When it came to big brothers, David Kaczynski always felt pretty fortunate. He wouldn’t have traded Ted, seven years his elder, for anyone.
“Ted was actually a really good big brother,” said David Kaczynski, whose memoir, “Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family,” will be published by Duke University Press on Feb. 6. “I can recount some instances where he showed unusual kindness to me. There’s a picture in the book of me as a newborn, with him leaning over me in my mother’s lap to give me a hug. It’s a charming photograph. You can see that sparkle in his eye. He’s in the present. But in his 20s and 30s, there’s a coldness showing that became deadly.”
On April 3, 1996, Theodore Kaczynski was arrested by the FBI in a rural cabin in Montana after David, living on Keyes Avenue in Schenectady at the time, told authorities he suspected his brother was the Unabomber, a name the FBI used in its search for a person suspected of serial bombings.
Ted was convicted of killing three people and injuring 23 others in a string of mail bombings spread over 18 years. Attorney General Janet Reno initially sought the death penalty in the case but after Kaczynski eventually pleaded guilty and accepted a plea bargain, he received life in prison without chance of parole.
David Kaczynski, who tirelessly worked to save his brother’s life and formed the nonprofit group New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, said he has never second-guessed his decision to put the FBI on his brother’s trail.
“I obviously had conflicted feelings, but when they arrested my brother they found another live bomb under his bed that was ready to be mailed,” said Kaczynski. “If we had not stepped forward someone else would have been killed or injured and we would have felt responsible. Coming to grips with that … well, we would have felt responsible. That would have been very difficult.”
When Kaczynski says “we,” he’s referring to himself and his wife, Linda Patrik, at the time a philosophy professor at Union College. It was Patrik who initially, after reading Ted’s anti-technology manifesto in the New York Times, began suspecting that her brother-in-law was the Unabomber. “Every Last Tie” goes through the couple’s early struggle with their suspicions, but the book is not written chronologically.
“It’s a fairly short book, about 135 pages or so, and it’s not told in a linear fashion, from our childhood to now,” explained Kaczynski, who began his professional career working with developmentally disabled adults and then served as assistant director at Equinox in Albany, a shelter for runaways and homeless youths. “Rather, it’s a story with four different portraits, broken up into four chapters, each one focused on a member of my family. The first one is about my brother, the second my mom, the third my dad and the fourth is about Linda.”
the last word
Now 66, Kaczynski said one of the reasons he wrote the book was to give his version of events, and then to stop talking about them and his fight against the death penalty.
“My story has always been told by others, and while the media were mostly friendly and I thought did a good job, this gave me an opportunity to tell my story and explore the memories I had of my family,” he said. “It’s also about how Linda and I faced this moral dilemma and arrived at our decision. I feel it’s a story worth telling, but at 66, at this point in my life, I won’t have to go to college campuses and other places and tell the story. I won’t have to tell it 1,000 more times. If people are interested they can read the book. We want to settle back, relax. Right now we’re looking for a more private life.”
Kaczynski grew up in the Chicago area and moved to Schenectady in 1989 after his wife had joined the faculty at Union. His mother moved to the area too, living in Glenville.
Kaczynski and Patrik, both practicing Buddhists, left Schenectady four years ago to work at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Buddhist monastery just north of Woodstock in the Hudson Valley. They have since relocated to the Southwest.
An English major at Columbia University, Kaczynski said the writing of the book came relatively easy to him.
“I had always found writing to be hard work, but in this case each chapter kind of came spilling out of me,” said Kaczynski. “Of course there was a lot of going back and revising, but each chapter didn’t take that long. It was a story that was ready to be told.”
Kaczynski’s publisher has scheduled a few dates for him to talk about the book next month before Kaczynski begins his semi-retirement as a public speaker.
“I’m not going on a national book tour, but Duke is bringing me to Washington and the New York City area because I realize this is the one chance I have to really get the book out there so people can hear about it,” he said. “But I’m not going to spend months promoting it. I’m going to try to keep it down to a couple of weeks.”
When Kaczynski was telling the Unabomber story and promoting his death penalty group, he often spoke at Union College.
Campus chaplain Viki Brooks remembers Kaczynski almost always had a captive audience.
“Students are very good at telling whether or not people are being genuine with them,” said Brooks. “David is very authentic, and they could see that. He’s a very gentle, thoughtful man.”
Michael Camoin of Albany, president of Videos for Change, is working on a film about David Kaczynski and others who have fought against the death penalty. In 2007, due in large part to Kaczynski and his group, the death penalty was revoked in New York.
“David is probably the most genuine person on the planet,” said Camoin. “I traveled with him all around New York, Oklahoma and Texas, and I’ve seen him speak at college campuses and other venues. He’s consistently the most engaging and honest person I’ve ever met. I guess the word that really resonates with me about him is decent.”
Kaczynski, who became estranged from his brother as Ted grew more and more reclusive in the 1980s, continues to makes overtures to meet with his brother. Ted, in a federal prison in Colorado, isn’t interested.
“I still write him letters every now and then but he’s never responded,” said Kaczynski. “His attorney has told me that he never wants anything to do with anyone in his family. He rejected our parents, he rejected me when he wouldn’t come to my wedding. Our estrangement probably began somewhere around 10 years before he was arrested.”
Since then, Kaczynski has dedicated his life to making sure something good comes out of his brother’s horrible actions.
“There’s a very good research out there that mentally ill people are not, on average, any more violent than people without mental illness,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m quite sure that my brother would never have committed those heinous crimes unless he had been very sick.
“I’m thankful he avoided the death penalty, but I’ve always felt this strong need to take this negative thing and bring something positive out of it,” Kaczynski continued. “Treating mental illness is important, and as a society we have to find ways to provide care and treatment, and make sure it’s affordable and available to everyone.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]