Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the Harvard-educated mathematician who retreated to a dingy shack in the Montana wilderness and ran a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others, died on Saturday. He was 81.
Branded the “Unabomber” by the FBI, Kaczynski died at the federal prison medical centre in Butner, North Carolina, Kristie Breshears, a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Prisons, told The Associated Press. He was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning and was pronounced dead about 8am, she said. A cause of death was not immediately known.
Before his transfer to the prison medical facility, he had been held in the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, since May 1998, when he was sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years for a campaign of terror that set universities nationwide on edge. He admitted to committing 16 bombings from 1978 to 1995, permanently maiming several of his victims.
A loner since childhood, the Harvard University graduate targeted academics, scientists and computer store owners, and even tried to blow up a commercial airliner in a campaign against what he believed were the evils of modern technology. For years he frustrated police with no solid clues to the killer’s identity.
The Unabomber’s deadly homemade bombs changed the way Americans mailed packages and boarded aeroplanes, even virtually shutting down air travel on the West Coast in July 1995.
He forced The Washington Post, in conjunction with The New York Times, to make the agonising decision in September 1995 to publish his 35,000-word manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, which claimed modern society and technology was leading to a sense of powerlessness and alienation.
But it led to his undoing. Kaczynski’s brother David and David’s wife, Linda Patrik, recognised the treatise’s tone and tipped off the FBI, which had been searching for the Unabomber for years in nation’s longest, costliest manhunt.
Authorities in April 1996 found him in a 10-by-14-foot (three-by-four-metre) plywood and tarpaper cabin outside Lincoln, Montana that was filled with journals, a coded diary, explosive ingredients and two completed bombs.
As an elusive criminal mastermind, the Unabomber won his share of sympathisers and comparisons to Daniel Boone, Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau.
But once revealed as a wild-eyed hermit with long hair and beard who weathered Montana winters in a one-room shack, Kaczynski struck many as more of a pathetic loner than a romantic anti-hero.