Retired FBI agent Jim Fitzgerald. His work with forensic linguistics is the primary reason the Unabomber was caught, stopping 17 years of mail bombs and the injury and death that resulted. Listen to find out how long he was on the case before it was solved and the inside scoop on how the FBI got their man. We’ll also and fact check and hear behind the scenes stories on his TV series Manhunt: Unabomber. Be sure to watch it on Netfilx.
Traci Brown: Thank you so much, James. You are awesome. I am so excited to have you here on Truth, Lies, and Coverups. Now, you are James R. Fitzgerald, and you’re the only James R. Fitzgerald who is an FBI guy. Here’s why I’m so excited to have you and what the audience needs to know. You’re the dude. You’re the man who ended up coming up with the information to catch the Unabomber. I can’t wait to talk about it because you’re a pioneer in forensic linguistics. You’ve written a couple of books, several books, A Journey to the Center of the Mind, was it 1, 2, and 3? Is that right?
James Fitzgerald: That’s correct. Yes. So far. Book 4 in process.
Traci Brown: And I binged your show on Netflix which is Manhunt: Unabomber. You also have an audiobook, the Fitz Files, which is fantastic. I love it. Thank you so much for coming!
James Fitzgerald: Well, Traci, it’s great to be here. I’ve heard your podcast before. You come highly referenced from mutual friends in the podcast world, so I’m glad to be here with you and talk to you, and of course, the listeners and even viewers who may be watching this on Zoom.
Traci Brown: Oh, yea, yea, for sure. Okay. I’m trying to figure out where to start. Because, let’s just jump into the Unabom case. I’m a body language expert and I’m so fascinated by knowing more than is immediately obvious about people. This UNABOM case took 17 years to solve. What year did you come into the investigation? Let’s talk about that. How did you get there first? Because you were . . . in the TV show they called you a graffiti team cop? It wasn’t very flattering, and then all of a sudden, you end up on the UNABOM, so what happened?
James Fitzgerald: Yea, it’s amazing what Hollywood does when they take your stories. Of course, I interviewed the director and the writer on the Fitz Files, and they really had a lot of information on how they synthesized my whole story. They had copies of my first two books. Book 1 is about growing up in Philly, the adventures of a profiler as a young man and then going off to state university and then the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. It ends there. All Book 2 is my 11 years as a police officer in Bensalem township. Book 3 of A Journey to the Center of the Mind starts off on the first day at the FBI Academy in Quantico and it lays out my next seven years in New York City. Manhunt: Unabomber sort of skipped over that whole part. It went from Fitz to graffiti cop to UNABOM Task Force, but there was a whole seven years in New York City. But it’s interesting, I do put in Book 2, again, this is my police officer years, that for about two years there was a bad political scene in my Bensalem Police Department in suburban Philadelphia. I was a detective sergeant, but the one chief came in and fired the other, politics came. The other chief was then fired, the other one brought back. I was really being screwed with and they found one way to screw with me, even though I was a detective sergeant, I had almost completed my Master’s at Villanova University, but I wasn’t important enough to work any real cases. I’m the boss of the detectives, but they only allow me to work graffiti and criminal mischief cases, broken windows, whatever, at least for a while, that was my assignment. They eventually put me into the evident locker, but there were a number of goons and other very questionable character people in charge at this one time, and they really tested my mettle back then, and I fought back and wound up hiring a lawyer, suing them, changed the politics of the whole department, and it’s been great ever since, and then I left a year and a half later to join the FBI. They didn’t realize the whole time I had also applied to the FBI and went from there. So then, Quantico, 16 weeks of training. New York City, night robbery squad, kidnappings, you name it, all kinds of violent crime cases within the five boroughs of New York, and then I put in for a promotion at Quantico to the profiling unit. I get appointed there. Twelve more weeks of training there in behavior, crime scene analysis, concepts of profiling. Interesting that John Douglas, we all know John Douglas, one of the founders of criminal profiling, he was retiring. This is now June of 1995, and I’m just starting as a profiler. Remember, he did a two-hour presentation, one of his last presentations as an FBI agent and certainly profile, was on the UNABOM case. I had no idea. I was weeks away from being assigned to it full time. It was interesting, the passing of the torch from Douglas to me, even though technically we didn’t know there was a torch involved at that point. Yea. I go out to San – they wanted a profiler in San Francisco for 30 days, and I said, I guess I can do 30 days in San Fran.
Traci Brown: Because you’re away from your family, right?
James Fitzgerald: I was. I had been away already. The show, Manhunt: Unabomber, it’s a little confusing. There are some temporal issues there, as well as spatial, in terms of where I am with my family because I had actually moved from suburban Philly to Virginia to be a profiler, then they shipped me out to San Francisco, so I wasn’t right there. I know there are some scenes in the mini-series and I explain this in the Fitz Files where my then wife or my kids, walking to the office, or whatever, and it wouldn’t have happened quite that way. But yea. I get shipped out to San Francisco for 30 days and on the way out I found an acrostic.
Traci Brown: What is that?
James Fitzgerald: You know what an acrostic is.
Traci Brown: Actually, I don’t. That’s a new word.
James Fitzgerald: It’s actually an older term going back well into the history of literary devices and literature. It’s basically a hidden message that’s generally written vertically on a page, in other words from top to bottom, like the very first set of letters, where the first letters in a paragraph could be the last letters on lines and paragraphs, but it’s usually the first letter. I found on one of the early UNABOM letters, the 1985 letter to Dr. McConnell, on the flight out I was gearing myself up to learn everything I could about UNABOM on the flight from DC to San Francisco. I had this big thick three-ring binder and I just put it down about a half hour from landing and just opened to this one letter. I’m kind of tired from reading all these things for comprehension purposes. I just kind of looked back and in a way, this is kind of a skill I have, I can’t truly explain it. I don’t say I have a photographic memory, but it seems sometimes my brain can take a picture of something.
Traci Brown: Oh, cool.
James Fitzgerald: I’m kind of looking at this document, again this 1985 UNABOM letter to a University of Michigan professor to trick him into opening a package in which a device is located, an explosive device. I look at this thing and taking kind of a mental picture, and there in the left-hand column what do I see, “Dad, it is I.”
Traci Brown: Wow. Oh, that’s . . .
James Fitzgerald: Let me check some of these other documents. Alright, nothing like that on these so far, and the plane is slowly coming in for a landing, and I had to close things up. But I walk into the office like the second day I’m there, getting over my jet lag, whatever. Hey boss, blah, blah, blah, nice to see you, Fitz. Here’s your office. Here’s your desk. Work with this person. By the way, what do you guys think of the 1985 letter, “Dad, it is I.” What are you talking about? This is 1995, by the way, 10 years after that letter was received and sent to the lab for all kinds of analysis.
What are you talking about?
This is the big boss. I said, well, Dad, it is I. It’s called an acrostic. Lewis Carroll, the author, used to use it, E.E. Cummings, I think, Edgar Allen Poe, they would hide it in poems, and things like that. I actually showed him a copy of the letter.
We never saw this before. Hey, get the team together right now in my office.
They get me in, and he hits a speaker call for the Department of Justice in DC, they get the top lawyer assigned to the UNABOM case.
Hey, we got this new profiler here. Did anybody ever see, Dad, it is I? Fitz, tell them what it means.
I’m sitting here, brand new, not knowing anyone else in the room. Well, I’m not exactly sure what it means.
Traci Brown: Right.
James Fitzgerald: But this is a clue that language may mean something to this guy. He may have daddy or parent issues of some sort. We didn’t know Ted Kaczynski from Adam at this point. We’re just generally trying to figure out who is this guy who’s been successfully bombing and killing people now for 17 years. The bottom line is, I’m talking to people in headquarters, I sound like I’m a new profiler, I know that people when they write and communicate their true nature and their life history in many ways will come out, and it’s detectable if you know what to look for.
This is amazing. So, he must have a father issue.
I said, well, it’s possible. Long story short, the phone call ended. The big boss, Jim Freeman, the special agent in charge, looked at me, Fitz, you’re in charge of all the documents here, the manifesto we just received. I know you’re a profiler. You can do your profiling stuff too. But I want you to focus on all these documents and find this data because no one has seen this in 10 years.
Traci Brown: Wow. Now, let’s . . . Can I just back up just a little bit? Let’s back up a little bit. Because, did you have . . . ? What was your Master’s in? Wasn’t it something in linguistics? Did I get that wrong?
James Fitzgerald: You’re in the right church, but you’re still in the back of the church.
Traci Brown: (Laughing).
James Fitzgerald: My first Master’s was in Organizational Psychology. That’s from Villanova University. I attained that while I was a police officer. So, I had a decent background in psychology and organizational psychology, etc., and I brought that with me to the Profile Unit. That certainly was a plus. But besides a two-hour training block at the Academy by a fellow FBI agent named Sue Adams in the field called Statement Analysis, and I as very fascinated with what she had to do and what she was teaching. She eventually got a PhD. She does a lot of work with 911 calls nowadays. I said, oh, this is pretty interesting, pretty interesting, the concept of yea, language does mean something.
Let me go back a little bit in my New York FBI days, I worked a lot of cases with bank robbery notes and other, kidnapping type notes. The kidnappings were almost always bogus. They were like drug ripoffs or someone’s paying off their indentured servitude from one country to another. But I would still look at these notes and I would assess them and I would connect some of them that we didn’t connect in other ways. I always felt an affinity and an interest and a talent, quite frankly, in analyzing language, even from sort of an amateurish perspective. In case we forget later on, yes, I did go back to school in 2000 for five years at Georgetown University and I attained my second Master’s degree in Linguistics.
Traci Brown: There we go.
James Fitzgerald: For the whole UNABOM case, I had no formal academic training at all . . .
Traci Brown: Really?
James Fitzgerald: In language science, linguistics. You know what I would do? I would go to the bookstores and even within the FBI they had the old-fashioned dictionaries. Most people go online now, but they were thick books. The first 20 pages of a dictionary is a really good summary of language and how it works and the English language. I would actually pick up a few different dictionaries when I got the UNABOM. I’ve got to learn, how does language even work? I mean, I know we express, we receive, there are different languages, there are 6,000 languages around the world. That’s interesting, but I’m only worried about English for now, native English speakers, non native, but very preliminary, very early in my career what I realized is there is a whole science behind this stuff. This is 1995 and 1996. I had never heard the term forensic linguistics. I had never used it while on the UNABOM case. It came up in the mini-series because the writers just add things like that to it.
Traci Brown: Sure.
James Fitzgerald: That concept was around. There were some academic types in the U.S. and in the U.K., working with language and working with defense attorneys, working in the corporate world, trademark, copyrights. I didn’t coin the term forensic linguistics. Someone else did, but it wasn’t long after UNABOM when I started working with people, if they weren’t actually linguistics, they were working the area of language analysis and I realized that term and it just sort of mushroomed. I became the FBI’s expert after UNABOM, whether I really wanted that or not. But I didn’t really consider myself an expert in the field until 2005 when I actually picked up my diploma.
Traci Brown: Oh wow, but you figured it out. That’s what I love. That’s so cool. Let’s talk, because there was a . . . I mean, the story, you can find it online anywhere, but basically there was a manifesto that he wrote which was . . . like what was it? It was really long.
James Fitzgerald: Well, he never called it a manifesto. The media used that word and really the rest of us did too. He called it his article. He, of course, is the Unabomber. We didn’t know his name yet.
Traci Brown: Right.
James Fitzgerald: Oh yea. I had these numbers memorized after all these years, 35,000 words, 57 pages, 212 paragraphs, 26 notes.
Traci Brown: Oh my gosh.
James Fitzgerald: A corrections page in the beginning, single spaced, by the way, typewritten on a 1930s Smith-Corona typewriter. It wasn’t the easiest missive to read and to try to get through in one day, very dense, very well written grammatically, a rich vocabulary, references to other scientific principles that the Unabomber referred to in his writings, but I found I could not go more than half of it, which was 27 pages or so, per day. I would come in on a Monday and read the first half of it, and then stop and then come in the next day and start with whatever that paragraph is, 110 or something, and take it from there. He numbered every paragraph too, which made it convenient for reference purposes.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: He numbered every page. He was really nice to us in that regard. Hey, did you see paragraph 77? If you look at paragraph 180 . . . mix things up that way, instead of just . . .
Traci Brown: So, you’re reading this. What are you looking for? What are four or five things that you’re just like, these are the things we need to look for. Is that how your mind worked? How did you go about it?
James Fitzgerald: Yea. Because I had some basic training, not basic training military wise. The FBI put me through profiling school for 12 weeks, a two-hour course on Statement Analysis, but there are other notes and letters and interviews with serial offenders that I witnessed, videos of them, whatever, so to me, I realized there are about half a dozen profiles already made of this guy. John Douglas was the author of most of them. He really wasn’t far off, but he didn’t really have the benefit of the manifesto which gave us so much more insight to the heart and soul, not to mention the mind, of our UNABOM person. It’s one thing having ruse letters. The first two letters were ruse letters to trick the recipients of the packages to open them, but then starting in 1993 the next 12 letters, including the manifesto, were all ideologically based on the Unabomber’s part. We were really trying to dig into what was honest, what was truthful, what was legitimate, what was not, what was a smokescreen, what was misinformation, what was being said, and just as importantly, what’s not being said. I’m using the word “said” here in terms of verbalization.
Traci Brown: Sure. Written. Yea.
James Fitzgerald: What’s written and what’s not written. In my first three months there, my first stint at the task force was from early July through mid-December of 1995, unlike the mini-series I was not fired from the task force or thrown out.
Traci Brown: Okay.
James Fitzgerald: It was just time. I had finished my 30 days there, extended to three and half, four and a half months, I think, and my bosses Quantico said, we need you back here too. Then I went back in February and everything came together at that point. But what I was looking for were just clues of this person’s personal makeup. He was an excellent writer, made no mistakes. If he did, he crossed them, he x’d them out with the old-fashioned typewriter.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: And just wrote a word or two afterwards, but there were really no punctuation or spelling errors, grammatically written, complex and compound sentences, well-defined beginning, middle, end. He doesn’t even focus on the bombings. There is only one quick reference, I forget through all these years exactly what paragraph, I think in the 80s or 90s. The evils of technology, the evils of the industrial revolution, and then that paragraph just ends, and for this reason, we had to kill people. Okay. That’s it, the only bombing reference.
Traci Brown: Did it say “we”?
James Fitzgerald: Oh yea. Everything throughout was plural pronouns. But Douglas, and then once I got involved, we were convinced it was actually one person. The “we” pronoun is very common.
Traci Brown: What would lead you to that?
James Fitzgerald: First of all, bombers are usually solitary individuals. They tend to work on their own. Not a terrorist group, of course, or the Irish Republican Army back in their heyday, but if you’re having an individual bomber with no claim to any real known terrorist organization or ideological organization, in almost every case, they’re just one person. Also, the writing style from the earliest letter in 1980 to Percy Wood, the President of United Airlines, that was one of his first victims involving a letter. The writing style was all the same. The typewriter was always the same. The laboratory confirmed that for us. These were the works of a loner. These were the works of an individual isolated from society. No one, Douglas, me, anyone thought this guy was living in a cabin in the middle of the woods in Montana, but we were pretty sure he didn’t cope very well in society. If he had a job, he was kind of in the corner of a warehouse counting widgets or maybe designing, building little things. We felt he was clever, and he was good with his hands because his bombs were well constructed.
Traci Brown: Can we talk about that really quick?
James Fitzgerald: So, they couldn’t be identified back then. Go ahead.
Traci Brown: I tried to look up online this morning how those bombs worked. I actually couldn’t find anything. I imagine it’s because people didn’t want to like publish a how-to, but can you give us like a clue on how they worked? Because it seems like there are a lot of different ways to open a package.
James Fitzgerald: Sure. The key . . . they were basically pipe bombs, which of course you have a piece of pipe, you put explosive material in between, you add a detonator, a fuse, a power source. You, of course, screw the ends on tight, and if you want to make it even more deadly, which the Unabomber did as time went on, he put broken glass around it, shrapnel, little tacks, so they were designed to do nothing but rip flesh, and he was very successful in his later bombings. There was a plunger device, a little spring mechanism in each one that when either the box was opened, a lid came up, or somehow it moved, flipped over upside down, that’s when the power source hit on the fuse, which then went into the detonator, which then caused a little tiny bang which then hit the explosive material, the whole thing blew up. It was all tightly packed in a pipe or something like that and it had to have some way to escape and that’s when it scattered into a thousand pieces. That’s how the device was put together. Ammonium chlorate, I believe, was one of the main devices he used, which is commercially available, but when we finally raided, arrested him, and opened up his cabin and took everything out of there, including the bomb-making materials, we found a whole thick binder of his experiments with a label at the top of each page, experiment #105, experiment #222. I mean, it actually went up that high. These were all chemical formulations and quantity of materials, batteries, tape, glue made from deer hooves, that’s how he made his glue to put these things together. Again, no fingerprints at all, no traceable evidence found in any of these devices. It’s the paradigm, or maybe juxtaposition is the better word, the fact that his devices were so pristine of any sort of forensic evidence, anything which could link him to any part of the country or any sort of occupation or personality, whatever, all that we knew is they were now being strictly mailed from the San Francisco Bay area. That’s the only spatial context we had. Where I was going with this was the bombs were pristine, no fingerprints, DNA, hairs or fibers, nothing about them, the labels, the wrappings, nothing. But here at my second month at the UTF, the UNABOM Task Force, this is around August of 1995, I’m getting more in-depth into some of his writings, the Unabomber’s writings, some letters he’s sending to the New York Times, and I’m all of a sudden saying, whoa, he’s giving some autobiographical information here even in an indirect form.
Traci Brown: Oh.
James Fitzgerald: That is a letter that he wrote actually to a Yale professor, one of his victims who lost part of his hand, salt on the wound a couple months later, he gets a little in the mail addressed to him. It wasn’t a bomb this time, but it was a very snarky, nasty letter to him criticizing a book he wrote. He was a computer scientist, the evils of computers, whatever, but in that particular letter, it starts off with something like, I guess people without advanced degrees don’t count. Okay. Interesting. In the next paragraph, about 10 lines later, apparently if you don’t have a college degree, you’re not smart, people don’t think you’re smart, or you don’t think we’re smart. If you read this, it was very carefully worded, perfectly constructed grammatically, but the person who’s written this, the Unabomber is really saying, I don’t have one, an advanced degree, and two, I don’t have a college degree.
Traci Brown: Right.
James Fitzgerald: Now it’s written in a negated form, and not just a declarative sentence. I don’t have a college . . . but I’m looking at this and saying, alright, by reading this, this guy is telling us he doesn’t have any college education, or at least not a degree. Wow, he’s giving us really one of our first clues about himself, but then it hit me again, wait a minute, if this guy is leaving no trace of who he is on the devices themselves, the bombs, why is he now volunteering this information here. That’s when I coined a term. I didn’t make up this word, but I think I’m one of the first to apply it to linguistic analysis, and that is, this is a contraindicator, meaning this is against indications. Whatever is being written here is purposely being inserted and worded this way to point in sort of an opposite direction.
Traci Brown: To throw you off.
James Fitzgerald: Of who the person really is. I went back and looked at some other letters of his, and one to the New York Times in the same 1994 timeframe said, so we have a deal to offer – again, always we. This is when we first started talking about publishing the manifest and I’ll cease from bombing if you publish my article. But we have a deal to offer because we’re getting tired of going into the Sierra Nevadas after work and on weekends to practice our craft, meaning to work on his bombs. All bombers always have practice runs they do. Whenever I go on the media about a current serial bomber case, I say, alright, the first one you think you have, there are other ones before that, in the woods, in an abandoned warehouse somewhere, that’s what you have to look for, that evidence. We knew the Unabomber at some point was practicing these things, but why volunteer he lives in California near the Sierra Nevadas, okay, the mountain range, and why tell us that essentially, he has a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday job? We said, either he’s not working, or he works a late shift, including weekends. This guy is too smart to give away even these little clues. I get it. Your listeners may be saying, what would that really tell you? It doesn’t give his name and address. Yea, but you know what, when basically every male in the U.S. is your suspect, adult male, to know that someone probably now has an advanced degree at some level, Master’s, maybe PhD, and that he doesn’t live in the Sierra Nevada region, and he doesn’t have this type of a job. Guess what, you just narrowed your suspect pool down. No, it doesn’t give a name or address, but guess what, when other investigators come to you, other FBI agents or whomever from around the country, hey, we have these 10 guys on our list here, they have this interesting background. Alright, who doesn’t live in California, and who does have an advanced degree, that’s the person who’s your priority. It doesn’t mean you go out and arrest them based on that, but you can prioritize that person. You kind of asked early on this whole question, what was I looking for? It was features like that that I could see to be almost autobiographical and what also was autobiographical from another negated sense, in all of his writings he never wrote about having kids or being a parent or even in a relationship. We heard a little bit about women and men and women, but you could tell it was almost from an amateurish perspective, that this guy really didn’t know – and again, no one’s expecting him to tell us his wife’s name or his kid’s names, whatever, but there is no reference to that at all. We started really focusing our profile on this guy, not only is he not in a current relationship, but he maybe never has really been in one and doesn’t have any kids either because of this. That’s one part. There are some other things I can go into, but maybe you have a question.
Traci Brown: I do have a question. Do I look like I have a question?
James Fitzgerald: You do. A big question mark.
Traci Brown: Yea, on the top of my head. Here’s what I’m curious about. In the Manhunt: Unabomber show, it seemed like the agency, or at least your bosses, were kind of against you in this whole thing. I was wondering if they wrote that in for the drama of it, almost like you had this cute little thing you were doing, and they didn’t really give you a lot of respect for what you were doing and how you were approaching things, because there were other people approaching it from different ways as well. Can you speak to that just a little bit?
James Fitzgerald: Yea. I mentioned that in the Fitz Files and in my third book, A Journey to the Center of the Mind, the whole last long paragraph is my role in the UNABOM case. I got along relatively well with the bosses at the UTF, the UNABOM Task Force. There were one or two people there, part of the team, they invited me into their team. I was a supervisor, a supervisory special agent, so I was part of their management team. We met every morning. There were one or two times that I had some discussion, there was at least one person on the team who didn’t want the manifesto published, and I was one of the first ones to come forward and say, I think it should be. There is enough idiosyncratic and distinctive language. Someone is going to recognize this somewhere. This person definitely thought it shouldn’t be. Then months later when Kaczynski was identified, this same person, nah, it’s not Ted Kaczynski. It’s not him. I said, I don’t know. I read everything that the family is giving us, his known writings, and boy, this stuff matches up as close as it can be. But no one was ever thrown out of a room, certainly not me, or asked to lean the task force. I think if the big boss assigned me and put me in charge of all the language issues, all the writings of the UNABOM case, but I was doing other profile related matters while there, and of course, I’m a brand-new profiler. This was my first case coming out of the chute as a profiler, it was UNABOM, going on for 17 years. What the heck am I going to do for this case? Although it was going to be solved within nine months of me showing up there. But again, that was always a team effort. I never pretend otherwise in that regard. But I was proud to be put in touch with and in charge of the language evidence. Yet, even then we had a prosecutor assigned to the case, Steve Freccero, I mention him in the book. They used his real name in the mini-series. He had some skepticism. He’s a lawyer. He’s looking for evidence.
Traci Brown: Sure.
James Fitzgerald: Probable cause to make an arrest, to get a search for a warrant. There are different thresholds there, and we were hoping to get an arrest for Kaczynski but we never felt that we had quite enough, and of course, there was that scene that I capture in my book. It’s well captured in the mini-series. In real life, I was actually sitting at my desk with my feet up, reviewing document T137 of the known Ted Kaczynski documents that the mother and the brother were turning over to us. This is like late March of 1996. All of a sudden . . . I should give a little bit of background. In paragraph 185 of the manifesto is just a benign, regular paragraph on the evils of technology and all of that stuff and it ends with, but you can’t eat your cake and have it too.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
James Fitzgerald: I picked up on that and I actually ran it by someone at the Task Force. Yea, we saw that, whatever. I said, well, whatever, this is really unusual. This is pre-internet. I guess the internet was around, but there wasn’t a whole lot of searching you could do on it back in 1995 or 1996.
Traci Brown: Yea. It was kind of brand new to the world then.
James Fitzgerald: You can’t eat your cake and have it too. I’d heard that. I actually did a – I’m not sure back then how I did the research, but there was like an old big book I found somewhere on song lyrics and bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” has the term, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, the expression. There’s an old Four Season’s song, and they’re singing, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. That’s how we say it.
James Fitzgerald: That’s how we say it. I did find some other references and I said, this guy made no mistakes in his manifesto at all except this one. Then, I was just starting to tell you, I’m sitting at my desk, March of 1996, my feet are up. All of a sudden, this letter comes in, routine. I’m not the first one to see these copies. I number them. I pass them off to my team that I was in charge of to search through all the other UNABOM documents. I’m just coming to the end, ready to put it on the pile, and there it is again. “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.” Except this letter to the Saturday Evening Magazine from the early 1970s was signed by Theodore J. Kaczynski.
Traci Brown: Oh.
James Fitzgerald: Now we have a name within two inches at the bottom of this letter to the editor that luckily his mother or brother saved all these years later, and that was our link. That’s when I ran down to Steve Freccero, the prosecutor. I actually said, let’s meet in the boss’ office. I called everyone together. Remember this, paragraph 185 from the manifesto. Yea. Can’t eat your cake. Look what I just found on T137. That’s when a bunch of holy S’s came out.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: The prosecutor said, I think we know have our linguistic smoking gun. I forget if he said that or someone else. I said, I think we have enough for a search warrant, even if not an arrest warrant, but a search warrant for the cabin. Let’s write it up. Then, of course, that’s when CBS News got involved. There was a leak in the case, and we had to rush everything within three days to get it there. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the mini-series showed where we had I think Dan Rather supposedly gave Director Freeh one day to put everything together. Dan Rather was nice enough to give us three days.
Traci Brown: Oh, nice guy.
James Fitzgerald: To put everything together.
Traci Brown: Wow. So then, was it . . . because you had other people that were kind of in mind too. All of sudden, you get this smoking gun. Was it just, let’s go to Montana, or how did that?
James Fitzgerald: People forget that. I’ve even had experienced investigator around the country. . . well the brother gave him up, right? I said, yea. Alright, so you’re working some bank robbery cases. A guy calls you. Yea, my brother is committing the bank robberies. Do you go out and arrest the brother without probable cause? No. You have to build your case, especially a case like this, which was under the microscope. The manifesto had been released. Yea, in the summer of 1995, we had 2,500 separate suspects in the UNABOM case.
Traci Brown: Wow.
James Fitzgerald: Not everyone had a name attached to it. These are calls we get. These are guys were in military demolition or law enforcement, bomb squad guy, or whatever, and they basically all washed out. I actually got sent back because the suspect pool started dwindling. I was sent some documents when I was back in Quantico in January and February of that year, early February, then finally this sort of infamous 23-page document got sent to me, faxed to me. I was told nothing else about it, and that’s when I saw that document as basically an outline. I said it’s either an elaborate plagiarism or it’s basically the outline of the manifesto written years later. They said, you’re coming back. It’s not a plagiarism. It’s you’re coming back to San Francisco. But yea, there were other suspects. None of them all that good. There was a professor in Chicago. I forget at what school, Northwestern or University of Chicago. He read the manifesto when it was published in the Washington Post, and he was convinced he had a student from the 1970s that wrote just like that. He lived in suburban Chicago and our profile from Douglas and me too, later on, we were sure the Unabomber’s roots were Chicago.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: We sort of determined that because a serial offender almost always, almost, not all the time, but in many cases strikes in his comfort zone, his area of familiarity, and the first four bombings originated in Chicago.
Traci Brown: Oh, really. Okay.
James Fitzgerald: In the UNABOM case, from 1978 to 1980. The writing style was determined to reflect Chicago area newspapers from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
James Fitzgerald: So, we have that. Then this professor just was insistent, but he didn’t have the student’s name. I think he may have been retired. He kept some of his records. I think some of his records were lost either in a flood or a fire. But he went to the kid’s house and met his parents, so the agents in Chicago drove him up and down every street in these neighborhoods he thought this kid would have lived. It may have been that house. We found out who lived there 20+ years ago.
Traci Brown: Oh gosh.
James Fitzgerald: It was whole . . . he was like our biggest lead for about three months. Then finally, I forget what happened at the end, but this professor just started speaking gibberish and he told someone, well, he was never that convinced it was him after all, but there is some like nail on his coffin, figurately speaking. I said alright, this has been a wild goose chase.
Traci Brown: Goose chase.
James Fitzgerald: Nothing there.
Traci Brown: Oh my goodness. Wow.
James Fitzgerald: Other names, here, there, and the other. I remember it was the Zodiac Killer. I would have this discussion with people there. Was it a Dungeons and Dragons person, that game that now is a video or is played online, but it was more like a board game back then, but interactive. These fraternities would play each other. Was it retired law enforcement? Was it retired military? Was it a laid-off airline mechanic? There was a whole quad set up because there were a bunch of airline mechanics laid off in the late 1970. Airlines were the early bombing victims, including Percy Wood, the President of United Airlines. There was a whole squad of like five agents when I got to the task force, that’s all they did, every laid-off airline mechanic. Of course, the bombs are put together with tools and someone with mechanical insight, whatever.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: We were looking into that too. But all of those names fizzled. They would give me some writings of these people if they got them, known writings, and I would say, nope.
Traci Brown: Not the same.
James Fitzgerald: As the manifesto.
Traci Brown: Wow. So, the FBI goes out there. You’re back in your office. Do you know, the scene where they pulled him out of the cabin, was that about accurate or was it. . . did it go that way? Do you know?
James Fitzgerald: That was a big argument I had. Because one thing in law enforcement, you never claim an arrest you didn’t make. I have a guy from the Bensalem PD now, he wrote a comment on my book. He was one of the good squad members. He’s claiming to make an arrest of a priest that I actually made myself. You learn early on in law enforcement, you can say some things about your career, whatever. I just tell the truth in my books and all. But you don’t like about an arrest you made. Here the writers of Manhunt: Unabomber, they wanted to have me the on the door dragging him out, my character, of course played by Sam Worthington. I fought them tooth and nail and said, do not show that scene. I do not want it. I was not in Helena at the time. They kept me back to do last – I was doing important stuff – last minute editing and admissions to the warrant we were putting together and the probable cause affidavit. My job was just as important as the guy. The scene they showed, they did bring in a local park ranger. He did know Ted. They had met over the years once or twice. It was a very logical way of discussing property lines and all that stuff. But yea, so I lost the argument, because as you know if you listen to the Fitz Files or read my book, there was no interaction, Fitz had no interaction with Ted Kaczynski. It didn’t happen. No FBI agent did. They sat with him a few hours after the arrest. He just went off and never. . . He didn’t want to talk to his attorneys, Kaczynski didn’t, in the first few months they were assigned to him. But I lost that argument. We have put two A-list actors. We have got to put you in the same scene. Alright, alright, whatever. But don’t put me on the arrest scene. The arrest, how it went down, was pretty logical. Now the only thing is, they have Kaczynski portrayed, of course, by Paul Bettany, sitting in like a tent, and he’s watching some closed-circuit TV of the robot going through.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: He may have seen the robot because there was a robot on the scene. When I say robot, this was a mid-1990s, not that sophisticated bomb-seeking robot that could be controlled remotely. He probably saw that when he came out of his cabin in handcuffs, but they made it a little more dramatic in the series.
Traci Brown: In the show, yea.
James Fitzgerald: But I will say about the series, if you take out the scenes – there are a number of scenes with Fitz and Kaczynski – they pretty much got everything else right. I always tell people for a Hollywood production, it’s about 85% accurate. Just take out those scenes. The writers were clever. These were questions I would have asked Ted when I was going to interview him in 2007, a long list of questions, in some of the scenarios the Fitz character laid out, portrayed by Sam, were off the list of questions and my interview strategy, which never happened by the way. Ted cancelled at the last minute. This was long after he was arrested. So they did kind of borrow from what I would have asked him, and they had the writings of Ted from his cabin, his autobiography, and some of the things that were in those documents, those writings of his, they put it into Paul Bettany’s mouth to speak as the Unabomber.
Traci Brown: Ahh.
James Fitzgerald: Even though the scenes were fictionalized, they did borrow from real life, but just different contexts and they conflated the two. But they made sure, I made sure, I said, in fact, I will back out of this whole affair and I won’t have anything to do with it if you insist that Fitz is there making the arrest, because that’s one thing you don’t do in law enforcement. You can brag about other things, whatever, but there’s one police – in fact, his son is on this PD now, and they still talk about this thing, and it’s just an out and out lie. It just shows you the lack of integrity some people have. That wasn’t going to be Fitz in this mini-series. The interview scenes that go by, which I really, I still fought against, but they were relatively benign. I understood the dramatic element behind there. I know you’ve listened to the Fitz Files. I think the director and the writer explained those scenes really well.
Traci Brown: I really enjoyed them.
James Fitzgerald: What it meant for the audience to kind of be brought into the mind of both people. I also want to throw in here too, it’s important. The other two scenes, I didn’t really know about, and they may look like minor, but if you look in the very beginning of Manhunt: Unabomber, Traci, you have this bearded guy with long hair living in the woods, carrying a dead rabbit, and everyone is supposed to think that’s Kaczynski.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
James Fitzgerald: You find out that’s Fitz because Fitz was so disturbed after the arrest of the Unabomber, he got so much in his mind that he had to go off and live in a cabin by himself. Never happened. Literary license.
Traci Brown: Wasn’t you.
James Fitzgerald: Wasn’t me. I had no PTSD then or now. If anything, I’m a beach guy. I like living at the beach. Put me in my beach house in southern New Jersey. No, no, no. We had that cabin. The other thing is, maybe episode – was it five or seven? I forget. But they have Fitz take his two older sons to a movie.
Traci Brown: Yea. I knew you were going to say that.
James Fitzgerald: And he gets paged. He goes to pay phone. Kids, I’ll be right back. I’ve got to run into the office. I never lived near my office back then. My kids didn’t. That’s one part of it. The next thing you know, Fitz is on the floor at his office with a circle of papers around him, because this is when the alleged 23-page document, which I referenced earlier in our talk, came in. The next thing you know . . . then somehow Fitz’s wife comes into an FBI-controlled space.
Traci Brown: Right.
James Fitzgerald: I’m not sure how that would happen either. Then she starts giving it to him, deservedly so, if it actually happened, but.
Traci Brown: But it didn’t.
James Fitzgerald: For the record, I never abandoned my kids. They were older, like 14 and 11 or something. They weren’t like little kids. But I said, I never did that. I never would do that. My kids got a kick. Dad, I don’t remember that, if that happened. I said, no, it didn’t.
Traci Brown: It didn’t.
James Fitzgerald: They realized how the whole thing worked out. Through the big personal scenes, I wanted to make sure your listeners know, it did not happen.
Traci Brown: Oh yea, yea. You’re a good guy. We know that. Okay. One last question. That cabin. Because you got to see the cabin, didn’t you?
James Fitzgerald: Which cabin? The real one or the Hollywood one?
Traci Brown: Did you see the real one?
James Fitzgerald: Oh yea. In my book and on my website, JamesRFitzgerald.com, under the Fitz Files tab I have a bunch of pictures from each episode, either from the Hollywood version of the story or the real life version. Yea. I actually compare. I put next to, on the website, and I have a PowerPoint that I do, pictures of me at the Kaczynski cabin in April of 1996. I did show up in one scene three days later. He was arrested April 3rd. I was there April 6th. I was part of the team that was going over all the documents we found in the cabin. Others removed it, and everything, with gloves, and they went to the laboratory for fingerprints. We got the first copies of that. It was my job to review 1,000 separate documents inside the cabin.
Traci Brown: Oh boy.
James Fitzgerald: I was inside there. I later got pictures of the cabin before it was all . . . just like the bomb stuff, the dangerous stuff was removed, but nothing else. They took some good pictures, like left wall, right wall, front wall, back wall, and I had those too. I provided those to the set decorator. Again, if you listen to Fitz files, we had the property master and set decorator, two very different jobs, and two very interesting people in putting together something like a mini-series such as Manhunt: Unabomber. They were so appreciative of the pictures I sent them of the outside, as well as the inside. It even had a schematic of the measurements. They were appreciative. I’ll tell you, there were two premier parties in July and I guess early August of 2017, and they had the cabin at both of them, the fake Hollywood cabin, of course. They transported it from New York to LA. It was amazing. I saw it on the set too, but it was amazing in Atlanta, because everything was shot in Atlanta, but it was amazing what these guys did and how they made it look. The only thing they told me they made it a little bit higher because Paul Bettany in real life is about 6’3”. Kaczynski was only 5’10”. They made the ceiling a little bit higher. They made two separate cabins, one where a wall could come out. They could slide it out on a track and hook the camera up and shoot the interior shots.
Traci Brown: Right, right.
James Fitzgerald: But the other was the same size and it didn’t have the removable wall. I’m sorry, it wasn’t the same size. It was about 2 feet wider. The actual cabin was 10 x 12. I think the Hollywood one was 12 x 12.
Traci Brown: Wow.
James Fitzgerald: Just so they could get a camera in a little bit more. But if you look on my website, Traci, and of course, whoever is watching.
Traci Brown: JamesRFitzgerald.com. I think I remember it.
James Fitzgerald: Tab for Fitz Files.
Traci Brown: Yea. I went there, and I did see it. Here’s my question about it. There did not seem to be any insulation and there did not seem to be any windows, or at least meaningful windows. Was there heat in there? What happened?
James Fitzgerald: Yes. There was insulation and one window. Ted and his brother, David, built it together in 1972. They use some kind of – I’m not sure, fiberglass asbestos insulation, but they definitely, he knew enough that they needed insulation inside it. It had no running water, no electricity. This was truly living off the grid. We use that term now, before it was probably used back then. He did have a woodburning stove, so a simple stove with a chimney that came out the roof. He would chop his own trees down, obviously in the warmer weather. He would stack them up, and they would be ready for the colder weather, when it got very, very cold. Most of his writings and the building of the bombs took place in the cold weather because there wasn’t a whole lot he could do. He would sort of go out and hunt, but he wrote in his diary, in his autobiography, there were days he actually couldn’t open his door because the snow was built up so high. Luckily it did open inwards, but he had to be careful the snow didn’t come in. While he would use nature outside for his, shall we say his bathroom needs, in the coldest days in winter, he had a hatch in the floor of the cabin.
Traci Brown: Oh, really.
James Fitzgerald: And that was only a 10 x 12 cabin.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
James Fitzgerald: The hatch was about 2 foot x 2 foot, and that’s where he would, shall we say fertilize the ground immediately beneath the cabin. He lived. He was a true believer. He not only talked the talk. He did walk the walk. I agree nothing about him killing people. I get asked this all of the time and I’m sure one of your questions – was he right about some of the things that he posited, and he proffered in the manifesto? You had to say, sure, he was. We see now where technology is going and how it controls us and how much they propagandize, put certain stories in, keep certain stories out, everything is fact checked, whether it should be or not. I’m not even getting political here, but just . . .
Traci Brown: Yea, totally.
James Fitzgerald: Kaczynski was right and others before him predicting this sort of Big Brother future. We’re in it. There are some dangers that he pointed out. If only he didn’t kill people, he could have gone a lot farther with what he was postulating at the time.
Traci Brown: Okay. One last question. You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. Do you think that the Unabomber would have been caught without you?
James Fitzgerald: I would be very selfish and immodest to say, no. I would say it’s certainly possible. At the very end of my third book, I do write some FAQs and one of them is, would the Unabomber have been caught if Dave Kaczynski, his brother, did not turn him in? I wrote there, I’ll just summarize it here. Yes, I had a project in mind that I had talked to people in the UNABOM Task Force about. It would have been a long-term project, not real sexy, and pre-internet it would have been tricky and difficult, but we would have searched. We knew this guy wanted to be published and we would have searched all the archives for artifacts of anyone who was writing about the evils of technology, the disaster of the Industrial Revolution, where people should live in tribes, and it turns out he did write a number of letters to editors in different magazines, journal. It would have been tricky. We would have a list. Here is one more. Now we have 20 different people in the last 30 years who have been writing these kinds of letters. Let’s start breaking them down, looking at the linguistic element of it. That would have been me or someone else, but maybe someone would have found the letter to the Saturday Evening magazine where it ended about the environment and the evils of what we’re doing, blah, blah, blah, air pollution, and then you can’t eat your cake and have it too. But I’ll tell you what, his identification and arrest would only have come through his language. He was too smart to leave fingerprints, DNA, anything like that on his devices, his mailings, whatever. It would only have to come through a linguistic analysis, whether highly advanced, whether mid-level, whether lower. What I did was probably somewhere in the middle. Looking back now as a qualified court expert in the area of forensic linguistics, there are some things I would have done different, but nothing would have changed the outcome. It would have only strengthened the ultimate outcome and probable cause that the language of the 50-page probable cause affidavit that I authored. Yes, he would have been caught without me. I did not arrest him by myself. It was an FBI team effort. But I am very proud the boss recognized an interest of mine, a skillset of mine, and mixing that in with my behavioral and investigative background, the skillset and expertise would have been my interest in language and how I’ve always been an amateur linguist even before I was a professional one, and that they recognized that and said, to their credit, Fitz, you’re in charge of language analysis of this case. Pick the team you want, and I did pick some good people to work around me, agents, analysts, and together we put this 50-page document together that brought down the Unabomber. But I am glad to be the one that found that, “Dad, it is I.” I am glad to be the one that found “You can’t eat your cake and have it too”, the second version of it. Those type of things really helped cement this case and convinced us that language can solve crimes. It can also exonerate people. I’ve worked a few cases in which someone was arrested, and they thought he was guilty of a crime, and I said, let’s look at the language here. No, no, he’s not.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow.
James Fitzgerald: Yea. A case out of New Orleans that got a lot of headlines back in 2012. And other cases too over the years, other linguists that worked them, to put people behind bars that deserve to be and to provide exculpatory evidence, if that’s necessary too.
Traci Brown: Are you doing a lot of speaking these days? What’s . . . ?
James Fitzgerald: Yea. I didn’t tell you upfront, but if you heard the end, I think you said you’re still working at the end of the Fitz Files, at the very end of the Fitz Files I made an announcement. I said a few things about the victims of the case. I think it’s important we do these kinds of shows, and we talk about the victims too. You asked me some very specific and pointed questions, and that’s fine, but every true crime case, they’re fun to talk about, this bad guy, and how did the police do this . . . but sometimes we gloss over the victims. There were three victims murdered in this case by Kaczynski and 25 others seriously injured. I make an announcement about that. My other announcement at the very end is that I am retiring from all things UNABOM at the end of this year.
Traci Brown: Are you really?
James Fitzgerald: Traci, you are one of my last UNABOM interviews I’m doing. It’s been 25 years. I’ve written. My third book has 200 pages in it about the UNABOM case. I worked with The Discovery Channel for Manhunt: Unabomber, which is now on Netflix. I’ve done the Fitz Files on Manhunt: Unabomber. So what I’m telling people is my website is chock full of information. I’ve donated all the UNABOM papers to the California University of Pennsylvania, and they’re about to go online in the next week or two.
Traci Brown: Oh wow.
James Fitzgerald: Check those out at Calu.edu. What I’m telling people is after this year and my last few UNABOM interviews, if you can’t find the answers to your questions and everything I just mentioned . . .
Traci Brown: (Laughing).
James Fitzgerald: You probably want to write a letter to Ted Kaczynski and ask him.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. Okay.
James Fitzgerald: Otherwise, I think I’ve answered it and made it as clear and factual certainly as I know. That’s my logic. It’s been 25 years since his arrest. This year marks the 25 year anniversary of his arrest. I’m still giving talks. I’m still going around the country, mostly by Zoom now.
Traci Brown: Okay. Okay. People can find you, like if they want you to speak at their conference.
James Fitzgerald: Oh sure. I do colleges, I do grad schools, I do corporate stuff. There are other cases I can talk about too and about forensic linguistics. Even if I talk about forensic linguistics, I’ll certainly reference the UNABOM case and there are some pictures I would show. But I just decided at the end of this year, 25 years is enough.
Traci Brown: That’s it.
James Fitzgerald: He’s in jail. He’s going to die in prison, Kaczynski, if you really want to write. Here’s a clue, if you are going to write Kaczynski, don’t do it on a computer because he doesn’t believe in computers.
Traci Brown: Right.
James Fitzgerald: Either an old-fashioned manual typewriter. You don’t have to use an electric typewriter or handwrite it. I wrote him a letter in 2016 at the request of the director of Manhunt: Unabomber. It would be cool to have me actually interview him. Maybe they could film it. I’m not sure that would have actually worked, but I did write him a letter and I handwrote it, but he never responded.
Traci Brown: Darn it.
James Fitzgerald: In 2007 I was doing training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Traci Brown: Colorado Springs, yea.
James Fitzgerald: I was there for two days. Months before I said, hey, Florence isn’t too far from there.
Traci Brown: Yea.
James Fitzgerald: Two hours down the interstate. I said, maybe I can set up an interview with Ted. We’ll leave this as the last Ted story. So, I contacted the warden. You can’t just make an inmate talk to you. He’s sentenced. He’s away for life. No one could force him to come out and talk to the FBI ever. I said, you know – this is well before the series, this was 2007. I said, can I interview this guy. I still have questions after all these years. So, I talked to the warden. Let me put you in touch with his handler, his correctional officer in charge. He talked to Kaczynski. Everything was approved. I had to fill out some forms. They faxed them back and forth back then, whatever. Everything is approved. Alright. Do my two days of training in Colorado Spring, get in a rental car. I’m heading south. Forget the single digit interstate.
Traci Brown: It’s 285, isn’t it to Florence? Is it 9?
James Fitzgerald: It may have been 9 from out of Denver or the Denver area. It doesn’t matter. I’m about halfway there and my cell phone rings. Hello? Agent Fitzgerald? Yea. This is Officer so and so from Florence. Yea. Listen, the interview is not going to happen today. Oh, okay. Actually, Traci, before I tell this story, let me remind your listeners, and you, the Super Max in Florence is called Super Max for a reason. It’s only the hardest, worst criminals, the masterminds. They make it escape proof. The cells, you’re in a cell by yourself, 365/7/24 going backwards. You get out an hour to workout and take a shower. You’re back in. You do nothing all day long. Your punishment is in your cell. I just wanted to add that in there. Here I am, halfway there, down I-whatever it was – and the guy calls me and says, yea, that interview we had set up. Yea. It’s not going to happen today. But Dr. Kaczynski – he must go by doctor in prison – Dr. Kaczynski wanted me to give you a message. It was one of these deals. I kind of pulled the phone away from me. Yea, okay. Go ahead. Put the phone back to my ear. Alright, let me see here. It says, I wrote it down, he says, Hi Fitz, I’d really like to talk to you today, but I can’t because I’m busy.
Traci Brown: (Laughing).
James Fitzgerald: That’s it. Not even call again or let’s do a rain date or whatever. So what I, of course, figured is he probably thought I flew all the way out from the east coast just to interview him. I never volunteered to anyone. I’m in Colorado Springs for two days before.
Traci Brown: Sure.
James Fitzgerald: They probably thought I wasted a whole trip. You know what, Traci, I was driving down there. Whatever part of the interstate I was on, what do I see in front of me? A sign for Pike’s Peak. I quickly made the turn on the exit, and I climbed Pike’s Peak that day. To this day, I always said, I think I had a better day that Kaczynski did, whether he agreed to talk to me or not.
Traci Brown: Wow. You sure did. Thanks for the work that you did on that. I mean, it’s made all of us safer. It made me smarter today. Thank you for that. people can find you. JamesRFitzgerald.com.
James Fitzgerald: Sounds good, Traci. Thank you to all your listeners and viewers. Let’s try this again sometime.
Traci Brown: Alright. Cool. Hang on a minute. I’ve got a question for you.