CALIFORNIA, Pa. (AP) —
When FBI agents arrested Ted Kaczynski at his remote Montana cabin 25 years ago today, they knew a lot about the famous recluse whose 17-year string of bombings killed three people and injured 24.
Much of what they knew, right down to the bomber’s unusual linguistic stylings, came from the work of James R. Fitzgerald, a now-retired FBI criminal profiler and forensic linguist who lives in Cape May, N.J. His analysis of Kaczynski’s writings helped lead to the arrest of the infamous “Unabomber” and helped elevate the field of forensic linguistics.
Soon, researchers and law enforcement experts from around the world will have an opportunity to tap a treasure trove of more than 6,000 pages of Fitzgerald’s professional papers on the case, which he is donating to the Pennsylvania Center for Investigative and Forensic Sciences at California University of Pennsylvania.
John Cencich, an associate criminal justice professor and former international war crimes investigator who heads the center at Cal U, said university officials are thrilled with Fitzgerald’s donation. The university plans to digitize the records. It also will make them more widely available to hundreds of researchers seeking a better understanding of forensic linguistics and its role in solving what had been the FBI’s most expensive investigation ever when Kaczynski was finally arrested on April 3, 1996.
Fitzgerald’s linguistic analysis that helped lead to the arrest of Kaczynski was highlighted in a 2017 Netflix series “Manhunt: Unabomber.”
‘Dad it is I’
Kaczynski, a brilliant mathematician and Harvard graduate who held a doctorate from the University of Michigan, managed to elude authorities for 22 years living off the grid in his tiny, rough cabin, while sending a series of sophisticated bombs that targeted people he believed were responsible for advancing technology to the detriment of mankind and the environment.
Fitzgerald, a retired FBI supervisory agent, was a pioneer in the field of linguistic analysis. He was working as an FBI criminal profiler in July 1995 when he was given a three-ring binder of the Unabomber’s letters and sent to San Francisco to work with the Unabomber Task Force.
On the flight to the West Coast, Fitzgerald stumbled across a hidden message in a letter Kaczynski left with a bomb that was delivered to a University of Michigan professor in 1985.
“Down the left hand column, the first letter of each word spelled out ‘Dad it is I,’” Fitzgerald told the Tribune-Review. “I didn’t know what it meant, so I took it to the bosses of the Unabomber Task Force and said what do you make of this?”
Fitzgerald said task force leaders had possessed the letter for 10 years and never noticed the message. They put him in charge of analyzing the Unabomber papers.
The investigation was ramping up that summer after the New York Times and the Washington Post received a 35,000-word manifesto from the Unabomber. The document detailed his grievances against industrial technology. He threatened to resume his bombings unless it was published. While the newspapers weighed whether to print the document, Fitzgerald scoured it for clues to the bomber’s identity.
The only image anyone had was a composite sketch of a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and mirrored aviator glasses taken from the description of a retail clerk who glimpsed him in Salt Lake City in 1987.
“In the summer and fall of 1995, the (Unabomber Task Force) had about 2,500 suspects — some named, some not, some just described,” Fitzgerald said.
On September 19, 1995, the Times and Post finally published the Manifesto investigators hoped would lead the Unabomber’s arrest.
Kaczynski’s younger brother and his wife soon reached out to law enforcement with copies of old letters and documents that seemed similar to the Manifesto.
Fitzgerald had returned to Quantico, Va., and was working at the FBI Academy there in February 1996 when the Task Force faxed him a 23-page document. They wanted him to analyze it and compare it to known Unabomber documents.
Fitzgerald said he read the document that was among the writings David Kaczynski provided and compared it with his then dog-eared, highlighted copy of the Unabomber Manifesto.
“Within a half an hour, I realized it was the same writer. I told them, ‘Either this is an elaborate plagiarism or you’ve got your man.’ They said it wasn’t a plagiarism,” Fitzgerald said.
While the writing style, spelling, formatting, punctuation, topics and themes matched up with the Unabomber’s known work, prosecutors said it still wasn’t sufficient for a search warrant — let alone an arrest warrant.
The missing link came later when Fitzgerald matched an unusual phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too” in a letter Kaczynski signed and sent to the Saturday Review in the early 1970s with the same wording in paragraph 185 of his manifesto.
“That became a star piece of evidence for his arrest,” Fitzgerald said.
Kaczynski eventually pleaded guilty in the bombings.
Now 78, Kaczynski is serving eight consecutive life sentences in a high security federal prison in Florence, Colo.
Tie to Cal U
Struck by the importance of linguistic analysis, Fitzgerald returned to the classroom and picked up a master’s degree in linguistics to go along with a prior master’s degree in psychology.
He retired from the FBI in 2007.
Over the last decade, he’s built a strong relationship with Cencich. The professor tapped Fitzgerald and his partner, Georgetown University linguistics professor Dr. Natalie Schilling, to help design the forensic linguistics master’s degree at Cal U.
Fitzgerald teaches several online courses in the graduate program, including “Seminar in Forensic Linguistics” and “Author Profiling and Threat Assessment.” He said he has become fond of teaching. His relationship with Cal U and Cencich led him to decide the school was the right repository for his papers.
Cencich said the online program routinely draws well-qualified students from around the nation, who compete for admission to study in the program.
Documents soon to become available through the university include copies of letters Kaczynski wrote to his mother and brother, his handwritten Manifesto, and an autobiography, journal and notes recovered from Kaczynski’s cabin in the Montana hills. The donation also includes Fitzgerald’s text analysis reports from the investigation and media reports of the investigation and Kaczynski’s arrest and prosecution.
In addition to teaching, Fitzgerald has penned three books in a memoir series titled “A Journey to the Center of the Mind.” He also is the creator, host and executive producer of a new podcast “The Fitz Files. Manhunt Unabomber.”