Childhood friend remembers early interest in explosives Buddy of suspect recalls chemistry-set bombs

April 05, 1996|By BOSTON GLOBE

EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. -- He came of age in the 1950s in this Chicago suburb, playing chess, studying the moon through a telescope, lugging around advanced math books, and experimenting with a homemade chemistry set to "blow things up."

Theodore J. Kaczynski has always been an introspective outsider, according to friends and neighbors who knew him. He was the oldest son and namesake of a father who worked at a Polish sausage factory. His mother served on the PTA.

It was his mother, Wanda, who pushed him to succeed in his studies -- pressure that resulted in his skipping two grades in high school, winning admission to Harvard, and ultimately going on to become an assistant professor of mathematics during a turbulent two years, from 1967 to 1969, at the University of California at Berkeley. She also shared some of his political views and his passion for books.

"His mother pushed him very hard," said Thomas Lebensorger, who was a childhood friend of Mr. Kaczynski in this quiet tract of identical suburban homes, equally spaced, each of which has a small rectangular yard.

"He was the kind of kid who did what he was told. And his mother told him he had to study. He was a brain. He was into the books. But he always looked kind of glum," Mr. Lebensorger said.

His father, who committed suicide six years ago after struggling for years with cancer, was an avid outdoorsman who often took "Teddy," as he was called, and his brother on camping trips.

His father and mother, who later moved farther north to Lombard, would often brag to their neighbors and friends about their son's academic background and how he was living off the land while "writing a book."

"They were so proud of their son. They used to tell us about his writing a book and they were hoping it would get done," said Roy Froberg, who lives across from the house where the family lived until Wanda Kaczynski sold the house just two weeks ago.

While packing to move, federal authorities say, the family found writings in a box that were similar to the Unabomber manifesto published last year by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The writings, authorities have said, prompted the family to contact the FBI.

Dale Eickelman, who was a junior high and high school friend, remembers that Mr. Kaczynski had an early interest in building explosives.

Mr. Eickelman, who is now a professor of anthropology and human relations at Dartmouth College, gave a lengthy interview to a local newspaper in Evergreen Park called the Daily Southtown in which he described how, as 7th- to 9th-grade adolescents, he and Mr. Kaczynski would experiment with chemistry to create small explosions.

"We would go out to an open field and, I remember Ted had the know-how of putting together things like batteries, wire leads, potassium nitrate and whatever, and creating explosions," the paper quoted Mr. Eickelman as saying.

"We would just blow up weeds, nothing more. We would go to the hardware store, use household products and make these things you might call bombs."

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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