BRIGHTON — In October 1995, David Kaczynski faced a terrible decision: Should he end a serial killer’s spree — even if it meant delivering his only brother to authorities who might seek that brother’s execution?
Kaczynski suspected that his brother, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, might be the Unabomber, who had killed three people and injured almost two dozen, primarily by sending them mail bombs. The Unabomber had waged his one-man war against his victims since 1978, justifying his crimes by claiming his victims were part of a technological conspiracy that would eventually destroy humanity, according to David Kaczynski. He suspected, however, that his brother’s crimes were rooted in mental illness, a suspicion that would later be confirmed when Ted Kaczynski was apprehended and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
David Kaczynski shared his riveting story Feb. 2 with students in two government-participation classes at Our Lady of Mercy High School. Kaczynski is executive director of the Albany-based New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. He said he has turned the sorrow over his brother’s crimes into a passion for ending capital punishment and reforming a justice system he believes is stacked against the poor, the mentally ill and people of color. He pointedly said that his brother escaped execution simply because he had “great lawyers,” whereas other defendants, who had committed less heinous crimes, had been executed after being poorly defended in court.
After federal authorities said Ted would be able to get medical treatment in a federal prison, David said he felt betrayed when he learned that they would seek his execution. Kaczynski noted that he had feared just such a scenario when he was contemplating contacting authorities. He added that he also feared how his mother would react to such a thing happening.
“Mom would know I was the one to deliver Ted to his executioners,” Kaczynski said.
However, his mother turned out to be tremendously supportive, he said, poignantly recalling how she made coffee and cookies for FBI agents when they wanted to talk to her about Ted.
“There were cookies on the tray, but obviously what was on the plate was unimaginable tragedy,” Kaczynski said.
Nonetheless, the possibility that he might save innocent lives was paramount in Kaczynski’s mind as he told the FBI he thought his brother might have written the Unabomber manifesto, an anti-technological screed that was published by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The papers published the manifesto because the Unabomber had said he would stop killing people if they did so.
After reading it with his wife, Linda, who had previously suspected that Ted might be the Unabomber, David compared the manifesto with letters his brother had sent him over the years. He concluded that Ted was the manifesto’s likely author, and the realization sent him into a deep depression.
“I was struggling to put together a person I knew and loved with a person who was capable of committing such horrific crimes,” Kaczynski said. He called Ted a “good big brother” who had never committed violent acts in his youth.
However, Kaczynski said, his brother — who was arrested in his one-room cabin in rural Montana — had few friends growing up, and had increasingly isolated himself from society and family over the decades. Shortly before his brother’s arrest, he added, Ted cut off contact with him and has to date refused to talk to or meet him or his mother.
“I think Ted was ill from an early age and being isolated made things worse,” Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski said he was surprised by the “thousands of letters” he received from strangers, thanking him for turning in his brother. He added that he hopes his work against the death penalty will change the way people think of his surname, which he once feared “would forever be associated with unspeakable violence.”