Theodore J. Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” who killed three people and injured 23 during a bombing that spanned from 1978 to 1995, died by suicide at a federal prison medical center in North Carolina, according to three people familiar with the situation. .
At 12:23 a.m., according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, emergency responders were called to Mr. Kaczynski’s cell at the Federal Medical Center, Butner. Attempts to resuscitate him in jail and in an ambulance were unsuccessful, and he was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, officials said. He turned 81.
The FBI was notified of his death. The North Carolina office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed in an email that it performs autopsies of deaths at the federal medical center in Butner, but did not offer a timetable for when one could be completed for Mr. Kaczynski.
The circumstances of his suicide are unclear and it is uncertain whether prison officials could have done more to ensure his safety. But the self-inflicted death of another high-profile inmate, four years after accused sex offender Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself at a Manhattan federal detention center, is sure to raise new questions about the quality of security, oversight and health care in the troubled, chronically ill. understaffed federal prison system.
Mr. Epstein’s death sparked a wave of unfounded speculation that he was murdered, even after that theory was contradicted by Justice Department officials who ruled it a suicide. The death of Mr. Kaczynski, himself a conspiracy theorist who wrote a lengthy manifesto in a remote cabin in the wilderness, will almost certainly spark similar speculation.
Investigators determined that neglect and lax patrol practices, rather than foul play, allowed Mr. Epstein to end his life before facing trial for sex trafficking charges. The security guards union blamed staff shortages that left Mr Epstein unattended for three hours.
The Bureau of Prisons, which houses about 160,000 inmates nationwide, is struggling to retain and hire prison guards, along with medical and mental health workers, who can often find less stressful and better-paying jobs elsewhere.
While the suicide rate in federal institutions — between 300 and 400 a year — remains below that of local and state prisons, the agency, like all corrections systems, saw a major spike in suicides during the pandemic, which it is only now beginning to ease. . year.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which has spent the past two years investigating Mr Epstein’s death, is finalizing its work and is expected to issue a report in the coming months detailing staffing, management and oversight errors. be documented in the Epstein case.
This year, the Inspector General documented a remarkable series of administrative errors, incompetence and health system shortcomings within the federal prison system that led to the death of notorious Boston mobster James (Whitey) Bulger hours after he was transferred to a prison in West Virginia. Virginia. in 2018.
The Inspector General determined that Federal Bureau of Prisons officials approved the downgrading of Mr. Bulger’s official medical status for the sole purpose of moving him from a security unit at a Florida prison to the Hazelton Federal Penitentiary. The move, taken after Mr Bulger threatened a nurse, was approved even though officials knew he had a life-threatening heart condition.
Mr. Kaczynski, who has had health problems in recent years, was transferred to North Carolina Medical Prison in late 2021 after serving more than 25 years in the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo.
Mr. Kaczynski, a Harvard-educated mathematician, had stated that his goal was to bring about the collapse of the modern social order through targeted assassinations. He was arrested in 1996 in the small cabin in western Montana where he lived, with no water or electricity, and built many of the 16 home-made packet bombs he sent to targets. Mr. Kaczynski was captured after his brother contacted authorities, believing he was behind a spate of mysterious attacks, including planting a bomb that would have brought down an American Airlines flight had it not malfunctioned.
Merrick Garland, now the Attorney General, was then a mid-level federal prosecutor who oversaw the team prosecuting Mr. Kaczynski.
Mr. Kaczynski rejected his lawyer’s recommendation to defend himself against insanity and pleaded guilty to the murders. He received eight consecutive life sentences.
He’s not the first high-profile inmate to die at the Federal Prison Hospital in Butner, NC. In 2021, Bernard L. Madoff, who had spearheaded the largest and possibly most devastating Ponzi scheme in financial history, died there at the age of 82 after entering the final stages of kidney disease.
Remy Tumin reporting contributed.