs. per strap – can be seen causing prominent wrinkling on the winter coat worn by the model underneath the straps. The downward sloping of the face of the backpack, and also the vertical stress wrinkles are prominent and clearly visible also. In the video surveillance photo of Tamerlan, however, his coat can be seen to be unwrinkled under the straps, and there are again no vertical stress lines on the face of his pack. Again, it is hard to imagine a 30 or even a 20-lb. weight in the bottom of that pack.
There are other questions too, that need to be asked, and that demand answers.