Unabomber saga frustrates town Limelight: Lincoln, Mont., thought the furor was over with Ted Kaczynski's arrest -- but now comes the trial.

November 05, 1997|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LINCOLN, Mont. -- Lincoln's most famous resident goes on trial for murder in Sacramento, Calif., next week -- raising fears here that this remote town might be in for 15 more annoying minutes of fame as the nation watches the case of Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski.

"We thought it was all over with," Dolores Transue said as she played canasta with three friends at the Lincoln Senior Center. "We'd just rather forget it."

Lincoln, which likes its solitude, didn't care for the international attention it drew in April 1996, when federal agents descended on the town. The authorities drove away with Kaczynski, a ragged hermit who allegedly ran a 17-year-long string of bombings from his crude 12-foot-by-10-foot mountain cabin.

With Kaczynski's arrest came an onslaught of reporters, television trucks and photographers. "I must say, it was very annoying," said Dyan Walker, manager of the Lost Woodsman Gallery and Cafe. "It's quiet here, and people like it that way."

A few in town, she said, found the attention beguiling. "He was a very quiet man. Now, all of a sudden, everybody knows him: 'Yeah. He was a bud.' Now everybody wants to be on Jenny Jones."

Kaczynski certainly was odd, but no more so than some other folks around town. "There are some stranger people around Lincoln right now," said Jerry Stoltz, owner of the Lincoln Lodge.

Lincoln, a town of about 900 in Lewis and Clark County, is set amid soaring pine trees in a high valley near the Continental Divide. Deer amble along the main drag. Snowmobilers and dog-sledders visit in the winter; hikers and fishermen stop by in the summer.

"Welcome hunters. Stay Awhile," reads the sign outside the 3 Bears Motel. At the Lincoln Lodge, campers and hunters can buy showers for $4.

Kaczynski didn't mix with people, but then that was his right. Residents say no one intruded on the recluse, who in tattered trousers occasionally made his way into town for groceries, library books and mail.

Many people were familiar with him. Fred Rowley, who sometimes drove a school bus, said Kaczynski would wave as the bus passed. But few say they knew him.

Those who had the most contact with Kaczynski, including the librarians at the tiny community library, are reluctant to talk about him. They say they will be paying attention to the trial of the shy man they chatted with over the years.

"To most of the people in town who never had anything to do with him, I don't think it will make a difference," said a librarian who would not give her name.

In declining to discuss Kaczynski, she sounded almost protective of him. "I suppose," she conceded. "A little bit."

This is not a place that ever intended to be in the spotlight. Lincoln, its residents say, is merely a bystander in the Unabomber case.

"It just so happens that he chose to locate here," said Teresa Garland, manager of Garland's Town and Country Store. "Just look around you, how beautiful it is. People come and go all the time."

People are moving in from out of state, if they can find property -- which can be difficult in a town surrounded by national forests.

Lincoln's residences are an accumulation of modest frame buildings, mobile homes and rustic cabins, most with wood smoke curling out of metal chimneys. Antlers decorate doorways, and trucks and cars litter the yards.

The excitement in town subsided a month or so after Kaczynski's arrest. But even the most disapproving acknowledge the hubbub was good for business.

Federal agents, reporters and the curious crowded the unpretentious motels and brought customers into restaurants and taverns. "They filled up my hotel," Stoltz said. "That part I liked."

Tourists still stop in Garland's store looking for Unabomber T-shirts. She made a face. "I wouldn't sell them," though a few other local businesses did.

Garland would talk a bit with Kaczynski on his rare shopping forays into town. He would venture into her store, which sells everything from boots to fancy soaps to souvenir sweat shirts, for "simple things, like pencils and paper."

"He was polite and quiet," Garland says. "You might get a how-are-you from him. He was obviously musty. When he would come down in the springtime, you could tell he'd cut his own hair, tried to clean himself up."

Walker knew Kaczynski from his occasional trips to the grocery store in which she was working. "He'd buy flour, oatmeal, things like that -- only what he could fit in this green backpack he had."

He smelled strongly of wood smoke, musty clothing and old sweat. Though hardly well-groomed, Kaczynski was not the wild-eyed mountain man, gray hair flying away from his head, who appeared in the first news reports of the arrest, Garland said.

She had no idea about his resume: Harvard, a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Michigan, a professorship at the University of California at Berkeley. But, "you knew he was smart when you talked to him. You could tell he was educated.

"I always figured he had gotten a trust fund or something from his family and just chose to drop out from society because he couldn't handle it. He had just enough money to get by."

When someone asked who he was, Garland would say, "That's Ted. He lives up behind Gehring's sawmill. And they'd say, 'Oh.' "

Many in Lincoln say the trial that begins next week will be just another interesting news story. "He's gone now, so basically we feel detached," said Tammy Willson, assistant manager at the Lost Woodsman.

Kaczynski was so reclusive that few residents felt connected to him. "He wasn't out, friendly and neighborly, stuff like that," Stoltz said. "He just had his little cabin and stayed pretty much -- how would you describe it? -- hermitized."

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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