Year
1996
Month Day
April 03

Unabomber arrested

At his small wilderness cabin near Lincoln, Montana, Theodore John Kaczynski is arrested by FBI agents and accused of being the Unabomber, the elusive terrorist blamed for 16 mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 during an 18-year period.

Kaczynski, born in Chicago in 1942, won a scholarship to study mathematics at Harvard University at age 16. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, he became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Although celebrated as a brilliant mathematician, he suffered from persistent social and emotional problems, and in 1969 abruptly ended his promising career at Berkeley. Disillusioned with the world around him, he tried to buy land in the Canadian wilderness but in 1971 settled for a 1.4-acre plot near his brother’s home in Montana.

For the next 25 years, Kaczynski lived as a hermit, occasionally working odd jobs and traveling but mostly living off his land. He developed a philosophy of radical environmentalism and militant opposition to modern technology, and tried to get academic essays on the subjects published. It was the rejection of one of his papers by two Chicago-area universities in 1978 that may have prompted him to manufacture and deliver his first mail bomb.

The package was addressed to the University of Illinois from Northwestern University, but was returned to Northwestern, where a security guard was seriously wounded while opening the suspicious package. In 1979, Kaczynski struck again at Northwestern, injuring a student at the Technological Institute. Later that year, his third bomb exploded on an American Airlines flight, causing injuries from smoke inhalation. In 1980, a bomb mailed to the home of Percy Wood, the president of United Airlines, injured Wood when he tried to open it. As Kaczynski seemed to be targeting universities and airlines, federal investigators began calling their suspect the Unabomber, an acronym of sorts for university, airline, and bomber.

READ MORE: Why It Took 17 Years to Catch the Unabomber 

From 1981 to 1985, there were seven more bombs, four at universities, one at a professor’s home, one at the Boeing Company in Auburn, Wash., and one at a computer store in Sacramento. Six people were injured, and in 1985 the owner of the computer store was killed—the Unabomber’s first murder. In 1987, a woman saw a man wearing aviator glasses and a hooded sweatshirt placing what turned out to be a bomb outside a computer store in Salt Lake City. The sketch of the suspect that emerged became the first representation of the Unabomber, and Kaczynski, fearing capture, halted his terrorist campaign for six years.

In June 1993, a lethal mail bomb severely injured a University of California geneticist at his home, and two days later a computer science professor at Yale was badly injured by a similar bomb. Various federal departments established the UNABOM Task Force, which launched an intensive search for a Unabomber suspect. In 1994, a mail bomb killed an advertising executive at his home in New Jersey. Kaczynski had mistakenly thought that the man worked for a firm that repaired the Exxon Company’s public relations after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In April 1995, a bomb killed the president of a timber-industry lobbying group. It was the Unabomber’s last attack.

Soon after, Kaczynski sent a manifesto to The New York Times and The Washington Post, saying he would stop the killing if it were published. In 1995, The Washington Post published the so-called “Unabomber’s Manifesto,” a 35,000-word thesis on what Kaczynski perceived to be the problems with America’s industrial and technological society. Kaczynski’s brother, David, read the essay and recognized his brother’s ideas and language; he informed the FBI in February 1996 that he suspected that his brother was the Unabomber. On April 3, Ted Kaczynski was arrested at his cabin in Montana, and extensive evidence—including a live bomb and an original copy of the manifesto—was discovered at the site.

Indicted on more than a dozen federal charges, he appeared briefly in court in 1996 to plead not guilty to all charges. During the next year and a half, Kaczynski wrangled with his defense attorneys, who wanted to issue an insanity plea against his wishes. Kaczynski wanted to defend what he saw as legitimate political motives in carrying out the attacks, but at the start of the Unabomber trial in January 1998 the judge rejected his requests to acquire a new defense team and represent himself. On January 22, Kaczynski pleaded guilty on all counts and was spared the death penalty. He showed no remorse for his crimes and in May was sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years.

Tags
terms:
Crime

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

President Harry Truman signs Marshall Plan

On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signs the Economic Assistance Act, which authorized the creation of a program that would help the nations of Europe recover and rebuild after the devastation wrought by World War II. Commonly known as the Marshall Plan, it aimed to ...read more

U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, killed in plane crash

Ronald H. Brown, the U.S. secretary of commerce, is killed along with 32 other Americans when their U.S. Air Force plane crashes into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Brown was leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business ...read more

Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of kidnapping Lindbergh’s son, executed

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted in the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles A. Lindbergh, is executed by electrocution. On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the son of the famous American aviator who made the first solo, nonstop transatlantic ...read more

Pony Express debuts

On April 3, 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and ...read more

Nixon administration vows to "Vietnamize" the war

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces that the United States is moving to “Vietnamize” the war as rapidly as possible. By this, he meant that the responsibility for the fighting would be gradually transferred to the South Vietnamese as they became more combat capable. ...read more

Texas Ranger “Big Foot” Wallace born

The legendary Texas Ranger and frontiersman “Big Foot” Wallace is born in Lexington, Virginia. In 1836, 19-year-old William Alexander Anderson Wallace received news that one of his brothers had been killed in the Battle of Goliad, an early confrontation in the Texan war of ...read more

"The Louisiana Hayride" radio program premieres on KWKH-AM Shreveport

Even the most ardent non-fans of country music can probably name the weekly live show and radio program that is regarded as country music’s biggest stage: the Grand Ole Opry, out of Nashville, Tennessee. Yet even many committed country fans are unfamiliar with a program that, ...read more

ACLU says it will contest obscenity of "Howl"

The American Civil Liberties Union announces it will defend Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl against obscenity charges. The U.S. Customs Department had seized some 520 copies of the book several weeks earlier as the book entered the U.S. from England, where it had been printed. Poet ...read more

"Annie Hall" beats out "Star Wars" for Best Picture

The rise of the action-adventure blockbuster was on the horizon, but on April 3, 1978, the small-scale romantic comedy triumphs over the big-budget space extravaganza. At the 50th annual Academy Awards, held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Woody Allen’s Annie ...read more

Jesse James is murdered

One of America’s most famous criminals, Jesse James, is shot to death by fellow gang member Bob Ford, who betrayed James for reward money. For 16 years, Jesse and his brother, Frank, committed robberies and murders throughout the Midwest. Detective magazines and pulp novels ...read more

Confederate capital of Richmond is captured

The Rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia, falls to the Union, the most significant sign that the Confederacy is nearing its final days. For ten months, General Ulysses S. Grant had tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate the city. After Lee made a desperate attack against Fort Stedman ...read more

Congress authorizes privateers to attack British vessels

Because it lacked sufficient funds to build a strong navy, the Continental Congress gives privateers permission to attack any and all British ships on April 3, 1776. In a bill signed by John Hancock, its president, and dated April 3, 1776, the Continental Congress issued ...read more