Richard Stride Commentary: Looking Back at the Fear and Confusion Brought by Unabomber Ted Kaczynski


Ted Kaczynski died by suicide on June 10.

Some may remember him, some may not. I am fascinated by what makes people like Kaczynski turn to killing other human beings. Was he abused as a child? Did he have a diagnosed mental illness? 

The answer to the first question is no. As far as the second, probably yes.

There are some things I recall about his life. He had a high IQ, 167, scored while in fifth grade.  There are other things I didn’t know that I recently learned. According to The Chicago Tribune, a school counselor told his mother her son could be another Einstein. In junior high, he was correcting his algebra teacher. At age 16, he entered Harvard to study math. He graduated with his doctorate in mathematics in 1964.

He killed three people and injured 23 in 18 years of terror. It wasn’t until his manifesto was published by The New York Times and The Washington Post in September 1995 that the case began to break. Ted’s brother, David, suspected his brother may have been the author of the manifesto but wasn’t sure until he read it  himself. The writing contained a lot of anti-technology language that David and his brother Ted were familiar with because of their father’s skepticism of technology.

However, for Kaczynski, it was more than just a hatred of technology. In his diaries, his motivation is described as, “not hot rage, but a cold determination to get my revenge.”

Revenge for what, I ask? 

We know he was an isolated individual who had a deep bitterness toward society in general. He was seeking to liberate his fury at the world and a lost love. (You can read more about his lost love if you want to research it.)

Kaczynski was very methodical in how he planned his attacks. According to one source I consulted, “He wrapped his fingertips in plastic wrap to avoid leaving fingerprints. He spent hours sanding nuts and washers to remove any identifying signs. Kaczynski also treated postage stamps with salt water and soybean oil to make sure they bore no fingerprints.”    

According to the FBI, they led a task force that included ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 

The task force was formed to investigate the “UNABOM” case, code named for the university and airline bombings involved. The task force grew to more than 150 full-time investigators, analysts and others.

The task force poured through the recovered bomb components and the lives of the victims.  This effort, however, became fruitless because of the way in which Kaczynski chose such random figures and the pains he went through to not leave any traceable evidence.

“He was the most careful serial bomber anyone had ever seen,” according to Special Agent Kathleen Puckett, of the UNABOM task force, who is now retired. “We didn’t have any line to him except the letters he started sending in 1993. It was a bonanza of information.”

From the letters, the task force was able to glean information on his ideas, topics and books he studied. Puckett, who at the time was working on her doctorate in clinical psychology, said the letters also revealed things about his education, his age and his personality.     

One phrase in an essay written by Kaczynski in 1971, “the sphere of human freedom,” was the same phrase used in his manifesto. This phrase was spotted by another UNABOM task force member, Lead Agent Terry Turchie. The wording similarities were enough to issue a warrant to search the dilapidated cabin in Montana where Ted Kaczynski lived.

During the search, the FBI found thousands of handwritten notes and confessions to 16 bombings. His words were his undoing. They helped identify and capture one of the most elusive and prolific serial bombers in American history. 

It was very unfortunate that he couldn’t put his genius to helping humanity rather than killing.  He more than likely suffered from a delusional disorder. In this type of disorder, it is hard for a person to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Although there are several types of this disorder, grandiose and persecutory was probably the type Kaczynski had. 

Sadly, this disorder is treatable with therapy and medication.   


Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at