How The Unabomber’s Words Came Back To Haunt Him: The FBI Recalls, 25 Years After His Capture

April 6, 2021

By Anand Vasu

For nearly 20 years, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, known to the world as The Unabomber, terrorized Americans, planting bombs at various locations, killing three people and injuring many more.

Kaczynski was eventually captured on April 3, 1996, after his idiosyncratic writing style led investigators to him. It’s been 25 years since that historic capture.

The UNABOM Task Force was led by Terry Turchie of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and he remembered the words of a creative writing teacher, who had said: No two people write alike.

Kaczynski was active for nearly two decades, but managed to evade arrest because he was meticulous about leaving no evidence behind. He planted his first bomb in a parking lot of the University of Illinois’ Chicago Circle Campus in 1978.

After that, Kaczynski left bombs near computer stores, in university buildings, and even managed to get one on an airplane. Kaczynski also mailed powerful bombs to businesses, executives and university professors. In total, three people died and two dozen were injured by bombs he had placed.

“He was the most careful serial bomber anyone had ever seen,” Special Agent Kathleen Puckett, was quoted as saying by the FBI on the 25th anniversary of Kaczynski’s capture. Puckett worked on the UNABOM Task Force and led efforts to profile the bomber, who eventually turned out to be Kaczynski.

It was Kaczynski’s communications, to victims and to the media, that led law enforcement to his doorstep, a remote cabin in the Lincoln, Montana, wilderness that had no running water or electricity.

“We didn’t have any line to him except the letters he started sending in 1993,” said Puckett. “It was a bonanza of information.”

The communication from Kaczynski gave investigators a window into how his mind worked, the ideas he held dear, topics that he studied and the books that were important to him.

The letters from Kaczynski also gave profilers valuable clues into his education, age and personality.

After the bombings in 1994 and 1995 that claimed lives, Kaczynski sent his manifesto to various outlets, demanding they be published to memorialize his achievements and ideology.

“The writings were very passionate—that there’s no question this man really believes in what he’s writing here. So he probably held these beliefs his entire life,” said Turchie, adding, “Somebody would recognize this.”

A few months after the 35,000-word manifesto was published by the New York Times and the Washington Post, a lawyer representing David Kaczynski got in touch with the FBI.

David Kaczynski provided authorities with a 23-page essay written by Theodore Kaczynski in 1971.

Investigators instantly spotted similarities, with the phrase “sphere of human freedom” catching Turchie’s attention.

In his manifesto Kaczynski had written: “We are going to argue that industrial-technological society cannot be reformed in such a way as to prevent it from progressively narrowing the sphere of human freedom.”

There were several other points of comparison, beginning with the British spelling of the word analyse, rather than the American analyze.

While the writing style finally gave the FBI a suspect, it was other evidence, including research into Kaczynski’s past, that ensured that a warrant to search Kaczynski’s cabin was issued.

The search yielded enough evidence to nail Kaczynski, and included thousands of pages of handwritten notes which included confessions to all 16 bombings.