Must-Watch: ‘Manhunt: The Unabomber’

How a 17 year case was finally solved
How a 17 year case was finally solved

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

A killer on the loose is scary enough, but imagine an extremely intelligent killer whose M.O involves sending homemade bombs through the mail to people he has never even met. That’s exactly what the FBI was dealing with from 1978 to 1996 as they investigated a string of bombings that killed three and injured 23 more. The case was known as UNABOM which stands for UNiversity Airline BOMber and was the FBI’s longest and most costliest investigation to date.

The Discovery Channel’s Manhunt: The Unabomber (which is now available on Netflix), chronicles the 17 year investigation that led to the Unabomber—Ted Kaczynski’s—capture in 1996. Sam Worthington plays James R. Fitzgerald, a new profiler with the Behavioral Analysis Unit who is asked to assist with the UNABOM case. He focuses on the Unabomber’s writing to develop a new profile that is a lot different from what the task force was working off of before.

Originally, the profile said the Unabomber was most likely an airplane mechanic with an average IQ. After reading the Unabomber’s letters and taking a closer look at the handmade bombs he was sending, Fitzgerald concluded he was more likely to be of above average intelligence, possibly even genius level, with a PhD in the hard sciences. Fitzgerald pored over Unabomber correspondence and developed a profile that included unusual spellings and language habits that he called an “idiolect”. This was a completely new investigation tactic that eventually became known as forensic linguistics.

Manhunt: The Unabomber portrays Fitzgerald’s struggle to be taken seriously when the only evidence he was bringing to the table was based on language—something that had no precedence. Everyone was looking for hard, forensic proof, and all Fitzgerald could offer was a profile that focused on how the Unabomber communicated.

Fortunately, forensic linguistics is exactly what ended up breaking the case after the Unabomber demanded his “manifesto” be publishing in either the New York Times or Washington Post. His manifesto, entitled “Industrial Society and Its Future” covered his opinions on how technology would ultimately be the downfall of human kind. The FBI decided to publish the essay in its entirety in the hopes that someone would recognize the ideas and writing style and provide a lead. It was a long shot, but it worked.

If you don’t already know the story of the Unabomber, Manhunt is a thorough place to start. It touches on Kaczynski’s (who is played by Paul Bettany) background, including his time at Harvard and why he eventually chose to leave civilization behind and move out to a cabin with no electricity or running water in Montana. The eight-episode series is a must-watch because it manages to make Kaczynski seem somewhat sympathetic but also doesn’t lose sight of the fact that he’s also a murderer.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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