Government auctions Unabomber’s property
By Ylan Q. Mui,
There is nothing sinister about the gray hooded sweatshirt anymore, no mystery behind the aviator sunglasses.
Once, they were among the hallmarks of Ted Kaczynski, the anarchist Unabomber who killed three people and injured almost two dozen more during a nearly 20-year reign of terror. Now, his old clothes adorn a mannequin in a sterile government office in an online photo tagged Unabomb0001.
This is the first of 51 lots of Kaczynski’s personal belongings that the government will auction online next week in what amounts to Uncle Sam’s version of eBay. The bidding begins Wednesday, but the U.S. Marshals have posted pictures of the goods to its Flickr stream to drum up interest — a final swipe at a man bent on stopping technology in its tracks.
“We will use the technology that Kaczynski railed against in his various manifestos to sell artifacts of his life,” said U.S. Marshal Albert Najera of the Eastern District of California.
The auction is part of a court order finalized last summer to sell off Kaczynski’s property and turn the proceeds over to victims of his attacks. There will be no reserve bids and no price ceilings. Instead, it will be up to the public to determine how much the remnants of Kaczynski’s life are worth.
His original, handwritten anarchist manifesto is photographed as Unabomb02. Unabomb42 shows the hand tools he kept stowed in a box of Tide detergent. Unabomb19 features a tan duffel bag. The items are housed at a Government Services Administration outpost in Georgia.
“The prices will be what the market will bear,” U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue said. “We don’t have an estimate of how much it will bring in.”
The government regularly sells property it has confiscated from nefarious dealings, or what it calls “ill-gotten gains.” An auction for $50 million of gold and silver jewelry seized in a money-laundering investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration ends Tuesday. It is trying to unload a $28 million Park Avenue duplex in New York City that once belonged to convicted fraudster Hassan Nemazee. It has sold three homes, three boats and several cars belonging to Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff. All that’s left are the personal belongings from his house in Florida.
But rarely is there an auction like this one. Federal authorities seized the items from the wooded shack where Kaczynski lived in Lincoln, Mont., after he was arrested 15 years ago. These are not the spoils of a life of crime, but rather a grim documentary of his gradual descent from child genius to domestic terrorist.
There is his diploma from Harvard University, where he enrolled at 16, and his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Michigan. Unabomb44 shows a photo of a clean-cut Kaczynski standing proudly in a forest. Another snapshot captures Kaczynski with his father and brother, David, who later turned him in to the FBI.
But there are also the bow and arrows he used to hunt as he withdrew from society. There are axes and other tools he fashioned himself. Mostly there are papers — 20,000 pages of loose-leaf and notebooks filled with his slanting cursive that describe what he saw as a broken structure of power that Kaczynski took it upon himself to fix.
The Marshals expect museums and universities to be among the bidders next week, but the auction is also open to any number of rubberneckers.
Mark Olshaker, who wrote a book about the Unabomber with a former FBI criminal profiler, likened the sale of Kaczynski’s property to the collection of Nazi memorabilia. It creates a “cult of glorification” around the crimes, he said, and focuses attention on the killer’s life rather than the victims.
“To sell them off as trophies and relics, if they will, is misguided,” Olshaker said. “This feeds into the worst aspects of American popular culture.”
Kaczynski himself has tried multiple times to block the court from selling his writing. Three times he has fired his attorneys and submitted his own handwritten appeals, said David Shelledy, head of the civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of California. He asserted that the move violated his First Amendment rights. He decried suggestions that the names of his victims be redacted.
The court overruled him each time. Kaczynski also requested a copy of his original unredacted work; the judge ordered that he receive it electronically.
The sale must go on. Kaczynski owes the victims of his attacks millions of dollars in court-ordered restitution, and the auction will go toward that debt. His financial statements from Western Federal Savings Bank and a few old checkbooks show he lived on only a few hundred dollars a year. Those items, too, are up for grabs in the lot tagged Unabomb25.