When Theodore Kaczynski was dragged out of his secluded Montana cabin 25 years ago today and put in the spotlight as the Unabomber who had terrorized academics and tech professionals since 1978, it turned out that this which ultimately led investigators to the former math professor was not DNA or a small mistake that blew up his cover.
Seven months before his capture, The New York Times and The Washington Post printed Kaczynskis’ 35,000-word manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, after the still anonymous Unabomber promised that the bombings that had already killed three people and injured 23 others would stop. To some extent it turned out to be a win-win, Kaczynski was able to vent his spleen, and his long rant on the evils of technology provided investigators with a plethora of clues that ultimately led to the door of Kaczynskis.
First, investigators determined that the Unabomber was someone who had a college education and had immersed himself in a philosophy book once or twice over the years. But, more specifically, the investigators were able to use a sophisticated forensic analysis of language, style, and punctuation in the essay, and they determined that Industrial Society and Its Future was written by someone familiar with the Chicago area newspapers from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Bingo. Kaczynski was originally from Chicago.
It was a treasure trove of linguistic evidence, said James R. Fitzgerald, an instructor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Psychology at the University of California, Pennsylvania, who has taught courses in forensic linguistics and perpetrator profiling. . Fitzgerald is considered a pioneer in the field of forensic linguistics and was a member of the UNABOM task force that brought Kaczynski to justice.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Kaczynskis’ arrest, Fitzgerald decided to donate the papers he accumulated during the investigation to the Pennsylvania Center for Investigative and Forensic Sciences in Cal U. The six overloaded boxes of papers, totaling about 6,000 pages, are now in his New Jersey home, and includes all of Kaczynskis ‘writings, right down to the letters he wrote to his brother and mother, and Fitzgeralds’ analysis of them. The material will likely be held at Cal Us Watkins Hall until it can be cataloged and digitized.
The gift of the papers arose out of Fitzgerald’s connection to Dr. John Cencich, a professor of criminal justice at Cal U. and a former war crimes investigator.
I just said, Hey, would you be interested in having them? Fitzgerald explained in a phone interview last week.
According to Cencich, the Unabomber case caught the nation’s attention and was one of the first high-profile cases to bring forensic linguistics into the mainstream. We expect these documents to be of great interest to criminal justice researchers, historians and students for years to come.
In addition to donating the newspapers to Cal U., Fitzgerald recently launched an eight-episode podcast, The Fitz Files Manhunt: Unabomber, available on Amazon. In addition, he is the author of a three-book memoir series, A Journey to the Center of the Mind. Fitzgerald has never spoken with Kaczynski, although he made an appointment to interview him at the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., Where he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Kaczynski stepped back, claiming he was busy that day.
In fact, Fitzgerald only saw Kaczynski once, on the day of Kaczynski’s conviction. Fitzgerald remembers Kaczynski looking at him with a long, deep, disturbing gaze, and Fitzgerald has no doubts if he had had a bombardment device available he would have used it.
The Unabomber case is the most high-profile case Fitzgerald has investigated, but he was also involved in discovering the identity of a deputy US attorney in New Orleans who was using the online comments section of the cities. Times-Picayune newspaper to denounce public figures and cases. The words that made in the loquacious prosecutor? Dubiety, redoubt, altar and coil, all from an 1869 poem by Robert Browning, and all words used by the prosecutor in legal documents.
We’ve all but ruled out Robert Browning, Fitzgerald joked.
There is software available that explores writing, such as that used by researchers to determine Elizabethan playwrights who may have collaborated with Shakespeare on his plays. Algorithms look at word choices and how often certain words are used. Software can also detect plagiarism in session jobs and essays. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald believes that software cannot completely replace humans who may notice subtleties and things like sarcasm or irony.
He still needs a human eye, Fitzgerald said.