What to Make of the Unabomber Auction? And What Should I Do With My Own Unabomber Artifacts?

(Stephen J. Dubner)

It seems so coincidental that I wonder if indeed it’s a coincidence: the FBI requests a DNA sample from Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. Unabomber, just as the government’s court-ordered auction of Kaczynski’s possessions gets underway (it closes on June 2). The FBI is still trying to solve the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, and Kaczynski is presumably a person of interest.

If nothing else, the news has brought a lot more attention to the auction. It can use it. As of this writing, most of the 58 items could be had for a few hundred dollars. Exceptions are Kaczynski’s Smith-Corona typewriter ($8,025) and his hand-written Manifesto ($16,025).

I am surprised at the low prices — but I was also surprised that this auction was held in the first place. I know the money is meant to go toward a restitution fund for the victims but a) it looks as if the total amount raised will be relatively small; and b) am I the only one who feels it’s a bit tawdry for the U.S. Government to sell off the possessions of a convicted terrorist to raise cash?

Please feel free to disagree with me.

Also: as the lone mainstream journalist to have interviewed Kaczynzki — I wrote an article for Time in 1999 after spending a few hours with him at the Supermax prison in Colorado — I possess the sole copy of those audio tapes. Should I be auctioning them? And if so, where should that money go?

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  1. Marty says:

    I actually think the prices are quite high. People love collecting items owned by celebrities they admire. Owning an Unabomber collection is weird, and kind of creepy. Furthermore, even if he was a celebrity that people did get excited about, that doesn’t make what he owns valuable. How much would Bill Clinton’s lawn mower go for in an auction? My guess is not very much.

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    Sell the tapes and donate the money to a worthy charity like the victims’ relief fund. But I think you would have no problem calling the administrator of the court-ordered auction, explaining what you have and just making a donation of the tapes.

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  3. Dg says:

    Maybe you should put them on iTunes and split it 70/30 with apple. Every ody love capitalism? This is America right, greed is good.

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  4. Chad says:

    I dunno about you, but entering an electronic auction for memorabilia of one of the most famous criminals in the world and organized by the Federal Government doesn’t seem like the smartest tack to take.

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  5. Puneet says:

    I don’t think it is wrong for the US govt. to auction off his assets. What else are they supposed to do with those assets? Destroy them?

    If you decide to auction off those tapes, the money belongs to you. However, it would be more appropriate (in a poetic way), if you decide to donate that money towards the restitution fund off his victims.

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  6. Caleb B says:

    The government is auctioning it off to profile other potential unabombers. If you buy anything, they put your name on a list and monitor you phone calls.

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  7. Justin Bassett says:

    The other seriously high-priced item is the hoodie and sunglasses from the infamous FBI sketch. It’s currently at $20,000. I personally have no problem with the auction – his assets are being sold off to pay a restitution debt. Pretty standard practice – they did the same thing with Bernie Maddoff. The only difference is that instead of yachts and cars, it’s writings and other memorabilia.

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  8. Derek says:

    I think that much of the appeal of owning “celebrity artifacts” results from being able to show them off to my friends, who will then be very impressed with me for owning a pen which Oprah used.

    However, much of that appeal goes away when the celebrity is an infamous criminal. In that case, my friends will probably think I’m a loser for owning a pen which Kaczynzki used. (Though if I had different friends, their views would be different I suppose.) I think that largely explains the low prices.

    Hopefully a hand-written wartime letter by Churchill is worth much more than one by Hitler. (Though the ones by Hitler are probably more scarce, so maybe not.)

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