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Unabomber investigated in '82 Tylenol deaths

The FBI says it's investigating whether Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was involved in the 1982 Chicago-area Tylenol poisonings case that killed seven people.
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.BOB GALBRAITH / AFP - Getty Images File
/ Source: NBC, and news services

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.