Ted Kaczynski Biography

(1942–)
Ted Kaczynski is a mathematician best known for a campaign of letter bombs he sent as the 'Unabomber' over a nearly 20-year period, resulting in three fatalities.

Who Is Ted Kaczynski?

Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” was born on May 22, 1942, in Illinois. A mathematics prodigy, Kaczynski taught at the University of California at Berkeley before retreating to a survivalist lifestyle in the Montana woods. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski mailed bombs to universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23 more. FBI agents arrested Kaczynski in 1996, and two years later he was sentenced to life in prison.

Early Promise and Warning Signs

Ted Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, the oldest child of a Polish-American couple, Wanda and Theodore. As a baby, Kaczynski had an allergic reaction to some medication and spent time in isolation while recovering. Some reports indicate that he had a noticeable change in personality after being hospitalized. The arrival of his younger brother, David, also allegedly had a strong effect on him.

When he was a child, the family moved out of the city to Evergreen Park, a suburb of Chicago. Kaczynski's parents pushed him hard to achieve academic success. A bright child, Kaczynski skipped two grades during his early education. However, he was smaller than the other kids and regarded as "different" because of his intelligence. Still, Kaczynski was active in school groups, including the German-language and chess clubs. 

Higher Education

In 1958, at the age of 16, Kaczynski entered Harvard University on a scholarship. There, he studied mathematics and was part of a psychological experiment conducted by professor Henry A. Murray, in which participants were subjected to extensive verbal abuse. This experiment, too, is thought to have been a factor in Kaczynski's later activities.  

After graduating from Harvard in 1962, Kaczynski continued his studies at the University of Michigan. While there, he taught classes and worked on his dissertation, which was widely praised. Kaczynski earned his doctorate degree from the university in 1967, and then moved west to teach at the University of California, Berkeley.

However, Kaczynski struggled at Berkeley, as he had a hard time delivering his lectures and often avoided contact with his students. He suddenly resigned from his assistant professorship in 1969.

Into the Wilderness

By the early 1970s, Kaczynski had given up his old life and settled in Montana. He built himself a small cabin near Lincoln, where he lived in near-total isolation, hunting rabbits, growing vegetables and spending much of his time reading. While living this remote, survivalist lifestyle, Kaczynski developed his own anti-government and anti-technology philosophy.

In 1978, Kaczynski moved back to Chicago to work in the same factory as his brother. While there, he had a relationship with a female supervisor, but eventually it turned sour. In retaliation, Kaczynski wrote crude limericks about her, resulting in his dismissal from the company. His brother, David, a supervisor himself, was the one that had to break the news to Ted. 

The 'Unabomber' Emerges

Also in 1978, Kaczynski left a homemade bomb in a package at the University of Chicago, with a return address for a Northwestern University professor. The package was forwarded to Northwestern and opened by a campus security officer, who sustained minor injuries when the bomb exploded. Another bomb was sent to the same university the following year, but by this time Kaczynski had returned to Montana.

Kaczynski then targeted American airline companies with two bombs—one in 1979 that failed to detonate on an American Airlines flight, and one in 1980 that was sent to the president of United Airlines, who sustained minor injuries after it exploded. Working with the U.S. Postal Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation started up a task force to look into these mysterious attacks. The case was known by the acronym UNABOM, which stood for UNiversity and Airline BOMbing. Eventually, the unknown assailant came to be known as the "Unabomber."

By 1982, Kaczynski's bombs were more destructive: That year, a secretary at Vanderbilt University and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley both sustained serious injuries from Kaczynski's explosive packages. The first fatality came in December 1985, when a computer store owner was killed by a device outside his shop, and over the next decade, Kaczynski's bombs would result in two more deaths and additional injuries.

Manifesto and Arrest

The big break in the case came in 1995, when Kaczynski sent out a 35,000-word essay on the problems of modern society. He even threatened media outlets, such as The New York Times, to publish his so-called "Unabomber Manifesto," telling them he would blow up a plane if they failed to do so. The manifesto, titled "Industrial Society and Its Future," was first published in September 1995.

Shortly thereafter, Kaczynski's sister-in-law, Linda Patrik, read the manifesto and encouraged her husband to do so, as well. Although he and Ted had become estranged over the years, David recognized the writing style and some of the ideas expressed as his brother's. After consulting with a private detective, in early 1996 David shared his suspicions with the FBI.

On April 3, 1996, federal investigators arrested Ted Kaczynski at his cabin in Montana. News outlets carried images of the bearded and disheveled Kaczynski, giving the country and the world its first glimpse of the infamous Unabomber. At his cabin, they found one completed bomb, other bomb parts and about 40,000 pages of his journals, in which he described his crimes in detail.

Life Behind Bars

In January 1998, Kaczynski attempted suicide as he prepared to go on trial. He was insistent that his lawyers not use any type of insanity defense, and he rejected any implication that he was mentally ill. However, after a failed bid to represent himself in court, Kaczynski decided to plead guilty to 13 federal bombing-related charges. In return, the federal government agreed to forego pursuit of the death penalty. 

In May 1998, Kaczynski was sentenced to prison for life for his actions. He was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative-Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, where, for a time, he was housed in the same unit as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

Kaczynski continued his personal battle against federal authority from behind bars. When the government was granted approval to auction off papers taken from his Montana cabin, as a means of providing restitution to victims, Kaczynski appealed on the grounds that his First Amendment rights were being violated. An online auction eventually was held in the spring of 2011. 

In 2016, Discovery aired the eight-part miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber, with Paul Bettany starring as the titular villain and Sam Worthington playing an FBI agent who spearheads his capture.

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