Copyright 1995 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
April 28, 1995, Friday, Home Edition
SECTION: Part A; Page 3; Metro Desk
LENGTH: 1090 words
HEADLINE: UNABOM HOT LINE FLOODED WITH CALLS; TERRORISM: ALL TIPS, RANGING FROM HIGHLY PROMISING TO KOOKY, WILL BE INVESTIGATED, FBI SAYS. KCBS REPORTS THAT AGENTS MAY BE SEEKING A MAN LINKED TO THE SYMBIONESE LIBERATION ARMY.
BYLINE: By JENIFER WARREN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
One caller swears he saw the Unabomber in line at K mart. Another is certain the bomber is a hermit who lives deep in the northern Sierra. And a third claims he is an acquaintance named "Curtis" who "knows a lot of government secrets" and likes to take his neighbors' dogs for walks.
As they continue their search for the shadowy criminal dubbed the Unabomber, investigators are getting an extraordinary outpouring of help. Since the bomber's latest attack killed a timber industry lobbyist here Monday, hundreds of people have called the FBI and the media with tips about suspects who resemble the criminal in some way.
Many of the tips are kooky, a few highly promising. Some are motivated by the $1-million reward the federal government has offered for information leading to the Unabomber's capture and conviction.
But most of the calls reflect the public's sincere desire to solve a long string of crimes that have left them feeling helpless and afraid, psychologists say.
"I think people truly believe that they do have special information to offer," said Dr. Helen Morrison, a Chicago forensic psychiatrist. "They want to help. They believe they have the clue that's going to crack the crime. And maybe they do."
The Unabomber surfaced in 1978 and has been linked with attacks that have killed three people -- two of them in Sacramento -- and injured 23. On Monday, the Unabomber struck for a 16th time, killing California Forestry Assn. lobbyist Gilbert Murray with a bomb concealed in a hand-made wooden box wrapped in brown paper.
The only known sighting of a suspect was in 1987 in Salt Lake City. Based on a witness account, investigators released a composite sketch of a white male with a ruddy complexion, sunglasses, a small mustache and reddish-blond hair hidden beneath a sweat shirt hood. This week, the sketch was widely circulated again, prompting a deluge of tips from the public.
To cope with the crush of calls and pursue other leads, the FBI has dramatically expanded the number of agents assigned to the federal task force hunting the serial bomber. In San Francisco, 100 agents were temporarily reassigned to the case. They will be replaced next week by 50 agents from around the country who will join the manhunt on a long-term basis, FBI Director Louis Freeh announced.
"We've had 750 calls to the hot line (1-800-701-BOMB) in the last few days," Smith said. "They range from, 'I saw someone 25 years ago who looks like the guy' to some that are more specific and actually identify a person."
Agents staffing the 24-hour hot line evaluate the calls and assign them a number -- one, two or three -- according to their priority. If a call is particularly compelling, an investigation is launched, Smith said.
"Ideally, we're looking for a sighting of an individual who fits the profile, and a license plate number or some specific identification," Smith said. The bulk of the calls, however, are far more vague and tend to implicate people such as "former husbands who don't pay child support," he said.
In addition to the hot line, local FBI offices are receiving tips. Tom Griffin, an FBI spokesman in Sacramento, said callers range from "somebody who saw a suspicious guy standing in line at K mart" to another person "who thinks it's a guy he once knew who had views against the government."
"Some of them are pretty goofy," Griffin said. "One caller said the Unabomber is probably an old acquaintance of his. He described him as 'very technical' and someone who 'used to build weird devices' and 'often wore hooded sweat shirts.' "
Ed Gleba, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said any widely publicized event triggers such calls. After the standoff between ATF agents and Branch Davidians in Waco, Tex., for instance, Gleba "got a ton of them."
"There is always an outpouring, and many people are well-intentioned," Gleba said. "I particularly enjoy the crank calls. After Waco, I got a call from a psychic who said he was going to teleport himself to Texas and talk to Koresh. I thanked him and gave him the name of someone to report to once he arrived."
Despite the amusement factor, agents follow up on all leads, Gleba said: "They have to. If you get 600 leads, 599 may go nowhere, but that 600th might pay off. You never know."
In other developments Thursday, a Los Angeles television station reported that the FBI is seeking a man with close ties to the Symbionese Liberation Army as a suspect in the Unabom case.
Quoting consultant Herbert D. Clough, a retired FBI special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office, KCBS-TV said the FBI may be after former Oakland resident James William Kilgore.
In San Francisco, FBI spokesman Rick Smith said Kilgore is not a suspect. "This is news to us," Smith said. "We don't know anything about it. If he's a suspect, I wish someone would tell us." At this point, he added, "this is only a media investigation."
Charles Bates, who was the FBI agent in charge of the San Francisco office during the SLA case, said Kilgore is not a suspect: "I have nothing to indicate it. It would surprise me."
In an interview with The Times, Clough said a CBS reporter presented him with a theory that Kilgore might be the Unabomber. Clough, who runs a consulting and investigations business, reviewed it and concluded: "It could be happenstance, but there are too many similarities."
Kilgore, 47, was part of a group that included SLA radicals in the 1970s, but was never captured or convicted and never was an actual member of the terrorist group. He was linked to a case in which authorities discovered bomb-making material in a rented garage in Berkeley.
The SLA gained infamy for the 1974 kidnaping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Hearst linked Kilgore to a 1975 robbery in Sacramento that left a customer dead.
Meanwhile, investigators continued to pore over four letters received from the Unabomber this week. The Postal Inspection Service is trying to pinpoint where the letters -- and Monday's bomb -- originated. All were apparently postmarked in Oakland, but that city's postal center processes 10 million pieces of mail daily from all over the east Bay Area.
Explosives experts, meanwhile, were still trying to identify what materials were used in the device that killed Murray. Robert C. Barnett, head of ATF in San Francisco, said Monday's bomb appears to be "the most powerful yet" used by the serial bomber.
Times staff writers Dan Morain, and Richard C. Paddock contributed to this story.