This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on April 22, 1996
Ever since FBI agents on the Unabomber case arrested Theodore (Ted) Kaczynski at his Rocky Mountains cabin in Montana on April 3, the federal police and the news media have been piecing together answers to the hows and the whys of an increasingly strange and deadly story. Police working at the erudite mathematician's hand-built hermitage last week collected evidence against the suspect in a 17-year string of bombings that killed three men and hurt 23 other people. They were reported to have found a manuscript of the 1995 Unabomber manifesto. They packed a rental van with everything from cabin planking and a stack of notebooks to bits of bomb materials and handmade screws. At the same time, accounts of Kaczynski's past traced a traumatic separation from his parents in infancy and a failed romance in 1978, the year that the bombings began. Reports also tell of family tensions, including discord the same year with his younger brother David, whose suspicions years later led to Ted Kaczynski's arrest.
As the FBI team gathered materials to compare with the residue from 14 exploded Unabomber devices and two others safely defused, justice authorities named six federal lawyers to prosecute Kaczynski after full charges are drawn up. Chief prosecutor Robert Cleary is based in New Jersey and two others are in California - the states where the three killings took place and where murder is punishable by death. Also last week, a federal judge rejected a news media petition to release FBI information supporting the warrant to search Kaczynski's cabin.
But even without the details for the warrant, the accounts about the 53-year-old suspect and his 46-year-old brother turned a bizarre case into a sensation that is part crime story, part family saga. And with the background of the Unabomber manifesto urging rebellion against the high-tech industrial economy, it is also partly an inquiry into the social stresses that may have driven a promising scholar to violence. In the manifesto, the Unabomber reasons: "In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people."
Others, assuming that Ted Kaczynski is the Unabomber, argue that he may have been twisted by more ordinary emotional distresses. The Washington Post, citing family recollections from sources close to the investigation, reported that Kaczynski's introverted personality may have resulted from his experience as a six-month-old baby, when he was hospitalized for an allergic reaction. His parents were unable to see or touch him, and afterwards felt he was no longer the vivacious child he had been.
His failed romance occurred 35 years later. In 1978, Kaczynski was living away from the Montana hideaway he had acquired in 1971 - with financial help from brother David - after abruptly quitting a teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley. He worked in a suburban Chicago foam-rubber factory where his brother was a supervisor. His father and the woman also worked there. But after the woman broke off the relationship, David Kaczynski fired his older brother for sexually harassing the woman - making crude remarks and posting rude limericks about her. Ted Kaczynski remained for a time in the region, working elsewhere. The first of the bombs later ascribed to the Unabomber injured a security guard at nearby Northwestern University on May 26, 1978.
David Kaczynski himself, now married and a social worker in Albany, N.Y., has shared his brother's need of isolation and what the Unabomber manifesto espouses as a return to "wild nature" - living free as "products of chance, or free will or God." He lived for about five years until 1990 in a sparsely populated desert land of southwestern Texas - at first literally in a hole in the ground covered by tin. He has maintained more tangible connections with his brother - sending him money on request from time to time - but has not seen him since 1990.
It was late last summer that David Kaczynski began to experience "nagging feelings" about apparent links between the locations of Unabomber targets and his brother, according to Washington lawyer Anthony Bisceglie. The lawyer acted as a go-between with the FBI after the younger brother arranged private investigations that deepened his suspicions. "I think David very much wanted to believe that his brother was not involved," Bisceglie said at a news conference. "I think he is somewhat in shock."
Some in the media see a different kind of shock in the story of the Kaczynski brothers - one with dollar value. It is grist for gossip mills and the talk shows, a modern Cain and Abel fable. Major publishers promise instant books within weeks. TV films are on the way. It is all happening in the high-speed, high-tech way of a society that is, according to the Unabomber, "a disaster for the human race." A disaster that forced him, he insists, to strike back with his meticulously handcrafted bombs.
Maclean's April 22, 1996