Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ted Kaczynski: The Unabomber

Into the Woods

One of his favorite writers — poet Henry David Thoreau — inspired Kaczynski in more ways than one. Thoreau built a shack in the wilderness and learned to live off the land. So did Kaczynski — he even copied Thoreau's cabin design.

Thoreau — in his isolation — penned the beloved American classic, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854). In his solitude Ted wrote his odious Manifesto.

Kaczynski was also influenced by Thoreau's interest in Canada.

After the poet visited the country, he wrote A Yankee In Canada. Before the bomber settled in Montana, he'd trekked north attempting to buy land there.

After the Canadian Government rejected his application, Ted — with brother David — bought the property in Montana. It became his permanent address from 1971 until his arrest.

In Montana, he followed his life's pattern of forming few friendships.

As a child, he was mistrustful of the other kids. In high school, he was an outsider — " By the time I left High School I was definitely regarded as a freak by a large segment of the student body" he told Dr. Sally Johnson.

He also told her about building a small pipe bomb in chemistry. The fact that this gained him some notoriety — and attention — probably contributed to his actions later.

Ted Kaczynski in his college yearbook (AP)
Ted Kaczynski in his college
yearbook (AP)

Even in college he was antisocial. He recalled his inability to "fit in" in a student boarding house. There, he was agitated when he heard noises from other rooms — especially when the sounds resulted from sexual activity of other students.

He reported the noises in the naïve belief that the "university system" would stop all behavior that annoyed him. Predictably, his pariah status was simply enhanced — as was his paranoia. From then on, he was convinced his landlord poisoned the minds of others against him.

In reality, other students have a hard time even remembering Kaczynski. One only recalled that he would ignore them as he stomped to his room and slammed his door on them.

When Dr. Sally Johnson interviewed Ted's mother Wanda and brother David, it was revealed that the bomber constantly sought apologies from the family for the way he was treated by them. But no apology they came up with was acceptable or sincere enough to satisfy him.

In particular, Dr. Johnson noted an understandable sense of guilt on David's part, for feeling compelled to assist in having his brother arrested. Any closeness the brothers had was cut by Ted when David announced his marriage plans with Linda.

Ted damned all women, calling them manipulative.

Even in his small community in Montana, what little socializing he did was always on Ted's terms. In fact, it turned out he was a dangerous neighbor to have. Dr Johnson wrote:

"He reacted against individuals in the area by ruining equipment, stealing things, or attempting to harm individuals through use of wires and traps. His writings describe him thinking seriously about planning to murder a scientist in 1971. During the later 1970's, he began experimenting to create explosive devices that could succeed in killing individuals. He also describes thoughts of harming people whom he felt had humiliated him...[including] plans to mutilate the face of [a woman] after he felt she degraded him by her lack of interest in a continuing romantic relationship."

One of the few people who genuinely liked Kaczynski was Sherry Woods, a librarian in Lincoln, Montana. She described him to Dr. Johnson as "extremely polite, quiet and soft spoken, although she found his appearance as somewhat frightening at first..."

At one point, the librarian "noted that he patted her son on the shoulder twice, which is the only physical contact she ever saw him display over the 13 years of their acquaintance."

Dr. Johnson found Kaczynski's recurring theme of being verbally abused in childhood "inconsistent with the data he provided to support his point of view."

Dr. Johnson's report highlighted, above all, Kaczynski's determination to be considered sane. He was extremely distraught that his defense wanted to use his mental instability in court, saying "In particular I was led to believe that I would not be portrayed as mentally ill without my consent."

Kaczynski did concede, however, he would allow mental illness in the defense — but only if it would ensure an 80% chance of success. But he understood this was highly unlikely. He also understood that being sane — or competent — for purposes of standing trial was little more than understanding where he was, what he was charged with and what the penalty for the crime might be.

Dr. Sally Johnson submitted her report on January 17th 1998. She had diagnosed Kaczynski as a paranoid schizophrenic. This made him prone to delusions and, often, violence. She concluded, however, that he was mentally competent to defend himself, so the trial continued.


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