Students hear from Unabomber's brother

October 11 2007

In telling the story of his family’s journey through the death penalty system, David Kaczynski also told Indiana State University students of his brother, known as the Unabomber, who caused terror in America for 17 years.

Kaczynksi turned in his brother, Theodore Kaczynski in 1995.

“This is an incredible opportunity to expose students, who are likely to have a career in law enforcement or corrections, to a perspective they might not hear otherwise,” David Kaczynski said after speaking to a criminology class in ISU’s Holmstedt Hall. “As they go about their careers, they’ll think back and know the person that they’re dealing with has a family that cares about them.” Beginning in the late 1970s, bombs began being sent to universities and airlines by a man the FBI called the Unabomber. For almost two decades, that man terrorized the American public by killing three people and injuring 23.

In 1995, David Kaczynski said his wife, Linda, approached him with trepidation and asked if he ever considered the possibility that his brother was the Unabomber. She said there were similarities between the man the FBI wanted and his brother: Chicago and University of California at Berkley ties, a loner and against technology.

“I told her that just seemed unimaginable to me,” he said. “I’d never seen Ted violent.”

Yet, the family did have concerns about Theodore Kaczynski’s mental status and a psychologist said he could have paranoid schizophrenia. Later, after he was arrested and during a competency hearing, a psychologist would diagnose him with that mental illness.

When newspapers published the Unabomber’s manifesto, David Kaczynski read it and could hear his brother’s voice in parts.

“Emotionally, I felt very, very disturbed,” he said. “I said, there was one chance in a thousand that Ted wrote the manifesto. Linda was quiet and then said, ‘If there’s one chance in a thousand, maybe we should look into it.’”

They began comparing the manifesto to letters his brother had sent him and slowly he became more convinced. He and his wife began wrestling with what to do with the information: turn in his brother, who could die for the crimes, or wait and then perhaps another person would die. Either way, he saw blood on his hands.

“He always took care of me, looked after me,” Kaczynski said. “Now, 42 years later I was considering that my brother was a serial killer.”

When Kaczynski went to the FBI, it took time to get their attention.

Psychological profilers said the description of his brother was the Unabomber. Other agents looked at the physical evidence and doubted. After a few months, Kaczynski received a call that his brother was at the top of the suspect list. Federal agents arrested Ted Kaczynski on April 3, 1996, at a remote cabin outside of Lincoln, Mont., and found an original manifesto, bomb parts and a packaged bomb inside the cabin.

“It was a shock to hear the family name on national news, international news,” he said. “I realized at this point in history, the name would not mean anything good but murder, violence, madness.”

As they watched Ted Kaczynski being led from his Montana cabin, they saw an un-bathed man in tattered clothes whom they loved, but they also saw something more.

“I realized people would see him with very different eyes,” David Kaczynski said. “They would not see a man with mental illness; they were seeing a man who murdered and was violent.”

His brother never wanted the label or stigma of mental illness and attempted to fire his attorneys for using that as a defense. During the legal proceedings, family members tried to find a way to get the death penalty out of consideration. After his brother attempted to hang himself and a psychologist diagnosed him as schizophrenic, federal prosecutors became willing to make a deal.

Theodore Kaczynski pleaded guilty to the federal charges in 1998 and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at a federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colo.

He refuses to speak with or see his family, even though his mother regularly writes him letters. Ted Kaczynski has referred to his brother as a Judas Iscariot.

“I’d like to have a relationship with him,” David Kaczynski said. “He was always good and kind to me. In some sense, memories are all I have.”

Mark Hamm, professor in the department of criminology and criminal justice, said the school was fortunate to have David Kaczynski speak to the students, as he is a part of history.

“Ted Kaczynski is one of the major figures in the history of 20th Century terrorism,” Hamm said. “It is important to look at all aspects of terrorism and mental illness is one of those aspects.”

Students attending the lecture said they learned much.

“Coming into it, I didn’t really know anything about the Unabomber,” said Jessica Fraley, a senior criminology major from Indianapolis. “I was shocked to find out he was mentally ill. I didn’t know that. There were a lot of facts I didn’t know.”

Jimmie Johnson, a senior criminology major from Alexandria, agreed.

“You get a perspective of a man and his family,” he said.

That change in focus helps to see the different aspects.

“On news portrayals, people don’t see the human side,” he said. “They see the monster side on the news.”

Fraley said such lectures were good for students, especially those in the criminology department, which has been designated as a Program of Distinction as part of an initiative funded in part by the Lilly Endowment to recognize ISU's most prominent programs.

“It helps you see what really happens, what really goes on, especially in high-profile cases,” she said.

By telling his story and that of his family, Kaczynski, who is executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, said he hopes it opens the dialogue about the death penalty and mental illness in America.

“I wish more were aware of how seriously ill he was,” he said about his brother. “To me, he was just Ted. He was my brother, not a label in a book.”

David Kaczynski, executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty and brother of Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called "Unabomber," spoke to Indiana State University criminology students Oct. 10.

Contact: Mark Hamm, professor of criminology, Indiana State University, (812) 237-2197 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, (812) 237-7972 or

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Story Highlights

David Kaczynski, executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty and brother of Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called "Unabomber," spoke to Indiana State University criminology students, providing an inside look at one of the major figures in 20th century U.S. terrorism.

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