Unabomber News History

Copyright 1996 The Chronicle Publishing Co.  

The San Francisco Chronicle



LENGTH: 1317 words

HEADLINE: Unabomber Suspect in Custody Tip came from family of former UC Berkeley professor

BYLINE: Kevin Fagan, Susan Sward, Michael Taylor, Chronic

DATELINE: Missoula, Mont.


Federal agents in Montana yesterday took into custody a former University of California at Berkeley assistant professor whom they suspect is the infamous Unabomber, whose intricate, wooden explosive devices claimed three lives and injured 23 others over a 17- year period.

The man being interrogated was identified as Theodore John Kaczynski, 53, a former assistant math professor whose own brother tipped off federal agents that Kaczynski could be the man who had eluded a massive manhunt for so many years.

''This is him,'' said one knowledgeable source, who declined to be named. ''We think we've got him.''

The break in the case came about three months ago, sources said, when the Kaczynski family began cleaning up their home in Lombard, Ill. -- readying it for sale. In old boxes, they found writings left behind by Theodore Kaczynski that were similar to the Unabomber's manifesto. His brother, David, a 45-year-old assistant director of a social services agency in Schenectady, N.Y., called an attorney acquaintance in Washington, D. C., and the attorney turned the evidence over to the FBI.

As of last night, Kaczynski was being held in Helena, Mont., but he had not been formally arrested or charged.

Agents said Kaczynski was taken into custody so he would not hamper the search of his isolated cabin near a mountain pass on the Continental Divide. Sheriff's deputies reported that 20 FBI agents then conducted a meticulous search of the cabin.

But the cabin's rough exterior gave no hint of what lay inside. A neighbor told the Washington Post the 10-foot-by-12-foot cabin was ''wall-to-wall books,'' the only indication that the reclusive mountain man had another life as a Harvard- trained mathematician.

It was not known late last night whether the search uncovered any of the key evidence that could definitely link Kaczynski to the case -- including any bomb-making tools, wood supplies that could have been used to construct the bombs or the typewriter the Unabomber used. A source told the Associated Press last night that the search uncovered no such evidence.

One member of the UNABOM task force -- made up of dozens of agents and is headquartered in San Francisco -- said Kaczynski's brother David gave the FBI Theodore's name ''a long time ago'' and has been striving to have them listen to him ever since.

But another FBI official said the lead ''was given a high priority and special attention from the beginning.'' That focus occurred in part, the official said, because it came to the Washington field office. The agent explained that office had far fewer tips to cope with than the San Francisco office, where the investigation was centered and tips flooded in.

Armed with the tip about the writings, agents quickly launched a further search of the Kaczynskis' suburban Chicago home, where Kaczynski lived before attending Harvard and the University of Michigan, agents said. As one source put it, the investigation's results in the Chicago area quickly gave credence to the idea that Kaczynski just might be the Unabomber.


If Kaczynski is is determined to be the Unabomber, it would mean the culmination of the longest search in the nation's history for a serial bomber. In those years, the Unabomber used the U.S. mail system to send nine of his bombs, taunted his pursuers and demanded that major newspapers run his lengthy attacks on the evils of technology's proliferation.

In recent months, sources said the FBI had half a dozen good suspects, but one by one, they appeared less likely to be the man agents sought. The more time passed, the more the suspect in Montana -- Kaczynski -- began looking like the man they wanted, sources said. In so many ways, including his solitary lifestyle, Kaczynski fit the profile experts had constructed of the Unabomber.

The first bomb linked to the Unabomber was found May 25, 1978, in a parking lot at Northwestern University outside Chicago. Since then, there have been 15 more attacks tied to the Unabomber -- with the most recent occurring April 24, 1995, when timber industry executive Gilbert Murray was killed opening a package delivered to his Sacramento office.


Time and again, the Unabomber used aluminum and polished hardwood to craft sophisticated bombs that experts said they had never seen the likes of before. Early on, agents gave him the name of ''Unabomber'' because his targets were often related to universities and airlines.

Retired FBI bomb expert Christopher Ronay described in an interview the technical ability of the Unabomber. He told how one of the bombs the Unabomber used had a unique wooden dowel "with grooves cut into it on each side for the wire. There were identical wire leads, and so on. I had never seen the design before in the thousands of bombs I had examined."

Last year the Unabomber wrote to the New York Times, claiming he was ''getting tired of making bombs,'' and offering a deal. If the Times or some other national publication would print his lengthy manifesto, ''we will permanently desist from terrorist activities.'' He claimed to be an anarchist -- a claim anarchist experts around the United States questioned.


Agents who pored over his letter for clues soon began knocking on doors in the more radical corners of Berkeley and San Francisco, thinking that maybe the Unabomber was a leftover leftist -- bitter, burned out and bombing his way through life.

On June 27, a letter arrived at The Chronicle, in which the Unabomber threatened to ''blow up an airliner out of Los Angeles International Airport.'' It was a convincing message that was quickly authenticated by the FBI. The author had included the first two digits of his five-digit New York Times identifying number. Within hours, the Federal Aviation Administration had thrown a massive security blanket over all California airports.

Flights were delayed. Passengers stood in long lines to have their tickets matched against photo identification. The mail system was disrupted because officials feared bombs would be sent on airplanes.

The day after that publicity coup, the Unabomber struck again: Packages containing his 35,000-word typewritten manifesto, outlining in laborious detail his political philosophy about the alleged destructiveness of modern technology, arrived at the offices of the New York Times, the Washington Post and Penthouse magazine.


In a move that immediately gave heartburn to news executives at both papers, the Unabomber said he would stop killing people if one of the two papers printed the manifesto -- in full -- by the end of September. If they refused this demand, and the Unabomber had to settle for having his views published in the less respectable Penthouse, he said he would ''reserve the right'' to kill once again. In either event, he said he would still keep committing acts of sabotage, but would try not to kill anyone.

Last September, the New York Times and the Washington Post published the Unabomber's essay on the evils of the industrial age. There have been no bombings since then.

For the last few weeks, FBI agents in Montana have been shadowing Kaczynski's every move, but uncovered nothing obviously suspicious.

Their work was made more difficult by the fact that Kaczynski ''lived in the middle of nowhere,'' one source said.

In California, at least one of the Unabomber's victims was hoping that the man in FBI custody was indeed the long-sought bomber.

Diogenes Angelakos, a University of California at Berkeley professor emeritus of electrical engineering who was injured in a 1982 bombing at UC Berkeley, said: ''If it is the guy, I'm glad for the next guy that could have been bombed. He's hurt people; he's maimed people.''

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, MAP,(1) A 1994 driver's license photo of Theodore John Kaczynski, who is suspected of carrying out 16 bombings in the past 17 years , 1994 PHOTO, MAP, CHRONICLE GRAPHIC