In his small wilderness cabin near Lincoln, MT, Theodore John Kaczynski is arrested by FBI agents and accused of being the Unabomber, the elusive terrorist responsible for 16 mail bombs that killed and injured three people. 23 over an 18-year period.
Kaczynski, born in Chicago in 1942, won a scholarship to study mathematics at Harvard University at the age of 16. After obtaining his doctorate. from the University of Michigan, he became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Although celebrated as a brilliant mathematician, he suffered from lingering social and emotional problems and, in 1969, abruptly ended his promising career at Berkeley. Disappointed with the world around him, he tried to buy some land in the Canadian wilderness, but in 1971 he settled for a 1.4 acre piece of land near his brother’s house in Montana.
For the next 25 years, Kaczynski lived as a hermit, occasionally working odd jobs and traveling, but living mostly off his land. He developed a philosophy of radical environmentalism and militant opposition to modern technology, and tried to get academic essays published on the subjects. It was the rejection of one of his articles by two Chicago-area universities in 1978 that may have prompted him to manufacture and deliver his first mail bomb.
The package was addressed to the University of Illinois from Northwestern University, but was returned to Northwestern, where a security guard was seriously injured while opening the suspicious package. In 1979, Kaczynski struck again in Northwestern, injuring a student at the Institute of Technology. Later that year, her third bomb exploded on an American Airlines flight, causing smoke inhalation injuries. In 1980, a bomb sent to the home of Percy Wood, the president of United Airlines, injured Wood as he tried to open it. As Kaczynski appeared to target universities and airlines, federal investigators began calling their suspect Unabomber, a sort of acronym for university, airline, and bomber.
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From 1981 to 1985, there were seven other bombs, four at universities, one at a professor’s house, one at the Boeing Company in Auburn, Washington, and one at a computer store in Sacramento. Six people were injured and in 1985 the owner of the computer store was killed – the Unabomber’s first murder. In 1987, a woman saw a man wearing aviator glasses and a hoodie place what turned out to be a bomb outside a computer store in Salt Lake City. The sketch of the suspect that emerged became the first depiction of the Unabomber, and Kaczynski, fearing he would be captured, halted his terror campaign for six years.
In June 1993, a deadly mail bomb seriously injured a University of California geneticist at his home, and two days later a computer science professor at Yale was seriously injured by a similar bomb. Various federal departments created the UNABOM Task Force, which launched an intensive search for an Unabomber suspect. In 1994, a mail bomb killed an advertising official in his home in New Jersey. Kaczynski mistakenly believed the man worked for a company that was fixing Exxon company public relations after 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil spill. In April 1995, a bomb killed the chairman of a pressure group in the lumber industry. It was the last attack of the Unabomber.
Soon after, Kaczynski sent a manifesto to The New York Times and The Washington Post, saying he would stop the murder if it was released. In 1995, The Washington Post published the so-called “Unabomber Manifesto,” a 35,000-word thesis on what Kaczynski saw as the problems of American industrial and technological society. Kaczynski’s brother, David, read the essay and recognized his brother’s ideas and language; he informed the FBI in February 1996 that he suspected his brother was the Unabomber. On April 3, Ted Kaczynski was arrested in his cabin in Montana, and extensive evidence – including an actual bomb and an original copy of the manifesto – was discovered at the site.
Indicted on more than a dozen federal charges, he appeared briefly in court in 1996 to plead not guilty to all counts. Over the next year and a half, Kaczynski argued with his defense attorneys, who wanted to launch a madness plea against his will. Kaczynski wanted to defend what he saw as legitimate political motives in the conduct of the attacks, but at the start of the Unabomber trial in January 1998, the judge rejected his requests to acquire a new defense team and to represent himself. On January 22, Kaczynski pleaded guilty to all counts and escaped the death penalty. He showed no remorse for his crimes and was sentenced in May to four life sentences plus 30 years.