Gentleman hermit with bombs on brain

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Missoula, Montana

Six years ago Joey Youdarian knocked on the door of a remote hillside cabin with a census form in his hand.

He sat and talked for nearly three hours with the man in the cabin as he jotted down the formal answers on his age, income and employment. Mr Youdarian, a Vietnam veteran, remembers a single room about 15sq ft, a wood-burning stove, a bunk bed, and the two volumes in a stack of books that caught his eye: Shakespeare and Thackeray. The conversation ran from Vietnam to the vegetables that Ted Kaczynski was testing in his garden. "He was quiet, polite, well spoken, quite articulate. He didn't seem like a radical or anything," said Mr Youdarian. "Somebody that had found a way of life that they enjoyed, that didn't have to worry about people bothering them, just getting away from the pressures of life."

Mr Kaczynski was held in a Montana jail yesterday charged with possessing components of a bomb while agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continued sifting through his sparse home. For Mr Kaczynski is thought to be the Unabomber, the man who, for 18 years, hypnotised America with a series of bombings across the country.

Investigators now believe that one of two manual typewriters found there may match the manuscript of the Unabomber's rambling 35,000-word manifesto and letters sent to the US press. Officials said they had all been typed on the same machine, apparently to prove their authenticity. Fearing booby traps, explosive experts were X-raying everything in the cabin before they touched it, an FBI source said. But they have already found a partially assembled pipe bomb, and 10 binders full of writings and sketchings of bombs with logs of apparent experiments, according to court documents.

There were books on electrical circuitry and chemistry along with pipes of galvanised metal, copper, and plastic, and chemical ingredients for bombs.

But it was the typewriter that offered the first substantial link to a string of bombings over two decades that have wounded 23 people and killed three.

Agents waited yesterday for the results of a laboratory analysis on the machine. Mr Kaczynski has not been charged in connection with any of the attacks. Bombs were sent to university professors, airline company chiefs, and others that the Unabomber singled out for leading the hi-tech revolution he viewed as an assault on personal freedom and "a disaster for the human race".

His personal history bears an uncanny resemblance to the suspect's profile drawn up by the FBI. White, male, and aged 53, a highly intelligent, Harvard- educated mathematician, he dropped out of a teaching job at the University of California at Berkeley to scrape a living in a remote hideaway. But neighbours in the small town of Lincoln, Montana, stuck stubbornly yesterday to their memories of a gentlemanly hermit.

"I don't believe it," said Irene Preston, 84, who played pinochle [a card game] regularly with Mr Kaczynski in the 1970s, soon after he first moved to Montana.

He helped her collect wood after her boyfriend died, she said.

"He was always good with us, he never spoke out of place, never hollered." Mr Kaczynski had lived in Lincoln since 1971, neighbours said, but it was only 10 or 12 years ago that he bought his land about four miles outside the town of about 1,000 people.

He built the cabin himself. It was about two hundred yards off a partially paved mountain road, and had no running water or electricity. He would leave the town in the winter, catching the Greyhound bus on his way to visits home to Chicago, though his mother later moved to New York.

He is thought to have spent time in Salt Lake City, where one bomb was found in a university classroom in 1981 and another exploded behind a computer store in 1987. But he appeared in town in all weathers riding a rickety bike. He hitched lifts to Helena, the state capital 40 miles away, with the Lincoln Stage, the mail delivery truck. "He'd go there and pay his taxes and do the business he had to do," Dick Lundberg, a driver, said. "I've known him for at least 20 years and he gave no indication of having adverse feelings against anyone."

Yesterday Mr Kaczynski was under a suicide watch in Helena's Lewis and Clark County Jail. Mr Youdarian, in 1990, is the only person that locals say was ever invited inside the cabin. By that time the Unabomber is said to have carried out 13 attacks that had killed one person and seriously injured several others, but Mr Kaczynski talked mostly about saving carrots and cabbages from the frosts. While he looked like he cut his own hair, he was much cleaner than the unkempt, bleary-eyed suspect seen on Wednesday.

"He said we shouldn't have been in Vietnam, but he didn't get carried away or anything," said Mr Youdarian, who runs a small beef jerky business. "It was real interesting to talk to him. He lived up there alone, but he didn't seem lonely."

The FBI began its surveillance of Mr Kaczynski's cabin several weeks ago after his brother David reluctantly went to the bureau after finding papers at the old family home with marked similarities to the Unabomber's writings.

The area was so remote that one watcher reportedly observed a cougar stalking and killing a deer. But yesterday some agents complained bitterly that they were forced to move in early after CBS reported they were about to execute a search warrant. "I'm sure that continuing surveillance would have given us the strongest possible case. We didn't have that luxury," one said. The network yesterday insisted it had held the story for two days at the FBI's request.