September 21, 2023

‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski died by suicide in the prison’s medical center, AP sources say

Ted Kaczynski, known as the “Unabomber,” who carried out a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others, died by suicide, four people familiar with the case told The Associated Press.

Kaczynski, who was 81 and had advanced cancer, was found unconscious in his cell at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, around 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Emergency services performed CPR and revived him before transporting him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead later Saturday morning, people told the AP. They were not authorized to discuss Kaczynski’s death publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Kaczynski’s death comes as the federal Bureau of Prisons has gained more attention in recent years following the death of wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who also committed suicide in a federal prison in 2019.

Kaczynski had been incarcerated in the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, since May 1998 when he was sentenced to four life terms plus 30 years for a terror campaign that put universities across the country on alert. He admitted to committing 16 bombings between 1978 and 1995, permanently disfiguring some of his victims.

In 2021, he was transferred to the North Carolina Federal Medical Center, an institution that treats inmates with serious health problems. Bernie Madoff, the infamous mastermind of the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, died of natural causes the same year.

Kaczynski, a Harvard-educated mathematician, lived as a recluse in a dingy cabin in rural Montana, where he carried out a lone bombing campaign that changed the way Americans shipped packages and boarded planes.

His targets included academics and airlines, the owner of a computer rental company, an advertising executive, and a lobbyist in the timer industry. In 1993, a California geneticist and a Yale University computer expert were maimed by bombs within two days.

Two years later, he used the threat of continued violence to convince The New York Times and The Washington Post to publish his manifesto, a 35,000-word screed against modern life and technology, as well as environmental damage.

The tone of the treatise was recognized by his brother, David, and David’s wife, Linda Patrik, who tipped off the FBI, which had been searching for the Unabomber for years during the country’s longest and most expensive manhunt.

Authorities found him in April 1996 in a small plywood and tar paper cabin outside Lincoln, Montana, which was filled with diaries, a coded diary, explosive ingredients, and two completed bombs.

In 1998, while awaiting trial, Kaczynski attempted to hang himself with underwear. Although he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by a psychiatrist, he was adamant that he was not mentally ill. He eventually pleaded guilty rather than allow his lawyers to present an insanity defense.

Growing up in Chicago, Kaczynski skipped two grades before attending Harvard at age 16, where he published articles in prestigious math journals.

His explosives were carefully tested and came in carefully handcrafted wooden boxes that were sanded to remove any possible fingerprints. Later bombs bore the signature “FC” for “Freedom Club”.

The FBI dubbed him the “Unabomber” because his early targets seemed to be universities and airlines. An altitude-triggered bomb he sent in 1979 exploded as planned aboard an American Airlines flight; a dozen people on board suffered from smoke inhalation.

During his decades in prison, Kaczynski maintained regular correspondence with the outside world, becoming an object of fascination—and even reverence—among those opposed to modern civilization.

“He has become an iconic figure for both the far right and the far left,” said Daryl Johnson, a domestic terrorism expert at the New Lines Institute, a nonprofit think tank. “He definitely stands out from the rest of the pack in terms of his level of training, the meticulous nature with which he designed his bombs.”


This story corrects the expert’s last name in the last paragraph to Johnson.


Balsamo reported from Miami.

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