Ted Kaczynski Dies in Prison

Called the Unabomber by the FBI, he was the subject of the agency's longest manhunt
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 10, 2023 2:15 PM CDT
Unabomber Terrorist Dies in Prison
Ted Kaczynski's cabin in the woods of Lincoln, Montana, in April 1996.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Ted Kaczynski, the Harvard-educated mathematician who retreated to a dingy shack in the Montana wilderness and ran a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others, died Saturday. He was 81. Branded the Unabomber by the FBI, Kaczynski died at the federal prison medical center in Butner, North Carolina, a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Prisons told the AP. He was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning, she said. A cause of death was not immediately known. Kaczynski was sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years in 1998 for a campaign of terror that set universities nationwide on edge. He admitted committing 16 bombings from 1978 and 1995, permanently maiming several of his victims.

Years before the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax mailing, the Unabomber’s deadly homemade bombs changed the way Americans mailed packages and boarded airplanes, even virtually shutting down air travel on the West Coast in July 1995. He forced the Washington Post, in conjunction with the New York Times, to make the agonizing decision in September 1995 to publish his 35,000-word manifesto, "Industrial Society and Its Future," which argued that modern society and technology were leading to a sense of powerlessness and alienation. But it led to his undoing. Kaczynski's brother, David, and David's wife, Linda Patrik, recognized the treatise's tone and tipped off the FBI, which had been searching for the Unabomber for years in nation's longest, costliest manhunt.

Authorities in April 1996 found him in a 10-by-14-foot plywood and tarpaper cabin outside Lincoln, Montana, that was filled with journals, a coded diary, explosive ingredients and two completed bombs. Earlier, Kaczynski had won sympathizers and drew comparisons to Daniel Boone, Edward Abbey, and Henry David Thoreau. But even in his own journals, Kaczynski came across not as a committed revolutionary but as a vengeful hermit driven by petty grievances, per the AP. "I certainly don't claim to be an altruist or to be acting for the 'good' (whatever that is) of the human race," he wrote on April 6, 1971. "I act merely from a desire for revenge." A psychiatrist who interviewed Kaczynski in prison diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic.

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Kaczynski hated being viewed as mentally ill, and when his lawyers attempted to present an insanity defense, he tried to fire them. When that failed, he tried to hang himself. Kaczynski eventually pleaded guilty rather than let his defense team proceed with an insanity defense. The FBI called him the Unabomber because his early targets seemed to be universities and airlines. An altitude-triggered bomb he mailed in 1979 went off as planned aboard an American Airlines flight; a dozen people aboard suffered from smoke inhalation. Kaczynski killed computer rental store owner Hugh Scrutton, advertising executive Thomas Mosser, and timber industry lobbyist Gilbert Murray. California geneticist Charles Epstein and Yale University computer expert David Gelernter were maimed by bombs in June 1993.

(More Ted Kaczynski stories.)

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