Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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David Easterbrook received a special surprise in the mail on Monday.

A letter from the Unabomber.

The name “Theodore John Kaczynski” is handwritten in capital letters above the return address: U.S. PENITENTIARY MAX, Florence, Colo. The letter did not contain an explosive device.

Easterbrook is the curator of Northwestern’s Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, the largest Africana book collection in the country. Kaczynski wrote to offer him two rare volumes of African history for the library’s collection.

“I looked at the name on the letter and thought it looked familiar, but I was more interested that it was obviously sent from a prison,” Easterbrook said. “As I was opening it, it dawned on me; I realized who he was, and I was quite surprised.”

Kaczynski was the mastermind behind a string of letter-bomb attacks that terrorized the nation for almost two decades. Captured in 1996, he is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison. His first two attacks, carried out in 1978 and 1979, were committed on NU’s Evanston campus.

On May 25, 1978, an unmailed package, addressed to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was discovered at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was returned to the supposed sender, NU engineering Prof. Buckley Crist Jr. Crist did not recall ever sending the package, so he turned it over to University Police. When UP Officer Terry Marker opened the package the next day, it exploded in his face. Marker was only slightly injured.

Crist, who still teaches at NU, said he rarely thinks about the experience and to this day does not know why Kaczynski chose him.

“I got a phone call from someone who said my package had been found,” Crist said. “It turned out that this was a package mailed from me to a professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but it did not ring a bell. The University Police were called, they opened the package and it exploded.”

Crist declined to comment in depth on Kaczynski’s latest letter.

“I am very surprised,” he said.

The second attack occurred on May 9, 1979. A cigar box bomb exploded in Technological Institute, injuring graduate student John G. Harris. The bomb was placed on a study carrel in a Tech study room, but nobody knew how it got there.

Kaczynski’s two-page letter is neatly hand-written in blue ink. Written in a formal style, it is addressed to the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies and signed, “Sincerely yours, Theodore John Kaczynski.”

“In the letter, he is offering to give us a publication from the 1930s that is a very desirable scholarly work,” Easterbrook said. “We are currently considering whether to accept it.”

Aware of the historical significance of the letter and Kaczynski’s past with NU, Easterbrook gave the document to the University Archives, where a file on Kaczynski already has been established.

“There have been numerous inquiries because of the association with Northwestern, in that the first bombings took place here,” Associate Archivist Kevin B. Leonard said. “For a time, there was suspicion through leads provided to investigators that there was a Northwestern connection.”

Reach Jason B. Gumer at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Kaczynski offers books to NU Africana library