Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 The Times Mirror Company

Los Angeles Times 

April 26, 1995, Wednesday, Home Edition

SECTION: Part A; Page 1; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 1948 words





Is he a tree-hugger or laid-off airline employee? Does he detest computers? Bear a bitter grudge against a college professor? Is his motive revenge, or is he simply a twisted publicity hound?

For 17 years, authorities say, a wily figure known as the Unabomber has been on the loose in America, spreading terror and death through carefully polished bombs concealed inside parcels sent through the U.S. mail.

His devices have injured 23 people and killed three others, including a lobbyist for timber companies who died in the latest attack at the California Forestry Assn. headquarters here on Monday afternoon.

A psychological profile suggests that the Unabomber has little more than a high school education. Yet he has stumped this nation's sharpest crime-fighters, leading them on a confounding chase without precedent in the annals of criminology.

Now, after leaving a cold trail stretching back for years, the Unabomber has apparently broken his silence.

On Tuesday, the FBI announced that authorities have obtained three letters from the serial bomber, postmarked April 20 from Oakland. At least two of the three letters arrived on the day of the bombing.

Jim R. Freeman, FBI special agent in charge of the San Francisco office, said that in the letters, the bomber describes his own actions and motives for the first time since he surfaced in 1978.

"We are hopeful there will be something in the content of the letters that will cause the public to recognize this individual," Freeman said. He added that the FBI may release details from the letters today.

One of those letters was sent to the New York Times, which today is publishing a long, rambling message from someone claiming responsibility for the bombings.

In the letter, the Unabomber declares himself a member of an anarchist group and declares his goal to be the "destruction of the worldwide industrial system." His specific enemies are said to be "scientists and engineers, especially in critical fields like computers and genetics."

"Through our bombings, we hope to promote social instability in industrial society, propagate anti-industrial ideas and give encouragement to those who hate the industrial system," the letter states.

Declaring himself weary of making bombs and "searching the Sierras for a place isolated enough" to test them, the letter writer offers to halt the attacks if given a forum for his views. He demands space for an article of "between 29,000 and 37,000 words" in the New York Times, Time, Newsweek or other national periodical. He also demands the right to rebut any criticisms once a year for three years.

If denied the opportunity, the letter writer vows to "start building our next bomb," which he said might be more powerful than his previous creations and packed into "more harmless looking packages."

The letter was postmarked Thursday and received by the newspaper Monday. It is signed with the initials "FC," which have been found on many of the Unabom devices, and contains a nine-digit identification number that was included in a previous letter sent by the Unabomber in 1993.

In a related development, the New York Times reported Tuesday that a Unabom victim -- Yale University computer sciences professor David Gelernter -- received a letter claiming to be from his attacker. It arrived before Monday's explosion and mocked the professor.

Gelernter, who was maimed in June, 1993, after receiving a parcel bomb mailed from Sacramento, could not be reached.

The bomber has written a letter only once before. In June, 1993, he wrote the New York Times and claimed to be part of an anarchist group. Investigators discount that description, saying they believe he is acting alone.

Monday's explosion took the life of Gilbert Murray, 47, who was killed when he opened a shoebox-sized parcel that arrived through the mail and was wrapped in brown paper and nylon filament tape. The force of the blast struck Murray in the abdomen and caused extensive damage to the association's office. Metal bomb fragments were found 140 feet from the reception counter where Murray had been standing.

On Tuesday, federal agents in rubber gloves and protective boots continued their painstaking probe at the California Forestry Assn. office, using metal detectors to scan ceiling tiles and wall paneling for shrapnel and other remnants of the pipe bomb.

At a news conference, FBI officials said the deadly package was a wooden box, 10 inches by 10 inches and 6 inches deep. It weighed five or six pounds, carried a return address in Oakland and also was postmarked in Oakland. Authorities said the bomb was not addressed to Murray. Instead, it was mailed to Murray's predecessor, William Dennison, who resigned a year ago after serving as association president for 14 years.

Freeman said the package was also mislabeled -- addressed to the California Timber Assn., a name the organization quit using four years ago.

"That means (the Unabomber) got ahold of a directory that was out of date," Dennison said. "They didn't know Bill Dennison from Paul Bunyan. They were out of contact with what was going on in the last four years."

Murray, the latest Unabom victim, was described by a colleague as a model husband and father of two teen-age sons who was still an active soccer player.

Diana Wall, who worked with Murray at the forestry association for years, called him an extremely accomplished lobbyist who was sensitive to employees' personal needs.

Wall also said she was mystified as to "why he'd open that box." She said the forestry association had received threats in the past, of which all employees were aware.

The Unabomber has been blamed for 16 attacks over 17 years. Many of his attacks have had a Northern California connection. Seven of the 16 bombs originated in the region, with two of them bearing Sacramento postmarks. Two of the three Unabom fatalities were in Sacramento, and one device carried the return address of a chemistry professor at Cal State Sacramento.

Federal investigators said no one in U.S. history has ever set off as many bombs over such a long period of time. They describe him as one of the "most wanted men" in America.

"This is a person with an extraordinary amount of criminal savoir-faire," said James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "Not only is he good at making bombs, he's also been remarkably successful at covering his tracks."

For years, investigators have puzzled over the Unabomber's maze of attacks, looking for a pattern, a theme, the tiniest shred of a clue. They have studied the "FC" autograph he leaves on some of his bombs -- and they have run computer searches on everything from a partial name on a note written by the bomber in 1993 to various phases of the moon.

Early on, investigators suspected the Unabomber was a person seeking vengeance against airlines. One of his targets included the former president of United Airlines, and another bomb exploded in a mailbag on an American Airlines flight.

Later, officials suspected a link with computers. The first person killed by one of his creations -- Hugh Scrutton, 38, of Sacramento -- was the owner of a Sacramento computer store, and another device was left in a computer store parking lot.

More recently, investigators have wondered whether the Unabomber is obsessed with wood. Many of his devices are encased in wood, and some include pieces of twigs. One victim was named Percy Wood and lived in Lake Forest, Ill. Another lived on Aspen Drive.

Two years ago, the federal government formed a task force, assigning as many as 40 agents to work full-time to crack the Unabom case -- so named because the attacker shows a preference for universities and airlines.

Authorities have also taken an unusual step -- turning to the public for help. They have set up a hot line (1-800-701-BOMB), appealed for tips on the Internet and offered a $1-million reward in the hope that a greedy accomplice might be tempted to talk.

Along the way, investigators have determined that the Unabomber is a meticulous criminal who makes his bomb parts or uses common household items. At one point, he was dubbed the "Junkyard Bomber" because of his use of makeshift parts.

After completing his creations, he takes them apart and builds them again. And he lovingly polishes his bombs, which are probably powered by chemicals he mixes himself.

Behavioral experts, meanwhile, have developed a "best guess" psychological profile of the Unabomber, based on his methods and interviews with other serial bombers. They believe he is a white male in his 30s or 40s, an antisocial loner who is quiet, meticulous and has trouble building relationships, particularly with women.

He probably drives an old car, but is likely to keep it in top condition. He prepares lists, and probably makes an excellent neighbor.

Fox, co-author of a recent book on serial killers, speculates that he is an "unsuccessful person seeking to feel a sense of control through these bombings."

"He wants to have an impact, to be recognized," Fox said. "He considers himself very good at what he does and bombing gives him a sense of pride."

The Unabomber's debut is believed to have come in 1978, with a bomb concealed in an unmailed package found in a parking lot at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

The only known sighting of a suspect came in 1987, when a witness spotted a man placing what turned out to be a bomb behind a computer store in Salt Lake City. He was described as a white male with a ruddy complexion, and reddish blond hair, most of it hidden beneath the hood of a sweat shirt.

Based on that description, a composite sketch was drawn. It brought numerous calls, but produced no solid results.

Occasionally, the Unabomber has taken long breaks, prompting suspicions that he might have died or been arrested and jailed for other crimes. His longest break lasted six years, and followed the release of the composite sketch. But in 1993, he surfaced again.

Experts said finding the Unabomber is complicated by the fact that his bombs leave little physical evidence, and that he is not present at the crime scene. There are no fingerprints, no hairs or blood or semen.

Advances in DNA evidence, however, may make it possible to analyze saliva traces on an envelope or stamp. And metal and chemical industry laboratories are working with the task force to pin down where the bomb materials were made and sold.

"Eventually he'll slip up and we'll catch him," said Ed Gleba, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "The sooner the better."

Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Max Vanzi and Carl Ingram in Sacramento and Maura Dolan in San Francisco.

BACKGROUND (Southland Edition, A29)

FBI officials made up the code name Unabom from the words university (UN), airlines (A) and bomb (BOM), because of repeated targeting of those two institutions by the serial bomber. Beginning with an attack in 1978 at Northwestern University, nine bombs attributed to the Unabomber have been mailed to university personnel. Eight people were injured at or near eight campuses; a device was disarmed at a ninth campus. Three Unabom attacks were airline- or aircraft-related -- one mailed to the home of a United Airlines president, one planted on a passenger jet and one sent to the Boeing Co. in Washington state. Thirteen injuries resulted, 12 of them from smoke inhalation by passengers aboard the airliner. In all, the FBI attributes 16 attacks to the Unabomber in 17 years, resulting in three deaths and 23 injuries.

GRAPHIC: Photo, Sketch of Unabom suspect, based on witness's description in 1987 Salt Lake City incident. Associated Press