Notorious, vengeful, reclusive 'Unabomber' Theodore (Ted) Kaczynski dead at 81
No immediate word on cause of death in federal prison medical centre
Theodore (Ted) Kaczynski, the vengeful bomber who killed three people in a series of attacks over a nearly two-decade span before his own relatives helped authorities identify him, has died. He was 81.
Kaczynski, known as the "Unabomber," died at the federal prison medical centre in Butner, N.C., Kristie Breshears, a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Prisons, told The Associated Press.
He was found unresponsive in his cell early Saturday morning and pronounced dead at about 8 a.m. local time, she said. A cause of death was not immediately known.
Before his transfer to the prison medical facility, Kaczynski had been imprisoned at the so-called supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo.
After attacks at two Illinois universities and one on an American Airlines cargo hold in 1978-79, Kaczynski was given the nickname Unabomber by an FBI-led task force.
It was a shortened handle for University-and-Airlines-Bomber, although ultimately the three men who died in Kaczynski bombings between 1985 and 1995 were a computer store owner, a public relations executive and a forestry executive.
Kaczynski's attacks across eight U.S. states — many of them delivered through the postal system — would also injure 23 people. Some were targeted by name even though he didn't personally know them, and others were the victims of cruel randomness. Some of the injured lost vision or body parts.
Bomber hoped for more brutal toll
While not as brutal a toll as the domestic terrorist had wished — as expressed in voluminous journals Kaczynski wrote — the attacks vexed and alarmed authorities during a period where there were multiple American casualties in bombings aboard a Pan Am flight, as well as at the World Trade Center in New York and a federal building in Oklahoma City.
The manhunt was said to involve hundreds of personnel over its duration, and cost millions of dollars. A $1-million US reward and one of the most well-known suspect sketches ever did not specifically lead to this arrest. Kaczynski proved elusive by hand-crafting his bomb components, while not leaving fingerprints, at his remote Montana cabin.
Ultimately, Kaczynski's need to explain his actions doomed him. The New York Times and Washington Post, in a controversial decision in September 1995, published his 35,000-word manifesto entitled Industrial Society and Its Future. The FBI feared publicizing the words of a murderer but reasoned that the tactic would be fruitful with the internet newly accessible to millions.
Calling the industrial revolution "a disaster for the human race," the author said in his manifesto that "in order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people," falsely implying he was part of a group.
The Unabomber excoriated the increased role of super-intelligent computers and genetic engineering, as well as the environmental damage caused by humans in the name of advancement.
"The technophiles are taking us all on an utterly reckless ride into the unknown," the author wrote.
Family spotted similarities
His sister-in-law, Lindra Patrik — who had never met the reclusive Kaczynski — saw it. She recognized similar thought patterns and linguistic expressions in the manifesto's rant against technology and government intrusion compared to a 1971 Kazcynski screed her husband once had her read.
David Kaczynski, who also saw the similarities in writing but couldn't fathom his anti-social brother would be violent, reached out to a private detective. That detective summoned a series of experts, who compared the various writing samples and thought there was a probability the author was a strong suspect.
The FBI were ultimately contacted, and on April 3, 1996, outside Lincoln, Mont., Kaczynski was apprehended, his tiny cabin found to contain bomb materials and journals detailing his attacks.
"I never would have thought that my neighbour was sitting in that little cabin creating bombs and killing people," Jamie Gehring said years later in the documentary Unabomber: In His Own Words.
The public got its first glimpse of the dishevelled, bearded Kaczynski as he was ferried by authorities. While defence lawyers wanted to pursue a mental illness defence, believing he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, their client wouldn't hear of it, striking a guilty plea while avoiding a trial and the possibility of the death penalty.
'Serious delusions' apparent
Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, and grew up in a Chicago suburb. He attended Harvard University at 16 after skipping grades, eventually earning a PhD in mathematics at the University of Michigan.
His brother saw him as a loner during his high school years but became alarmed at his increasingly paranoid tendencies in university, later hearing reports of odd campus behaviour.
"It's pretty clear that by the time he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he was suffering some pretty serious delusions," David Kaczynski said in the documentary Unabomber: 20 Years of Terror.
Decades later, it was learned, Kaczynski was a three-year participant in a Harvard psychology research project that measured stress by a process of continually belittling subjects over their beliefs and writings.
He spent two years as a math professor at the University of Berkeley, California, before abruptly resigning.
By the late 1960s, Kaczynski's writings harboured fantasies of committing violence, and in 1971 he moved to the Montana cabin, subsisting largely on handouts from his family and a few odd jobs. He occasionally ventured to the nearest town by bicycle, often to spend hours at the library, and he once visited a neighbour to find out what the date was.
Kaczynski's bombs were spurred by "anger and revenge," not any political objective, he later said in recordings from prison. His grievances ranged from the broad to the specific — he saw a society whose machines had escaped the control of humans, while also detesting the "obscene roar" of jet planes flying in the skies of his cabin.
By targeting an American Airlines flight on Nov. 15, 1979, carrying 78 occupants, he drew the widespread attention of the authorities. The device only partially detonated, but the baggage hold was destroyed by fire, and 18 people suffered smoke inhalation.
Saw bombs as 'experiments'
His bombs were described by an FBI agent as "elementary, but cunning," in Lis Wiehl's Hunting the Unabomber: The FBI, Ted Kaczynski, and the Capture of America's Most Notorious Domestic Terrorist. They fused batteries, wood and a distinctive metal plate with a toggle switch.
The Feb. 20, 1987 bombing that injured a man in Salt Lake City yielded a sketch based on a witness description of a suspect. The public saw a depiction of a Caucasian male with Navigator glasses wearing a hood, with a moustache and wavy hair over his forehead.
Kaczynski called his bombings "experiments" in his writings and went to great lengths to avoid detection, even collecting hairs from strangers from a public toilet to plant inside his device materials.
The widely read manifesto took aim at "leftism" for its promotion of feminism and affirmative action, while blasting conservatives who "whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth."
Kaczynski's mother was left pained and perplexed by his arrest. His father was no longer alive, having shot himself to death five years earlier.
Kaczynski reportedly attempted suicide before eventually pleading guilty in 1998 to an assortment of charges and receiving eight life sentences.
"Lock him so far down that when he dies he'll be closer to hell, where the devil belongs," Susan Mosser said at a sentencing hearing. Mosser's husband, Thomas, died at their New Jersey home in a 1994 bombing, while Hugh Scrutton (1985) and Gilbert Murray (1995) each died in Sacramento, Calif., explosions.
David Kaczynski later said he came forward with the "heaviest heart," but the brothers never spoke again. He and his wife received the $1-million reward, gave much of it to a foundation, and wrote apology letters to victims and their families.
With files from The Associated Press