John W. Taylor & James Fitzgerald
Episode 45: Unabomber
Interview w/ former FBI Profiler James Fitzgerald
ACTOR: He’s smart, he’s extremely precise, feels under-appreciated, victimized and angry. You figure out the philosophy. You can figure out the man, you can crack the code.
JOHN: This an excerpt from the trailer for the Discovery Channel's new miniseries Manhunt Unabomber, starring Sam Worthington and Chris Noth. It airs on the Discovery Channel at 10:00 PM East Coast Time on Tuesday night. The show chronicles how the FBI tracked down the Unabomber. The series is inspired by and seen through the lens of FBI agent and profiler James Fitzgerald, who I will be interviewing on today's episode. James collected clues from the wording and phrasing the Unabomber utilized in his various writings and from his 35,000 word article or manifesto. The Unabomber mailed numerous packages to universities, airline officials, among others between 1978 and 1995. He killed 3 people and injured 23. His bombs were quite intricate and extreme care was taken in the building and delivering of the bombs. He avoiding leaving fingerprints, DNA, or anything that could be linked back to him. In 1979, the Unabomber had a bomb placed in the cargo hold of an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Washington, DC. It did not detonate, but it was believed if it had, it would have destroyed the plane with the placement of the bomb on a plane, it became a federal crime and the FBI began investigating at its peak, the FBI Unabomber task force. Had 150 full time personnel assigned to it, UNABOM, which was the official name, meant UN for university A for airline. Hence university airline bomb. Ted Kaczynski was not an official on any official suspect. Best he lived in a small cabin the middle of Montana without any modern conveniences. He supposedly lived on. Less than $400.00 a year. He also had a very impressive academic career. He skipped 2 grades as a child, graduated from Harvard, and received a pH. D in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He then taught mathematics at UC Berkeley. Before leaving society for the mountains of Montana. After almost 18 years, Jane Fitzgerald helped crack the Unabomber case by analyzing the Unabomber's word usage to create a profile. James's use of statement analysis and language ultimately led to the capture of one of the most wanted men in U.S. history, Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. This twisted. Where we pontificate and philosophize while attempting to. Unravel the intricacies of true crime. Many of our discussions relate to criminal acts and objectional behavior listener discretion. Is advised.
Welcome to twisted. This episode 45 and I am your host John Taylor. You can listen to episodes through twistedpodcast.com iTunes iHeartRadio Stitcher, Libsyn, or Auto Radio. To get updates on new episodes and other true crime info, please follow me on Twitter. My handle is at tarta. 24 which is the acronym for the inmates are running the asylum, followed by the number 24. If you'd like to. Suggest a case for this podcast. Feel free to reach out to me through my Twitter account or. Through the contact page of the Twisted Podcast website.
My interview guest today worked in law enforcement for over 30 years. He has investigated kidnappings, rapes, homicides, you name it. He is a retired FBI agent and criminal profiler with an emphasis and forensic linguistics. He has written several books under the title, a journey to the center of the Mind Books 1/2 and three which go in depth. Into his time in the FBI, they can be purchased through Amazon.com. He currently works as a consultant and advises on TV shows such as Criminal Minds. He is best known for his pivotal role in capturing the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski and this the topic of his latest undertaking, the Discovery Channel's miniseries Manhunt Unabomber, which is based on James time tracking down the Unabomber now. On to my discussion with James Fitz.
JOHN: I wanted to start by saying I just finished watching the miniseries manhunt Unabomber, which I really enjoyed, and I'd say, it. It pulled me in from the very first scene as far as the impact of the cinematography, and then obviously the story really carries it. This show is based on inspired by your role. In the Unabomber case, and I wanted you to kind of talk a little bit about specifically what was your role in tracking the unit.
FITZ: Yeah John, it was interesting. I was a brand new profiler just having gone through 12 weeks of profiler training and I had a 2 hour block mix in the middle of blood spatter and organized, disorganized offenders and crime scene analysis. There was a 2 hour block of statement analysis and I really. Found that interesting. It was more about looking for deception in statements and how people use language to deceive and trick people, whatever spoken language. With language anyway, I. Finish up this 12 week course. I was already in the in the FBI for seven years. My first seven years being in New York City down in Quantico finish this course going a. Two week vacation. To the beach and I. Get a phone call. Hey Fitz, they need you out in San. Francisco for 30 days they want to pull. Out of there. I think you can do it. So well, let me get back to you to talk to my. Family, whatever, but I eventually agreed to go there. And John that 30 day temporary duty TDY as we call it to the unabomb task force. UTF for short. FBI loves initials. As you can figure out and turned into about a year and a half off and on. And we after 17 years, we wound up solving the case within eight months of my arrival. So it was a great experience. It was a great team effort. Being there at the very end of it was quite a. A professional experience, a very thrilling 1. A very stressful one at times, but ultimately we got the job done.
JOHN: Yeah, and I mean I'm a big believer in the power of linguistics and that’s kind of your strong suit here. And so I really wanted to talk about the manifesto which. To me I. Mean it. It's shocking that this was written before the Internet consumed their lives before texting before Facebook and Twitter. Yet it had all these basically kind of 1984. Just like predictions. About how technology is going to affect society. What are kind? Of your thoughts on the overall document as far as like the intent, the meaning, how did you feel about the document?
FITZ: Yeah well Ted Kaczynski. Was certainly the Unabomber, we didn't know his name at that point. But he was. Certainly covering Duke Big Brother who as far as he saw, oversaw everything in our society. And that's how much of what the manifesto was about. And I was not a linguist at that point in time. I had a masters degree in organizational. Psychology and it's 12 weeks of profiling training. And I really wasn't sure when I first showed up at the UDTF in early July of 95. Do I put on my, . You know almost 17 year investigative hat from being 11 years as a police officer in suburban Philadelphia, to seven years in New York City. Do I put on my 12 weeks of profiler training that particular hat, or is there something else that I? Another hat I can put on and all of a sudden I realize what a what a presence. What a what? A bonus were given in this case, and it coincidentally arrived just about the same time that I did at. ETF and here this 17 year old yeah investigation. The 17 year old bombing campaign, this serial bomber bestowed upon the law enforcement community, the FBI. This 35,000 word 9A Festo. So although I was debating it first exactly what my. Role would be. At the UTF before long, I just wound up reading this thing saying. I knew enough about language and about writing and about. Prose and narrative that this has to be reflective of the inner essence of this person. This bomber. And boy, we couldn't catch this guy in any other way. Fingerprints DNA. You know, indented writing none of. That stuff worked, and certainly the profiles were. Helpful, but they didn't identify who this guy was. So I told the bosses out there. I kind of asked them respectfully think I could work on the language part of this for now. And let's see what comes out of it. So will we have it sent to the lab for fingerprints and all that stuff? Typewriter analysis I said yeah, I know that but just give me a copy let me work on the actual language they're in and maybe we can. Find some things and John it didn't hurt that. On the way on the flight out there I saw the 1985 Doctor McConnell letter and this referenced in episode one. Of Manhunt and there. I just looked down the left hand column. And I see the. Words Dad it is I. That had the first letters of each paragraph, and I wasn't sure exactly what that meant. Was it a coincidence that this guy? Truly have a. A father issue of some sort. But I told that to the bosses out there. And no one had. Seen that before and they said you. Know what Fitz you may be. On to something here. You focus on language. Let us know. What you come up? With and basically it all started coming together after that.
JOHN: Were you looking for deception or were you just open to anything when you were reading it?
FITZ: The first few times I read it, it was strictly for topic and theme and orientation, motivation. All these types of things that I was blending my own reading habits with what I've learned in the the 12th week of profiler training. And I wanted to. Kind of codify all of this and somehow bring it together, and one of the first things I noticed was. Aside all of that, from a stylistic perspective. And an actual writing perspective. This guy made no mistakes and the few mistakes he made he took the time and the effort to create a corrections page. Actually was three pages after the title page but before the body of the manifesto itself. And that's how obsessed this guy was with his language. And I was certainly familiar back then. Not so much. Right? But I knew Oscar Wilde's relatively well known quote that you are what you read in the different versions of that. Right?
FITZ: But figure out this guy has to be borrowing these topics. These ideas this entire sort of narrative from somewhere down the line. So let me try to read this from a topical thematic. Perspective find out what he's reading and see if we can take it backwards. From there, but. Shortly after that, I started focusing on a few of the minor issues I found which one-way mistakes, but his use of archaic words like broad and chick to represent women, ******* to represent African Americans, and then I finally came upon that paragraph 185 where it ended with, well, you can't eat your cake and have. Too, and for the first time, along with some alternate spellings and those archaic words I just mentioned here, I thought it was an actual mistake on this guy's part. Somehow he got sloppy. Maybe he was typing this late at night wherever he was living and he transposed the two birds. You would normally say you can't have your cake and eat it too. But I was surprised a few months later when I did some extra research and compared it to the writings of someone named Ted Kaczynski that this guy, actually both of them had it right.
JOHN: Would you say that? Phrase is kind of like the like. The breaking point in that in the. Manifesto as far as being able to tie it to Ted Kaczynski.
FITZ: Yeah John, in my. Recently published book A Journey to. The center of the Mine Book 3 the 1st 10 FBI years I actually in Chapter 20. In the end. The last chapter is a long chapter. On the unibond case. I actually referenced that as sort. Of the Rosetta stone of. The Unibond case that phrase that axiom that proverb people call it different. Things and because I found it in paragraph 185 of the manifesto. And it was interesting to know. Interesting to note and put in the back of my head somewhere, but it really didn't do anything for us until. Out of the 2500 suspects we had at the UTF, going into the end of 95 at the beginning of 96 we get this call from a guy named David Kaczynski. Oh, it may be my brother. Here's this 23 page document and all right all right. And a lot of people at the UTF didn't believe Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomber. But I started looking at. Well, first the 23 page document and extra ones, additional ones that came in, and the document. I numbered TV 137 T standing for Ted, actually had that exact same proverb in it, was a letter to the editor to Saturday Evening magazine in the early 70s. And then he's he's complaining about the environment. What technology big business all those type things and he basically ends the letter with. But then you can't eat. Your cake and. Have it too the exact same way. That the Unabomber wrote it in that paragraph one. Bot and this was signed by Theodore J. Kaczynski so. There was no. Hiding of names or anything like that. So we knew right then. That was the break we. Needed, yeah, and that's.
JOHN: I mean, that's a great catch by you because it's very typical for people and this as a writer that you read over and you read what you want to read, not necessarily what's on the page. So a lot. Of people would read that and just self correct it and not even notice that it's wrong.
FITZ: Or right?
JOHN: I guess you should say because it is the right term based on what the show was. About it
FITZ: Yeah, just to remind your listeners and from the 15th century, early modern English, whoever wrote it the first time, I'm not sure it's even known, but they did write it. You can't eat your cake and have it too somewhere over the next several 100 years. We in the English speaking world, somehow reverse the verbs you well, you can't have your cake and eat it to which it actually makes more sense. The 1st way around the way we would normally say didn't, so even Bob Dylan in his 1969 song Lay Lady Lay uses you can't have your cake. And eat it. Too, so it was great as a songwriter. As Bob Dylan, is he? Even got that little part. Of his lyrics. Wrong we all did too. So OK.
JOHN: Did did you or anyone? Else ever talk to Ted Kaczynski. About that phrase and. His usage or his thoughts on it.
FITZ: No, and that's the one big. Fictitious part of the series and has a few retired FBI agent with whom I used to work have been upset. No agents at all interviewed Ted Kaczynski. Even when he was first arrested, there was a few basic. He acknowledged his name and he wanted a chocolate peanut butter bar of some sort, but he wouldn't even answer the questions if there's any dangerous devices or tripwires in his cabin. I did not interview him. The writers sort of came up with that you. Know in their. Sort of a form of literary license and. And that’s. Fired out, but Sir, I never had a chance. I tried to interview him in 2007 and I was about 30 miles away from the prison and I got a phone call. He had changed his. Mind and I wrote him. A letter in June of 2016. Five page letter handwritten. Of course, right on a computer to Ted Kaczynski and I said, hey, it'd be nice to come out and interview. You maybe we could sit down and talk. I told him who I was, no games. There's a mini series coming up. We want to best capture, who you are and the essence of your personality back then now. And unfortunately he never responded so there never was an interview by any law enforcement officer of Ted Kaczynskinteresting.
JOHN: Yeah, I'm surprised by that. I would just think that he would in some way want to either convey his message or somehow get out there. What he's wanting to tell people.
FITZ: Well, I guess he feels. He did that in his. Manifesto and. You know his magnum opus, I suppose of everything he would write. Of course, there 13 letters before the manifesto, which is just interestingly, he never called it a manifesto. He called it his article. It was basically the mediand law enforcement that should have adopted that term and that stuck ever since. So a little tidbit of information there.
JOHN: Yeah, it's not a manifesto, doesn't have quite a flattering connotation to it. Do you think that his ultimate goal in kind of like conducting all this violence and the and the letter bombs was to be able to print the manifesto? Was that his object?
FITZ: It certainly didn't seem that way. John, in his first. What was it about 9 years of bombings from 78 to 87. He did write 2 letters during that timeframe. 1980 letter to the President of United Airlines and then in 1985. Letter to Doctor McConnell At the University of Michigand computer scientists, both of those are what I later deemed. The Rouse letters. Only two of them. They were basically designed just to trick the recipient into opening up opening a package. Which it did. That worked, and both of them were severely injured, but fortunately not killed. He was spotted in 1987 outside of a computer store and that is when planting a bomb and that is when the famous and iconic composite sketch was put together and put out there, and that's when he took six years off. So I think in that six years where he stopped bombing and. Nobody heard from him that he started. And what I've been doing this sort of random bombing. It really wasn't random. His victims were very carefully selected, but with no sort of connection, discord, and. Ways if I come back I'm going to let people know why I'm doing this and all of a sudden this whole anti technology thing came up. I think he just realized he couldn't live in modern society. And what is the key to what he defined as modern society. Well, supposedly it started with the industrial. Revolution and it. Moved, forward there but in. The wrong direction. He himself, of course, moved out of it. He at least he at least walked the walk and he just talked the talk in that regard. But of course he wanted the reckless society to do the same thing. His ultimate goal was to have modern society go back to sort of hunter gatherer tribes who live in these agrarian communities of no more than 30 people, and that would solve all of our present day problems. Whether he actually thought his bombings would would create this effect would have this cause and effect that would actually. They play someday. I don't really think so. There was nothing in the writings he found in his cabin. His personal writings that he truly believed that. But I just think he. He what I what?
FITZ: I've said before he didn't like himself. He didn't like the society, which forced him to not like himself, so he would pick these various targets. They're very meaningful to him. He had no connection with them at all. They were representational targets. He would pick them and that would satisfy him in getting out. This angst and frustration. But quite frankly he was getting older and maybe he realized the. The risk value was that was increasing since he was spotted in 1987. So let me do a few more bombs and let me stop sort of on a high note if they published my manifesto, although he always did hold the right to bomb for purposes of sabotage, which we could never quite figure out. How you would? Bomb for sanitize purposes, but not to kill someone. Anyway, he thought he went out with a bang. He never expected that knock on the door by FBI agents on April 3rd of 96, but sure enough, it happened, and he's exactly where he should be right now quite.
JOHN: A journey getting to him. Talk talk a little bit about so . Forensic linguistics are basically just, the use of language was a big factor in catching him talk about how you got people in the FBI around you to buy into what you were.
FITZ: Yeah, that was interesting the UTF folks they had a profiler there before me and the very well known John Douglas had written 2 profiles. You know from Quantico he visited. I think the UTF in its early days, the Unabom task force. But again, none of that was really helping them solve this case. So I came in. I was not a linguist. I had a keen interest in language. I always have as I've written, my very first book of my memoir series. They all the same title by the way, as Jerry to the center. Fine, but my dad, my dad only graduated high school. I was the 1st. One in my family to go to college. I wound up, . With two masters degrees eventually. But my dad nonetheless was well read. He would talk about history to me and he would correct my language. Not in public, not in front of people, but if I would mispronounce something or use some, perhaps regionalisms he would kind of say, well, not everyone says. That of course like portrayed in the series. Even my father would say the word water for H2O, where most of the rest of the country says water and that actually happened when I first showed up at San Francisco. I kind of slipped into my Philly dialect features and someone kind of picked up on it. And Oh yeah, we laughed. You know, I may have pointed something out that they said or some person from Boston. He didn't pronounce his or her ours, but it really got me to thinking, boy, you can almost really tell where somebody is from by at least where they grew up by how they talk and quite arguably, how they. And right before I went to the Unabom task force, I met with a professor of linguistics at Georgetown. He had just recently retired. Actually he was 65 years old. His name is Roger Schali SHUY still around and I had like. A2 hour. Tutorial from him on sociolinguistics, language and society and the. And the science of language itself. He had been given an advanced copy of the manifesto and. He had some. Very good, points to offer me regarding what this guy is all about. Meaning the anonymous writer FC of the manifesto and he really impressed me. And within five years, I'd be taking classes at his former university, Georgetown, and five years after that, I'd have my second master's degree. In linguistics, so it wasn't until that point in 2005 I officially referred to myself as a linguist. Before that I kind of consider myself a tech. Analysts but the Unabomber case really opened up doors in the area of linguistics and forensic linguistics, in that the affidavit that I wrote 50 pages long, 50 pages long of 600 different comparisons of very, very similarly written sentences between Ted Kaczynski and the Unabomber. With no opinions rendered at all, I knew enough about the court system, though I would dare to render some kind of an opinion as a non linguist. That I would.
FITZ: Have been, torn apart on the stand by the defense Attorney cross examining me so I just put it out there for the common person to read. The first common person being a judge in an attempt to obtain the probable cause to get a search warrant and eventually with those 600 different expressions. I wasn't in the room with the judge in Montana. But I was told he went through each page finally. Saw you can't eat your cake and have it to. He says no one says it that way. I'm going to sign. This thing good luck with. Your search tomorrow and that was April. 2nd April 3rd. The search went down. And inside the cabinet was a treasure trove of evidence linking Kaczynski to the bombings to the manifesto and everything else.
JOHN: Yeah, it's interesting how much you talk about the kind of the expert side of things and not being an expert and really having that against you. And to me, understanding language. It's one of those things that most anybody if they. Looked at what? You did or if you explained to them how you looked at it. It's very logical and makes a lot of sense versus if you had an expert on the stand that's talking about, how you reconstruct a skeleton or something. It doesn't make sense to anybody, but you're like, well, he's got a lot of pH. These so I mean. I definitely picked up when in watching the series. That hesitation, at least in your character. On the show about. Not necessarily being able to scientifically support what you were claiming, but to me the. Common sense just kind of overrides that.
FITZ: Yeah, and nowadays when I do those kinds of analysis and I still do in the private sector, I've been retired from the FBI for 10 years, but I utilize corporand databases and there is much more of a quantitative approach to these types of analysis that I'm. So, I kind of knew about that back then, but I didn't. We just didn't have the time, especially when CPS called up the director Louie Free and said, yeah, we know you got a guy up in Lincoln, Mt. We'll give you 3 days because we're going to run with the story, so we had to put everything together real quick and. We did but yeah, the language. It certainly came to me back then. I knew its value. I knew I knew where it could take criminal investigations. If in fact crime was committed and somehow it incorporated language, written or spoken, and since then the doors have really opened up in the courts for this sort of expert testimony with the science of linguistics. And you're right, it is. You know some common sense involved because everyone uses language to some degree. It could not. Either be English, it could be sign language. It could be, even non nonverbal language. Right?
FITZ: But there are telltale signs that we have enough to measure that we all use language in a certain way. In the term idiolects, which the writers really like, and you heard it mentioned. Three times in the series, that's a real word that linguists came up with. It's a personal dialect that's reflected in. Language as well as spoken and it can really help pinpoint again if you have enough language to examine and you have experience and know how and knowledge it really can help narrow down your suspect pool of who wrote something when and where and where they're from. And if you have enough, if you have, 5 or 10 suspects you can narrow it down. To who the exact writer is of the anonymous stocks.
Speaker 2: I mean I.
JOHN: Really appreciate your time. I wanted to ask you, I know we're short on. Time but one. Final question that. Is in the in the. Show Manhunter manhunt Unabomber. It's a pretty personal portrayal of you, and I was. Just curious your thoughts. On basically giving up control to some extent and allowing someone. Else to kind of tell your story, how do you? How do you feel about that?
FITZ: Yeah John, when I decided to write my four book memoir series and three of them are now published, I was going to go. I decided upfront to go a little personal and I certainly mentioned the good things I did in life. Some of the bad things berts deaths, things like that and. I made it. Very clear family was and still is. Very important to me. But I came to a juncture in life in 95 where I was promoted to supervisory special agent and as a profiler timely situation didn't really go hand in hand with that. It was very difficult then I've sent out from Quantico to San Francisco for 30 days, which turned into a year and a half on. And off and. But when I sat down with the writers, I said, hey, I'm putting these things in my books. You know, if you want to capture them on the on the screen, that's fine. And have have Sam play them out and stand hang? Out with me. And live together for a month, but he asked me about 30. Very intense, sort of. Questions by e-mail, and I answered them. Intentionally as I. Could and I think he had a pretty good feel of who I am. He read my books, he saw me on YouTube and different media interviews I've. Done over the. Years, including podcasts. And I think he captures my essence relatively well. The first thing I said to him is why they had you wearing the gun on the right side on left. That's the one that's the one big change we're having here fits so because he's speaking in Australian English, which he switches back and forth very readily. I guess actors can do that. I can't, but he's good at that. So yeah, so the biggest difference there is that. And yeah, my I did wind up getting divorced. Very difficult with my ex-wife. Very much she's aware of the scripts and how she's being portrayed, and I did make sure she has to be portrayed positively as well as my three sons. You know, don't make anybody the bad guy in terms of not truly bad or evil, but just being obsessed with capturing somebody and. Maybe for a little bit of time in my life, putting aside my familial duties, that's fine, and that's kind of what they're portraying here. And we did talk all the time. Me, long distance I would make trips back and forth to my home in the Philadelphiarea. That's not necessarily being shown all the time on in the miniseries, but it was a very difficult time. For us and I do relate that in my third book some FAQ's at the end, did your marriage survive the Unabomber case and I just wrote simply regrettably, it did not? Yeah I can.
JOHN: I can imagine there was some casualties with that investigation, just the things like that can completely consume you.
FITZ: And John, just for the record, the Natalie character is a composite character. There was no one woman that I was. You know this series kind of had this almost sort of flirting a little bit that didn't happen. That was no factor there. I don't want to misconstrue you or your or your listeners that there was some third party involved. It was really just a job. Two people living apart and. Perhaps some other issues, and that's what happened, nothing happened.
JOHN: Well, it makes for good. Television I'll, I'll tell you that much.
FITZ: Well, the writer Andrew Sadowski and Greg Cutaneous, the director and John Goldman, the exec producer showrunner. They all did a great. Job and yeah. There's a literary license in there. No question about it. I had some arguments with them I didn't answer some calls or emails for about a week. At one point they compromised the bid. I compromised a bit. And I think the overall story of the Unabomber case, and how the FBI as a team identified and captured this guy, was it really comes across and I'm glad.
JOHN: Yeah, It’s a great great story and And a huge success. You know, for the FBI. I mean for obviously for society that. To get him to where he can't do that anymore, but. You know, for the. They're they're diligence and persistence to keep at it for that long. It's just it's pretty impressive.
FITZ: Yeah, and it. Was a team effort and I'm very proud to have been a part of it back then and I'm proud to have been a part of the newer iteration of it, Manhunt, Unabomber, and I think it will go down in history is a pretty good story. About this amazing case this, this criminal mastermind Ted Kaczynski about how he was finally brought down by his own language.
JOHN: I want to thank James Fitzgerald for taking the time to talk with me about his incredible experiences on the. Unabomber task force. It was later learned that Ted Kaczynski was part of a CIA experiment. While he was a student at Harvard, he was only 16 years old at the time and the experiment allegedly lasted for a year and a half. Some accounts allege that these experiments psychologically tortured and damaged him, though no one can know for certain how much impact this had on his psyche. Ted Kaczynski. He is currently housed in the federal supermax prison in Florence, Co.
On the next episode I'll be talking with True crime author Lynn Blanchard about the murder of Teresa Halbach, Steven Avery's associated Conviction and his post conviction legal activities. This case burst into the public conscience with Netflix releasing of making a murderer in December of 2015, I think will be a lively discussion, as this case encompasses. Wrongful convictions, conflicts of interest, and accusations of false confessions. Police planning of evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct. But at the foundation of it all is the question who killed Teresa Halbach? Thank you for listening today.