Ted Kaczynski, known widely as the Unabomber, was found dead in his prison cell Saturday morning, according to the Associated Press, which cited a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons. The 81-year-old, who was serving a life sentence in Colorado, had been moved to a North Carolina medical facility due to poor health. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Across nearly two decades of terror starting in 1978, Kaczynski fashioned 16 “increasingly sophisticated” bombs, which he then mailed or hand-delivered, killing three people and injuring scores more. The name, “Unabomber” derived from a six-letter acronym used by the FBI’s taskforce investigating the cases, UNABOM, the “UNA” being a reference to some of his targets, university campuses and airliners.
Kaczynski was finally captured in 1996, a year after he sent the FBI a 35,000-word manifesto that was published by the Washington Post and the New York Times, causing family members to tip off authorities. He pleaded guilty in 1998, and was sentenced to a Supermax facility in Colorado.
Kaczynski’s deadly spree, and the accompanying manhunt, reverberated for decades through American politics and culture. The current Attorney General, Merrick Garland, oversaw the case against Kaczynski—a high-stakes investigation that made a lasting impression on the then-prosecutor. He described the raid on Kaczynski’s Montana cabin to students at the University of Chicago Law School in 2017: “You can read about criminal law as much as you want,” he said. “But sitting around a table trying to figure out whether you have enough probable cause to search the cabin—that was a really complicated problem.”
Kaczynski’s stated desire to attack industrialized society was seized upon by some in an attempt to link his crimes to the environmental movement at large. In 2012, the ultra-conservative Heartland Institute (described by environmentalist Bill McKibben as the “nerve center of climate change denial”) put up a billboard near Chicago that compared anyone who thought climate change was real to Kaczynski, in an attempt to show that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” The billboard screamed, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” in giant, crimson letters. (Heartland eventually removed the billboard.) The group also wanted to feature the faces of Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and Osama bin Laden.