Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 The Denver Post Corporation

The Denver Post

May 21, 1995 Sunday 2D EDITION


LENGTH: 1462 words

HEADLINE: Unabomber has smug feeling on outwitting law Who will be his next victim?

BYLINE: Linda Goldston, Knight-Ridder News Service


SAN JOSE, Calif. - Somewhere in northern California - in Oakland or San Francisco, Berkeley or Sacramento, maybe even San Jose or Silicon Valley - the "Unabomber" feels pretty proud of himself right now.

He has outsmarted hundreds of the finest U.S. and local investigators.

They have set up a special task force of 30 agents in San Francisco to work on his case full time: agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, top inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, homicide detectives from California to New Jersey. Fifty more FBI agents have been called in to help the task force for two months.

He has terrorized thousands of people for nearly two decades.

He manipulated the New York Times into publishing his taunts - "The FBI is a joke" - and even managed to blast his way back into the headlines in the wake of the nation's worst mass killing, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

FBI behavioral scientists describe him as quiet and patient, likely as finicky about his yard as he is about his bomb-making; a man who would drive an older, well-kept car rather than choose something flashy; an ideal neighbor who could be mixing up explosives in his garage next door and no one would know.

More important, he is the most dangerous kind of criminal: a man with a mission, a killer who will take or maim life to further his cause, a self-described anarchist who single-handedly wants to stop the technological revolution - and destroy "the worldwide industrial system."

He even complained in a letter to the New York Times about "having to spend all your evenings and weekends preparing dangerous mixtures or searching the sierras for a place isolated enough to test a bomb."

"A lot of these guys have never distinguished themselves through their careers or even their home lives, but they get a tremendous boost to their egos by their ability to succeed through killing or bombing," said James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston and co-author of "Overkill: Mass Murder and Serial Killing Exposed."

"Not only by advancing their cause, not only by outsmarting the police but also by controlling the lives of thousands of people and ultimately dominating the press."

After 17 years of trying to spell out his message obliquely through such symbols as wood and literary figures - a message he decided the FBI didn't get - the mysterious Unabomber apparently has grown tired of merely killing and maiming people. In four letters he mailed April 20, the same day as his most recent bomb, he revealed more information about himself and his motives than ever.

Suddenly, some of the thousands of clues and tips the Unabomb task force has been poring over are starting to make sense. The question is: Can they catch him in time?

The man the FBI dubbed the Unabomber - because his early targets appeared to be universities and airlines - says he will stop his reign of terror if the New York Times, Time or Newsweek will publish his 29,000- to 37,000-word manifesto. Since he already has killed three people and injured 22 others, no one has any doubt he will strike again if they don't.

"I know a lot about publish or perish here in the academic world, but we never meant it to be literal," said Fox. "He's feeling a lot bolder, a lot more invincible. He's saying, 'You can't catch me."'

The bomber even managed to add his trademark twist in what the FBI has called a "snide sense of humor." David Gelernter, a Yale University professor and an expert in computer programming and artificial intelligence, has twice been a Unabomb target. Gelernter's book on parallel programming reads, "Mirror Worlds Or: The Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox."

The bomb that killed Gilbert Murray was sent in a shoebox-sized package. Murray, who was killed April 24, was president of the California Forestry Association, a lobbyist for the timber industry in California.

"I think it's like a hobby with him, when he gets going on it," said Chris Ronay, ex-head of the FBI's forensics lab who worked on the case for nearly 16 years before retiring to head the Institute of Makers of Explosives. "I think he enjoys it where he really gets his kicks on this thing. If he's got a job, I think it's something he does when he comes home at night and plays with it, like somebody would go to the basement and tie flies."

The Unabomber first started dropping clues in 1978: 10 $ 1 Eugene O'Neill stamps placed on his first bomb, a package bomb left in a parking lot at Northwestern University in Illinois. On the second, he glued finger-sized short pieces of unfinished wood on the outside of a bomb left in the commons of the Technology Institute at Northwestern.

By the time he mailed a book bomb to Percy Wood, then-president of United Airlines, he was starting to lay out his battle plan.

Investigators didn't grasp it then, but the man now known as the Unabomber was announcing his one-man war of anarchy against technology and the industrialized world.

They knew he had a fondness for wood; it's the one common theme throughout all of his bombings. Wooden boxes, wooden dowels, wooden initiators for the bombs. Names or addresses with wood in them, like Percy Wood in Lake Forest. That was easy.

Only now, with the help of his own letters, is some of the other symbolism starting to make sense. For instance, when he mailed a book bomb to Percy Wood in 1980, the bomber enclosed this note: "You will find it of great social significance."

The book was "Ice Brothers" published by Arbor House, whose symbol is a tree leaf. The author, Sloan Wilson, also wrote "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," which, according to one 1959 biography, "was the definitive epithet for the commuting suburbanite, the status-hungry conformist from Madison Avenue."

And he used more Eugene O'Neill stamps, first issued in 1967, to mail it, even though a different $ 1 stamp had replaced that one the year before. O'Neill, an ardent and vocal supporter of anarchists, is our country's only playwright to win a Nobel Prize for literature.

The Unabomber apparently considers literature a worthy category for a Nobel Prize, unlike biotechnology, which helped two Massachusetts scientists win the 1993 Nobel Prize for Medicine. In letters to them last month, he ordered them to stop their work or risk his wrath.

Home for the bomber is northern California. He could be almost anyone, his bombs enclosed in almost anything. They arrive in such innocent-looking packages.

In his letter last month to the Times, he said he wanted to set the record straight.

"Some news reports have made the misleading statement that we have been attacking universities or scholars," the bomber wrote. "We would not want anyone to think that we have any desire to hurt professors who study archaeology, history, literature or harmless stuff like that.

"The people we are out to get are the scientists and the engineers."

When he first started killing, it was hard to tell who he was after.

Detective Bob Bell had been assigned to the homicide unit of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department for less than a year when he was sent to Rentech Computer Rental on Dec. 11, 1985. The body already had been removed, but Bell could tell driving up this was "a new kind of murder scene." Like most homicide detectives, he was used to a confined murder scene, inside an apartment or a house, on a street corner or even in a field.

Here, most of the evidence was projected away from the victim, and a 20-mph wind had further strewn what bomb fragments were left. Bell's supervisor, Lt. Ray Biondi, shared what little information he had. Together, they later would fill 17 loose-leaf binders with tips and clues, ruminations and projections.

Hugh Campbell Scrutton, 38, owner of the computer store, had been on his way to an appointment around noon when he stepped out the back door and saw a crumpled brown paper bag on the ground in front of him.

It was an ordinary grocery bag, just big enough to hold a half-gallon of milk, a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. A dumpster was immediately to his left, and Scrutton bent down to pick up the bag, probably to throw it away.

When he did, a pipe bomb hidden inside exploded into his chest, carving a gaping path. Most of his right hand, tiny pieces of tissue and bone, was embedded in a nearby wall.

Scientists in the high-tech world can't help but wonder who will be next. And everyone from computer hackers to computer executives has wondered why the Unabomber has not struck in Silicon Valley, birthplace of the personal computer.

"It's a reasonable question," said FBI Special Agent Rick Smith, spokesman for the task force.

"Nobody knows." GRAPHIC: The Denver Post U.S. package bombs chronology