Unabomber investigator and former Hofstra professor returns to speak on campus
Former F.B.I agent and criminal profiler James R. Fitzgerald joined Hofstra University at a fully occupied Guthart Cultural Center Theater on Thursday afternoon for a talk on his life and involvement in the Unabomber case. He discussed his career and provided a condensed briefing on the Unabomber case, which took the F.B.I nearly 20 years to crack with Fitzgerald playing a prominent role.
The event was prompted by a Discovery Channel adaptation of Fitzgerald’s life entitled “Manhunt: The Unabomber” released late last year. “It was a unique investigation, unlike anything the F.B.I had ever handled,” Fitzgerald said. “Unabomb is an acronym. The early victims were in fact universities and airlines. He morphed into computer stores after that. I wasn’t involved in the case here yet. They brought me in June of ’95.”
“Fitzgerald has taught [at Hofstra University] for many years as an adjunct with me,” said Robert Leonard, professor of comparative literature, languages and linguistics. “We do this one week-long intensive course that is a reprise of what we did down in Quantico when he was in the F.B.I. When he retired we moved the week-long boot camps here, and now they’re an integral part of our [master’s] program.”
Fitzgerald, who has worked as a technical advisor for popular TV show “Criminal Minds,” spoke on his work in the early-to-mid ‘90s deciphering the linguistic clues that would prove to be crucial in the arrest of Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber.
“I was really impressed with the enthusiastic support of the Hofstra community in welcoming [Fitzgerald]. This was one of the best turn outs I’ve seen at any of our talks,” Tammy Gales, associate professor of comparative literature, languages and linguistics said.
The F.B.I expended unprecedented resources of the investigation and eventual arrest of Kaczynski, but Fitzgerald emphasized the importance of language analysis. “It was language analysis that did it. I was glad to be put in charge of that at the Unabomb task force. I wish I was a linguist back then I probably could have even a better job, but we had enough to get the search warrant: the first time ever language was used to get a search warrant in a criminal case,” he said.
“I thought it was really interesting. I’ve talked to [Fitzgerald] before and he does a lot of stuff that I want to do when I graduate, so it’s nice to see some real-world examples of what we can do after school and the good that we can do,” said Sarah Ogaard, a junior forensic linguistics major.
While the methods Fitzgerald and the F.B.I used to catch the Unabomber were intricate, Fitzgerald presented his life and findings in a way that the audience could understand. “He was very informative. He definitely knows what he’s talking about, and he was loud and clear which made it easy to understand him,” said Caitlin Hilder, a sophomore forensic science major.
Fitzgerald concluded with advice on pursuing linguistics as a professional. “A linguist can provide a valuable asset even if you’re not hired as a linguist per se,” he said. “If you know language, if you can dissect language – your own as well as others’ – you really have a big head start in this world.”