Who Is He?

It was shortly after 2 p.m. on A typical workday in Sacramento last week when Gilbert R. Murray, president of the California Forestry Association, went to the receptionist's desk to sort the incoming mail. Three of his staffers were there, and all of them noticed the rays: tery package. About 10 inches square and six inches thick, it was wrapped in brown paper and sealed with filament packing tape. Someone picked it up and commented that it was pretty heavy. The employees took their mail back to their offices while Murray, a genial, balding father of two, fiddled with the box. The explosion came seconds later, wrecking the association's outer office, filling the air with smoke and plunging the entire building into darkness. Murray, who was probably holding the box in his hands, was killed instantly.

The Unabomer, a murderous crank who has eluded one of the most extensive investigations in FBI history, had struck for the 16th time in 17 years and this time, since the package was addressed to Murray's predecessor at the Forestry Association, may have killed the wrong man. It is unlikely that America's most notorious lone-wolf terrorist cared who his latest victim was. For in the wake of the much more dramatic and lethal bombing in Oklahoma City, the Unabomer now has competition in a grisly race to see who scares America the most. "He doesn't want to be upstaged," said Tom Strentz, a former FBI behavioral scientist. "He's been the top bomber for 17 years and suddenly, a neophyte like [suspect] Tim McVeigh grabs center stage."

Speculation? Of course. But it is based on the consensus view that the Unabomer, like many serial killers, has a grandiose sense of his own importance and is motivated by the thrill of playing cat-and-mouse with his pursuers at the FBI. (The name "Una-bomer," an FBI designation, refers to the fact that the bomber's first targets were universities and airlines: Un-A-bomber.) Sure enough, the bomber last week broke his usual silence by sending a windy, taunting letter to The New York Times. This dia-tribe, regarded as authentic by the FBI and excerpted at length in The Times. described the bomber's motives in terms of an ultra-leftist, ecoterrorist agenda. "This is a message from the terrorist group FC," the writer said, although the FBI still believes the Unabomer is a white man in his 40s who has always acted alone. "We call ourselves anarchists because we would like, ideally, to break down all society into very small, completely autonomous units . . . [But our] immediate goal . . . is the destruction of the worldwide industrial system."

The letter boasted of FC's ability to make more powerful bombs and threatened "to do a great deal of damage." "It doesn't appear that the FBI is going to catch us any-time soon," the writer sneered. "The FBI is a joke." Then came the strange part--a whiny expression of self-pity, coupled to an offer to stop bombing after all these years. "It's no fun having to spend all your evenings and weekends preparing dangerous mixtures, filing trigger mechanisms out of scraps of metal or searching the sierras for a place isolated enough to test a bomb," Unabomer wrote. "So we offer a bargain." In return for publication of a lengthy political manifesto-which the writer helpfully estimated at between 29,000 and 87,000 words- the Unabomer said he would "permanently desist from terrorist activities" except for "sabotage." FC said that NEWSWEEK, Time and The New York Times would be acceptable forums for this massive article, which could be serialized or even "published as a small book."

There were other conditions as well, all spelled out in reasonable-sounding detail. The Times said it would make a "journalistic" judgment on the manuscript if and when it appeared; Time magazine said it "wouldn't speculate" on the possibilities. "We obviously can't open our pages to everyone who threatens violence," said Richard M. Smith, Editor-in-Chief and president of NEWSWEEK. "But we would read such a document carefully and make our best judgment as both journalists and citizens."

FBI investigators meanwhile hoped the Unabomer made a critical mistake at last. The killer has been both vain and very cautious. He has been seen only once, in 1987. The resulting composite sketch shows a man with a well-trimmed mustache wearing sunglasses and a hooded sweat shirt, and it has led investigators absolutely nowhere. The Unabomer builds his devices with painstaking care from pieces of scrap metal. He uses no electronic components, which often are traceable, and he often encloses the bomb in a wooden box. He then inscribes the letters FC--his signature--on metal parts that are likely to survive the blast.

And while he has sent letters claiming responsibility for his attacks in the past, the Unabomer has never communicated at such length and in such detail as he did last week. In fact, the FBI said, FC sent four separate letters from Oakland, Calif., on April 20, one day after the Oklahoma City attack. One went to The Times, where a secretary recognized the typeface on the envelope and did not open it. Two others went to persons whom the FBI would not identify. The fourth went to Professor David J. Gelernter, a computer scientist at Yale who was the victim of a Unabomer attack in 1993. This letter, taunting Gelernter as a "techno-nerd" who had been foolish to open the package bomb that maimed him, was supremely cruel: among other injuries, Gelernter was blinded in one eye and lost part of a hand in the explosion.

The FBI's task now is to scour the letters for information that could break its most frustrating case. The paper, envelopes and typewriter used may yield to laboratory analysis; even his choice of words may conceal a subtle clue. But the most promising development, as psychologists saw it, is that the Unabomer is taking much bigger risks since Oklahoma City. Someday soon, they hope, the vanity that so plainly drives his one-man war against American society will finally trip him up.

Since 1978, the Unabomer has struck 16 times. In each case, the bomb parts were meticulously hand-crafted, and in three the results were deadly.

A padded mailer sent to the home of Charles Epstein, a geneticist at the Univ. of California, San Francisco, blows up in his hands

July 2, 1982 Univ. of California, Berkeley

Professor of engineering Diogenes Angelakos picks up a metal cylinder thinking it is a student project,and it explodes

June 13, 1985 Boeing Co, Auburn, Wash.

A package mailed to the Boeing fabrication division on May 8 is discovered and safely disarmed

May 15, 1965 Univ. of California, Berkeley

Jon Hauser, a graduate engineering student and air force captain, is injured when a small metal box on a lab counter explodes as he opens it

Feb. 20, 1987 Salt Lake City, Utah

A bomb, shaped like two two-by-fours studded with nails, explodes when the owner of a nearby computer store kicks it

Oct. 8, 1981 Univ. of Utah Salt Lake City

A maintenance worker finds a bomb in a business-administration building. The police defuse it.

June 10, 1980 Lake Forest, Ill.

Percy Wood, president of United Airlines, is wounded by a bomb concealed in a book mailed to his home; the first bomb engraved with the initials FC

May 9, 1979 Northwestern Univ. Evanston, Ill.

A bomb left in a common area of the university's Technological Institute injures a student

Nov. 15, 1985 Ann Arbor; Mich.

A package mailed to the home of Univ. of Michigan psychology professor James McConnell exploded opening, injuring his research assistant

May 25, 1978 Northwestern Univ.

A bomb in a package returned to the school explodes, injuring a security guard.

May 5, 1982 Vanderblit Univ. Nashville, Tenn.

A wooden box addressed to computer science professor Patrick Fischer explodes when his secretary, Janet Smith, opens it. She is injured by the shrapnel.

June 24, 1993 Yale Univ. New Haven, Conn.

David Gelernter, a computer-science professor, is disfigured by a bomb sent to his office. The New York Times receives a letter from FC the same day. GElernter received a letter from the bomber last week.

Nov. 15, 1979 American Airlines Flight 444, Chicago to Washington, D.C.

A bomb in the cargo hold ignites but does not explode; the 727 makes an emergency landing at Dulles international Airport, and 12 passengers are treated for smoke inhalation