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COLUMN ONE

Adrift in Solitude, Kaczynski Traveled a Lonely Journey

April 14, 1996| From Times Staff Writers

LINCOLN, Mont. — It had come to this.

Sometimes he smelled. His hair was matted. He owned no car. He got around on a red bike with no fenders. It splattered him with mud.

He lived in a cabin. It was smaller than a lot of closets. The walls were plywood. They were thinner than his little finger. The cabin had a tarpaper roof. When the tarpaper ripped, the roof leaked.

Daylight seeped in through two windows. Each was just a foot square. One was so close to the roof that it did little good. He slept on a narrow cot. He stacked his books--Shakespeare, Thackeray--against the walls. He had one door. It had three locks.

He had no running water; he dipped plastic jugs into a stream 75 feet from the cabin. He had no electricity; he read by candlelight. He had no outhouse; he used the outdoors. He had no clock, no calendar; when he needed to do something at a certain hour on an appointed day, he mentioned it to his neighbors, 300 yards through the trees, and he depended upon them to prompt him.

He had no phone. If his family back East had an emergency, they sent a letter with a red line drawn under the stamp. Otherwise he might ignore it. Except for essentials that he bought in town, he had no larder stocked with food. He grew parsnips and potatoes, and he fertilized them with his own waste. He killed deer, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits and porcupines, and he broiled them over a fire in the yard.

He did have, in the loft of his cabin and elsewhere, drills and bits and hacksaw blades and wire cutters and solder. He had 10 three-ring binders filled with notes and sketches. They showed the cross sections of pipes and the circuitry of bombs. He had pieces of pipe--plastic and copper and galvanized metal. He had three typewriters and a suspicious manuscript. He had notes describing chemical compounds that create explosions. He had many of the chemicals. He had batteries, and he had electrical wire, and he had one live bomb and one that was partly finished.

His name is Theodore John Kaczynski. He is 53 years old and in custody in a Montana jail. The FBI thinks he is the Unabomber. It is not just that he is brilliant, but there is that. It is not just that he is painfully shy, but there is that. It is not just that he carries a deep burden of anger, but there is that, too. Nor is it just that he is a loner, unable to form deep relationships with anyone; that he is highly focused, almost undistractable; that he is a perfectionist, down to his penmanship; a writer, whose words are similar to those in a manuscript the Unabomber wrote last summer for national publication.

It is also that Theodore Kaczynski's life had come to this: the classic denouement for a person who kills with bombs. Someone involved in the case of Los Angeles' own Alphabet Bomber, who like the Unabomber has slain three people, notes that controlling contact with the outside world is extremely important to these murderers, so important that they often remove themselves somehow from everything they cannot control--even if it means taking themselves out of society. Muharem Kurbegovic, the Alphabet Bomber who is in prison for life for his bombings in the 1970s, dropped out by pretending to be a deaf mute.

Sometimes there are no precipitating events that cause these killers to go wrong, says this person, who because of his relationship to the Alphabet Bomber asks to remain anonymous. Slowly, he says, their intense focus somehow gets channeled into paranoia and rage, and they begin a crusade of terror. Indeed, the Unabomber's dark and special genius never found expression in his explosive devices themselves, some of which, despite their laborious hand-crafting, were hardly more than serviceable.

Rather, his particular talent lay in his ability to turn routine, unthinking gestures into triggers for terror. His victims were going about the heedless business of daily life when something they had done countless times before--opening a letter, picking up something they happened to find, moving a parcel somebody had left behind--became the cause of inexplicable and deadly violence.

If Theodore Kaczynski is, in fact, the Unabomber, it might be instructive to ask: How did it come to this?

****

"The system for good, solid practical reasons, must exert constant pressure on people to mold their behavior to the needs of the system. . . . Need more technical personnel? A chorus of voices exhorts kids to study science. No one stops to ask whether it is inhumane to force adolescents to spend the bulk of their time studying subjects they hate."

--Unabomber Manifesto, Paragraph 119

****

His family called him Teddy John. He was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago, shortly after the beginning of World War II for America. His father, Theodore Richard Kaczynski, was known as Turk. He worked at a sausage plant owned by a cousin. His mother, Wanda Theresa Kaczynski, was a full-time mom. The family lived in a blue-collar suburb called Evergreen Park.

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