Unabomber News History

Copyright 1994 The Baltimore Sun Company

The Baltimore Sun

December 16, 1994, Friday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 1240 words

HEADLINE: The Kind of Man Who Sends Bombs by Mail



Five years ago today Judge Robert S. Vance of the federal court of appeals for the 11th circuit opened a package that had just arrived in the mail at his suburban home in Birmingham, Alabama; the box contained a powerful bomb which killed Judge Vance instantly and gravely injured his wife.

Two days later Robbie S. Robinson, a black city councilman in Savannah, Georgia, opened a virtually identical package delivered by mail to his law office; both of his arms were blown off in the ensuing explosion, and he died three hours later under surgery.

Eighteen months later, Walter Leroy Moody Jr., a small-time con man who lived in obscurity in a quiet suburb of Atlanta, was convicted of the mail-bomb assassinations. He is now under life sentence by a federal court and awaits trial in Birmingham on state murder charges which could result in the death penalty.

Because that crime was strikingly similar to the one which took the life of a New York advertising executive last Saturday, the investigative authorities no doubt are now studying the background of "Roy" Moody intensely for clues that might lead to the capture of the so-called "Unabomber," whose deadly handiwork has now claimed two lives and injured 23 others over 16 elusive years.

In the course of two years preparing a now-completed book on the Vance-Robinson murders, I have gathered a great deal of information on Roy Moody that may shed light on the mind and manner of individuals who commit this particular kind of random terrorism.

Roy Moody was born in 1934 in a small town in central Georgia. There was a history of insanity in the family, on his father's side, and a history of an uncommon propensity for violence on his mother's side.

Roy's father was an automobile mechanic who made a decent living during the Great Depression of the 1930s, so that the boy did not experience the desperate want of so many about him. But from all accounts Roy's father was a cold perfectionist, and his mother somewhat demanding. Early on Roy demonstrated that he was a bright child, but he lacked the personal discipline to achieve his full potential. When he was in the first grade, his mother would sit him on her lap for his reading lessons, but if he faltered over a word, she would slap him.

When he was 7 years old, his mother and father went to another state to work in a war-production plant, leaving Roy with his grandmother. The child felt a sense of abandonment, because he grew sickly that year and had to repeat the second grade.

After the war Roy's father opened his own garage, which prospered. Still, Roy nursed a resentment that he was excluded from social acceptance by the town's top families. As a high school student, he formed no close friendships with the boys of the town. Rather, his closest male friend seems to have been the high school science teacher, who doted on Roy.

During this time Roy developed an enduring pattern of manipulating and exploiting younger women. He relied on an especially bright girl, three years his junior, to read assigned books and brief him sufficiently that he could pass tests. He also impregnated a girl two years younger, and arranged for an illegal abortion.

He joined the Army at least in part to escape his father's entreaties that he work in the garage. It was during this time that he began to display a burning sense of victimization, a sense that his failures arose from devious acts by others.

He also manifested a tendency for grandiose dreams but an unwillingness to exert the effort to achieve his goals. When he returned to Georgia from the Army, he enrolled in a small college with the intention of becoming a neurosurgeon, but his academic performance was poor. This he blamed on the necessity of having to work because his father would not pay for his schooling.

He drifted from job to job, usually sponging off younger women. He married none of the four women who bore his children.

In 1972 Roy turned violent; he built a crude pipe-bomb which he intended to send to a used-car dealer who had repossessed his car. But before he could mail the device, his common-law wife opened the explosive and suffered permanent injuries.

At his trial Roy maintained that the bomb had been brought to his home by a mysterious young man he had met at college. His story was persuasive enough to win acquittal on a charge of making the bomb, but he was convicted on the lesser charge of possessing it, and sentenced to four years in prison. While there, he maintained, he was homosexually raped.

Once out of prison, Roy started a scam business that kept him in trouble with the postal authorities. Still, he profited enough from his scheme that he was able to buy boats, airplanes and a comfortable house in an Atlanta suburb. He often quarreled with neighbors, and for the most part stayed in his house with a woman young enough to be his daughter. The woman was a virtual slave, not only running his scam enterprise but fulfilling his omnivorous sexual demands. There is some indication that Roy had homosexual relationships as well.

He began to file large numbers of lawsuits, based on wholly fraudulent claims. This propensity verged into paranoia when he blamed the federal courts for blocking his ambition to become a lawyer, even though it was clearly his felony conviction which precluded any possibility of his gaining admission to the bar.

In the throes of bitterness, he concocted an elaborate plan for striking from a distance against his perceived enemy, the federal judiciary. Robbie Robinson, the black Savannah city councilman, was chosen as a victim solely to make the authorities believe that the crime was the work of violent white-supremacists. And the ploy might have worked had it not been for an alert laboratory technician with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who recognized Roy's "signature" in the 1989 bombs based on the 1972 bomb.

Roy took great pride in the quality of the bombs he built, from materials readily available in seedy gun shops which did not require so much as the showing of a driver's license by those who purchased deadly wares.

Even after he was caught, Roy relished matching wits with lawyers and other specialists involved in his case. Over the strenuous opposition of his own lawyer, he took the stand at his trial to make a meandering, lachrymose statement over two days about his victimization. Many found his charade to be persuasive, but in face of overwhelming evidence, he was convicted.

The enigmatic character of Roy Moody was summed up in a remarkably succinct paragraph which concludes a 161-page psychiatric evaluation rendered by the noted forensic psychiatrist, Park Elliott Dietz.

"Moody's crimes reflect every aspect of his personality," Dr. Dietz wrote. "He used crime as a means of expression and self- definition because he is free of societal constraints. He used remote means of destruction and terror out of cowardice and cunning. He committed the crimes with great attention to detail because of his perfectionism. He committed crimes on a grand scale because of his exaggerated sense of self- importance. Finally, he chose victims who could not be readily linked to him, yet who represented the classes and institutions he blamed for his failures and toward whom he harbored the greatest distrust and hostility."

Ray Jenkins is the retired editor of The Evening Sun's editorial pages.