Copyright 1993 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
July 12, 1993, Monday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Page 1; Column 1; National Desk
LENGTH: 1942 words
HEADLINE:Pursuers Grappling With Smoke On Bomber's Long Trail of Fear
BYLINE: By STEPHEN LABATON, Special to The New York Times
DATELINE: WASHINGTON, July 11
They arrive in the mail looking innocuous enough, neatly wrapped in brown parcels or in elaborately polished wooden boxes, in a book, a manuscript or a package that feels like it contains a video cassette.
Or they are left lying on laboratory desks, concealed as a notebook or a piece of scientific equipment. Twice, they have been disguised as road hazards -- wooden boards left in parking lots with nails sticking out of them.
Whatever their appearance, the devices all have two things in common. When they are touched or opened, they explode. And, the authorities say, they were all crafted by the same person.
Over 15 years, the devices have killed one person and injured 22 others. The early targets included an airline executive and a plane manufacturer. More recently, the parcels have been sent to scholars who have made significant advances in psychology, computer sciences and genetics. A Six-Year Hiatus
Even though the bomber has left a trail of clues, when he struck twice last month after an inexplicable six-year hiatus investigators seemed no closer to catching him than they were when he began his campaign of terror in 1978. In a sign of frustration, top investigators at the Federal Bureau of Investigation described him in a written report two years ago as "one of the most creative and elusive bombers ever encountered."
Now an investigation that had gone stale has been revived. For the first time, the bomber has spoken publicly, sending a letter to The New York Times last month that said it came from "FC" and promising more information. The letter, like the recent mail bombs, bore postal markings indicating it was from Sacramento, Calif.
And, confronted with the letter and information from interviews with many earlier victims, investigators have reluctantly disclosed that the bomber leaves an unusual signature: the initials "FC" are engraved in the package bombs in a way that is meant to survive the blasts.
Since his last attacks -- on Prof. Charles Epstein on June 22 at his home in Tiburon, Calif., and Prof. David Gelernter, who opened a package bomb two days later at his Yale University office -- the bomber has been idle. But university campuses remain fearful, and law enforcement officials who have spent years investigating the case expect him to strike again.
Officials at Yale said last week that doctors do not yet know whether the injuries to Professor Gelernter, a leading computer-science theorist, will be permanent. His right arm and eye were badly injured and both of his hands were damaged, but officials said his condition had continued to improve. He is said by friends to be anxious to return to his computer, confident that he can crack the case.
Professor Epstein, a top geneticist and pediatrician, was described on Friday by a spokesman at the University of California at San Francisco as improving but likely to require a long recovery.
He lost three fingers on his right hand and suffered a broken arm and abdominal injuries. Tantalizing Leads, Then a Cold Trail
Federal officials say that until the latest packages were opened, the trail had grown cold. Investigators, some of whom had spent more than a decade on the case, said they had exhausted all leads, were unable to come up with a clear motive, did not know why the victims had been selected and were stymied by evidence that consisted of little more than the remains of the bomber's handiwork and a momentary sighting of a suspect.
For hundreds of hours the investigators searched through criminal files and other computer data bases, hoping to match their theoretical profiles of a killer with an actual person who, they surmise, moved from the Chicago area, where the early bombings occurred, to Utah and California, where later packages appeared. They held conferences an average of once a year with local law enforcement authorities.
They questioned scores of possible suspects, from failed university students to disgruntled airline employees to people who had been reported by neighbors and co-workers after the case was featured on several television crime shows. They took the bomber's sparse writings and sent them to experts in codes and forensic psychiatry. In their desperation, they even turned to a clairvoyant.
"It had been frustrating," said John C. Killorin, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, one of the three Federal agencies working on the case. "You keep chewing on the same thing, hoping to go further, but it's just not there. Ultimately, you reach the point where there is no more work to be done." He added, "You just hope that the person has died, or been put in jail or a hospital, or moved away."
Christopher Ronay, the F.B.I.'s top explosives expert, who has chased the bomber for more than a decade, says that in his 22 years at the F.B.I. he has never faced a more challenging or puzzling case.
"He is creative," Mr. Ronay said, "because almost every one of the bombs has been crafted in a unique way, so much so that to the untrained eye, they may not be related. And he's elusive because he's picked his targets in a way in which we can't find a common element."
Originally known as the "Junk Yard Bomb" case because the devices have been made of common materials like scrap wood and lamp cord, the case name was changed in the 1980's to "Unabom" as it became apparent that the bomber wanted to torment universities and airlines.
The bombs have become progressively more powerful. The parcels used in the early bombings contained smokeless powder, but since 1985 they have contained a more powerful ammonium nitrate mixture. He often constructs the bombs with more than one detonating device to be sure they go off.
He had struck 12 times before last month, injuring 20 people and killing Hugh Campbell Scrutton outside his Sacramento computer store in 1985. Mr. Scrutton stumbled upon a brown bag concealing a bomb.
The bomber has never explained his motives, but in a few instances has sent messages to his targets a few weeks before he struck. He sent a letter to an airline executive, exhorting him to read a book that would be arriving in the mail. He asked a professor to read a forthcoming manuscript.
About the time the parcels were sent to Professor Epstein and Professor Gelernter, an intriguing new clue surfaced. The bomber sent a letter to The New York Times identifying the author as "an anarchist group calling ourselves FC." The letter promised to "give information about our goals at some future time," a suggestion taken by investigators that the bomber intends to strike again.
Despite the reference to a group, the authorities still believe the bombs are the work of a lone white man. They base their theory on analysis of the bombs, a few letters sent to their victims in advance of parcels, and a brief glimpse of a suspect who was kneeling beside one of the deadly objects moments before it exploded in a Salt Lake City parking lot in 1987. Selecting Victims: What Kind of Link?
Based on the letter to The Times and the new round of bombings, investigators now wonder whether the bomber has periodically picked his victims from the columns of The Times or the 600 newspapers that use its news service. At least three of his targets, including the two last month, had been featured in Times articles in ways that characterize them as leading figures in their fields. Professors Epstein and Gelernter had both spoken of major breakthroughs in their fields, as had an earlier target, Prof. James McConnell of the University of Michigan.
Professor McConnell, a psychologist, had made significant advances on the learning and memory transfer in invertebrates. He died in 1990 of causes unrelated to the bomb.
On each of the parcel bombs he sent last month, the bomber used the return address of professors from California State University in Sacramento. Neither knew the victims or is suspected of sending the packages.
The letter to The Times came in an envelope with a Sacramento postmark. The writer also provided a nine-digit code resembling a Social Security number so that future communications could be verified as coming from the same person. The first three digits of the number were the same for Social Security cards issued to California residents.
Because of the California connections, Federal authorities in recent days have set up their headquarters for the case in San Francisco. The enlarged team consists of dozens of full-time investigators from the F.B.I., the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the United States Postal Inspectors.
The targets have all been involved in computer technology, biotechnology or the airline industry but have little else in common.
"I don't think this bomber knows his victims personally," said Patrick Fischer, the head of the Computer Science Department at Vanderbilt University, who was the target of a bomb on May 5, 1982. Professor Fischer had established a reputation in the 1960's and 1970's as a specialist in the theory of computation, which is generally concerned with how long it takes machines to solve problems. He was not injured, but his secretary was maimed when she opened the package.
"I think the victims are symbols," Professor Fischer said, "not individuals this person personally knows and dislikes."
Percy A. Wood, the former president of United Airlines, agreed. Mr. Wood survived a bomb that was concealed in the novel "Ice Brothers" by Sloan Wilson that arrived at his home in Lake Forest, Ill., on June 10, 1980.
"It's distressing," said Mr. Wood, who recently regained use of a few fingers. "I've talked over the years to the Post Office and F.B.I., but we don't get anywhere."
There is speculation that the bomber may have anti-Semitic tendencies; the latest victims were Jewish and some return addresses and signatures used on letters sent to targets have had Jewish-sounding names. Incomplete Portrait From Sparse Details
The authorities say the bomber is probably in his late 30's or early 40's and about 6 feet tall, with reddish-blond hair and a ruddy complexion. The man seen kneeling beside the bomb in Salt Lake City in 1987 was described as having a thin mustache, weighing about 165 pounds and wearing smoke-tinted glasses and a hooded sweatshirt.
F.B.I. personality profiles describe him as a meticulous dresser, probably so obsessive as to be a chronic maker of lists. They say he is the kind of person who would drive an older car that he keeps well maintained.
Investigators say he has left another signature besides the initials "FC" -- the intricate way that he constructs the bombs, making many parts by hand even though they can be bought at a hardware store and elaborately polishing wooden components.
They believe he derives satisfaction from hours polishing and buffing bomb material, even though the material is ultimately blown away. By constructing even the most elementary components, the bomber has made it harder to trace where he acquired the parts.
Convinced that the bomber spent his formative years in the Chicago area, the location of the first four bombings, the authorities have studied the names of more than 80,000 people who moved from Chicago. They also believe that he has lived in Utah, where two bombs have appeared, and that he may now be in California.
"We are looking for someone who has moved around like that, who has been out of touch or in prison during the lull periods," said Mr. Ronay of the F.B.I. He did not offer a theory to explain the time between attacks.
Another investigator did. "Maybe he was just happy," he said.
GRAPHIC: Photos: Prof. Charles Epstein being taken to the hospital in June after he was the target of a letter bomb at his home in Tiburon, Calif. (Reuters); The authorities say the bomber may be a man seen kneeling beside a bomb in Salt Lake City in 1987, left. (U. S. Postal Inspection Service) (pg. A12) Chronology: "A Bomber's 25 Years" May 25, 1978 -- Chicago. An unmailed package addressed to a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., is found in a parking lot at the University of Illinois. It is taken to Northwestern University and explodes, injuring a security guard, as he opens the package, which bears the return address of a Northwestern University engineering professor. May 9, 1979 -- Evanston, Ill. Northwestern University. A bomb placed in Tech Building explodes; one person is hurt. Nov. 15, 1979 -- American Airlines Flight 444, en route from Chicago to Washington. A bomb explodes in a mailbag aboard the Boeing 727, causing 12 injuries from smoke inhalation. June 10, 1980 -- Lake Forest, Ill. A bomb disguised as a book explodes, injuring Percy A. Wood, president of United Airlines, when he opens a package mailed to his home. Weeks before, a letter had told Mr. Wood that he would be receiving a book that all business executives should read. Oct. 8, 1981 -- University of Utah in Salt Lake City. A bomb placed in a business classroom explodes; no one is hurt. May 5, 1982 -- Vanderbilt University in Nashville. A parcel addressed to Dr. Patrick Fischer, head of the computer science department, explodes, injuring his secretary, Janet Smith. The parcel bears the return address of the engineering department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. July 2, 1982 -- University of California at Berkeley. A bomb left in Cory Hall explodes, injuring Prof. Diogenes J. Angelakos, an electrical engineering professor. May 15, 1985 -- University of California at Berkeley. A bomb left in a computer room in Cory Hall explodes; Capt. John E. Hauser, an Air Force pilot, engineering student and aspiring astronaut, is severely injured. May 18, 1985 -- Boeing Company, Auburn, Wash. A bomb mailed to the fabrication division is dismantled after employees realize that the package contains an explosive. Nov. 15, 1985 -- University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. A parcel bomb addressed to the home of a psychology professor, James McConnell, explodes, injuring Nicklaus Suino, a research assistant. The bomb was disguised as a manuscript sent to Professor McConnell, an expert in human behavior, for him to review. Dec. 11, 1985 -- Sacramento, Calif. A bomb left behind a computer rental store explodes, killing the owner, Hugh Campbell Scrutton. Feb. 20, 1987 -- Salt Lake City. A bomb placed in a bag explodes in the parking lot of a computer sales and service company, maiming Gary Wright, an employee. June 22, 1993 -- Tiburon, Calif. A bomb injures Dr. Charles J. Epstein, a geneticist at the University of California at San Francisco, when he opens a package mailed to his home. The return address on the package was that of a professor at California State University at Sacramento. June 24, 1993 -- Yale University, New Haven. A bomb injures David Gelernter, a computer scientist, when he opens a package mailed to his office. The return address is that of another professor at the California State University at Sacramento. June 24, 1993 -- New York. A cryptic letter arrives at The New York Times, identifying the author with the initials "F C" and predicting newsworthy events. The letter, postmarked June 21, promises more information in the future. (Sources: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.) (pg. A12) LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: July 12, 1993