Crime History: “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski Pleads Guilty, Gets 8 Life Sentences

Ted Kaczynski 1996 mug shot [FBI]

On January 22, 1998, following a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three and wounded 23, domestic terrorist Ted Kacynski, aka “The Unabomber,” dodged the death penalty by pleading guilty to a litany of federal charges.

Shortly thereafter, Kaczynski wanted to change his plea, claiming lawyers had entered it against his will, but a judge upheld the initial decision.

As a result, the Unabomber continues to live out the remainder of his days behind bars, serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole at ADX Florence, a super-maximum security prison in Colorado.

Ted Kaczynski was born in 1942 and grew up a child prodigy in Evergreen Park, a suburb of Chicago. By 16, Kaczynski enrolled in Harvard to study mathematics, later receiving a PhD from the University of Michigan.

From there, he taught at UC Berkeley but, in 1969, Kaczynski underwent a radical shift in thought — and actions.

Inflamed by rage against modern technology and the industrial world, Kaczynski identified himself as an anarchist and relocated to the remote woods of western Montana. He lived there in a 10-by-12-foot cabin that had no heat, no electricity, and no running water.

Awash in solitude, Kaczynski worked tirelessly on his manifesto for his notion of a better world. Also, between 1978 and 1993, Ted Kaczynski constructed explosive devices that he delivered to those he considered enemies of his philosophy, resulting in severely disabling and even fatal outcomes.

Composite sketch of The Unabomber, 1987/FBI handout

Composite sketch of The Unabomber, 1987 [FBI handout]

Kaczynski’s first two bombs exploded in separate incidents at Northwestern University. Each generated only minor injuries. He followed those with unsuccessful deliveries to airline officials. In 1979, Kaczynski placed a powerful explosive device in the cargo hold of American Airlines Flight 444 from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

The bomb partially ignited midway through the flight, flooding the cabin with smoke. After an emergency landing, 12 passengers required treatment. Only the failure of a timing mechanism prevented a full detonation that would have destroyed the plane and all onboard.

Once the FBI connected the attacks on a university (“un”) and an airliner (“a”), the nickname “Unabomber” stuck to the suspect.

Thereafter, Kaczynski targeted the various airline executives, university professors, scientists, and those who sold high-tech devices. He repeatedly placed misdirecting clues in the packages that he either mailed or delivered by hand. Consistently, the genius turned outlaw authorities.

The only eyewitness to ever spot the suspected Unabomber provided the minimal description that led to his famous composite sketch. The FBI first issued the image of a mustached man in sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt in 1987.

Over time, Kaczynski’s bombs grew more sophisticated and more dangerously effective. Recipients’ injuries increased in severity. Kaczynski killed a computer store owner Hugh Scrutton in 1985, followed by his execution by mail bomb of advertising executive Thomas J. Mosser in 1994 and timber industry lobbyist Gilbert Brent Murray in 1995.

Following the last fatality, Kaczynski contacted the media to state that if “respectable” major publications such as The New York Times would print his 35,000 word manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, he would cease the attacks.

FBI Wanted poster, offering a reward for the capture of The Unabomber.

FBI Wanted poster, offering a reward for the capture of The Unabomber.

Penthouse magazine offered to run the piece; Kaczynski scoffed at what he considered the periodical’s low nature. The Times and The Washington Post both did eventually print the diatribe.

David Kaczynski, Ted’s brother, read the massive article and recognized the style as being his brother’s. He pointed authorities toward Ted’s cabin. Once there in April 1996, searchers found ample evidence to know they had, at last, captured the Unabomber.

As environmental issues held a high place in popular discussion during the 1990s, some activists emerged to defend Kaczynski. Boston artist Lydia Eccles and anti-human-life provocateur Chris Korda launched the prankish “Unabomber for President” campaign. More serious-minded “anarcho-primitivist” radicals such as John Zerzan publicly supported Kaczynski’s beliefs, but disavowed his homicidal practices.

At present, Kaczynski remains in deep lock-up. He associates with other prisoners (including, at one time, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh). He also writes prolifically and has been published regularly. The unsuspecting people Kaczynski tricked into being murdered remain dead, though, and those he maimed continue to be blind and/or limbless. And more than ever, technology rules our times.

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Main photo: Ted Kaczynski 1996 mug shot [FBI]