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Sam of Son Unabomber victims sue to profit from their attacker's crimes

Wednesday, Jun 21 2000
SACRAMENTO -- They're calling it the Sam of Son battle, and it may invert a law originally designed to prevent criminals from cashing in on media coverage of sensational crimes. The key players are none other than the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and his victims.

Last week's news that Kaczynski had sold his share in the remote Montana lot where his shack once stood for an asking price of $7,500 prompted some of his victims to cry foul.

Those victims were not objecting to Kaczynski's sale of his interest in the 1.4 acre lot near Lincoln, Mont.; according to California's Son of Sam legislation, that sum will be paid directly to a court fund for the restitution of his victims.

Instead, a number of victims who survived Kaczynski's 17-year bombing spree, along with family members of three men who were killed by his letter-bombs, are complaining that Kaczynski "didn't fully capitalize on the worth" of his remote mountain terrain.

The controversy stems from what Joy Richards, the 47-year-old woman who bought Kaczynski's property, intends to do with it: absolutely nothing. Richards, who lives four miles away from the site, has no plans to profit from property and told the Sacramento Bee newspaper she will build a house on the secluded lot.

The shack that once stood on Kaczynski's property, where he constructed 16 bombs that were mailed to executives and scientists between 1978 and 1985, was removed from the property during his trial and remains in a storage facility near Sacramento.

"There were interested parties who were willing to pay more than $1 million dollars for the property," claims Julian Hill, a lawyer for Dick Gellen, a timber industry executive and Unabomber victim. "And instead it was sold for only $7,500. That $1 million should have gone to the families of his victims."

Gellen, who lost his left arm as a result of one of Kaczynski's mail bombs, is taking Kaczynski to court in an effort to repossess the property and offer it for sale to the highest bidder.

"We're not talking about putting it on eBay," remarked Gellen, "we're just talking about doing the right thing when it comes to restitution." Gellen has been outspoken about his disappointment that Kaczynski was able to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty and relinquishing his claim to all appeals.

David Kaczynski, Ted Kaczynski's brother and half-owner of the property in question, has not spoken publicly about the matter, but friends of the family say he is devastated by this latest turn of events. According to a source close to the convicted bomber's brother, David is aghast at the possibility that the victims would exploit his brother's crimes for their own fulfillment.

But Hill defends his client's position, explaining that with the popularity of tabloid talk shows, all sorts of private traumas have become fodder for public consumption, and that at least the Unabomber case has an historical significance that makes it compelling as well as potentially profitable.

"If my client wanted to write a book about his experience, he wouldn't be accused of exploitation," Hill offers. "But because he wants just compensation based on the celebrity-enhanced worth of the Unabomber's personal property, he gets criticized."

A Sacramento judge will decide next week whether to issue an injunction halting Ted Kaczynski's sale of his share of the Montana plot to Richards.

South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being satirized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental.

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