For the Greater Good
Since his arrest on April 3 at his 10-by-12-foot plywood shack near Lincoln, Mont., police have amassed impressive evidence: a live bomb, documents noting the names of Unabomber victims, and notebooks crammed with drawings of devices like the one used by the Unabomber. But if the mystery of the Unabomber's identity may have been solved, another question remains: How did a brilliant young man with all the advantages—a supportive family, a comfortable childhood, an Ivy League education—become a serial killer? And how could the same family produce Theodore and his younger brother David, 46—who turned his sibling in to the FBI and is apparently as upstanding as his brother seems twisted?
The two boys grew up in the 1950s in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, Ill. "The Kaczynskis were warm, intelligent, outgoing—not reclusive at all," recalls Joyce Johnson, 46, a neighbor who attended school with David. Theodore Sr., the father who worked as an engineer and died in 1990, enjoyed gardening, camping with the boys and playing horseshoes in the backyard with neighbors. Wanda, 78, his wife, fixed meals for neighbors who were ill, belonged to the local PTA and was, in fact, so concerned about her children's education that she began a neighborhood preschool. "Wanda and Theodore dedicated practically everything to the kids," says Dr. Leroy Weinberg, 75, who lived behind the Kaczynskis in Evergreen Park.
The only dissonance in the familial harmony came from Ted. Bonita Reed, 54, whose father often tossed horseshoes with Theodore Sr., recalls that on the few times she visited the Kaczynski home, Ted "was always upstairs by himself or downstairs by himself. He just wasn't mixing in the inner family."
There was no question that both boys were highly intelligent. Johnson's mother, Dorothy O'Connell, remembers Ted beating her and three other women at Scrabble when he was only 12. "We were flabbergasted," she says. "We were all pretty smart." But though David was "outgoing and social," she says, young Ted "wouldn't talk to you unless you drew him out." Ted skipped grades 7 and 11, but something was lacking. "Technically, Teddy was very good," says Jerome De Runtz, 55, who was in the high school band with Ted, a trombone player. "But there was a missing quality to his music. He didn't have the feeling." As for dating, says Russell Mosny, 54, a classmate of Ted's, "he didn't have a girlfriend. Math and physics seemed to be his love."
About the only time Ted called attention to himself in high school was when a batch of chemicals he had packed into a knot of paper and handed to a female classmate blew up in her hands. The incident was reported on the local news, and Ted was suspended briefly. David, on the other hand, who seemed as intellectual as his brother, also played baseball and basketball, and dated a classmate, Linda Patrik.
Little changed for Ted during his college days, first at Harvard, where he graduated in 1962, then at the University of Michigan, where he earned a master's in math in 1964 and his Ph.D. in 1967. Joel Shapiro, 55, now a math professor at Michigan State University, says he was humbled by his former classmate's genius for the abstract: "It was as if he could write poetry while the rest of us were struggling to learn grammar." However, notes Peter Duren, 60, who had Kaczynski as a student in 1962, "It was very difficult to carry on a conversation with him if it wasn't about mathematics."
When Kaczynski took a job as an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley in 1967, the math faculty had high hopes for their prodigy. But in a published review of professors, students described his lectures as "useless." He "refuses to answer questions by completely ignoring the students," one reviewer wrote. Former colleagues also suggest he may have felt overwhelmed by the political chaos that engulfed Berkeley in the '60s. Morris Hirsch, 62, a Berkeley math professor, does not recall Kaczynski taking part in antiwar demonstrations but says many math majors suddenly felt their work had little relevance. "I knew mathematicians who, after a few years, dropped out and joined the Sierra Club or got an MBA," he says. Some, he adds, "went back to nature."
Kaczynski, who resigned suddenly, chose the latter, rejecting pleas by the department head to reconsider. Eric Hickey, a criminology professor at California State University at Fresno who advised the FBI during its hunt for the Unabomber, sees Kaczynski's dropping out as a matter of necessity. "He's a man who couldn't compete with his colleagues," he says, "because when it came down to any kind of social skills, he didn't have them."
Kaczynski retreated to Montana, where in 1971, with his brother's financial help, he bought 1.4 acres of land five miles outside Lincoln and built a small shack. He became a man adrift, living in the late 1970s with his parents in Illinois and working with his brother there in a foam-rubber factory until David, a supervisor, was reportedly forced to fire him for harassment. He then may have briefly lived near Salt Lake City before settling down in his plywood-and-tar-paper sanctuary.
Most people in Lincoln viewed him as harmless though unwashed, a recluse who lived off a few hundred dollars a year, read exotic books in foreign languages, spoke only when spoken to, did odd jobs like selling tires in nearby Raynesford for Kibbey Korner Truck Stop, hunted squirrels and rabbits for food, and raised root vegetables. But aside from a reported brief romance in 1978, it was also in Lincoln that Kaczynski appears to have made his most intimate contacts. Danny Wood, now 13, is one of them. Three years ago, when a boy at school began mocking him for his grades, Danny was moping on a bridge over the Blackfoot River a half-mile outside Lincoln when the man he came to know as "Uncle Ted" bicycled up beside him. Sherri Wood, 46, the town librarian who met Kaczynski in 1984, says he had taken an uncharacteristic interest in Danny. That day, Ted advised him not to worry about the other boy. "He would tell me I had a loving dad, a good mom and a good home life," recalls Danny. "And he would say things like, 'You're really a smart boy, and right now the kids will be jealous of you. So hang in there, because you are really smart and you don't want to waste that.' "
Kaczynski's other pass at friendship seems to have been with a Mexican laborer his brother knew in Texas. Though Kaczynski never met Juan Sanchez Arreola, 68, of Chihuahua, he wrote Sanchez about 50 letters from 1988 to 1995. "I am poorer than ever, but I am in very good health, and that is more important than anything," he wrote in his last letter to the man he had addressed in previous notes as a "valued friend." Neither Sanchez nor Sherri Wood can believe Kaczynski might be the man whose 16 bombings have claimed three lives and left 23 injured since 1978. "I think Ted came from a heck of a good family who laid a good foundation," Wood says. "I kept thinking during church, 'Oh, Ted, how could you have done this? You had such great potential.' "
But it was his brother David, following in his older brother's footsteps, who would develop that potential in a positive way. He too earned an Ivy League degree—at Columbia in 1970—though in English, not math. He also tried his hand in academia and was a success teaching high school English in Lisbon, Iowa, for two years. "Dave really did a lot of extra things with the kids," says Jim West, a fellow teacher who played in a basketball league with him. "He also enjoyed being one of the guys, hanging out." Then, in the mid-'80s, using money he earned driving about six months a year for the now defunct Commuter Bus Systems in Lombard, Ill., David built his own cabin—this one on a five-acre parcel near Big Bend National Park in a remote part of West Texas. But unlike Ted, David sought out conversation whenever he rambled into town for supplies. "I never ran into anyone who didn't like David," recalls Father Mel LaFollette, 65, a circuit Episcopal priest who met David in 1984. "He was a person who enjoyed his solitude but also enjoyed being around people. When in a group, he loved to talk."
Over the years, as Ted burrowed deeper into his cocoon of isolation, David emerged. In 1990 he married Linda Patrik, with whom he had corresponded since high school, and moved to Schenectady, N.Y., near Union College, where she teaches philosophy. He took a job at Equinox, an Albany halfway house where he helps runaways find housing and counseling. "Dave is a good listener," says Mary Ann Welch, 49, who lives next door. "That's why he does so well working with young boys. It takes a nurturing person to work with those kids, and Dave cares about people." David joined a local Softball league, has published short stories in literary magazines and a few weeks ago brought his mother to live near him. Their father committed suicide in 1990 after learning he had lung cancer, but Ted's isolation was so complete that he didn't attend the funeral, saying in a letter to his mother that his father's death was not worth a trip.
After discovering old letters from Ted that resembled the Unabomber's treatise printed last September in the Washington Post, David's suspicions were aroused. But before going to the FBI, he sought the help of private investigator Susan Swanson, a friend of his wife's, who contacted Clint Van Zandt, a retired member of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. Comparing the writings, he and two teams of analysts found "similarities in theme, construction and word use," says Van Zandt. Wanda learned of the connection only last month. "She expressed her sincere belief that Ted could not be the Unabomber," says Anthony P. Bisceglie, a Washington attorney who contacted the FBI for David. "But she also stated that if he were, that he had to be stopped."
Neighbor Bob Welch, 50, says David and his wife have suffered not only the anguish of having to turn Ted in but also from the media assault that followed. "They don't deserve this terrible mess," he says. "They're solid gold. A lot of soul-searching went into this."
VICKIE BANE in Lincoln, MARIA EFTIMIADES in Schenectady, LORNA GRISBY and GRANT PICK in Chicago, GABRIELLE SAVERI in Berkeley, CARLTON STOWERS in Dallas, FANNIE WEINSTEIN in Detroit and MARGIE SELLINGER in Washington