Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 The Chronicle Publishing Co.  

The San Francisco Chronicle



LENGTH: 670 words

HEADLINE: Campus Search for Unabomber FBI looks to college labs as possible source of explosives

BYLINE: Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer


FBI agents on the trail of the UNABOM killer are now focusing on college campus machine shops and chemistry labs, where the bomber may have fashioned aluminum components and developed chemicals for his unique homemade bombs, The Chronicle has learned.

Although the FBI declined to discuss its investigation, workers at several Bay Area campuses said agents appear to think the bomber may have learned his trade at the unwitting hands of university art department instructors or from maintenance employees at campus machine shops.

''These interviews are a logical outgrowth of previous interviews conducted within and around machine shops in the (San Francisco) Bay Area,'' FBI spokesman George Grotz said. The FBI said it was looking for possible suspects, including former students or employees who may have had access to chemicals in science labs or maintenance facilities.

In the past 17 years, the Unabomber has been responsible for three deaths and 23 injuries in 16 incidents in which bombs were mailed to their targets or planted to explode and injure passersby. Eight of the 16 incidents were connected with Northern California.

Over the years, the Unabomber's devices have become more sophisticated, made of wood and metal parts. The bombs have stumped investigators trying to track down the materials.

At Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, John-Scott Forester, a technician in the art department, where students learn how to cast bronze and other metals for sculpture, said two agents spent an hour asking him about casting aluminum.

''The bomber has been making bombs out of aluminum cylinders, and they were curious about the foundry process, where you cast metal for statues,'' Forester said. ''They also asked if there were any people (who used the art department) that fit the profile of the Unabomber -- they described him as a loner who is very radical and very anti-technology. I couldn't think of anyone.''

Forester said that most work in university art department foundries involves bronze, but the FBI agents were ''very interested'' in aluminum because it has a comparatively low melting point, about 1,100 degrees. This means, Forester said, that the bomber could work his aluminum tubes with an inexpensive, easily available propane torch.

In the UNABOM case, so named because many of the early targets were either universities or airlines, the agents also questioned a technician at the Sonoma State chemistry lab, ''asking about certain chemical compounds,'' Forester said, but ''we didn't have what they were looking for.'' Forester said he did not know what compounds the agents were seeking.

At the University of California at Berkeley, police Captain Bill Foley has been chasing the Unabomber since July 2, 1982, when an electrical engineering professor was injured after picking up a small box in Cory Hall. Foley said FBI agents have been on campus interviewing employees at maintenance shops, where machinery is fixed, as well as in teaching areas, such as chemistry laboratories and the departments of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

''They've been conducting a wide variety of interviews with faculty and staff,'' Foley said. ''It's a logical extension of the investigation, to see if anything new comes up.''

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, two FBI agents interviewed school officials at the College of Marin's Kentfield and Indian Valley campuses last Wednesday and at Dominican College on Friday.

And at Stanford University, a spokeswoman said two agents had been on campus for the past three weeks, ''going to little machine shops where students build projects, asking if they've seen anybody out of the ordinary.''

At San Francisco State University, a spokeswoman said that ''agents have interviewed people on our campus.''

San Francisco State was the return address used by the Unabomber when he mailed a package that killed advertising executive Thomas Mosser on December 10.