Have they now caught the Unabomber?

The longest, most expensive hunt in FBI history has led to the empty heartlands of the West and a seemingly innocuous hermit in a brick and board shacktrap
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Maybe the quest is finally over, and in a fashion as bizarre as this most extraordinary of cases deserves. Few criminals in recent times have caught America's imagination as has the "Unabomber", a Professor Moriarty among mail-bombers who for almost 18 years plied his trade from one end of the country to the other, defying - even mocking - every effort of the FBI to catch him.

Now the Feds seem to have got their man. The individual they have netted as their strongest suspect yet is not a big city crime shark protected by a shoal of attorneys, or a brutal killer from the backstreets. The longest and most expensive hunt in FBI history has led instead to the echoing, empty heartlands of the West, and a seemingly innocuous modern- day hermit in a brick and board shack.

For a dozen years now Theodore (Ted) Kaczynski has lived that way, without plumbing or electricity, using his excrement to fertilise his vegetable garden. He was a certified eccentric, a Harvard graduate who would ride a bicycle along the muddy roads into the remote Montana township of Lincoln (population 530), mainly to borrow what few learned books were available at the public library. His beard was straggly, his clothes ill-fitting, often torn. People mostly liked him but left him alone, for Montana is a place where privacy is respected.

"I think most of us are rooting that this isn't the guy," said one of his neighbours, Larry Butler. "I don't believe it's him. If he's so educated, why did he live like that?" To which investigators have a simple answer. He lived like that because he was the Unabomber.

Only today will it be known with certainty what crimes the 53-year-old Kaczynski will be charged with. But he fits the Unabomber's profile, elaborated by the FBI, with uncanny precision.

Just as the Bureau predicted, he is a middle-aged white male, well-educated and almost certainly with a failed university career behind him, who mostly shunned human society to concentrate on his two preferred pursuits: developing his theory of the calamity to which the industrial revolution was leading mankind - and killing people with devilishly constructed letter-bombs.

The Unabomber seems to have had special links with university life in three places: Chicago (where his family lives), Utah, and northern California. On each score Mr Kaczynski fits the bill. After

Harvard, he took courses at the University of Chicago, before taking a PhD in mathematics at the University of Michigan (where his former professor yesterday described Kaczynski as, "very serious and very able"). He lived in Salt Lake City for a while in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And before that, he had been an assistant maths professor at the University of California at Berkeley before leaving after two years, for reasons that are unclear.

And if the police theory is correct, he also built bombs. The first attack was in 1978, a bomb addressed to Chicago University. The last of the 16 attributed to the Unabomber came a year ago, in Sacramento, California, when Gilbert Murray, the President of the California Forestry Association, was killed as he opened a package at his office.

The bombs grew in sophistication with the years, often planted in skilfully carved wooden containers, sometimes with a trademark signature, "FC".

All the while the police searched, but in vain. "Sometimes we'd get pretty close to him, especially in California in 1995," Lou Betram, a retired FBI agent who was on the Bureau's Unabomber task-force in San Francisco, said yesterday. "But then he'd go into hibernation, nothing would happen for a while, the trail would grow cold."

But even Unabombers are not infallible. Exulting in his apparent mastery of the FBI, the master criminal made his mistake, in the form of a 35,000- word treatise on the "Future of Industrial Society", which he submitted to the Washington Post and New York Times. If they published the rambling, anti-technology manifesto, the writer said, he would cease his campaign. After much soul-searching, the two papers did so on 20 September 1995, on the advice of the FBI.

Relatives in Chicago were struck by similarities between some of Ted Kaczynski's earlier writings and the rambling musings of the Unabomber's tract, and eventually his brother informed the FBI. And so the trail of 18 years, dotted with 200 detained suspects along the way, led to a hand- built cabin near the Continental divide. But the tale may not yet be over.

Barring a confession, or conclusive DNA tests on saliva from stamps affixed to the bomb packages, the FBI may yet have trouble in proving that Kaczynski is the Unabomber, linking him with each of the 16 attacks. Indeed yesterday there were reports that the FBI had found evidence which could provide alibis in at least two of them. And if so, some people surely will secretly be glad. After all, what is life without a few unsolved mysteries?

Manifesto of the Unabomber

Excerpts from the Unabomber's 35,000-word manifesto, published in the Washington Post and the New York Times in September, 1995


The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilised society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption...

We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system. This revolution may or may not make use of violence; it may be sudden or it may be relatively gradual. We can't predict any of that. But we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way. This is not to be a POLITICAL REVOLUTION. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.


When we speak of leftists we have in mind mainly socialists, collectivists, "Politically correct" types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal-rights activists and the like... Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (homosexuals) or otherwise inferior. The leftists themselves feel that these groups are inferior... but would never admit it.