Unabomber Wages Legal Battle to Halt the Sale of Papers
By SERGE F. KOVALESKI
Published: January 22, 2007
Nine years after he began serving a life sentence for the Unabomber crimes,
Theodore J. Kaczynski is fighting to reclaim more than 40,000 pages of his
writings and correspondence so he can preserve them in their rawest form for
the public to read.
Mr. Kaczynski, 64, is in a legal battle with the federal government and a
group of his victims over the future of the handwritten papers, which
include journals, diaries and drafts of his anti-technology manifesto.
The journals contain blunt assessments of 16 mail bombings from 1978 to 1995
that killed 3 people and injured 28, as well as his musings on the suffering
of victims and their families. The government wants to auction sanitized
versions of the materials on the Internet to raise money for four of Mr.
But, citing the First Amendment, Mr. Kaczynski has argued in court filings
that the government is not entitled to his writings and has no right to
alter them. The writings were among the items taken from his remote Montana
cabin after his arrest in April 1996. In a motion drafted in pen, he said he
planned to argue that the government had too much discretion under a federal
restitution law to confiscate writings.
The four victims pursuing restitution from Mr. Kaczynski were initially
reluctant to agree to the auction, fearing it could ghoulishly generate more
notoriety for him and further publicize their pain. But some were equally
horrified by the prospect of Mr. Kaczynski reclaiming his writings.
One of the victims, Gary Wright, a computer-store employee seriously injured
in an attack 20 years ago next month, said it was difficult for the four to
reach a consensus.
“How do you take four people and try to come to an agreement when they have
been wronged in different ways and are in different stages of healing with
different types of losses?” said Mr. Wright, now a businessman in Salt Lake
City. “I’m sure that emotions were running rampant and that people were
Mr. Kaczynski came to be known as the Unabomber after the Federal Bureau of
Investigation’s code name for the case, Unabom, coined because the targets
included universities and airlines. In his 18-year bombing campaign Mr.
Kaczynski seemed bent on thwarting the advance of technology, and his
victims included university professors, scientists and business executives.
One victim who is not seeking restitution, David Gelernter, a professor of
computer science at Yale, said in a letter to the court that he hoped “the
criminal’s property will be destroyed, or (if need be) sealed for a century
at least and then made available at no charge to scholars of depravity.”
A federal judge in Sacramento approved the government’s auction proposal
last August as a way for the group seeking restitution to collect some of
the $15 million it is owed by court order. But the judge ordered that any
references to Mr. Kaczynski’s victims be deleted.
Mr. Kaczynski challenged the deletions, asserting that they would violate
his right to freedom of expression, and that his writings should remain
A lawyer for Mr. Kaczynski, John P. Balazs, said his client wanted to donate
the originals to a library.
The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, which houses materials
on anarchism and other protest movements, already has a sizable collection
of Mr. Kaczynski’s more recent writings and of correspondence since his
arrest. Kelly Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the university, said that if Mr.
Kaczynski offered to turn over additional writings, the university would
examine them to determine whether they were suitable for the collection.
Among the documents that would be auctioned are letters that Mr. Kaczynski
received over 25 years at his Montana cabin from his brother, David, and his
It was David Kaczynski who led the F.B.I. to his older sibling. And while he
expressed support for the victims, he said he was distressed that private
family correspondence might fall into the hands of strangers and that the
government had not asked him if he wanted the letters.
“I’m in favor of anything that would help the victims,” David Kaczynski said
in an interview. “But in a personal sense, having these letters treated as
murderabilia is appalling to us. How do you balance the need for human
decency and dignity with doing the best thing?”
David Kaczynski said this would not be the first time that he had felt let
down by the federal government. The F.B.I. had promised to keep his role in
the case a secret and to give the family at least one day’s warning before
they arrested his brother. They did neither.
“I feel our family has a stake in preserving our privacy and dignity,” he
said, “but certainly our dignity is compromised by having our letters to Ted
transformed into letters of curiosity for some collector of celebrity murder
In the latest twist in a three-year legal battle over the writings, Theodore
Kaczynski is adopting a new strategy that could, one of the prosecutors
said, mire the case in the federal courts for at least another year or two.
Also known as Inmate 04475-046 at the federal maximum-security prison in
Florence, Colo., Mr. Kaczynski has asked an appeals court to assign him a
new lawyer who is an expert in First Amendment litigation. Otherwise, he has
told the court, he wants to represent himself in an appeal of the ruling
that authorized auctioning the papers.
In approving the auction, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. rejected Mr.
Kaczynski’s argument that the sale and altering of the original writings
would violate the First Amendment.
Because of the pending appeal of Judge Burrell’s ruling, the four victims
cannot receive, for the time being, the $7,025 the government collected
towards restitution from the sale of Mr. Kaczynski’s interest in his Montana
land, according to Ana Maria Martel, an assistant United States attorney.
Susan Mosser, whose husband, Thomas J. Mosser, was killed 12 years ago after
opening a package containing a bomb that had been sent to their North
Caldwell, N.J., home by Mr. Kaczynski, expressed indignation.
“Did he worry about the rights of Hugh Scrutton, Tom Mosser or Gil Murray,
from whom he took the right to live?” she wrote in an e-mail message sent
through her lawyer.
“Or the rights of the other fathers, sons, brothers, sisters or husbands who
were recipients of his bombs, and who suffered real, painful and genuine
irreparable harm? Or the rights of those who loved them?” asked Ms. Mosser,
who is one of the parties seeking restitution.
Mr. Kaczynski wrote prolifically. He was the author of a 35,000-word
manifesto that was published in The Washington Post seven months before his
capture. The New York Times jointly financed publication of the tract. Soon
after his arrest, Mr. Kaczynski appealed unsuccessfully to the Supreme
Court, arguing that his prosecution had been so tainted by news reports that
the government had forfeited its right to prosecute him. In January 1998, he
pleaded guilty to the federal charges against him.
In addition to Mr. Kaczynski’s writings, the government’s auction inventory
includes an assortment of more than 250 books from his cabin. The titles
include “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Roman Political Ideas and Practices” and
“Fundamentals of Analytical Chemistry.” Among the other items cataloged for
auction are bowstrings and arrows in a quiver, two axes, a scabbard and a
Montana driver’s license.
In a July 2005 opinion that led the prosecution to propose an auction, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the government’s
original plan for the sale of Mr. Kaczynski’s possessions “plainly fails to
serve the victims and their families.”
“Though the government purported to represent these individuals, we see
nowhere in the record their viewpoints and desires regarding the enforcement
of the restitution order,” the opinion said.
The court said its understanding of the restitution plan was that the
government would assign a value to Mr. Kaczynski’s items, deposit that
amount of taxpayer money into an account for the victims and keep the
property indefinitely. The ruling sent the matter back to the district court
and stipulated that if the government did not produce a reasonable plan to
maximize the monetary return to the victims, Mr. Kaczynski would get his
Ms. Martel, the assistant United States attorney, said the group of four
victims pressing for restitution initially had been unequivocal about not
wanting any of Mr. Kaczynski’s possessions sold.
“Every time there was a discussion about what we should do with the goods,
it was like opening a scab for them,” Ms. Martel said. “They were very
anguished that Kaczynski would receive more publicity, and that someone was
going to be buying his writings about taking pleasure in their suffering.
But it was clear that if they didn’t agree to an auction, it would all go
back to Kaczynski.”
The prospect of an auction also did not sit well with Mr. Gelernter, the
Yale professor who was severely injured by one of the mail bombs in 1993. He
filed a letter with the court in late 2005 in which he asked that the
proposed sale not happen.
“My wife and I are outraged that the court has decided to turn the sale of
this criminal’s property into a circus — or (more accurately) into a P.R.
bonanza, starring the criminal himself,” Mr. Gelernter wrote. “Why have you
decided to help vicious misfits with cash to burn lionize this evil
In a recent e-mail message to The New York Times, Mr. Gelernter said he had
nothing but pity and contempt for anyone who would bid on Mr. Kaczynski’s
items unless “they’re acting for a police agency or some serious research
project that seeks to rid the world of (not ‘understand’) such vicious
But he emphasized that the other victims had the right to “call their own
moral shots” and that he hoped that they received everything they wanted .
“God knows they deserve it,” Mr. Gelernter said.