The man who stopped the Unabomber
The Top Story by Chris Graham
David Kaczynski didn’t believe for a second that his brother, Ted, could have been the man known to the world as the Unabomber.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Well, Ted’s never been violent. I can’t imagine him harming other people like this,’ ” said Kaczynski, whose wife, Linda, confronted him in the summer of 1995 with her suspicions that Ted Kaczynski was the man behind the trail of package bombings that had dated to the late 1970s.David, who spoke at Bridgewater College Thursday night, told The Augusta Free Press in an interview earlier this week that this came up at a point in his life where he had for some time been worried about his brother – a former college professor who had quit his job and moved to a secluded cabin in Montana.
“Ted and I had been close for a number of years. Ted is seven and a half years older than me, so growing up there was a developmental difference. But as I got into my late teens, and Ted was into his 20s, we spent a lot more time together. We both loved the outdoors. Camping, hiking, that sort of thing,” Kaczynski said.
“Beginning in his late 20s, early 30s, my brother began to really estrange himself from the family,” Kaczynski said. “He quit his job as a college professor, moved out to this cabin in the woods. He started writing some bizarre and rather angry letters to our parents. And we definitely had concerns about his mental health.
“And yet as time went on, we had less and less contact with him, not by our choice, but by his,” Kaczynski said.
His wife’s hunch that his brother was the Unabomber was based on her close reading of several news reports of the Unabomber case, he said.
“This was before my brother’s manifesto was published in The Washington Post. A month or two before that, there were news stories about the manifesto, and they mentioned that the thought was that the Unabomber was from the Chicago area, and that’s where we were all from, and second that he had had some kind of connection to the University of California at Berkeley because a bomb had been placed there, and Linda knew that my brother had once been a professor there,” David Kaczynski said.The item that really had his wife concerned, Kaczynski said, was that the news reports had said that the as-yet-unpublished manifesto from the Unabomber was anti-technology.
“And she knew through me that Ted had had this long-standing obsession with technology,” Kaczynski said. “And so she came to me and said, ‘David, maybe these are pieces of the puzzle, probably nothing, but what do you think?’ ”
It was left at the time at “if the manifesto was ever published, I would read it,” Kaczynski said.
“I was sure that I would be able to tell Linda that my brother was not the author,” he said.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the manifesto made its appearance in the Post.
“I was kind of chilled. I realized that I couldn’t tell Linda that he wasn’t the author,” Kaczynski said.
They looked closely into the matter, Kaczynski said, and ended up comparing the manifesto to letters that Ted Kaczynski had sent home over the years.
“We found ourselves in a position as our suspicions grew, we realized that if we did nothing, maybe some other innocent person would be killed. So we obviously couldn’t do nothing,” Kaczynski said. “On the other hand, we realized that if we did approach the authorities, and they investigated, and they found out that my brother was guilty, then there was a strong chance that he would be executed.
“So we found ourselves in a position where anything we did could lead to somebody’s death. I can’t tell you what that felt like,” Kaczynski said.
In the end, “we just could not sit by and watch potentially another person be hurt,” Kaczynski said.
The husband and wife decided to go forward and reported Ted Kaczynski to the FBI.
“Even when we went to the FBI, we were by no means sure. We were hoping against hope that we had just kind of imagined all this, and that we were mistaken,” Kaczynski said.
And the FBI, for its part, “was pretty skeptical at the beginning,” Kaczynski said.
“We didn’t have any direct evidence. My brother didn’t really fit the physical description that they had based on one eyewitness report. And they just found it hard to believe,” Kaczynski said.
“I think the thing they struggled with the most was the idea that a person living in a tiny cabin without any electrical tools could have made the bombs. It really wasn’t until the actual day of Ted’s arrest, and they went into his cabin and found pieces of bombs and a copy of the manifesto, and there was even a live bomb found under his bed, ready to be mailed, it wasn’t until that moment that they were sure themselves,” Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski, as it turns out, had received his own piece of mail from his brother not far ahead of that discovery.
“When we were really struggling with this, and I thought there might be a chance that Ted might be the Unabomber, I decided to write him a letter, of course, not to discuss any of the suspicions or anything, but just to ask him if I could come and visit,” Kaczynski said.
“I remember getting a letter back from him that was sort of angry and rejecting, with the message basically that I was no longer his brother. But it was so bizarre, it just made me feel that there was nothing to be accomplished here. Ted had really gone over the edge,” Kaczynski said.
Since the arrest, Ted Kaczynski, who was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes in 1998, “has had no contact with us,” Kaczynski said.
“Even early on, we offered to visit him to see what we could do to help or support him emotionally. All of that was rejected,” Kaczynski said.
“Mom and I write to him. Mom writes to him very often. She’s 88, and there’s not a week that goes by where she hasn’t written to Ted. But he’s never responded to any of her letters,” Kaczynski said.
“I’m not angry at Ted for that. The reason being that I’ve come to understand that he’s seriously, seriously ill. He has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. So the way I see it, he’s in a physical prison, but he’s also in a kind of emotional and psychological prison of mental illness as well,” Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski, who donated most of the $1 million reward that he received for turning in his brother to the victims of the string of bombings, said he has tried to “turn the experience into a positive direction, to try to bring some good out of something that was very, very bad.”
“My feelings about the world are much more positive than they used to be,” Kaczynski said. “Not only haven’t we gotten a lot of angry or abusive letters, but we’ve really gotten a lot of letters from people who thanked us for having the courage to do what we did. And a lot of letters from people who have mentally ill loved ones who say they understand the struggles that we’ve been through.”