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Professional News
Terrible Dilemma: To Tell or Not to Tell?
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 5 page 6-6

While the Unabomber—Ted Kaczynski—got enormous media coverage in the 1990s, few people know much about his troubled psyche or about the psychological devastation he has unleashed on his family.

It is a fascinating, but also heart-rending, story, which was told by Ted's brother, David Kaczynski, at the winter meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association (see Those Most Affected Help Analysts Mull Death Penalty).

"I think I always knew that my brother, Ted, was different," David Kaczynski related, "but in a good way. He was a legend in our school system." Yet Ted also tended to have no friends, which worried both David and their parents.

Then, during the 1960s, Ted decided to give up his career as a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, to move into a Montana cabin. During the 1970s, his behavior became more disturbing. He wrote his parents a letter, saying that they had never loved him. During the 1980s, David decided to marry a childhood friend, Linda Patrik. David sent Ted a letter, asking Ted to be his best man. "I don't think we can be brothers any longer," Ted wrote back.

After they were married, David and Linda received even more bizarre letters from Ted. Said Linda: "You know, David, your brother is sick." She persuaded David to take some of Ted's letters to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist examined the letters and said that Ted probably had schizophrenia. Then the psychiatrist and David discussed ways to get Ted into treatment. Unfortunately, none of their strategies worked.FIG1

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David Kaczynski: "I had this devastating deep sense of depression. I was considering that my brother was a serial killer." 

Credit: Joan Arehart-Treichel

In 1995 David and Linda read articles in the press about the Unabomber. There was reason to believe that the Unabomber had something to do with Berkeley. Linda asked David, "Is there a chance that your brother might be the Unabomber?"

David and Linda were faced with a terrible dilemma. Should they contact the police and share their suspicions? On the one hand, if Ted were indeed the Unabomber, they had to stop him before he killed someone else. On the other hand, Ted would probably be given the death penalty, and then they would have that on their conscience.

Nonetheless, in 1996, David decided to turn Ted in. FBI agents found the Unabomber manifesto in Ted's cabin. There was no doubt that Ted was the Unabomber, David said.

The prosecution, David reported, hired a well-known forensic psychiatrist to help them make the case that Ted should get the death penalty. Defense psychiatrists who evaluated Ted diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. During 1997 and 1998, Ted went on trial. The prosecutor offered a plea bargain that would spare his life. Today he is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

But the emotional anguish that David and his parents experienced still consumes them today. Ted wants nothing to do with them. In fact, "We don't know whether Ted is receiving any treatment in prison since he has declined to sign the required consent for prison staff to share information about him with his family," David said.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

David Kaczynski: "I had this devastating deep sense of depression. I was considering that my brother was a serial killer." 

Credit: Joan Arehart-Treichel

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