Image: Theodore Kaczynski
BOB GALBRAITH  /  AFP - Getty Images File
Theodore Kaczynski, right, is led out of the Federal Courthouse by a US Marshal after a hearing in 1998 to determine his competency in Sacramento, Calif. The FBI said Thursday it is investigating whether Kaczynski — who engaged in a 17-year mail-bomb spree — was also behind the 1982 Tylenol poisonings.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 5/19/2011 2:08:54 PM ET 2011-05-19T18:08:54

The FBI says it's investigating whether Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was involved in the 1982 Chicago-area Tylenol poisonings case that killed seven people.

Kaczynski wrote in court papers filed in federal court in California last week that prison officials conveyed a request from the FBI in Chicago for DNA samples.

Chicago FBI spokeswoman Cynthia Yates confirmed Thursday that the agency has asked for Kaczynski's DNA. She says he's refused to voluntarily give a sample but declined to say whether the agency could compel him to provide one.

Seven people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in Chicago and four suburbs died in the space of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982. That triggered a national scare, prompting an untold number of people to throw medicine away and stores nationwide to pull Tylenol from their shelves. The poisonings led to the introduction of tamperproof packaging that is now standard.

No one was ever charged with killing the seven people who died, though one-time suspect James W. Lewis served more than 12 years in prison for trying to extort $1 million from the painkiller's manufacturers.

Kaczynski, 68, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty in 1998 to setting 16 explosions that killed three people and injured 23 others in various parts of the country.

In a 10-page letter filed with U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Calif. last week and obtained by the Sacramento Bee, Kaczynski wrote, "the FBI wanted a sample of my DNA to compare with some partial DNA profiles connected with a 1982 event in which someone put potassium cyanide in Tylenol."

The Bee noted that amateur sleuths have long speculated that Kaczynski could be linked to the Tylenol case, as his parents lived in the Chicago area. Kaczynski said in the court filing that he has "never even possessed any potassium cyanide," the Bee reported. 

John Balasz, Kaczynski's attorney, said he thinks the FBI wants Kaczynski's DNA simply to rule him out as a suspect.

"You've got to ask the FBI how serious they are. I think it's probably more that they want to exclude him," he said.

Balasz said he's "completely convinced" that Kaczynski had no involvement in the case.

Investigating a cold case
According to the report, the government responded to his filing, saying, "Kaczynski has not been indicted in connection with the Chicago Tylenol investigation, and no such federal prosecution is currently planned."

FBI officials told NBC News on Thursday that Kaczynski is one of several people asked to provide a DNA sample, as agents try to exhaust every possible angle they can think of in the long-running effort to solve the case.

Kaczynski's court filings were part of an attempt to block the auction of some of his personal effects that he said could be used as evidence to establish his alibi in the Tylenol case, the Bee report said.

A U.S. district judge ordered the items sold last August.

Nonetheless, the online auction of the items started Wednesday, with proceeds due to benefit the victims' families. The items include handwritten letters, typewriters, tools, clothing and several hundred books.

The FBI turned over possession of the items to the U.S. Marshals, who have contracted with Atlanta-based GSA Auctions to coordinate the sale, said Marshals spokeswoman Lynzey Donohue. She could not say how much money the agency expects to make during the auction, which runs through June 2.

"This is an unusual type of case," said Donohue. "It's really difficult to put a value on these items because of the intrinsic value they have based on his notoriety."

There is no minimum bid. Donohue said the agency believes museums, crime-collectible companies, universities and the public will be interested.

NBC, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: FBI requests DNA sample from Unabomber

  1. Transcript of: FBI requests DNA sample from Unabomber

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Los Angeles): It was the biggest product tampering case ever. In fact, it's the reason medicine containers are so hard to open to this day. If you were around back then, then you remember the Tylenol tampering case that killed several Americans. The product survived and thrived, but the case went unsolved. You may also remember Ted Kaczynski , the convicted " Unabomber ," a reclusive home-grown American terrorist and killer. And now we've learned the FBI , after all these years , is looking to see whether there is a connection between the two. Our justice correspondent Pete Williams starts us off in Washington with more on this story tonight. Pete , good evening.

    PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Brian , this is a strange one, admittedly a leap for investigators. They want a DNA sample from Kaczynski , who's been serving a life sentence in the supermax prison in Colorado . Officials say it's part of an effort to pursue any avenue that might help solve the Tylenol mystery. It was a brazen attack on something in millions of medicine cabinets. Seven people in the Chicago area died in 1982 after taking pills from bottles laced with cyanide. The poisonings alarmed the nation and led to new tamper-proof packaging for all kinds of medicines.

    Mr. JOHN DOUGLAS (Former FBI Profiler): Anyone could be a victim, which made it extremely frightening back in 1982 . And compared to today, it would be what we would call domestic terrorism.

    P. WILLIAMS: No one was ever charged with poisoning the Tylenol , but in recent years police and the FBI have re-energized their investigation. Now the FIB wants a sample of DNA from Ted Kaczynski , convicted of being the Unabomber and serving a life sentence for his 18 year series of attacks that killed three people and injured 28 others. He has Chicago connections, born and schooled there. Kaczynski revealed this development himself in handwritten documents filed in federal court . "I have never even possessed any potassium cyanide," he wrote, using the chemical's full name. He asked a federal judge to delay a government auction now underway of items taken from his cabin in Montana , including his journals. They're all being sold to raise money for his bombing victims. Among the items, a hooded sweatshirt and dark glasses that were depicted in a widely circulated sketch after a witness saw him at a bombing scene. He says his journals, written in code, "will show whether I ever committed any illegal acts involving cyanide," he wrote. One man, James Lewis of New York , was convicted of trying to extort $1 million from the maker of Tylenol . Authorities concluded he was an opportunist, not responsible for the poisonings. Law enforcement officials describe asking for Kaczynski 's DNA as part of an effort to pursue all potential avenues. But so far they say they've found nothing tying him to the Tylenol attacks. Brian :

    B. WILLIAMS: All right, interesting, a big case in Washington tonight. Pete Williams starting us off from there.

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