Ted Kaczynski: The Life Of The Unabomber Suspect

LINCOLN, Mont. - It had come to this.

Sometimes he smelled. His hair was matted. He owned no car. He got around on a bike with no fenders.

He lived in a cabin. It was smaller than a lot of closets. The walls were plywood. The cabin had a tar-paper roof.

Daylight seeped in through two foot-square windows. He slept on a narrow cot. He stacked his books - Shakespeare, Thackeray - against the walls. He had one door - with three locks.

He had no running water; he dipped plastic jugs into a stream 75 feet from the cabin. He had no electricity; he read by candlelight. He had no outhouse; he used the frigid outdoors. He had no clock, no calendar; when he needed to do something at a certain hour on an appointed day, he mentioned it to his neighbors, 300 yards through the trees, and he depended upon them to prompt him.

He had no phone. If his family back East had an emergency, they sent a letter with a red line drawn under the stamp. Otherwise he might even ignore it. Except for essentials that he bought in town, he had no larder stocked with food. He grew parsnips and potatoes.

He killed wild animals and broiled them over a fire in the yard.

He did have, in the loft of his cabin and elsewhere, drills and bits and hacksaw blades and wire cutters and solder. He had 10 three-ring binders filled with notes and sketches. They showed the cross-sections of pipes and the circuitry of bombs. He had pieces of pipe - plastic and copper and galvanized metal. He had notes describing chemical compounds that create explosions. He had many of the chemicals. He had batteries and he had electrical wire, and he had one live bomb and another that was partly finished.

His name is Ted Kaczynski. He is 53 years old and in custody in a Montana jail. The FBI thinks he is the Unabomber.

A talent for terror

It is not just that he is brilliant. It is not just that he is painfully shy. It is not just that he carries a deep burden of anger, that he is a loner, unable to form deep relationships with anyone; that he is highly focused, almost undistractible; that he is a perfectionist; a writer, whose words are similar to those in a manuscript the Unabomber wrote last summer for national publication. It is his life's history.

The Unabomber's talent lay in his ability to turn routine, unthinking gestures into triggers for terror. His victims were going about the heedless business of daily life when something they had done countless times before - opening a letter, picking up something they happened to find, moving a parcel somebody had left behind - became the cause of inexplicable and deadly violence.

If Ted Kaczynski is, in fact, the Unabomber, how did it come to this?

His family called him Teddy John. He was born May 22, 1942, in Chicago. His father, Theodore Richard Kaczynski, was known as Turk. He worked at a sausage plant. His mother, Wanda Theresa Kaczynski, was a full-time mom. The family lived in a blue-collar suburb called Evergreen Park.

Even as a child, Teddy John was brilliant. One of his father's close friends, Ralph Meister, was a child psychologist. Meister estimated the youngster's intelligence quotient at between 160 and 170. He was, Meister says, "a genius."

But the neighbors noticed something else. "He was always a loner," remembers Emily Butcher, now in her 90s. "He walked with his head down." "Even when he reached high school," says LeRoy Weinberg, who lived behind the Kaczynskis, "Ted never acknowledged a greeting. He just kept his head to the ground. . . . He was a loner."

Teddy John was a kind and thoughtful youngster. He had a younger brother, David, born in 1950.

In addition to book-learning, Turk Kaczynski taught his sons to love the outdoors. He would recall fondly for his neighbors the things that would happen when he took them on weeklong camping expeditions. The Kaczynskis, father and sons, would live off the land.

In junior-high school, Teddy Kaczynski exploded his first bombs.

"We would go out to an open field and, I remember, Ted had the know-how of putting together things like batteries, wire leads, potassium, nitrate and whatever, and creating explosions," says Dale Eickelman, now a professor of anthropology and human relations at Dartmouth College. "We would just blow up weeds. . . . We would go to the hardware store, use household products and make these things you might call bombs. "

Teddy sailed through Evergreen Park Community High School. "He was the kind of student a teacher doesn't forget," says Robert F. Rippey, who taught math and science. He took all of the hard courses, and he skipped at least one grade. Rippey gave him straight As.

Socially, however, Rippey says, Ted was immature.

One former classmate remembers opening her locker to find the hide of a cat.

Ted was watching. She believes he had planted it there.

"He was a nice kid, polite, courteous, easygoing. But he was out of place," says Bill Widlacki, a classmate.

"Like with girls. I never saw him dating anybody."

Academic triumphs

But for his academic success this hardly mattered.

He was one of five National Merit Scholarship finalists in Illinois in 1958.

Barely 16 years old, he went to Harvard. In the late 1950s, it was a men's club, wealthy, WASPy and elitist.

Ted graduated in 1962 with a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics at age 20.

He was offered a teaching fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When he arrived he was lean and clean-shaven and wore the coat and tie he had come to accept at Harvard. But he was out of step again: Michigan was a crucible of 1960s campus radicalism, and coats and ties were frowned upon. He spent five years there teaching algebra, calculus and analytic geometry.

He received a master's degree in mathematics in 1964. Two years into his doctoral dissertation, he discovered that the esoteric, complex mathematical problem he had chosen as his subject already had been solved. Ted hardly blinked. He took over a problem which two other professors, including George Piranian, who was his mentor, had been working on without success.

"Ted solved the problem within a year," Piranian says.

The dissertation won the Sumner B. Myers Prize at Michigan for thesis of the year.

He won his Ph.D. in 1967.

His brilliance at Michigan landed him a tenure-track job at the University of California, Berkeley.

He was named an acting assistant professor even before his Ph.D. arrived. Kaczynski was simply "brilliant," say John Addison and Calvin C. Moore, who were chairman and vice chairman at the time. "He could have advanced up the ranks," Moore says, "and be a senior member of our faculty today."

Outside the classroom, protest swirled. If Michigan had been political, Ted was now at ground zero of the 1960s revolution. There was Vietnam. Ronald Reagan.

No one remembers Ted getting caught up in the ferment. But on Jan. 20, 1969 he sat down at a manual typewriter, rolled in a blank, white sheet of paper and wrote his resignation.

It was the first time in recent memory that anyone at Berkeley had abandoned mathematics altogether. The social protest was causing other Berkeley mathematicians to reconsider their goals. Another math professor, Keith Miller, says that Vietnam created a revolt against technology. "Ted may have gotten into that."

Back at Michigan, George Piranian, the professor who had been Ted's mentor, assumed that he had gone into social work. Giving up his secure, prestigious job, Piranian thought, meant that "he must have a strong social conscience."

Wednesday, May 9, 1979, Chicago: John G. Harris, a 35-year-old graduate student in Northwestern University's department of civil engineering, was in the second-floor study room in the school's Technological Institute. He noticed a cigar box sitting on the bare table between his cubicle and the next. Its lid was taped down. He reached for the container and pulled at the tape.

Joel D. Meyer, a teaching assistant in a nearby classroom, dashed to the study room at the sound of the blast. There was fire near the table and what appeared to be paper or rags scattered about. Meyer saw "a lot of wires attached to flashlight batteries.

It's a bomb," he thought. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and doused the flames. As the smoke cleared, Meyer realized the floor was covered with match heads - `"housands of them."

Harris was taken by ambulance to nearby Evanston Hospital and treated for minor burns and cuts. An hour later, he was released.

By now Ted was in Montana. He and his brother, David, had bought a cabin site near Lincoln. It was on the edge of the Helena National Forest and lush with larches, tamaracks and Ponderosa pines.

His brother David was living in Great Falls, Mont.

Ted lived in a tent on their property in Stemple Pass. He built his plywood cabin.

For a while, Ted's family lost track of him. "I believe," says Anthony Bisceglie, the Kaczynski family attorney, "(that) he was working . . . in the Salt Lake (City) area. . . . We believe he worked as a laborer, but I'm not certain of that."

The family had moved to Lisbon, Iowa, where Turk Kaczynski managed a plant for a company called Cushion Pak. Wanda attended the University of Iowa.

Wednesday, May 15, 1985, Berkeley: John Hauser, a 26-year-old Air Force captain, was working on his doctorate in electrical engineering in the laboratory in Cory Hall.

He glanced at a nearby table and noticed a black, three-ring binder and a beige plastic container the size of a cigar box bound together with a rubber band. He reached over and flipped open the box. A deafening sound filled his ears; his arm was jerked to the right. Then there was blood everywhere. Hauser looked down: a chunk of his forearm and parts of every finger on his right hand were missing. Professor Diogenes J. Anelakos used a tie to fashion a tourniquet around Hauser's mangled arm. Three years before, Anelakos had suffered similar, though less severe, injuries in a then-unsolved bombing that also had rocked Cory Hall.

A few years later, Turk and Wanda moved back to Illinois, and son David took a teaching job at Lisbon High School.

But Ted stayed in Montana.

He rode his bike into Lincoln to the hardware store.

Jack Ward, a local resident, remembered a confrontation between Ted and a group of loggers who had wanted to cut some trees. Ted Kaczynski pitched such a fit, Ward says, that he scared the loggers off.

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1985, Sacramento: 38-year-old Hugh Scrutton walked out of the back door of his Rentech Computer Rental store and into the parking area behind the shopping mall. He looked down and sighted what looked like a polished block of wood. He bent to pick it up. There was a shattering roar. Scrutton, his chest pierced by shrapnel, was found some distance away. Later, pieces of the bomb that killed him would be found 150 yards from the scene of his death.

Ted also spent time at the Lincoln library, reading newspapers and research books, including an Encyclopedia of Associations, a Who's Who and postal guides.

Saturday, Dec. 10, 1994, North Caldwell, N.J.: Thomas J. Mosser, the newly appointed general manager and executive vice president of Young & Rubicam, was looking forward to a day with his wife and children.

But first, he would have to deal with the unopened mail on the kitchen counter. Among the items was a package about the size of a videocassette, neatly wrapped in white paper. As he ripped the packing from around the box, it exploded. The blast that killed him tore a hole in the kitchen counter and filled the house with smoke.

Sometimes Ted would go to Helena. He went with Dick Lundberg, a mail carrier who has been serving Lincoln since 1965.

Sometimes Ted did not ride back to Lincoln with Lundberg.

The Park Hotel was within walking distance of a regional bus station. Cheap transportation was available to Butte, Missoula and Bozeman. From there, buses went to cities throughout the West and the rest of the nation.

In Butte, Tom Gilbert, a ticket agent for Greyhound, says another agent and at least two drivers recall seeing Ted getting on buses.

Desk clerks Frank and Gloria Hensley say Ted stayed at the Royal Hotel, next to the bus depot in Sacramento, Calif., several times starting in 1992.

Monday, April 24, 1995, Sacramento: Shortly after 2 p.m. on a spring afternoon a clerical worker at the headquarters of the California Forestry Association put a shoe box-sized package wrapped in brown paper on the desk of the timber industry group's president, Gilbert Murray, 47. The parcel was addressed to Murray's predecessor, William Dennison. As Murray ripped at its paper cover, the bomb inside exploded with a sound like train cars colliding. Murray was dead before the echo was. The Unabomber's toll stood at three dead and 23 maimed or injured.

In Montana, people could see that Ted Kaczynski was starting to slip.

He got into trouble with a game warden for roasting a coyote. He did not pay his property taxes. At the end of last year, he owed $114.27.

These troubles were akin to those he had after his family moved to Lombard, Ill., another Chicago suburb, which he visited in 1978. Reportedly, Ted went to work at a Cushion Pak plant nearby and had a relationship with a woman - but before long she broke it off.

His anger flashed again: He spoke of her crudely and posted crude limericks about her all over the plant, according to the Post, and as a result, his brother, David, who was a supervisor, summarily fired him.

He envied David's marriage, and wrote to Juan Sanchez Arreola, a pen pal who was a Mexican laborer: "I would love it if I had a wife and children!"

He seemed to withdraw even more. When his father was stricken with cancer and shot himself to death in 1990, his mother and brother told Ted about it in a letter with a red line under the postage stamp.

But he objected to their use of the important-letter code, federal sources say. He did not attend his father's funeral.

It might have been no big thing when Ted finally learned that David had read the Unabomber's manuscript and had grown suspicious of him, that David had grown more suspicious when he cleaned the Lombard home for sale and found some of Ted's writings and offered them to the FBI.

Ted was lying on his cot in his cabin when an agent opened his door.

"Ted," the agent said, "we need to talk."