November 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Sum Of Kaczynski’s Life Focus Of Trial Brilliant Mathematician Or Maniacal Bomber?

Tracy Seipel Knight Ridder
 

Thirty years ago this fall, a shy young mathematician named Ted Kaczynski walked onto the University of California campus armed with an IQ of 170 and the social skills of someone half his age.

He was 25 and single, brilliant and completely forgettable. Two years later, amid the turbulent upheaval of the late ‘60s, he abruptly resigned as an assistant professor of math, then from life itself, exiting to a primitive Montana cabin just beyond the harsh scrutiny of society.

What happened to Theodore John Kaczynski from that fateful day until his arrest last year as the prime Unabomber suspect is at the heart of his long-awaited murder trial that gets under way this week in Sacramento.

Over the next several months, opposing teams of high-powered attorneys will offer two very different understandings of a man consumed by a rage against a technology-dominated society, views that allegedly led him to take the lives of others.

Kaczynski’s own lawyers are preparing an insanity defense, portraying a man whose sense of reality was so warped for so long that he was incapable of understanding his actions.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, dismiss that portrait. Aided by reams of incriminating evidence gathered inside his cabin, including chilling personal journals that detail the results of several explosions linked to the Unabomber, they intend to prove that Kaczynski is a methodical killer who carried out a campaign of terror as carefully as any assassin.

The elusive Unabomber who confounded authorities for 18 years, the person responsible for at least 16 bombing attacks from 1978 through 1995 that killed three people and injured 23 - all this, is none other than Theodore J. Kaczynski, they contend.

Kaczynski, who has pleaded innocent, may be preparing to present yet another rendition of events. Already he threw his own lawyers for a loop when he balked at the last minute at submitting to a court-ordered psychiatric examination.

Whichever version prevails, a series of traumatic turning points in Kaczynski’s life reveal a deeply troubled soul.

Family members declined requests for interviews. But court documents, including lengthy interviews conducted with his mother and younger brother before and after his arrest, paint a tale of a boy whose superior intellect isolated him totally from his peers, becoming a man who shunned the very affection he yearned for.

It is also the tale of an angry individualist who, in a self-imposed exile, refined a messianic theory that by his actions, he could reverse the “disaster” brought on by the industrial-technological revolution.

A lack of connection

Trial attorneys are expected to draw from these recollections, Kaczynski’s own diaries and correspondence, and truckloads of evidence gathered from the Montana cabin where he lived for 25 years.

There Kaczynski found the isolation he seemed to have always sought. David Kaczynski, the man whose gnawing suspicions about his brother led authorities to make their arrest, later said Ted “always had a lack of connection to others, an inability to understand others.”

By his family’s own account, Kaczynski’s alienation began with his relationship to his parents. Repeatedly he accused them of “ruining his life,” at one point writing them that “I can’t wait until you die so I can spit on your corpse.”

His behavior had always baffled the rest of the Kaczynski family who were considered close and loving. His mother would often wonder whether his bouts of rage had their beginnings in an incident that has haunted her since early 1943, when Wanda Kaczynski was forced to hospitalize her son after he contracted a dangerous case of hives.

The baby, only nine months old, was terrified and forever changed by the experience. “When I finally came back to take him home, what they handed me was not this bouncing, joyous baby, but a little rag doll, that didn’t look at me, that was slumped over, was completely limp,” she said in an interview last fall with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Wanda Kaczynski said she felt the incident marked the beginning of a lifelong pattern of withdrawal that continued even after the birth of David seven years later. “He became a very sober child,” Wanda said.

He became more than that.

The mother began to notice an aloofness about her reclusive son, who kept to himself behind closed doors upstairs in an attic.

Whenever she or her husband tried to bring him out of his shell, he resorted to “shutdowns,” periods of extreme anger and frustration when the melancholic boy would refuse to talk to anyone.

The rage endured. In an interview with FBI agents two months before his brother’s arrest, David characterized Ted’s hostility toward his parents as essentially lifelong.

He described an incident at the dinner table when Ted was 12 or 13, after the family had moved to Evergreen Park in Chicago. Their mother was carrying a dish of hot food to the table, when Ted drew her chair out for her in an apparently gentlemanly manner.

When Wanda smiled and began sitting down, Ted jerked the chair out from under her and she fell to the floor, the dish falling onto the table. Wanda began screaming at Ted, while Ted stood and laughed at her. Their father sternly ordered Ted to go up to his room in the attic, which Ted did, still laughing.

A boy genius

Yet in school, his teachers liked him. He was bright and progressed so quickly he skipped two grades. Only one high school incident marred his reputation: he handed a female classmate a wad of paper filled with chemicals that blew up in her hands. Ted was temporarily suspended.

At 16, the boy genius entered Harvard. For his parents, it was an accomplishment tempered with apprehension. They worried about how he would interact with students older and more socially experienced than himself.

Their concerns weren’t misplaced. Ted did not excel at Harvard, where roommates remember him living slothfully and generally ignoring their presence, slamming the door behind him. He remained a loner.

That would continue through his post-graduate years at the University of Michigan, where he garnered praise for his work, and into 1967 when he began a tenure-track job as an assistant math professor at Berkeley. Once again, fractions, not people, were his friends.

Kaczynski had arrived on a college campus at the height of the Vietnam War and all its accompanying protests and demonstrations. While apparently uninvolved, he was clearly developing a set of ideological views.

“I think the social atmosphere of the late ‘60s was at least as important in understanding the turn his life took than was the week he spent in the hospital, away from his mother,” said James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University.

Turning away from numbers

“All his life, he was good at math,” said the expert on serial killers. “It gave him a feeling of self-esteem, whereas relationships with people were intimidating and threatening.”

But when tens of thousands of young men began dying in Vietnam, math may no longer have seemed relevant. “It was very difficult to focus on the fourth derivative,” said Fox, a former math major who was studying at Penn State at the time.

And for Kaczynski, who apparently had begun to question mathematics - the very essence of his being until then - the realization must have been devastating.

“He rejected those same fractions that were his friends,” said Fox, “and he was friendless at that point - without support.”

On Jan. 20, 1969, with no explanation, Kaczynski signed a letter of resignation effective June 30, returning home without warning. In a Washington Post interview, Wanda Kaczynski said he told her he was tired of teaching engineers “math that was going to be used for destroying the environment.”

With his brother’s help in 1971, Kaczynski bought 1.4 acres of land just outside of Lincoln, Mont., where he built a small 10-by 12-foot plywood shack that had no running water or electricity. He began writing letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, railing against machines, and genetics, science and the future.

In June of 1978, a month after the first bomb attributed to the Unabomber exploded at Northwestern University near Chicago, Ted returned home to Illinois for the last time. And it was a humiliating experience that sent him right back to his rustic enclave.

He had begun working at the same foam-cutting plant where his father and his brother also were employed. There he met a co-worker whom he dated twice until she lost interest.

Furious, Kaczynski scribbled an offensive limerick about the woman, and posted it around the factory. David fired his brother, and Ted fled to Lincoln, thereafter communicating with his family only through a series of increasingly angry letters.

It was the first time David began to understand his brother was sliding out of control.

But the family tried to make amends, writing and even visiting Ted. On their last trip to Montana in 1985, Ted took them to see the flowers in the meadow, and they generally had a great time, his mother later recalled. But shortly afterwards, Ted sent an angry letter saying he did not want to hear from the family anymore.

By 1987, 11 more bombs had been been mailed or planted by the Unabomber, most in places familiar to Kaczynski: four either in or near Chicago; two on the Berkeley campus, and one at the Ann Arbor home of a University of Michigan professor. And then, for the next six years, no more bombs were mailed.

In 1990, Ted’s father committed suicide months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Ted did not return home for the funeral; eventually he stopped writing at all.

Half-joking suspicion

As the Unabomber continued his destructive spree - and the FBI without a clue as to his identity - it was David’s wife who half-jokingly began to suspect her husband’s brother was behind the acts of terrorism. He not only seemed to fit the FBI profile - a reclusive, single white male in his 40s, familiar with university life - but, she noted, the bombings had occurred in places Kaczynski had lived.

By September of 1995, the Unabomber’s 35,000 word Manifesto had been published by The Washington Post and The New York Times. Intrigued, David’s wife begged her husband to accompany her to the local library to read the treatise.

David’s suspicions were aroused by the language and the twisted logic of the document, both of which echoed the thoughts of his brother. But, he was still not convinced his brother was the Unabomber, he later told the FBI.

It was not long afterward, as David was helping his mother prepare to move from her Chicago home to be closer to him in New York, that he stumbled across something that would seal his brother’s fate.

He found a 23-page essay inside a foot locker in Ted’s room written in 1971. It suddenly sounded eerily familiar. Troubled, David contacted the FBI through an intermediary, eventually meeting with them himself. In a small shed behind Wanda’s house, they found bomb-making materials.

David told them of Ted’s whereabouts in Montana.

Today David Kaczynski remains deeply pained about a decision which could lead, eventually, to the execution of his brother.

“What an awful irony,” he told CBS, “if I were to take action to prevent the loss of further life and it ended up in the loss of my own brother’s life.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

Arguing the case

For the defense

JUDY CLARKE

Judy Clarke, 45, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, is best-known for her defense of South Carolina mother Susan Smith. Clarke is chief federal public defender for the states of Idaho and Washington, based in Spokane. She took a leave from her post to join Ted Kaczynski’s defense.

Clarke has 19 years’ experience as a federal defender. She was president of the 8,000-member National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the second woman and first public defender to hold that position.

A native of Asheville, N.C., Clarke graduated from the University of South Carolina law school.

In the Smith case, Clarke convinced jurors that Smith did not deserve to die for drowning her sons by strapping them in a car and driving it into a lake.

Clarke minimizes that victory, saying the community had known Smith since childhood and “was very forgiving.”

For the prosecution

ROBERT J. CLEARY

Lead prosecutor Robert J. Cleary, 42, is the No. 2 man in the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office and former head of the New York City federal district’s major crimes division.

His familiarity with the 1994 death of New Jersey advertising executive Thomas Mosser, allegedly at the hands of the Unabomber, a case which is to be tried separately, will help in Sacramento, Calif.

Cleary made his reputation in white-collar and tax fraud cases in New York and lectures on the subject at the FBI Academy and Fordham University, where he attended law school.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Arguing the case For the defense JUDY CLARKE Judy Clarke, 45, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, is best-known for her defense of South Carolina mother Susan Smith. Clarke is chief federal public defender for the states of Idaho and Washington, based in Spokane. She took a leave from her post to join Ted Kaczynski’s defense. Clarke has 19 years’ experience as a federal defender. She was president of the 8,000-member National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the second woman and first public defender to hold that position. A native of Asheville, N.C., Clarke graduated from the University of South Carolina law school. In the Smith case, Clarke convinced jurors that Smith did not deserve to die for drowning her sons by strapping them in a car and driving it into a lake. Clarke minimizes that victory, saying the community had known Smith since childhood and “was very forgiving.”

For the prosecution ROBERT J. CLEARY Lead prosecutor Robert J. Cleary, 42, is the No. 2 man in the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office and former head of the New York City federal district’s major crimes division. His familiarity with the 1994 death of New Jersey advertising executive Thomas Mosser, allegedly at the hands of the Unabomber, a case which is to be tried separately, will help in Sacramento, Calif. Cleary made his reputation in white-collar and tax fraud cases in New York and lectures on the subject at the FBI Academy and Fordham University, where he attended law school.


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