Theodore Kaczynski lived an austere life no running water, no indoor plumbing in this 10-by-12-foot cabin in rural Montana for 20 years. This photo was taken shortly after Kaczynski was arrested. (Courtesy Federal Bureau of Investigation)
For 17 years, an elusive criminal sent homemade bombs targeting universities, airlines and computer stores, killing three people and injuring 23 others. The FBI branded him “Unabomber” — shorthand for his early targets: universities and airlines..
How do you catch a twisted genius who aspires to be the perfect, anonymous killer—who builds untraceable bombs and delivers them to random targets, who leaves false clues to throw off authorities, who lives like a recluse in the mountains of Montana and tells no one of his secret crimes?
That was the challenge facing the FBI and its investigative partners, who spent nearly two decades hunting down this ultimate lone wolf bomber.
The man that the world would eventually know as Theodore Kaczynski came to the FBI’s attention in 1978 with the explosion of his first, primitive homemade bomb at a Chicago university. The Unabomber eluded the FBI for 17 years, despite an investigation spanning eight states and involving 500 agents, he mailed or hand delivered a series of increasingly sophisticated bombs that killed three Americans and injured 24 more. Along the way, he sowed fear and panic, even threatening to blow up airliners in flight.
In 1979, an FBI-led task force that included the ATF and U.S. Postal Inspection Service was formed to investigate the “UNABOM” case, code-named for the UNiversity and Airline BOMbing targets involved. The task force would grow to more than 150 full-time investigators, analysts, and others. In search of clues, the team made every possible forensic examination of recovered bomb components and studied the lives of victims in minute detail. These efforts proved of little use in identifying the bomber, who took pains to leave no forensic evidence, building his bombs essentially from “scrap” materials available almost anywhere. And the victims, investigators later learned, were chosen randomly from library research.
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