Oct. 14-20, 2004
An Ethical Dilemma
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Brother of Unabomber Talks to Students About His Moral and Ethical Struggles
“In late August 1995, I got home from work and my wife met me at the door. She looked very upset and said, ‘David, you better sit down. Do you think that there is a remote possibility that your brother Ted is the Unabomber?’” That statement by David Kaczynski began a painful journey for him, his wife Linda, and his mother Wanda but would also end Ted Kaczynski’s 17-year siege of sending pipe bombs to innocent victims.
David Kaczynski, executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, spoke on Oct. 5 to 10th, 11th and 12th graders at Rome Catholic School –– not about his views regarding the death penalty, but about the moral and ethical dilemmas he and his wife faced when deciding whether or not to turn in his brother to the FBI. “I’m not here looking for validation or to convince you I did the right thing,” said Kaczynski. “You have to make your own decisions.” The students were quiet, captivated and reflective as they listened to Kaczynski talk about his brother’s horrific acts that killed three and injured two dozen others. Throughout the talk, Kaczynski paused and asked the students if they had any questions and would, in turn, ask them to consider what moral decisions they would have made if they had been in his situation. Kaczynski’s initial reaction to his wife’s question was one of anger and defensiveness. “Why would you think that?” Kaczynski asked his wife.
“There’s something new –– he sent a long document [known as the manifesto] to the newspaper demanding it to be printed,” she replied. Linda said that the letter talked of the evils of technology and Kaczynski remembered that his brother was obsessed with the topic. There were other similarities between the Unabomber and Ted Kaczynski. Ted had lived or worked at the locations where the first three bombings took place.
Kaczynski researched all the material written about his brother but could not determine whether or not he was the Unabomber until the Washington Post published the manifesto six weeks after receiving it. “I read it and was disturbed that I couldn’t tell my wife she was wrong,” said Kaczynski. “I felt chilled. My brother was deranged. He wrote very angry letters to my parents.” When Kaczynski wrote to his brother to invite him to his wedding, he received a 17-page letter in return, telling Kaczynski that he didn’t want anything to do with him. After reading the manifesto, Kaczynski said that while they didn’t find a smoking gun, he began to imagine Ted’s voice in the document. “One day, I literally came to the realization that my brother, a person whom I loved and grew up with, may be the Unabomber,” said Kaczynski. “Did you contact your brother at this point?” asked one student in the audience. “Not quite yet,” replied Kaczynski.
“Had you discussed this [your suspicions] with your parents?” asked another. “My mom was 79 years old. She worried about Ted. She loved him very much,” replied Kaczynski. “I was trying to protect her. I didn’t say anything to her yet. Do you think I did the right thing? Do you think she had a right to know?” Kaczynski asked the students. While Kaczynski posed this dilemma to the students, he spoke of another, more critical one. “We realized that if we didn’t say something, someone else could die. If we hadn’t done something we would have someone’s blood on our hands,” he explained. “But what if he’s executed? What would that be like, having my brother’s blood on my hands?” he said. “But the clock was ticking.” Kaczynski thought about going to see his brother. He felt that if he spent some time with him, he would know whether or not Ted was the Unabomber. But his wife strenuously objected so instead he wrote him a letter. “I told him of my love for him and tried to reconnect with him. Two and a half weeks later, I got a letter back,” said Kaczynski. “It said, ‘David, get this straight. You are no brother of mine. Stay out of my life.’ I realized he had gone over the edge. He was no longer in control. It was a matter of responsibility to do what we had to do to save a life,” he said.
Kaczynski and his wife decided it was time to call the FBI. At that time, the bureau was receiving 50,000 calls a month about the Unabomber case. The Kaczynskis contacted an attorney who knew someone in the FBI who acted as a liaison. They handed over some of Ted’s letters. For over two months, the couple worked and cooperated with the FBI, giving them details of Ted’s life. At that point, David’s mother was still unaware of her son’s suspicions and that soon her own life would change dramatically. Wanda Kaczynski was still living in Chicago. Not knowing if Ted would target his own family next, David and his wife pressured Wanda to move closer to them in Schenectady. “She finally sold her house and I went to Chicago to help her pack up the house. While she threw things to the curb that she considered garbage, I knew that she could be throwing away valuable evidence,” said Kaczynski. After finding out what day his mother’s garbage was scheduled for pick up, Kaczynski contacted the FBI. “The FBI would come by and pick up her garbage to use as evidence. But my mother caught on that her garbage was missing,” he said. “Worried about identity theft, she called the police and filled out a report.”
A week later Kaczynski got a call from the FBI telling him that they had moved Ted to the top of the suspect list. They needed to talk to his mother. “I went to visit her. She knew as soon as she saw my face that something was wrong. She didn’t know about the Unabomber case. As I told her about it, I started to cry. I worried whether or not she would still love me when I told her what I had done,” said Kaczynski. “I said, ‘Mom, I think Ted is involved. The FBI is investigating him.’” “That was truly a defining moment in my life. She got up from her chair, reached up and pulled me down and kissed me on the cheek,” he said. “She said, ‘David, I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through. I know you love Ted and wouldn’t have done this unless you had to.’” Two and a half weeks later, Ted Kaczynski was arrested. When he was apprehended in his Montana cabin, bombs were collected as evidence. After three trials that were started but never completed, as part of a plea bargain, Ted Kaczynski received life in prison with no chance of parole. Final sentencing took place on May 4, 1998.
“The tough decision we made saved someone’s life,” said David Kaczynski. Once a professor of math at the University of Berkley in California, Ted Kaczynski left society to live his life as a recluse in the woods of Montana. Ted was diagnosed with mental illness, including extreme paranoia. “The most logical mind became illogical,” said David Kaczynski. David and his mother continue to write to Ted in prison, although all of their letters are returned. The Kaczynski family received a one million dollar reward for the capture of the Unabomber. After the government took $250,000 in taxes, the Kaczynski’s set up a victim’s fund for the families affected by Unabomber. “What kind of treatment is he getting?” asked a student. “My mom is trying to find out. She’s much stronger than I ever imagined. She’s made calls to the prison but can’t get any information unless Ted signs a release. He’s not willing to do that,” responded Kaczynski.
Kaczynski said that his brother didn’t receive the death penalty because he had very good lawyers. “It stopped the violence. Violence is wrong. It should always be the last resort. Those left standing should always look for a better way,” he said.