WASHINGTON – The tiny Montana cabin where Unabomber Ted Kaczynski hid now stands a few blocks from the Washington headquarters of the FBI, which spent 17 years searching for him.
The 10-by-12-foot cabin is on public display for the first time in the new exhibit "G-Men and Journalists: Top News Stories of the FBI's First Century," which opens Friday at the Newseum, a museum about the news.
When FBI agents found Kaczynski, they also found a live bomb in the cabin. Over nearly two decades, his homemade bombs killed three people and injured 23 others. Visitors can look inside the mostly bare cabin's front door and envision the Unabomber sleeping against the wall.
"You can still see the outline, we think, of his body from the soot and smoke that built up from the wood-burning stove," said Cathy Trost, director of exhibits for the Newseum.
The cabin was stored in an FBI evidence facility after Kaczynski's bombing spree from 1978 to 1995. Kaczynski is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times faced an ethical dilemma over whether to publish Kaczynski's anti-technology manifesto, also on display at the Newseum.
"In the end they did publish it, and in the end that's what led to his capture, because his brother saw phrases that looked familiar to him" and tipped off the FBI, said Newseum vice president Susan Bennett.
The exhibit features stories and artifacts from other memorable FBI investigations, including the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City bombing two years later and, more recently, the 2002 Washington-area sniper shootings.
The sniper section includes a replica of the car trunk used by John Allen Muhammad and teenage accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo in a shooting spree that left 10 people dead. The two criminals hid and shot from the trunk of a Chevy Caprice.
"This is a great example of how there was confrontation between the media and the FBI," Bennett said. When a reporter got a tip on the suspect's license plate number, the FBI did not want it revealed for fear it would cause the suspects to ditch the car and flee.
"What happened instead was that because the news reporter got it, a bystander saw the car at the rest stop, called the police," Bennett said. "It's the ultimate example where you've got two forces with the ultimate good in mind but sometimes from opposite sides."
Newseum curators retained editorial control of the exhibit, though many of the artifacts are on loan from the FBI, Bennett said.
"We told them we're not going to include just the good stories of the press either," she said, noting a section on how newsman Walter Winchell traded favors with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Visitors to the exhibit will be greeted by a lifelike figure of the legendary Hoover himself, a wax statue on loan from Madame Tussauds wax museum.