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Thursday, April 4, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Unabomber Suspect Is Charged -- Montana Townsfolk Showed Tolerance For `The Hermit'

Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services

LINCOLN, Mont. - For years, locals called him "the hermit." Yet, in an odd sort of way, the man now suspected of being the Unabomber seemed to fit in just fine with the people of Lincoln, Mont.

When Ted John Kaczynski, 53, was taken into custody yesterday for his possible connection to deadly bombings since 1978, many residents of this rural town were surprised to learn his real name.

For at least 10 years, they knew him only as "the hermit" - the disheveled, silent man who lived in a one-room cabin and rode his clunker bicycle into town every few weeks.

Kaczynski's remote cabin, with no electricity, plumbing or telephone, is near Stemple Pass about five miles outside of Lincoln. So far had Kaczynski removed himself from society that an FBI agent watching his cabin from a snowbank once saw a cougar stalk and kill a deer.

With no sewage hookup, he used his feces to fertilize his vegetable garden, residents said. The bearded, long-haired loner, who never married, would ride his bicycle into town for supplies or long visits to the public library. When the snow was deep, he'd hitch a ride on the mail truck, or walk.

Like Kaczynski himself, the cabin seemed rough and wild on the outside; garbage cans overflowed with refuse, and beer cans were strewn about the yard. But the jumbled exterior gave no hint of what lay inside. The 10-foot-by-12-foot cabin was "wall-to-wall books," according to a neighbor, the only indication that the reclusive mountain man had another life as a Harvard-trained mathematician who, according to the FBI, became one of the nation's most wanted terrorists.

"They were not thrown about, but neatly stacked along the walls," said Lee Mason, who lives less than a mile away. "The only other thing I saw was a table and a chair." Mandy Wilson, who delivered his firewood, recalled seeing a large number of candles, apparently to read by.

Kaczynski, described as thin-lipped and 5 1/2 feet tall, had lived in the town for more than a decade, but no one interviewed yesterday knew about his Harvard degree or his talent for mathematics - or, if the FBI is correct, his affinity for building bombs.

"Lincoln's probably the greatest place to hide," said longtime resident Myrna Gammons. "If you want to be by yourself, you can be by yourself. . . . That's just the way we've always been around here."

"People come to Lincoln to get away from skeletons in their closet. Everybody in town just minds their own business," said Cindy Davis, tending bar at the Wilderness Tavern on the main and only street through Lincoln, population 400 to 1,500, depending on the season.

Davis, who ran a secondhand store, recalled that she sold Kaczynski a manual typewriter last summer. The Unabomber used a manual typewriter, according to the FBI, to type letters to those he bombed over 17 years.

"He really wanted it," Davis said, so she gave it to him in trade for some things he brought in.

Kaczynski grew up in the working-class Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, Ill., where he was known as a brilliant little boy, a quiet, introspective "brain" with a dad, Theodore, who ran a Polish sausage factory and a mom, Wanda, who presided over the grade-school PTA. The elder Kaczynski contracted terminal cancer, neighbors said, and shot himself to death in 1990 or 1991.

The family's next-door neighbor, Dorothy O'Connell, vividly recalls the day some 43 years ago when 10-year-old Teddy bounded into her tidy house, a book slung under one of his arms titled "Romping Through Mathematics from Addition to Calculus."

Dale Eickelman, who went to junior-high school with Kaczynski, said even as a teenager, "Ted had the know-how of putting together things like batteries, wire leads, potassium nitrate and whatever, and creating explosions.

"We would go to the hardware store, use household products and make these things you might call bombs," Eickelman, now a Dartmouth anthropology professor, told the Daily Southtown in Chicago. "Once we created an explosion in a metal garbage can."

High-school classmates recalled him only as one of the smartest kids in the class. He was in band, the Biology Club, the Coin Club, the German Club and, of course, the Math Club.

A graduate of Harvard and the University of Michigan, Kaczynski was a math whiz who awed his professors and seemed to have a long future in academia. He briefly taught mathematics, from 1967-1969, as an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

"He was an unusual person. He was not like the other graduate students," said Peter Duren, one of Kaczynski's math professors at Michigan. "He was much more focused about his work. He had a drive to discover mathematical truth."

"It is not enough to say he was smart," said George Piranian, another of his Michigan math professors. In fact, Kaczynski earned his Ph.D. by solving a problem so difficult that Piranian, now a professor emeritus, could not figure it out.

Piranian kept up with his prize student when Kaczynski joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley as an assistant professor of mathematics. But Kaczynski lasted there less than two years.

One law-enforcement source said that Kaczynski left the school in disgust over widespread drug use and liberal politics on the campus.

But in Lincoln, where residents said he bought his land about a dozen years ago and built his shack, Kaczynski is less known for his math wizardry than for his habits. Every few weeks, residents say, the tight-lipped man would be seen with his backpack and bicycle, picking up mail and groceries.

He wore fatigues or overalls, sometimes a straw hat. Often he wore sunglasses and, always, he had one pant leg rolled up to keep it from catching in the metal bicycle chain.

Rarely did he speak.

Bob Armstrong, a retired salesman, said "nobody seemed to know much about him," commenting only on the fact that he was always on a bicycle and "dressed real ragged."

"I find it hard to fathom," he said, that Kaczynski might be a serial bomber.

With its meager population, Lincoln doesn't count many strangers within its boundaries. Most are families with children, and many are dependent on logging, mining, sheep and cattle ranching, and the local beef-jerky factory for income.

Residents of Lincoln said Kaczynski didn't hold a job, and many of them assumed that he was living on family money.

Despite his unkempt appearance and disdain for neighborly hellos, Kaczynski didn't strike people in Lincoln as particularly strange, much less dangerous, Gammons said.

Situated on the edge of the Helena National Forest and renowned for the Big Blackfoot River, Lincoln briefly enjoyed the national spotlight four years ago as the setting for a movie about a Montana family and fly fishing: "A River Runs Through It.

Gammons and others said they heard about Kaczynski's arrest from friends and neighbors. Some had relatives telephoning from across the country, worrying about their safety.

When news reports identified him by name, Gammons said her sister called the local post office to find out if it was "the hermit."

Seattle Times staff reporters Barbara A. Serrano and Carol M. Ostrom contributed to this report. Also included is material from The Washington Post, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and Knight Ridder News Service.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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