How the case against Ted Kaczynski, the ‘Unabomber,’ unfolded

Ted Kaczynski was a domestic terrorist, who planted homemade bombs from 1978 to 1995 at or sent them to universities and other locations including people’s homes. This killed three people and injured 23 others. The convicted terrorist, Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, died by a possible suicide in his prison cell early Saturday. He was 81.

Kaczynski was found unresponsive in his cell around 12:30 a.m. ET and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He was previously in a maximum security facility in Colorado but was moved to a federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina, in December 2021 due to poor health.

Who was Ted Kaczynski?

Theodore John Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago to working-class Polish-American parents. According to the FBI, Kaczynski had attended Harvard at 16 and earned a Ph.D. in math at the University of Michigan. He grew up in Chicago and taught at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1971, Ted moved to a shack he built in rural Montana, where he lived without electricity and running water. there, it was later revealed, he went on a spree of environmental vandalism, sabotaging the mining industry, burning logging equipment, and destroying hunting camps.

At the remote shack, Kaczynski built more than a dozen bombs and devised his plan to terrorize those he perceived to be advancing the evils of technology.

Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto

His crimes were uncovered after he forced the Washington Post and the New York Times to publish his unhinged and angry manifesto, called Industrial Society and Its Future, in September 1995. They agreed to print the manifesto on the recommendation of the FBI and the US attorney general after Kaczynski said he would end his campaign if a national paper published his treatise.

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The 35,000-word anonymized document railed against modern life and claimed that technology was leading to Americans suffering from a sense of alienation and powerlessness.

In his own journals, he wrote that he didn’t claim to be “altruist or to be acting for the ‘good’ (whatever that is) of the human race”, instead insisting that he acted “merely from a desire for revenge”. His crimes seemed to begin shortly after he was fired from the family business by his brother for posting abusive limericks to a female colleague who had dumped him after two dates.

Ted Kaczynski’s targets

His first attacks targeted Northwestern University in Illinois. The two bombings occurred almost a year apart on 25 May 1978 and 9 May 1979, injuring two people. Then, in November 1979, an altitude-triggered bomb he had mailed went off aboard an American Airlines flight. Twelve people suffered from smoke inhalation.

His first fatal victim was computer store owner Hugh Scrutton, 38, who died when a bomb loaded with nails and splinters went off in the parking lot of his store in Sacramento, California in 1985.

As his bombs became more sophisticated, Kaczynski also killed New Jersey advertising executive Thomas Mosser, who had worked on improving the public image of oil major Exxon, with a mail bomb in 1994. He then murdered Gilbert Brent Murray, head of a California timber industry lobbying group, with a mail bomb in 1995.

In all, the Unabomber set off 17 bombs, injuring around 25 people, some of whom lost vision, hearing, or fingers. Kaczynski triggered his own downfall in 1995 when he sent letters to media organizations demanding that they publish a 35,000-word essay of his about the perils of industrialization.

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How was Ted caught?

If it hadn’t been for the suspicions of his brother and sister-in-law, Kaczynski might never have been caught. Kaczynski’s sister-in-law, Linda Patrik, was one of the first to identify Kaczynski as the Unabomber after reading the Unabomber’s writing. In an interview with “20/20 on ID Presents: Homicide” in 2016, Patrik recalled the first time she suspected Kaczynski was responsible for the serial bombings.

Besides, Kaczynski’s younger brother, David, tipped off police that the author’s ideas sounded like those of Ted. The family eventually decided to contact the FBI, and on April 3, 1995, a 9-man SWAT team apprehended Kaczynski in his cabin in Montana. A live bomb and a “wealth of bomb components” were found at the cabin, the FBI said, as well as “40,000 handwritten journal pages that included bomb-making experiments and descriptions of Unabomber crimes.”

Kaczynski went on trial in Sacramento, California, where the key issue was not his guilt but his sanity and whether he would be spared the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for life in prison without parole in 1998.

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