Sold: the bomb-making tools of Theodore Kaczynski
WASHINGTON – To most people, Theodore Kaczynski's bomb-making tools are meaningless relics from a life devoted to mayhem.
To Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, they're priceless.
For a mere $1,766 at an online government auction that ended Thursday, Vaccarello's museum was the winning bidder for Kaczynski's black and white passport photos, along with the wood saw and Hanson Model 1509 scale that the man known as the Unabomber used in his deadly attacks.
Carried out under court order by the U.S. Marshals Service and the General Services Administration, the auction was revenge of a sort for the victims and the families terrorized by Kaczynski's acts of violence that left three people dead and 23 injured from 1978 to 1995.
In all, collectors paid more than $200,000 for 58 items seized during the raid of Kaczynski's remote Montana cabin in 1996. The money goes to victims and their families.
In Washington, Vaccarello monitored the auction all day long.
"There is something strange about describing emotions of happiness and a criminal artifact in the same sentence," Vaccarello said. "I am happy that the funds raised are going to victims and I am happy that our museum can add some artifacts regarding Kaczynski. I think items like this belong in a museum, and a crime museum is the best fit."
She bid unsuccessfully for two of Kaczynski's typewriters, as the price doubled in five minutes to $3,600. The three pieces of Kaczynski paraphernalia that Vaccarello won will be welcome additions to the museum, which includes a crime lab, the filming studios for the show "America's Most Wanted" and hundreds of interactives and crime artifacts, like John Dillinger's death mask and Ted Bundy's VW Beetle, the car into which the serial killer lured his victims.
Now 69, Kaczynski pleaded guilty in 1998 and is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
"He wanted his stuff back, and this way he doesn't get it back. He also hasn't paid a cent in restitution," said Susan Mosser, whose advertising executive husband became one of Kaczynski's victims, killed by a parcel bomb in 1994.
Kaczynski's personal journals fetched $40,676; the iconic hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses depicted in police sketch artist renderings brought in $20,025, and his handwritten "manifesto" — a 35,000-word screed against modern technologies seeking to justify his crimes — sold for $20,053. Other items included $22,003 for the Smith Corona typewriter seized from the cabin and $17,780 for his autobiography.
Measuring instruments and hand tools sold for $2,603, a hatchet and small handheld knives sold for $1,662, and a long black knife brought in $3,060. On the auction website, those items all carried an explanatory note saying that Kaczynski's construction of Unabom explosive devices was all done by hand without assistance of power tools and using where possible wood and metal scraps obtained from trash.
Some victims and others opposed the auction as unseemly. They feared the publicity surrounding the event would add to Kaczynski's renown at a time when they want him to languish quietly in the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo.
There was concern that some of the writings contained Kaczynski's gloating over the bombings between 1978 and 1995. Kaczynski, who sent bombs to university professors and planted one on a plane, got his nickname after the FBI dubbed the still-unidentified suspect the "University and Airline Bomber," with the FBI code UNABOM.
Kaczynski led authorities on the nation's longest, costliest manhunt before his brother tipped off authorities in 1996.
FBI agents painstakingly censored all references to Kaczynski's victims in the 40,000 pages of documents and other items seized from the cabin and put up for sale.
"You find that people are all over the board in terms of how we should deal with those who are responsible," said Albert Najera, the U.S. marshal for the eastern district of California, where Kaczynski was charged.
While some victims and their families don't want to relive the past, others "are very glad we're doing this," said Najera, who has worked in law enforcement for 36 years and has dealt with thousands of victims.
Elias reported from San Francisco.