Unabomber News History

Copyright 1994 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

December 14, 1994, Wednesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section B; Page 6; Column 5; Metropolitan Desk

LENGTH: 1388 words

HEADLINE: Serial Bomber's Logic Is Difficult to Unravel



In late 1956, after 16 years as the Mad Bomber who had terrorized New York City, George P. Metesky finally made the error that gave him away. Craving a public forum for the grievances that drove him to plant 47 pipe bombs, he wrote to a newspaper, giving enough clues to land him in a jail cell less than a month later.

Walter L. Moody Jr. left a broader trail in December 1989, when he sent four bombs, two of which killed a Federal appeals judge in Alabama and a civil rights lawyer in Georgia. He was tripped up by his link to a victim and a consistent style of bomb design.

The Metesky and Moody cases show what a daunting task investigators face in the case that the Federal authorities call Unabom, the search for the man who has sent or planted 15 explosives over 16 years, killing 2 people and injuring 23. The cases also show why the peculiar logic of a serial bomber makes him harder to catch than someone who sets off bombs for more specific reasons.

"There isn't necessarily any connection to the victim, except in the bomber's mind," said James M. Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Birmingham, Ala., division of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Mr. Cavanaugh has worked on the Unabom case at various times over the last 12 years.

The latest victim in the Unabom case, so named because early targets were universities and airlines, was Thomas J. Mosser, an advertising executive killed on Saturday in an explosion at his home in North Caldwell, N.J.

Investigators pressed their inquiry into the death of Mr. Mosser, releasing no new information but appealing to the public for help. A toll-free number, (800) 701-BOMB, has received more than 500 calls, said Special Agent Gloria Anderson, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in San Francisco. She declined to say whether any had yielded leads.

Even as they publicized a sketch of the suspect, some law-enforcement officials tried to squelch speculation that another attack was imminent. (In the past the bomber has struck twice in succession.)

"I just think that you need to be cautious," said Henry J. Ballas, the head of the New York office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "One thing he has going for him is his unpredictability. The speculation, the conjecture, is just a feeding frenzy."

On another point, a senior law-enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said reports that the bomber might have called Mr. Mosser before he was killed were incorrect.

Bombings are among the most difficult cases to solve, because the explosion can obliterate evidence and the bomber can be far away when the device goes off.

Sometimes debris can provide a lead, as when a strip of metal found in the pit left by the World Trade Center blast in 1993 was traced to the rented truck that had carried the explosive. A bomb dismantled without exploding -- as was one Unabom device, two of Mr. Moody's bombs and several of Mr. Metesky's -- can provide additional clues, but only if unusual or traceable materials are used, said Lieut. Michael White, commander of the New York Police Department Bomb Squad.

The Unabom bomber has made his explosives from scratch, without store-bought elements that could be traced, and he has been careful not to leave traces like fingerprints.

"In this series, it's been a matter of the evidence not pointing to a suspect, as it does in most cases," said Christopher Ronay, former chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's explosives unit, and president of the Institute of Makers of Explosives in Washington.

Mr. Metesky built his bombs from pieces of pipe that he bought at hardware stores, black powder gathered from shotgun shells and bullets, pipe caps that he made on a lathe in his garage, and timers made from batteries and cheap wristwatches.

In 1956, The New York Journal-American published an open letter to the Mad Bomber, and to the surprise of many in law enforcement, Mr. Metesky promptly wrote back. That letter and others he sent the newspaper betrayed his grudge against Consolidated Edison, where he had worked years earlier, a clue that led to the arrest of the 53-year-old Mr. Metesky in January 1957 at his home in Waterbury, Conn.

Mr. Metesky, whose bombs injured many but did not kill anyone, was committed to a mental hospital and released in December 1973. He died last May, at age 90.

Mr. Metesky was "the classic example of a serial bomber," Mr. Cavanaugh, the A.T.F. agent, said. He and other experts see parallels between the Metesky and Unabom cases. They theorize that the current bomber, like Mr. Metesky, began by selecting people and places linked to a grudge, but that the field of victims expanded in a way that only the bomber understood.

By now, the identity of his victims matters less to the Unabom bomber than the bombing itself, said Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism expert at Kroll Associates, a security consulting company. "It is the activity of making bombs and sending bombs and not being apprehended that is the source of his gratification," he said. "There's a boasting quality about this."

Mr. Jenkins said the Unabom bomber, like Mr. Metesky, "wants to communicate something." He cited that the bomber imprinted the letters "FC" on his explosives in a way designed to survive the blast, and a letter he sent to The New York Times last year, which promised future contact.

An F.B.I. agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed, saying: "Our man wants to talk about what's troubling him, but he's afraid to."

Mr. Moody was driven by a desire for revenge, which law-enforcement officials say motivates most bombings. He had been convicted on charges stemming from a 1972 bombing that maimed his wife, and the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit later denied his appeal. In 1989, years after his release from prison, he sent a bomb packed with nails to a member of that appeals court, Judge Robert S. Vance, killing him.

Hoping to mislead agents, Mr. Moody mailed three bombs besides the one that killed Judge Vance, including one that killed Robert E. Robinson, a lawyer, and he sent letters to reporters, blaming the killings on the Ku Klux Klan -- a ruse that for a time convinced Federal agents that the slayings were racially motivated.

At first, investigators were encouraged that the parcel bombs were wrapped with a rare type of string, using an uncommon machine that ties packages. Yet finally, neither of those clues led to Mr. Moody. Agents searched through the records of the company that made the tying machine, and even traveled to Taiwan to visit the factory that had made the nails used in the bombs, but the trips were fruitless.

Mr. Moody, who had divorced and remarried and lived in a small town in Georgia, became a prime suspect two months after the bombings. Federal agents found that the 1989 bombs were much like the 1972 device that had injured Mr. Moody's wife, and discovered Mr. Moody's connection to the murdered judge.

In the Unabom case, agents were puzzled that he did not send any bombs from 1987 to 1993. "The first theory was that he could have been in prison or in a mental hospital," Louis Bertram, a retired F.B.I. agent who worked on the Unabom case in 1987 and 1988, said.. Another theory was that the bomber was one of the dozens of suspects they interviewed after the 1987 bombing in Salt Lake City, and "that might have scared him off."

Mr. Ronay said he believed the bomber would continue sending explosives until he was caught.

Mr. Cavanaugh said that many bombers are caught or killed when their bombs go off unexpectedly. That was the case with William Morales, maimed in a 1979 explosion at a bomb-making site in Queens run by the F.A.L.N., a Puerto Rican nationalist group that had carried out an extensive bombing campaign in New York City and Chicago. Mr. Morales was arrested.

Law-enforcement officials said they were confident that they would find the Unabom bomber, but Mr. Jenkins was not so sure.

"This man has the police baffled, and it is going to be very difficult to apprehend him unless he makes a mistake," he said. "He has shown himself to be not only skillful in the construction of the devices, but also very, very disciplined, in terms of the length of time between the attacks and the meticulous preparations."