Unabomber News History

Copyright 1993 The Times Mirror Company

Los Angeles Times

June 26, 1993,Saturday, Home Edition

SECTION: Part A; Page 1; Column 5; National Desk

LENGTH: 1562 words


BYLINE: By EDWIN CHEN, This story was reported by Elizabeth Shogren in New Haven, Edwin Chen and Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington, Dan Morain in Sacramento and Jenifer Warren and Richard C. Paddock in San Francisco. It was written by Chen.



Federal law enforcement officials said Friday that they are "very, very certain" the two bombs that injured professors at UC San Francisco and Yale University this week are the work of a terrorist who has re-emerged from a six-year hiatus after 12 similar bombings from 1978 to 1987.

"The forensic experts believe . . . that the maker or makers of each of these 14 explosive devices is the same person or persons," Milton Ahlerich, the FBI's special agent in Connecticut, said at a New Haven news conference.

"It's been a long time since we heard from him -- or them," Jim Cavanaugh, deputy chief of the explosives division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, added in Washington.

Officials said they also suspect that the bomber may have strong ties in California, particularly Sacramento, where the only fatality caused by the bombs occurred in 1985.

Both bombs this week were sent through the mail and bore Sacramento postmarks -- as was a boastful letter sent to the New York Times that was apparently written by the perpetrator, officials said.

The latest victim, David Gelernter, 38, a Yale associate professor of computer science was injured Thursday when he opened a package in his office.

Two days earlier, UC San Francisco geneticist Charles Epstein, 59, lost several fingers and suffered burns, cuts and injuries to his chest, abdomen and face when he opened a parcel in the kitchen of his home in Tiburon, on the north side of San Francisco Bay.

Investigators have not talked at length to either victim because of their conditions. Epstein's medical condition was upgraded to stable, but he remains hospitalized. Gelernter was still on a respirator Friday, recovering from surgery.

Law enforcement authorities said they are sure of the link between this week's bombings and the earlier 12 because of the use of the initials "FC" in the June 21 letter to the New York Times. The same initials had been crudely scratched onto some of the earlier bombs, sources said.

"We don't know what that means, but it's the first time that it's been put out there by someone claiming responsibility," Cavanaugh said, referring to the letter, which identified its author or authors as "an anarchist group calling ourselves FC."

Ahlerich urged professors and scientists across the country to be wary of suspicious parcels, saying that, on average, the explosives have come in packages that measure roughly 8 inches by 11 inches and are 2- to 3-inches-thick.

Some of the bombs were mailed, often with excess postage, but others were simply left at the scene, officials noted.

Forensic experts believe that the bombs are linked because they all had the same "unique" qualities, said Rick Smith, an FBI spokesman in San Francisco.

"The bombs really show an obsessive attention on the part of the maker to the way various components work," added Christopher Ronay, chief of the FBI's explosives unit in Washington, who has investigated the bombings since 1982.

At one point during the 1980s, some investigators referred to the perpetrator as the "Junkyard Bomber" because of a tendency to fashion components from makeshift materials and scrap, according to retired Sacramento Sheriff's Lt. Ray Biondi, who investigated the Dec. 11, 1985, bombing death of Hugh Scrutton, 38.

Scrutton, the owner of a computer rental store near Sacramento State University, picked up a burlap bag in the alley behind the store, setting off an explosive device.

Tensions ran high Friday at UC San Francisco. Police Chief Ron Nelson canceled days off for all 25 of his patrol officers, and flyers advising caution were distributed to all university departments.

In one incident, a parcel that appeared suspicious was received by an unidentified university official, who called authorities. The San Francisco Police Department's bomb squad was brought in, but the package merely contained a manuscript.

"Everyone is on edge," said one researcher. "We're trying not to let it affect our lives, but that doesn't seem possible quite yet."

UC Berkeley -- site of two earlier bombing incidents -- was also on "heightened alert," according to campus spokesman Bob Sanders.

Investigators said the latest bombings caught them by surprise because they had presumed that after six years of silence, the bomber had died, gone to jail for other crimes or given up.

There had been gaps of up to three years between previous bombings, so the case had not been abandoned, officials said. A federal task force continued to meet about once a year, the most recent such session taking place in a San Francisco hotel last summer.

"During the past two or three years, the passage of time caused investigators to presume that something had caused the person to stop," said one investigator. "But he is back."

In all, 21 people were injured in the previous string of bombings, which included incidents on the campuses of the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1978, Northwestern University in 1979, Vanderbilt University in 1982, UC Berkeley in 1982 and 1985 and the University of Michigan in 1985. A similar explosive device was found, but safely defused, in a University of Utah classroom in 1981.

FBI officials in San Francisco said law enforcement officials refer to the incidents as UNABOM, which stands for United Airlines Bomb -- a reference to a June 10, 1980, mail bombing that injured United Airlines President Percy Wood at his Lake Forest, Ill., home.

Two other incidents also involved the airline industry. On Nov. 15, 1979, a parcel detonated in the cargo bay of an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Dulles International Airport outside Washington. About a dozen passengers were treated for smoke inhalation after the plane made an emergency landing.

Investigation of that incident caused officials to recognize the similarity of the airplane bomb and the first two bombs, at the University of Illinois and Northwestern, Ronay said.

In addition, a package mailed in 1985 to the Boeing Co. in Auburn, Wash., was found and defused.

A big potential break in the bombings came on Feb. 20, 1987, when a witness saw a man setting a burlap bag down near a parked car in a Salt Lake City parking lot. Before the witness could investigate, another passerby picked up the bag and a bomb went off.

Authorities developed a sketch of the suspect based on a description provided by the witness, but there were no more bombing incidents until this week. The description of the suspect: a medium-build white man with reddish-blond hair and a thin mustache. Authorities suspect that the bomber "perhaps stays around to see the results," Ronay said. "It's something bombers tend to do."

Officials said they have not developed any strong possible motives for the bombings, or any credible theories to explain the hiatus.

"It's anybody's guess," Ronay said. "But we believe that his selection of targets may depend on his state of mind."

Added Cavanaugh: "Maybe he was incarcerated or somehow not available. Maybe he was overseas. Or in a hospital. Maybe he was just happy."

Ahlerich said: "International terrorism is not on the top of the list" of suspected motives.

By Friday, several hundred federal agents, assisted by state and local law enforcement officials, joined the search, rejuvenating the UNABOMB task force.   Danger in the Mail

Bombings that law enforcement officials believe are linked:

* May 25, 1978: Package sent to Chicago campus of the University of Illinois, with return address from Northwestern University, exploded and injured a security guard.

* May 9, 1979: Bomb placed in Technological Building at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., detonated and injured student who tried to open it.

* Nov. 15, 1979: Twelve jet passengers treated for smoke inhalation when parcel exploded in cargo hold. The flight, from Washington to Chicago, made emergency landing at Dulles International Airport.

* June 10, 1980: United Airlines president injured when he attempted to open a mailed package at his Chicago-area home.

* Oct. 8, 1981: Bomb squad disarmed device found in business classroom of Milton Bennion Hall at the University of Utah.

* April 25, 1982: Secretary at Vanderbilt University in Nashville injured when she opened package addressed to professor. Package had been forwarded from Pennsylvania.

* July 2, 1982: Professor in electrical engineering and computer science department at UC Berkeley injured when he attempted to move package found in faculty lounge.

* May 8, 1985: Police disarm bomb found in package mailed to Boeing Co. in Auburn, Wash., from Oakland.

* May 15, 1985: Graduate student at UC Berkeley severely injured when he attempted to open box left in computer terminal room.

* Nov. 12, 1985: Secretary injured when she opened package mailed from Salt Lake City to a professor in Ann Arbor, Mich.

* Dec. 11, 1985: Computer store owner in Sacramento killed when he attempted to move a package left behind his store.

* Feb. 20, 1987: Computer company employee in Salt Lake City injured when he attempted to move package left in parking lot.

* June 22, 1993: Geneticist at UC San Francisco lost several fingers when package exploded at his home.

* June 24, 1993: Professor at Yale University injured when he opened a package in his office and it exploded.

Source: Times staff and wire reports