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‘Unabomber’ Theodore Kaczynski, whose 17-year reign of terror killed 3 and injured 23 others, dies in prison at 81

Theodore Kaczynski and his cabin in Montana (Photos from the FBI)

Theodore Kaczynski and his cabin in Montana (Photos from the FBI)

Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the reclusive Harvard-educated mathematician dubbed the “Unabomber,” whose homemade bombs delivered to random targets over 17 years killed three people and injured 23 others, has died in prison at 81.

Kaczynski died at a federal prison medical center in Butner, North Carolina, Kristie Breshears, a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Prisons, told The Associated Press.

He was found unresponsive in his cell early Saturday morning and died around 8 a.m., she said, the AP reported. The cause of death was not immediately known.

The FBI and other investigative partners spent nearly two decades hunting down “this ultimate lone wolf bomber,” the agency said in its summary of the case.

He came onto the FBI’s radar in 1978 after his first primitive homemade bomb blew up at a Chicago university, authorities said.

Over the next 17 years, he mailed or hand-delivered increasingly sophisticated bombs. Killed were Gilbert B. Murray, Hugh Scrutton and Thomas J. Mosser.

“Along the way, he sowed fear and panic, even threatening to blow up airliners in flight,” officials said. “In 1979, an FBI-led task force that included 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.”

His identity remained a mystery for years despite a task force that grew to more than 150 investigators, analysts, and others searching for clues, examining recovered bomb components and studying the victims, which turns out were chosen randomly from library research.

“These efforts proved of little use in identifying the bomber, who took pains to leave no forensic evidence, building his bombs essentially from ‘scrap’ materials available almost anywhere,” the FBI said. “We felt confident that the Unabomber had been raised in Chicago and later lived in the Salt Lake City and San Francisco areas. This turned out to be true. His occupation proved more elusive, with theories ranging from aircraft mechanic to scientist.”

Even the gender was not certain.

The big break came in 1995 when the Unabomber sent agents a 35,000-word “manifesto” of the “ills of modern society.”

“After much debate about the wisdom of ‘giving in to terrorists,’ FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno approved the task force’s recommendation to publish the essay in hopes that a reader could identify the author,” authorities said.

The manifesto appeared in The Washington Post, and the FBI received thousands of tips from people who suggested possible suspects.

But one stood out.

“David Kaczynski described his troubled brother Ted, who had grown up in Chicago, taught at the University of California at Berkeley (where two of the bombs had been placed), then lived for a time in Salt Lake City before settling permanently into the primitive 10′ x 14′ cabin that the brothers had constructed near Lincoln, Montana,” officials said.

A linguistic analysis suggested the author of the letters his brother provided matched the manifesto’s author. Based on that, a search warrant was issued, and on April 3, 1996, investigators arrested Kaczynski and combed his cabin.

In the cabin, agents found bomb components and 40,000 handwritten journal pages that included bomb-making experiments and descriptions of crimes.

A live bomb — ready for mailing — was also found.

“Kaczynski’s reign of terror was over,” the FBI said.

He pleaded guilty in January 1998. He was sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years. He was incarcerated in an isolated cell in a Supermax prison in Colorado before he was transferred to North Carolina. He admitted to 16 bombings between 1978 and 1995, permanently maiming several victims.

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