Theodore J. Kaczynski, the « Unabomber, » who killed three people and wounded 23 in a series of bombings that spanned from 1978 to 1995, died by suicide in a federal prison medical center in North Carolina at started on Saturday, according to three people familiar with the situation.
Rescuers were called to Mr. Kaczynski’s cell at 12:23 a.m. at Federal Medical Center, Butner, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Attempts to revive him in prison and by ambulance were unsuccessful, and he was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, officials said. He was 81 years old.
The FBI was notified of his death. The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed in an email that it conducts autopsies of deaths at Butner Federal Medical Center, but offered no timetable for when one might 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 in a Manhattan federal detention center is sure to raise new questions about the quality of security, oversight and health care in the troubled, chronically understaffed federal prison system.
Mr. Epstein’s death prompted a wave of unsubstantiated 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 an isolated cabin in the desert, is almost certain to spark similar speculation.
Investigators determined that carelessness and lax patrol practices, rather than foul play, gave Mr Epstein the opportunity to end his life before being tried on sex trafficking charges. The guards union blamed understaffing for mistakes that left Mr Epstein unattended for three hours.
The Bureau of Prisons, which houses about 160,000 inmates nationwide, has struggled to retain and hire prison guards, along with doctors and mental health professionals, who are often able to find less stressful and higher paying jobs elsewhere.
While the suicide rate in federal facilities — between 300 and 400 a year – remains below that of local and state prisons, the bureau, like all other corrections systems, has experienced a sharp spike in suicides during the pandemic that has only begun to decline this year.
The Justice Department’s office of the inspector general, which has been investigating Epstein’s death for the past two years, is wrapping up its work and is expected to produce a report in the coming months documenting the failures of personnel, management and supervision in the Epstein case.
This year, the Inspector General documented a remarkable chain of administrative errors, incompetence, and health care failures within the federal prison system that led to the violent death of notorious Boston gangster James (Whitey) Bulger just hours after the his transfer to a West Virginia prison in 2018.
The inspector general ruled 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 secure unit in a Florida prison to Hazelton Federal Penitentiary. The move, made after Mr Bulger threatened a nurse, was approved even though officials knew he had a life-threatening heart condition.
Mr. Kaczynski, who has struggled with health in recent years, was transferred to the prison medical facility in North Carolina in late 2021 after serving more than 25 years at 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 tiny cabin in western Montana where he lived, with no water or electricity, and built many of the 16 home-made parcel bombs he shipped to targets. Mr. Kaczynski was captured after his brother contacted authorities, suspecting he might be behind a spate of mysterious attacks that included planting a bomb that would have brought down an American Airlines flight if it malfunctioned .
Merrick Garland, now attorney general, was then a mid-level federal prosecutor overseeing the team prosecuting Kaczynski.
Mr. Kaczynski rejected his lawyer’s recommendation that he mount an insanity defense and pleaded guilty to the murders. He received eight consecutive life sentences.
Not the first high-profile inmate to die in federal prison hospital in Butner, NC In 2021, Bernard L. Madoff, who ran the largest and perhaps most devastating Ponzi scheme in financial history, died there at the age aged 82 after entering the final stages of kidney disease.
Remy Tumino contributed report.