The PJ Tatler

Did the Boston Bombers Test Their Bombs in Hell Swamp?

Viral Read’s Stacy McCain catches an interesting Twitter conversation between the younger Boston bomber and another Twitter user:

As you can see, the conversation spans a couple of days, March 20, 2013 to March 22.

Twitter user The Jester (@th3j25t3r) caught the conversation, and linked it to explosions heard in Hanover, MA on the evening of March 12, and then again on March 15.

The brothers reportedly lived in Cambridge, MA. Dzhokhar attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Hanover is southeast of Cambridge, and on an indirect path to Dartmouth. In the map below, the top marker is Cambridge, the second is Hanover, and the one at the bottom is Dartmouth. The bombers would probably have driven to and through Hanover many times.

The latter date for the Hanover explosions is, obviously, exactly a month before the marathon bombing.

Hanover fire and police departments seek the public’s help in identifying suspects or providing information in relation to two recent incidents where, over the past week, witnesses have reported explosions.

Officials are concerned the explosive devices could lead to injury or property damage. The recovered explosives appear to be homemade.

The first incident was reported at 8:34 p.m. on March 12. Police and fire personnel responded to the area of Pine Street and Tower Hill Drive. Witnesses at the nearby Target store on Washington Street reported seeing a bright flash and hearing two explosions from that area.

Several unexploded devices were found at the scene and later detonated under secure conditions by the State Police Bomb Squad.

The second incident was a few days later at 7:49 p.m. on March 15.  The second incident was near the first, in the area of Hearthstone and Fieldstone lanes.  The area was searched but no explosives were found.

Google mapping the area, it looks like this. The Target store is marked with the A. Click on the map to enlarge it.

To the Target’s east and west, there are woodlands. The story about the explosions says the police responded to Pine Street and Tower Hill Drive, which is to the Target’s east. Witnesses in the Target parking lot, which are on the store’s east and north sides, saw flashes. The second incident was also to the store’s east. Whatever was going on, then was probably happening in the Hell Swamp area to the store’s east.

As someone who in my youth built model rocket engines and played around with a black powder cannon for kicks, I’ve wondered where a couple of urban youths tested their bombs and grenades. You don’t typically deploy a design without testing it somewhere first. Testing explosives isn’t the kind of thing one can do in urban settings without attracting attention, especially after 9-11. Explosives are bright and loud. If you have something to hide, as the Boston bombers did, it’s best not to test anything very close to where you live. Hanover is close to Cambridge, but not too close — about 45 minutes away. There’s no evidence yet that the bombers owned any land anywhere or had access to anyone else’s land to use for testing any explosives. Hanover could have been a good choice, and within Hanover, Hell Swamp could have been a logical choice too.

Hell Swamp is not very large, about a kilometer across on the south side and maybe a couple of kilometers deep. But it’s heavily wooded and accessing it from the Tower Hill area neighborhood or the shopping center where the Target is located does not appear to be difficult. Someone could test their bomb in Hell Swamp and then head to Target for snacks afterward. There is even an appliance store, KAM Appliances, next to the Target but evidently it doesn’t sell pressure cookers. Targets sell pressure cookers, including Fagor, the brand of the one recovered from the bombing. The Target sells toys and batteries, and reportedly the battery recovered from one of the bombs was taken from a toy like a remote controlled car or kid’s electric car. The bombers could have obtained the battery and pressure cooker any number of places, but they could have gotten it close to wherever they tested their devices. The battery was a Tenergy rechargeable pack, and according to the Fremont, CA company that sells it, it was received in December 2012. Tenergy sells its batteries both directly to customers and to retailers for inclusion in items that use rechargeable battery packs. It was not sold to the bombers either directly or indirectly very long ago.

Whoever was behind the explosions on March 12 and March 15, they were using homemade concoctions, not any off-the-shelf commercial fireworks.

None of this proves anything, of course, but it’s interesting.

More: The March 12 incident includes another telling detail I missed on a first read — two explosions. The bombers could have been testing the timing and sequence for the twin bombs set off in Boston on April 15.

Update: @xXjungaXx, the person supposed to have been “poppen fireworks” with Jahar, has taken his Twitter feed offline. He’s still up on Instagram, though. He may, of course, have nothing to do with the bombings at all.

Correction: Above I wrote that the brothers lived in Cambridge. Tamerlan did, but Jahar/Dzhokhar lived on campus in Dartmouth during school.