Ted Kaczynski, infamously known as the “Unabomber,” was found dead in his prison cell on Saturday morning around 8 a.m. at a federal prison medical center in Butner, North Carolina. The Bureau of Prisons spokesperson confirmed his passing, stating that he was found unresponsive early in the morning and was pronounced dead shortly after. The cause of his death remains uncertain. Kaczynski was 81 years old.
Kaczynski, a Harvard-studied mathematician turned domestic terrorist, had spent the past two decades in a federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. In December 2021, he was transferred to the federal prison medical facility in North Carolina. Kaczynski was serving life without the possibility of parole following his arrest at a primitive cabin where he was living in western Montana in 1996. He pleaded guilty to sixteen bombings that killed three people and injured 23 others between 1978 and 1995.
His journey to terrorizing the American public began when he started sending homemade bombs through the mail and by placing them in person at the locations of his targets. Kaczynski’s first bomb exploded at Chicago University. His targets were individuals whom he believed were contributing to the destruction of nature through modern advancements in technology.
In 1979, an FBI-led task force with the ATF and U.S. Postal Inspection Service was formed to investigate the “UNABOM” case, code-named for the UNiversity and Airline BOMbing targets involved. Eventually, the task force grew to more than 150 full-time investigators, analysts, and others looking at forensics and profiling the bomber.
The Unabomber’s attacks included the bombing of an American Airlines flight using an altitude-triggered device, leading to changes in mail delivery protocols and airport security procedures across the country. One of his most notorious threats was made in 1995, when he said he would blow up a plane departing from Los Angeles during the July 4 weekend, causing chaos in air travel and mail delivery. Kaczynski later dismissed it as a “prank.”
Kaczynski’s motives were outlined in his 35,000-word manifesto titled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” which ran in the New York Times and Washington Post in 1995, at the request of Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh, who had approved the joint-agency task force’s recommendation to publish the essay in hopes that the public could provide information identifying the author. The tactic paid off when Kaczynski’s brother, David, and sister-in-law, Linda Patrik, attributed the writing style to Kaczynski, tipping off the FBI and leading to his eventual capture.
Kaczynski was described as an unkempt loner who ate rabbits, lived without power, and rode his bike to the town’s library. After his arrest, authorities discovered evidence connecting him to the attacks including two completed bombs, explosive materials, journals comprising over 40,000 handwritten pages, and a coded diary.
During his trial, Kaczynski was strongly opposed to being viewed as mentally ill and attempted to fire his attorneys when they considered mounting an insanity defense. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to his crimes instead of allowing his attorneys to proceed with his defense.
At the request of his victim’s families, his journals were released by the government during his trial and revealed that Kaczynski’s described motive was “simply personal revenge.” The death of Ted Kaczynski marks the end of an infamous chapter in domestic terrorism.