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Theodore Richard Kaczynski

Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, to second-generation Polish Americans Wanda (née Dombek) and Theodore Richard Kaczynski. At six-months of age, Ted's body was covered in hives. He was placed in isolation in a hospital where visitors were not allowed. Treatment continued for eight months. His mother wrote in March 1943, "Baby home from hospital and is healthy but quite unresponsive after his experience."

From grades one through four, Kaczynski attended Sherman Elementary School in Chicago. He attended grades five through eight at Evergreen Park Central School. As a result of testing conducted in the fifth grade which determined he had an IQ of 167, he was allowed to skip the sixth grade and enroll in the seventh grade. Kaczynski described this as a pivotal event in his life. He recalled not fitting in with the older children and being subjected to their bullying. As a child, Kaczynski had a fear of people and buildings, and played beside other children rather than interacting with them. His mother was so worried by his poor social development that she considered entering him in a study for autistic children led by Bruno Bettelheim.

He attended high school at Evergreen Park Community High School. Kaczynski excelled academically, but found the mathematics too simple during his sophomore year. During this period of his life, Kaczynski became obsessed with mathematics, spending prolonged hours locked in his room practicing differential equations instead of socializing with his peers. Throughout secondary schooling Kaczynski had far surpassed his classmates, able to solve advanced Laplace Transforms before his senior year. He was subsequently placed in a more advanced mathematics class, yet still felt intellectually restricted. Kaczynski soon mastered the material and skipped the eleventh grade. With the help of a summer school course for English, he completed his high school education when he was 15 years old. He was encouraged to apply to Harvard University, and was subsequently accepted as a student beginning in fall 1958 at the age of 16. While at Harvard, Kaczynski was taught by famed logician Willard Van Orman Quine, scoring at the top of Quine's class with a 98.9% final grade.

Kaczynski graduated from Harvard University in 1962 and subsequently enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he earned a PhD in mathematics. Kaczynski's specialty was a branch of complex analysis known as geometric function theory. His professors at Michigan were impressed with his intellect and drive. "He was an unusual person. He was not like the other graduate students," said Peter Duren, one of Kaczynski's math professors at Michigan. "He was much more focused about his work. He had a drive to discover mathematical truth." "It is not enough to say he was smart," said George Piranian, another of his Michigan math professors. In fact, Kaczynski earned his Ph.D. with his thesis entitled "Boundary Functions" by solving a problem so difficult that Piranian could not figure it out. Maxwell Reade, a retired math professor who served on Kaczynski's dissertation committee, also commented on his thesis by noting, "I would guess that maybe 10 or 12 men in the country understood or appreciated it." In 1967, Kaczynski won the University of Michigan's $100 Sumner B. Myers Prize, which recognized his dissertation as the school's best in mathematics that year. While a graduate student at Michigan, he held a National Science Foundation fellowship and taught undergraduates for three years. He also published two articles related to his dissertation in mathematical journals, and four more after leaving Michigan later.

In the fall of 1967, Kaczynski became an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught undergraduate courses in geometry and calculus. He was also noted as the youngest professor ever hired by the university. This position proved short-lived, however, as Kaczynski received numerous complaints and low ratings from the undergraduates he taught. Many students noted that he seemed quite uncomfortable in a teaching environment, often stuttering and mumbling during lectures, becoming excessively nervous in front of a class, and ignoring students during designated office hours. Without explanation, he resigned from his position in 1969, at age 26. The chairman of the mathematics department, J. W. Addison, called this a "sudden and unexpected" resignation,[16] while vice chairman Calvin Moore said that given Kaczynski's "impressive" thesis and record of publications, "He could have advanced up the ranks and been a senior member of the faculty today."

A package bomb exploded in the cargo hold of American Airlines flight 444 from Chicago to Washington. The plane made an emergency landing, and no one was killed, but the event was deeply alarming nonetheless. Iranians had descended upon the American embassy in Tehran just 11 days earlier and taken 66 Americans hostage, so tensions regarding terrorism were already running high. Charles Monroe, an FBI agent put on the case, appeared optimistic that the culprit would be found. “We have some good evidence,” he said. “The package was not completely obliterated.” But reconstructing the fragments of the bomb would prove much easier than piecing together the bomber’s identity. By the time his tenth bomb detonated, in the hands of a University of Michigan graduate student six years to the day after flight 444, the FBI had given him a code name, Unabomber, for his propensity to target universities and airlines. It would be 11 more years after that before he was finally captured. And even then reassembling his state of mind, his motives, and his life would be a monumental task.

The American Airlines bomb came to be identified as the Unabomber’s third, the prior two having targeted professors at Northwestern University. It was the first to attract the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attention. It had been mailed from the Chicago area in a brown paper box and rigged with a barometer that would trigger an explosion once the plane reached 35,000 feet. Half an hour after takeoff, the flight’s 80 passengers heard a loud noise. Smoke billowed into the cabin, and the crew tried to vent it as oxygen masks dropped. After an emergency landing at Dulles Airport, 12 passengers were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

The FBI joined the case, as did Postal Service inspectors, because the bomb had crossed state lines and was sent via the U.S. mail. In the plane’s baggage compartment they found remnants of a homemade pipe bomb constructed from a juice can and housed in a wooden box. The bomb had been inexpertly made, preventing most of the powder from igniting; had it all gone off, the Boeing 727 would have been obliterated. Investigators were puzzled by a residue of barium nitrate, which serves no purpose in explosives other than to color fireworks green. Soon they would come to recognize its part in an elaborate inside joke.

With the six bombs he would send over the next six years—two to airline personnel, four to universities—the Unabomber’s skill improved dramatically. He mixed his own powders and made most of the components by hand from metal and scrap wood, even when store-bought switches and screws might have worked better, obsessively filing and sanding to remove any traces that might betray his identity. He always housed the assembly in a homemade wooden box. In fact, wood emerged as his intentional trademark. In what investigators construed as a display of sick humor, the Unabomber in 1980 addressed a package in green ink to the president of United Airlines, whose name was Percy Wood. The bomb was hidden in a book published by Arbor House.

The bomb sent to James V. McConnell, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, on November 15, 1985, would be the Unabomber’s last before he became a killer. A letter attached to the outside of the package asked McConnell to review an enclosed manuscript. When a student of McConnell’s, Nick Suino, opened the package, a burst of light, noise, and shrapnel tore through the office. Suino suffered burns and cuts but recovered; McConnell, who was standing nearby, sustained permanent hearing damage. Considering the Unabomber’s next victim, they count themselves lucky. Less than a month later, a Sacramento computer-store owner noticed a block of wood in the parking lot outside his shop. The second he touched it it exploded with enough force to blow off his hand and puncture his heart. He died instantly.

The Unabomber would kill two more and seriously injure an additional three before authorities stopped him. Despite the uniqueness of his devices, an FBI agent admitted in 1994 that “I don’t think we’re much closer than we were 16 years ago.” The perpetrator’s M.O. was inconsistent—some packages were mailed, some left in public—and his victims were related only tangentially by their technology-related occupations.

In the longest, most expensive serial-killer case ever, the Unabom task force, which included the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in addition to the FBI and the Postal Service, received 20,000 calls to its hotline, conducted thousands of interviews, and trailed 200 suspects. They developed a profile of an intelligent, well-educated man who hated technology, kept to himself, drove an old car or rode a bicycle, kept meticulous notes, and had difficulties with women. The profile proved eerily correct, but it didn’t help catch him.

James Fox, an agent on the case, opined in 1995 that “he’s feeling invincible, that he’s superior to law enforcement and can forever outsmart the police. Hopefully that’s what will be his downfall.” But as it turned out his downfall was neither egotism nor sloppiness. It was his distinctive writing style. When The New York Times and the Washington Post published a 35,000-word manifesto by the Unabomber, in 1995, David Kaczynski, a 45-year-old social worker, recognized some of the idioms and ideas as those of his 53-year-old brother, Ted. David Kaczynski approached the FBI on condition of anonymity (although his name was quickly leaked), and soon the woods around Ted’s remote Montana cabin were crawling with agents dressed as lumberjacks and mailmen. They arrested him on April 3, 1996, and found 10 binders full of diagrams and test results in his shack, as well as bomb-making materials, explosives, and one completed bomb.

After his arrest and during his 1997 trial, at which he pleaded guilty rather than allow his lawyers to submit an insanity defense, Theodore Kaczynski’s life emerged as front-page material for every news outlet in the country. But even with the bomber named, the pieces didn’t quite fit together. The nation learned that Kaczynski had been a precocious but maladjusted loner as a child. He graduated from a Chicago high school, went to Harvard, earned a Ph.D. in math from the University of Michigan in 1967, and accepted a tenure-track position at Berkeley, the epicenter of sixties radicalism. Although he seemed oblivious of most of the era’s politics (and, for that matter, of other people as a whole), and despite his short hair and tie, he absorbed one piece of sixties philosophy. He didn’t tune in or turn on, but in 1969 he dropped out.

He drifted until 1971, when he bought 1.4 acres of Montana wilderness and built a 10-by-12-foot shack out of plywood. Over the next 15 years he would make occasional perfunctory efforts at rejoining civilization. He worked for his brother at a foam-rubber factory in Chicago until David was forced to fire him for harassing a female coworker who spurned his advances. The bombings started soon after. Some psychologists have blamed his behavior on acute sexual frustration, others on resentment toward a society that didn’t accept him. Magazine writers noted that as a baby he was hospitalized for an allergic reaction, and his parents were forbidden from having contact with him; perhaps this could have caused a lifetime of aloofness, they speculated.

A court-appointed psychiatrist pronounced him schizophrenic, although he proclaims his sanity to this day and appears rational enough in interviews. But why does somebody cross that line between pathology and evil? What makes one man painfully awkward and another a serial killer? Kaczynski himself offers few clues. In his life, even the things that never exploded may be impossible to put back together again.

Christine Gibson. Why Did the Unabomber Kill? American Heritage. November 15, 2005.


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