Unabomber News History

Copyright 1994 The Times-Picayune Publishing Co.

The Times-Picayune

December 15, 1994 Thursday, FIRST


LENGTH: 727 words


BYLINE: By J. SCOTT ORR Newhouse News Service



As scientists at the FBI laboratory here continue to analyze debris from the bomb that killed a New Jersey executive on Saturday, bomb experts from across the country say the so-called Unabomber could be anyone and is almost certain to strike again.

Criminologists and experts on bombs and explosives say the field of possible suspects in the case is practically limitless. Just about anyone, they say, could easily gain the expertise and the supplies needed to construct a deadly mail bomb like the one that killed 50-year-old advertising executive Thomas Mosser in North Caldwell.

The task of analyzing and reanalyzing every fragment of evidence from the site of the explosion could take weeks. But sometimes, forensics experts say, the clue that cracks the case is found in the laboratory, not at the crime scene.

The FBI's Handbook of Forensic Science instructs investigators working at the scene of an "improvised explosive device," such as the bomb that killed Mosser, to sift debris for even the smallest fragments of evidence.

"The processing of bombing scenes, in spite of often massive destruction, must be conducted on the theory that everything at the scene, prior to the explosion, is still present unless vaporized by the explosion," the manual states.

Items sought for examination in typical bombing cases include everything from bomb fragments to soil and fiber samples to hair, clothing and X-rays of the bodies of victims.

Marvin Rennert, chief of the Atlanta forensics laboratory of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, says it was the lab work that led to the apprehension and conviction of serial bomber Walter Leroy Moody Jr., who killed two people, including federal appeals Judge Robert Vance, in 1989.

"There are very few serial bombing investigations, so typically when you do have a serial bombing the lab will be heavily involved analyzing either post-blast or intact explosive devices," Rennert said.

"We try to piece together the device, reconstruct it as best we can down to the wire connectors and all the different components," he said.

As in the Unabomb case, however, serial bombers frequently go to great lengths to cover their tracks. Authorities said the Unabomber builds his bombs from scratch, meticulously crafting each component down to the screws that hold it together.

"We do find that with serial bombers it is not uncommon for them to go to a lot of trouble to make sure that they do not use parts that are traceable," Rennert said.

Rennert and others agree that bomb-making is not rocket science and that deadly explosive devices can be made easily with common household items.

"It's not as if you can limit the field of suspects to those with chemical engineering degrees," he said.

Steven Goyen, a Los Angeles-based Army special operations demolition technician and an expert on bomb making, says the Unabomber, so named because several of his victims have been people working for universities and airlines, is using relatively simple bomb-making techniques. Still, he says, his bombs are no less deadly than the most sophisticated devices used by international terrorists.

"He's not very complicated in the way he puts the bombs together, but the guy makes bombs well enough to accomplish his goals. He's consistent, he's able to deliver the bombs to different locations, and they are stable enough that they get to the target," Goyen said.

Goyen, a member of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, says anyone can build a deadly bomb.

"The FBI is always downplaying it because they don't want people to panic, but anyone can make a bomb. With a few common hand tools, a person who has average motor skills can put a device like this together. I'm talking about someone who is not overwhelmed by figuring out a telephone answering machine or a VCR," Goyen said.

Still, Goyen said the Unabomber is more sophisticated, and more successful, than the average pipe bomb maker. He has tested his devices and spent hours working out the technology that suits him best, he says.

"His skill has come from experience. Obviously he didn't just grab a bunch of stuff, throw it together and mail it out and it worked. He studied it, he tinkered with it, he figured out how to assemble it and how to arm it," Goyen said.