Monday, August 25, 2014

Bill Hoenk - photographer and eyewitness in the Tsarnaev case

Bill Hoenk is a non-professional photographer who happened to become an eyewitness of the second explosion. One of his photos made it onto the front page of the Time magazine: a two or three year-old boy (Leo Woolfenden) carried away by a policeman (Thomas Barrett).

Hoenk describes his experience in a little known online report (credits to wiseowl of for unearthing this). He states that he shot 51 photos in the first five minutes after the second blast, yet only four of them have been published. These four are apparently pictured in his report, including another iconic photo: Matt Patterson carrying the heavily injured red-haired child alleged to be Jane Richard. Another one is a famous photo shot only 20 seconds after the explosion which I have already featured multiple times:

It appears that Bill Hoenk's material exceeds the output of other photographers of the immediate aftermath of the blast - namely Kenshin Okubo, David Silverman, and David Green - both quantitatively and qualitatively, in terms of significance for the criminal case Marathon bombings. Plenty of interesting and crucial insights are to be expected from the unseen 47 photos, and the defense ought to consider to request them from either the prosecution - in case they have them - or Hoenk himself. 

One important picture probably belongs to these 47 unknowns - it seems to have slipped through the cracks, but is not really widespread. I have featured it in this blog entry and will call it the graphic photo from now on:

Is Bill Hoenk the creator of the graphic photo (whose origin is in the dark)? Yes, most certainly. In order to understand that, we have to consult two videos of the second bomb aftermath, the Fred Land video and the Daniel Robert video. This Hoenk photo

can be matched with the Daniel Robert video and a picture from another photographer taken only seconds before, from a different perspective:

It can be concluded by comparison that Hoenk must have shot the photo at around 3:40 (+-5 seconds) after the blast.

Now look at this screenshot from the Daniel Robert video at 1:02 (3:41 after the blast):

On the left side there's a man standing at a barrier with his camera directed at the second bomb site. The next diagram shows that the position of the man and the angle match the Hoenk photo exactly. In other words: This man is Bill Hoenk just taking the photo depicted above. He wears dark-colored clothes, a backpack, a camera with telephoto lens, and, most strikingly, white sneakers.

Now let's take a look at the Fred Land video. At 1:38, someone wearing dark-colored clothes, a backpack and white sneakers suddenly enters the visible area from below, near the lower right corner, stops at 1:42, takes a picture with a telephoto lens, and leaves the area via the right border at 1:46. This man is clearly Bill Hoenk.

Again, the following diagram shows that time (1:42 in the Fred Land video = 0:42 after the blast), angle and position match the graphic photo:

So the Fred Land video proves that Bill Hoenk is the maker of the graphic photo, thus confirming its hitherto questionable authenticity. I have highlighted its significance for the Tsarnaev case in former blog entries. The example shows that the unseen Hoenk photos are of utmost importance for the trial against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's bag belong to a bomb-sniffing drill?

Dana Rouleau

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not plant the pressure cooker bomb at the Forum restaurant. His bag is well pictured in the famous video footage of the corner Gloucester/Boylston Street. It does not contain a pressure cooker (no bulge), it doesn't fit the pictures of the remnants of the second bomb backpack, it doesn't fit the FBI's verbal description of the backpack, and Dzhokhar didn't place it at the location where the second bomb exploded (it was 12-15 feet away, to be exact).

Notwithstanding, his behavior at the Marathon is a conundrum. He dropped his backpack in front of the Forum, and unless he "forgot" to pick it up when he left the site - which is highly unlikely - the question what was in his bag and why did he leave it there is extremely puzzling.

It is not disputed that Dzhokhar purchased and played with fireworks, opened the tubes and removed the black powder. But the producer has ensured that this black powder has not the explosive force necessary for a pressure cooker bomb.

It is also not disputed that there were some bomb alerts after the bombings. The Mandarin hotel was evacuated due to a bomb threat, and there was one controlled demolition announced one hour after the bombs, located across Boston Public library, which is exactly the first bomb site!
Reports from social media (unconfirmed) indicate that a secondary explosive device has been located outside of Boston's Mandarin Oriental Hotel and will be destroyed (hopefully safely) in a controlled demolition by the Boston Police Department using explosive ordnance disposal equipment.

A third explosion was heard about an hour after the first two after authorities warned spectators to expect a loud noise from a water cannon that police apparently were using to destroy one of the devices.

The media have taken the information about the additional suspicious items with astonishing serenity, not to say negligence. It soon vanished into oblivion. Nobody cared about the nature of these bombs, who might have placed them, etc. - but they should have appeared in FBI records, court filings and  investigative reports. They didn't. After Marathon day, nobody was interested in the fact that in addition to the two big bombs two other bombs have been dismantled.

And who found the explosive devices among the many bags and backpacks left back or forgotten in panic? Yes - the bomb-sniffing dogs who were already on scene before, apparently as participants of a drill. A study from the Harvard Kennedy school released in April reports that at least one of the not-explosive bombs was identified by a dog.

This leads to an alternative explanation for Dzhokhar's behavior which is much better in accordance with reality: his bag might simply have contained the harmless black powder from the fireworks, with certain ingrediences similar to the "real stuff" so that the "canines" were able to identify it. He was definitely not the only one who placed a harmless bomb as part of the bomb-sniffing drill. And his brother Tamerlan, the one with the special law enforcement connections, persuaded him to do this dubious, but presumably well paid "job".

When besieged by the FBI in his hospital bed, Dzhokhar indeed seems to have mentioned a bomb, but it is unclear what kind of "bomb" . The crucial details are blacked out in this court document - with the exception of the black powder:

Even the defense admits the "bomb" in Doc 295:

Despite fighting for the admissibility of these statements the prosecution has announced not to make use of this "confession". Is it because Dzhokhar's description is not compatible with a pressure cooker bomb?