Unabomber News History

Copyright 1993 Globe Newspaper Company

The Boston Globe

June 27, 1993, Sunday, City Edition


LENGTH: 869 words

HEADLINE: Serial bomber leaves clues, but remains elusive

BYLINE: By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff


Who is Unabom? The question has bedeviled federal investigators for 15 years as they have struggled to identify the maker of 12 package bombs aimed at a disparate group of university professors, computer dealers and people who work for airlines and aircraft companies.

Now, after two additional explosions last week, authorities may also start asking, "What is Unabom," as they analyze a letter mailed to The New York Times that appeared to identify the party responsible for the bombings as "an anarchist group" calling itself "FC."

According to investigators working a case as mysterious as it is murderous, Unabom has frustrated the best efforts of law enforcement in part because of the wide array of victims, and in part because of the unpredictability of the attacks.

Federal authorities named their quarry Unabom in the early stages of their investigation after concluding that they were searching for a bomber who targeted universities, airlines and aircraft companies.

Even though many of the university victims appear to have an expertise in technical sciences, investigators have never been able to figure out why Unabom has tried to kill them.

"Nailing down the motive has been one of the most difficult aspects of the case," said Milt Ahlerich, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Connecticut.

For investigators, the latest explosions came as an unwelcome reminder of unfinished business that once had consumed the attention of a task force of federal and local police searching for a suspect seen placing a bomb in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City computer dealership.

A witness to the 1987 episode, in which a computer company employee was disabled, described a white male with sun glasses and a thin mustache, and enabled police to develop a sketch that was featured in a wanted poster offering $ 50,000 for information leading to the suspect's arrest.

Shortly thereafter, investigators also developed a psychological profile of a suspect believed to be an obsessive personality, who is fastidious in his personal habits, keeps meticulous lists and rarely draws attention to himself.

The profile also said that the suspect is probably a loner who finds it difficult to make friends and is likely to have a younger girlfriend, if he has one at all.

The first bomb linked to the case exploded in May 1978, on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Ill., injuring a campus police officer called to inspect a suspicious package.

Over the next four years, four more bombs were detonated on campuses in Evanston, Salt Lake City, Nashville and Berkeley, Calif.

Over the same period of time, two additional bombs exploded, one in the mailbag aboard an American Airlines flight en route from Chicago to Washington, and another in the Lake Forest, Ill., home of the president of United Airlines.

According to a 1989 article in Reader's Digest cited last week by federal authorities, FBI investigators were able to link the 12 episodes through analyses of the bombs, not all of which exploded, and evidence at bombing sites.

The bomber, the article said, became recognizable to investigators through painstaking construction techniques and the inclusion of wood fragments and pieces of polished metal that amounted to a "signature."

When a suspect was seen placing the bomb that went off in the parking lot of the Salt Lake City computer sales firm, the episode was regarded as a crucial break because it followed the busiest and deadliest year in the Unabom case.

In 1985, Unabom struck four times, at the University of California at Berkeley, at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, at a Boeing manufacturing plant in Auburn, Wash., and at a computer rental store in Sacramento, Calif., where the store owner was killed.

But just as investigators developed their personality profile and distributed copies of the sketch of a suspect, Unabom fell quiet until last week.

On Tuesday, Charles Epstein, a 59-year-old geneticist at the University of California at San Francisco, lost several fingers when a mail bomb exploded in his hands as he opened a padded manila envelope in the kitchen of his Tiburon home.

Two days later, David Gelernter, a 38-year-old computer scientist at Yale, was seriously injured while opening the morning mail in his office at a campus computer center.

Investigators do not know why Unabom struck again. But the explosions, and the fact that Gelernter was the first East Coast victim in the case, set off a wave of precautionary measures at universities.

At Harvard, for example, university police blanketed the campus with printed warnings and cautionary messages delivered by hand, fax machine, and telephonic voice mail to offices, dormitories, and other university-owned housing.

"We want to make sure that everyone who receives mail through the Postal Service knows how to recognize a strange package," said Lt. Larry Murphy.

At Brandeis, university spokesman Dennis Nealon said that 1,200 letters were sent to faculty and staff members with instructions on how to recognize suspicious mailings.

And at Northeastern University, public safety director D. Joseph Griffin was issuing written alerts to 55 department heads.