Special Report: Lincoln in the spotlight 22 years after Unabomber capture

Posted at 3:48 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 15:03:56-04

LINCOLN – Jerry Burns, one of the law enforcement officers who arrested the Unabomber in 1996, moved to Lincoln when he was seven years old.

“We had more service stations at that time. We had sawmills going pretty good. We didn’t have a high school up here so we boarded away to Augusta,” Burns said.

After college and a year fighting in the Vietnam War, Burns returned home to start his career with the Forest Service.

“I started in the trail crew and packing into the backcountry or wildness area,” Burns said.

He soon joined the law enforcement side of the Forest Service and worked with the FBI on several cases over the years.

In January of 1996, the FBI contacted Burns and asked him to come to Helena but told him not to tell anyone.

“At that time the Freemen were in Montana,” Burns said. “We had some people in Lincoln with some similar beliefs so I thought it was the Freemen case.”

Burns said he was shocked to learn that Ted Kaczynski was a suspect in the Unabomber case.

He said they had several people around Lincoln similar to Kaczynski so he was not unusual at the time.

“I knew where he lived and we called him the hermit that lived under baldy. He never had too much contact with a lot of people,” Burns said.

Burns added, however, that the true hero of the story was Kaczynski’s brother, David. David Kaczynski’s wife saw the manifesto and recognized Ted Kaczynski’s handwriting. They then turned him in through a lawyer.

In April, with only a search warrant in hand, Burns along with FBI agents Tom McDaniel and Max Knoll headed to Kaczynski’s cabin.

“We got to Ted’s cabin and I started yelling, ‘Ted, Ted, are you home?’ He opened the door and I said, ‘Ted, we are with the mining company, could you show us your boundary lines?’ He went to step back into the cabin and I grabbed his wrists and out he came.”

After a short struggle, Burns cuffed Kaczynski and they headed to another cabin.

The search team made their way into Kaczynski’s cabin and found several items linking Kaczynski to the Unabomber case.

“He kept a daily diary of everything he did and all the bombs he sent. He had his typewriter that he wrote the manifesto on,” Burns said.

A suicide ring and a pistol were also found on a hook by the door.

And over the years, Burns has kept the confession letter and diaries that Kaczynski wrote in every day.

He even has pictures of some of the items Kaczynski had hidden in different areas of the mountain.

Over the last 22 years, there have been several media stories, a television show, and now a film shot in Lincoln that chronicles the Unabomber.

“There was a T.V. show and it was horrible,” Burns said. “It was very inaccurate.”

There are many people in Lincoln who do not like the attention the Unabomber brings to town.

“It’s a part of the Lincoln history so it’s going to be around,” Burns said.

The community of Lincoln prides themselves on how much they have grown in the last 22 years though.

The town now offers a sculpture park, new access to its river park, and it recently became a gateway community to the Continental Divide Trail.

Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News