Unabomber News History

Copyright 1994 The San Diego Union-Tribune

The San Diego Union-Tribune

December 16, 1994, Friday

SECTION: NEWS; Ed. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8; Pg. A-42

LENGTH: 913 words

HEADLINE: Profiling of Unabomber stems from explosive case of '40s, '50s SERIES: UNABOMBER

BYLINE: ERIN McCORMICK San Francisco Examiner


It took 15 years of terror before police devised a way to identify the "Mad Bomber," who placed 37 bombs in crowded areas of New York City during the 1940s and '50s.

With scant evidence, a psychiatrist finally developed an uncannily accurate profile of the mystery bomber -- right down to the prediction that he would be wearing a double-breasted suit when arrested.

He was.

The remarkable 1957 arrest heralded the birth of a new criminal science, which investigators are now feverishly applying to the Mad Bomber's modern-day counterpart -- the Unabomber.

Investigators who specialize in profiling criminals blend psychology, intuition and a Sherlock Holmes-like knack for deduction to paint a picture of exactly who their criminal might be.

"We ask a lot of questions other investigators don't ask," said Peter Smerick, a retired FBI profiler who now works with an investigation consulting company.

Smerick said that "we want to know everything we can possibly know about the victim's personality traits, drinking habits, dating habits, hobbies" and other characteristics.

Like the Mad Bomber, the Unabomber, whose 15 strikes over the last 16 years included a deadly mail bomb sent to a New Jersey advertising executive Saturday, leaves little for police to go on. Police have described him as a 35-to-45-year-old white man, a loner, with a blue-collar background, a meticulous nature and possible ties to Chicago, where the first attacks took place.

"Typically, we will have clues," said Mike Rustigan, a criminology professor at San Francisco State. "But this guy is devious. He doesn't leave us much to go on."

To do a profile, Smerick said, investigators gather every imaginable piece of information about a crime, including maps and aerial photographs, photos of the crime scene and notes written by criminals. The one thing they won't touch, he said, is any police description of possible suspects.

"If you read about the suspect, there's always a chance that you'll color the profile to fit the suspect's description," said Smerick, who worked on some of the early stages of the Unabomber case.

Investigators then attempt to discover patterns in the clues, sometimes by making use of common criminal characteristics they have discovered through interviews with similar criminals who have been caught.

Many of these profiling techniques, which were dramatized in the movie "Silence of the Lambs," have been developed by the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at the FBI Academy in suburban Virginia outside Washington, D.C.

In devising a system to create the psychological profiles, interviewers ask serial criminals at length about their motives, methodology and thinking. The answers are compiled into a database that is constantly updated and cross-referenced. The data can then be used to compare the behavior of an unknown criminal to that of other criminals, possibly suggesting clues to motives or techniques.

Charles Friel, a criminology professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, said the profiles were not necessarily meant to lead to a specific person but served more as a guideline.

"Unlike some psychic hot line where they will tell you without a doubt everything that will happen to you for the rest of your life, this science is much more probabilistic," Friel said. "You're scraping away at your chances of being wrong.

"When you start out, this bomber could be any of 250 million people in the country. If you can reduce that to 10,000 in a week, you're doing pretty well."

As described in a 1991 article in Police Chief magazine, the Mad Bomber case was the forerunner of today's profiling techniques.

Psychiatrist James Brussel had only the bombs' remains, the bomber's unique mode of operation and some strangely worded letters the perpetrator had sent to newspapers to guide him in developing a profile of the person who had set off bombs in Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station, the public library and other gathering spots in New York.

Fifteen people were hurt in the bombings. No one was killed.

From derogatory remarks and strange colloquialisms in the letters, Brussel surmised that the bomber was of Slavic descent and might be a disgruntled former employee of the local electric company.

Brussel suggested the bomber might live in Connecticut, in part because it had a large Slavic population. Using other subtle indicators, he also predicted that the man would be 40 to 50 and of medium build, and that he would be living with an unmarried female relative.

According to his memoirs, Brussel offered the police one final word.

"When you catch him -- and I have no doubt you will -- he will be wearing a double-breasted suit. Buttoned," Brussel said.

In his book, he explained that he felt that the bomber would have a paranoiac nature which would cause him to be so conservatively dressed and so compulsively neat that his garb would be 10 years out of date.

Police later arrested the Mad Bomber: 53-year-old George Metesky, who lived with his two unmarried sisters in Waterbury, Conn. As predicted, he had been employed by Consolidated Edison Co., where he claimed to have suffered a disabling accident 22 years earlier.

When investigators arrived to arrest Metesky, he was wearing only pajamas. So police allowed him to change before being taken to jail.

The man emerged wearing a double-breasted suit. Buttoned.