WASHINGTON (AP) — Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the Harvard-trained mathematician who retreated to a seedy cabin in the Montana wilderness and waged a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured others 23 others, died on Saturday. He was 81 years old.
Called an “Unabomber” by the FBI, Kaczynski died at Federal Prison Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, Federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Kristie Breshears told The Associated Press. He was found unconscious in his cell early Saturday morning and was pronounced dead around 8 a.m., she said. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Prior to his transfer to the prison medical facility, he had been held in the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado, since May 1998, when he was sentenced to four life terms plus 30 years for a campaign of terror that has overwhelmed the country’s universities. He admitted to carrying out 16 bombings between 1978 and 1995, permanently maiming several of his victims.
Years before the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax mailing, deadly ‘Unabomber’ pipe bombs changed the way Americans sent packages and boarded planes, even virtually halting travel flights over the west coast in July 1995.
He forced the Washington Post, in conjunction with the New York Times, to make the agonizing decision in September 1995 to publish his 35,000-word manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future”, which argued that modern society and technology led to a feeling of helplessness and alienation.
But this led to his downfall. Kaczynski’s brother, David, and David’s wife, Linda Patrik, recognized the tone of the treaty and tipped off the FBI, which had been searching for the “Unabomber” for years in the longest and most costliest in the country.
In April 1996, authorities found him in a 10-by-14-foot (3-by-4-meter) plywood and tar paper shack outside Lincoln, Montana that was filled with newspapers, a coded journal, explosive ingredients and two completed bombs.
As an elusive criminal mastermind, the Unabomber has earned his share of sympathizers and comparisons with Daniel Boone, Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau.
But once revealed as a wild-eyed hermit with long hair and a beard who withstood Montana winters in a one-room cabin, Kaczynski struck as much more of a pathetic loner than a romantic anti-hero.
Even in his own diaries, Kaczynski did not appear as a committed revolutionary, but as a vengeful hermit driven by petty grievances.
“I certainly do not claim to be an altruist or to act for the ‘good’ (whatever that may be) of the human race,” he wrote on April 6, 1971. “I am simply acting out of a desire for revenge.”
A psychiatrist who interviewed Kaczynski in prison diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic.
“Mr. Kaczynski’s delusions are primarily persecutory in nature,” Sally Johnson wrote in a 47-page report. “Central themes involve his belief that he is being slandered and harassed by his family members and modern society. “
Kaczynski hated the thought of being considered mentally ill, and when his lawyers attempted to present an insanity defense, he attempted to fire them. When that failed, he tried to hang himself with his underwear on.
Kaczynski ultimately pleaded guilty rather than let his defense team proceed with an insanity defense.
“I’m convinced I’m sane,” Kaczynski told Time magazine in 1999. “I have no illusions and so on.”
He was certainly brilliant.
Kaczynski skipped two grades to attend Harvard at age 16 and has published articles in prestigious math journals. Its explosives have been thoroughly tested and come in wooden boxes that are meticulously handcrafted and sanded to remove any fingerprints. Later bombs bore the signature “FC” for “Freedom Club”.
The FBI called him the “Unabomber” because his first targets seemed to be universities and airlines. An altitude-triggered bomb he mailed in 1979 detonated as planned aboard an American Airlines flight; about ten people on board suffered from smoke inhalation.
Kaczynski killed computer rental store owner Hugh Scrutton, advertising executive Thomas Mosser, and lumber industry lobbyist Gilbert Murray. California geneticist Charles Epstein and Yale University computer expert David Gelernter were maimed by bombs two days apart in June 1993.
Mosser was killed in his North Caldwell, New Jersey home on December 10, 1994, a day he was supposed to pick out a Christmas tree with his family. His wife, Susan, found him badly injured by a barrage of razor blades, pipes and nails.
“He was moaning very softly,” she said during Kaczynski’s 1998 sentencing. “The fingers of his right hand were hanging down. I held his left hand. I told him help was coming. I told him that I loved him.
When Kaczynski stepped up his bombshells and letters to newspapers and scientists in 1995, pundits speculated that “Unabomber” was jealous of the attention given to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
A threat to blow up a plane departing Los Angeles before the end of the July 4 weekend has thrown air travel and mail delivery into chaos. The “Unabomber” later claimed it was a “prank”.
The Washington Post printed the “Unabomber” manifesto at the request of federal authorities, after the suicide bomber said he would renounce terrorism if a national publication published his treatise.
Patrik had had an ominous feeling about his brother-in-law even before he saw the manifesto and eventually persuaded her husband to read a copy from the library. After two months of arguing, they brought some of Ted Kaczynski’s letters to Patrik’s childhood friend, Chicago private detective Susan Swanson.
Swanson in turn passed them on to former FBI behavioral scientist Clint Van Zandt, whom analysts say whoever wrote them likely also wrote the “Unabomber” manifesto.
“It was a nightmare,” said David Kaczynski, who idolized his older brother as a child, in a 2005 speech at Bennington College. “I was literally thinking, ‘My brother is a serial killer, the most wanted man in America.'”
Swanson turned to a corporate lawyer friend, Anthony Bisceglie, who contacted the FBI.
David Kaczynski wanted his role kept private, but his identity was soon leaked and Ted Kaczynski vowed never to forgive his younger brother. He ignored her letters, turned his back on her in court hearings, and described David Kaczynski in a 1999 book draft as “Judas Iscariot (who)…hasn’t even enough courage to go and stand. hang”.
Ted Kaczynski was born May 22, 1942 in Chicago, the son of second-generation Polish Catholics – a sausage maker and housewife. He played trombone in the school band, collected coins, and skipped sixth and eleventh grades.
His high school classmates thought it weird, especially after he showed a school wrestler how to make a mini-bomb that exploded during chemistry class.
His Harvard classmates recalled him as a lonely, scrawny boy with poor personal hygiene and a room that smelled of spoiled milk, rotten food, and foot powder.
After graduating from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, he got a job teaching math at the University of California, Berkeley, but found the job difficult and quit abruptly. In 1971, he purchased a 1½ acre parcel about 4 miles (6 kilometers) outside of Lincoln and built a cabin there without heating, plumbing or electricity.
He learned to garden, hunt, make tools and sew, living on a few hundred dollars a year.
He left his cabin in Montana in the late 1970s to work for a manufacturer of foam rubber products outside of Chicago with his father and brother. But when a supervisor dumped him after two dates, he started posting insulting limericks about her and didn’t stop.
His brother fired him, and Ted Kaczynski soon returned to the wilderness to continue planning his revenge killing spree.
Balsamo reported from Miami. This story includes biographical material written by former Associated Press writer Derek Rose.