Tracing Kaczynski From Cabin to Court
Trial begins today to determine whether recluse is the Unabomber.
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — For nearly half his life, Theodore John Kaczynski's world was a rustic cabin, a cramped and cloistered space. Here, he recorded his thoughts and the details of his daily life, developing a philosophy and a plan of action that rippled out far beyond his mountain homestead in Montana.
But this was no Walden, and he was no Henry David Thoreau content to limit his controversial and challenging ideas to his writings.
Instead, say government prosecutors - as well as family members and legal defenders trying to save his life - he was an antisocial man whose brilliance and idealism took an extreme and perhaps violent wrong turn.
Mr. Kaczynski is charged with four Unabomber attacks that killed two men and maimed two others, but the government maintains he is responsible for all 16 bombings that took three lives and injured another 23 people during a 17-year period.
As Kaczynski's trial begins today in Sacramento, Calif., the focus will be on that 10-by-12-foot cabin, brought here on a flatbed truck and now under tight security at a nearby air base. It is likely to become a haunting exhibit in the minds of jurors, and how those 12 men and women view that dark structure could well determine Kaczynski's future.
Prosecutors will say this was a deadly factory where Kaczynski carefully designed and built the pipe bombs mailed or taken to intended targets from New Jersey to California. It was where he drafted his 35,000-word manifesto, where he filled reams of notebook paper detailing the bombings, they say. Physical evidence - including bombmaking materials, a partially completed bomb, and the manual typewriter used to write the manifesto - is considered overwhelming.
FBI special agent Donald Sachtleben, who specializes in explosive devices, was one of the first to examine the cabin. Among other things, he reports he found 10 three-ring binders containing "page after page of meticulous writings and sketches which I recognize to be diagrams of explosive devices."
In addition, agent Sachtleben noted in an affidavit, now part of the court record, there were "three rolled-up pieces of paper attached to one another, containing what appear to be logs of experiments to determine the optimum pipe dimension and combination of explosive materials in various weather conditions."
These are the clinical details of circumstantial evidence found in the cabin - as curiously devoid of emotion as are most of the writings found there - that prosecutors will use to argue that Kaczynski deserves the death penalty.
Lining up a defense
But Kaczynski's attorneys will focus on the cabin as well, attempting to show that someone who would choose to live here for nearly a quarter century, in near-squalid conditions with no plumbing or electricity does not have the mental capacity to be executed for the crimes for which he stands accused.
Psychiatrist David Vernon Foster, who met with Kaczynski five times on behalf of defense lawyers, concluded that "the state of Mr. Kaczynski's cabin and personal effects, and the unusually thorough, voluminous, and descriptive material available for review provide ample evidence of his mental illness."
"A central organizing feature of Mr. Kaczynski's delusional system is a belief that every aspect of his existence is controlled by an omnipotent organization against which he is powerless," Dr. Foster observes in a report that diagnosed the defendant as suffering "paranoid schizophrenia."
Not everyone agrees with this view.
"Given [Kaczynski's] discipline, his austerity, his frugality, his commitment, his obsession, his recordation, somebody could almost say he approached this mission with the same intensity that Louis Pasteur did or that NASA does," says Joseph Russoniello, a former United States attorney now practicing law in San Francisco. "This is hardly the stuff that people would consider lunatic."
In pretrial maneuverings last week, defense lawyers agreed not to cite psychiatric experts like Foster during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial since Kaczynski has refused to be examined by government psychiatrists.
But this does not preclude the use of such experts during the punishment phase should the defendant be found guilty. And it is expected that Kaczynski's attorneys will use other evidence - including, perhaps, testimony of family members - to expose jurors to Kaczynski's background, as well as his mental state during the years he lived in the cabin.
His background is in some ways impressive.
Kaczynski scored at genius-level on intelligence tests, skipped two grades in school, went to Harvard when he was 16, and by age 25 had a PhD in mathematics and a teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley.
But he soon left the academic world, purchased a 1.5-acre lot next to a wilderness area in Montana, and assumed the life of an eccentric recluse.
By all accounts, his family life in suburban Chicago had been normal and supportive. But according to his younger brother and his mother (his father died several years ago), there were early troubling signs of an inability to develop friendships or even to relate to other people. Those who knew Theodore Kaczynski at Harvard and Berkeley confirm this view.
In the mountains of Montana, where individual privacy is highly respected, his oddities and lifestyle were accepted in the small town of Lincoln (its largest employer produces beef jerky), where he occasionally bought provisions or visited the library.
By the 1990s, Kaczynski's brother, David, had graduated from Columbia University, become a social worker at a youth shelter in upstate New York, and married Linda Patrik, a philosophy professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
David Kaczynski and his parents tried to keep up a correspondence with Theodore, occasionally sending money for medical treatment and other needs. (They later said the money may have been used to buy bombmaking materials or to finance trips to bomb sites.) But Theodore's letters were often bitter, sometimes hateful.
And when The Washington Post and The New York Times agreed to publish the Unabomber's manifesto to avoid more threatened bomb attacks, first Linda and then David began to think there might be a connection with Theodore. Much of the diatribe against industrialized society sounded similar to things Theodore had written in the past, papers now stored in the Kaczynski family home.
Reading the tome on the Internet, one phrase - "cool-headed logician" - leapt out at David. Years earlier, Theodore had used it in chiding his younger brother for being too emotional.
Through several intermediaries, David and Linda contacted law-enforcement officials and then finally broke the news of their suspicions to Wanda Kaczynski, Theodore's mother.
"Someone we love went over the edge, or so it seems," David said later, after his older brother had opened the door of his cabin to FBI agents following one of the longest manhunts in United States history.
David has written letters of regret and condolence to the families of the bomb victims. He is angry that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty after, he says, they indicated that his brother's mental state might affect how they proceeded in seeking justice. He worries that if his worst fears come to pass, he may be at least partly responsible for his brother's death.
In receiving a Courage of Convictions award from the youth shelter in Albany, N.Y., where he works, David Kaczynski said, "I hope that Ted will some day forgive me."
Even though it's been more than a year and a half since Theodore Kaczynski's capture, there has been no personal contact between him and his family. As always, he keeps his distance - bristling at any suggestion that he may be mentally ill.
Freedom and control
The Unabomber wrote in his manifesto: "Freedom means being in control (either as an individual or as a member of a SMALL group) of the life-and-death issues of one's existence; food, clothing, shelter, and defense against whatever threats there may be in one's environment. Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one's own life."
Theodore John Kaczynski sought that freedom - and that control - in a tiny cabin not far from the Continental Divide.
Today, he is confined to an even smaller space in an urban area, under the control of a large organization. He is an involuntary player in a judicial process facilitated and monitored by the technology he apparently feared and hated, and his future is in the hands of strangers who must decide whether that cabin was the headquarters for calculated criminal acts or an incomprehensible place of refuge.
Evidence in Kaczynski Trial
During the search I observed chemicals and other materials that, in my opinion, are designed and intended for use in manufacturing a destructive device, namely a pipe bomb.
- From affidavit filed by FBI special agent David Sachtleben after searching Kaczynski's cabin
'If I am successful at this, it is possible that, when I am caught (not alive, I fervently hope!) there will be some speculation in the news media as to my motives for killing people.... If such speculation occurs, they are bound to make me out to be a sickie, and to ascribe to me motives of a sordid or "sick" type.'
- From Theodore Kaczynski's journal, included in a Justice Department legal brief
'[Kaczynski] believes, and rejects any argument to the contrary, that technological society intends to destroy him and others like him.'
- From a report by David Vernon Foster, psychiatrist who interviewed Kaczynski on behalf of the defense