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Madman in the Woods Life Next Door to the Unabomber by Jamie Gehring Book

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Madman in the Woods Life Next Door to the Unabomber by Jamie Gehring Read Book Online And Download

Overview: A haunting account of the sixteen years when a young Jamie Gehring and her family lived closer than anyone to Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

As a child in Lincoln, Montana, Jamie Gehring and her family shared their land, their home, and their dinner table with a hermit with a penchant for murder. But they had no idea that the odd recluse living in the adjacent cabin was anything more than a disheveled man who brought young Jamie painted rocks as gifts. Ted was simply Ted, and erratic behavior, surprise visits, and chilling events while she was riding horses or helping her dad at his sawmill were dismissed because he was "just the odd hermit." In fact, he was much more—Ted eluded the FBI for seventeen years while mailing explosives to strangers, earning the infamous title of Unabomber.

In Gehring's investigative quest twenty-five years later to reclaim a piece of her childhood and to answer the questions, why, how, she recalls what were once innocent memories and odd circumstances that become less puzzling in hindsight.

The innocence of her youth robbed, Gehring needed to reconcile her lived experience with the evil that hid in plain sight. In this book, through years of research probing Ted's personal history, his writings, his secret coded crime journals, her own correspondence with him in his Supermax prison cell, plus interviews with others close to Kaczynski, Gehring unearths the complexity, mystery, and tragedy of her childhood with the madman in the woods. And she discovers a shocking revelation―she and her family were in Kaczynski's crosshairs.

A work of intricately braided research, journalism, and personal memories, this book is a chilling response to the question: Do you really know your neighbor?

Madman in the Woods Life Next Door to the Unabomber by Jamie Gehring Book Read Online And Download Epub Digital Ebooks Buy Store Website Provide You.
Madman in the Woods Life Next Door to the Unabomber by Jamie Gehring Book

Madman in the Woods Life Next Door to the Unabomber by Jamie Gehring Book Read Online Chapter One


Eventually people will just be biochemical machines. Once this situation has come about, it will last forever, because social turmoil and uncontrolled change will have become impossible. All desire for autonomy will simply be programmed out of people’s minds.

—Theodore J. Kaczynski 

On that sunny day in 1984, the air was redolent of fresh earth, pine, and wildflowers. I sat down on the dirt path behind our home and felt the warm soil on my exposed legs. I was clad in my favorite polka dot shorts and white button-up blouse with the embroidered lace collar. My clothes were marked with today’s adventure—so far, dirt and syrup. 

The syrup needs no explanation; I was four. The dirt is explained by a lust for dangerous speeds and my tomboy tendencies, aside from my clothing choices most days. Earlier that morning, I had been barreling down the sloped driveway in my red Radio Flyer. One hundred feet of pure adrenaline. The rumble of the dirt and rock beneath the rickety tires and the wind in my face, over and over again. With only a long metal handle and the tilt of my body weight to steer the vessel, I landed in the dirt and rocks half of the time; the other half kept me wanting to fly again. After my final fall of the morning, I brushed myself off at the bottom of the driveway. I looked up at the log cabin on the hill—the dormer windows welcoming, and the dark logs stacked perfectly one on top of another, much like a Lincoln Logs creation. The aspen and the pine surrounding the home swayed slightly in the wind. 

The cabin seemed so far away from the bottom where I stood. But it would only take me a few minutes to climb to the top, pulling my red wagon right behind. 

I parked my red steed, grabbed a bag of toys, and moved on to my favorite spot further up the mountainside. 

The path was my playground for the day. It wasn’t far from our home or the woodshed but gave just enough distance to allow for the independence I craved. I stopped to unpack my small bag of toys and doll clothes. I had been playing with the same set of toys for days, and I was ready for a change. 

Frustrated with my options, I fought the urge to go on my next adventure and follow the path to the spring and a meadow full of flowers. The threat of having to chase off trespassing cows from the spring was enough of a deterrent. Although I had done it many times before, the protective mama cows would sometimes turn on me—lowering their heads and snorting. Not feeling up to the challenge today, I steadied myself. 

Maybe I dress Fritz again. He will always play. 

“Here, Kitty Kitty!”

The black and white tom ran to my side. Just Fritz and me, on that slice of earth. I sat down and let him curl up in my lap instead of putting a new dress on the compliant pet. I ran my fingers along the black and white shapes in his fur, then proceeded to scratch under his ear, the good one. The other side, a hairless stub, had been frozen off the previous winter. 

“It’s okay, little guy. The owls and hawks will fear the one-eared beast,” I told my pal. 

He drooled and purred with contentment. After a few moments of stillness, legs crossed in the dirt, I felt the familiar pang of loneliness. I missed my mom, and I was already thinking about how I would have to miss Dad next. It had been a year since my mom rented the apartment in Helena. I was happy when it was only Mom and me in the city, but life was different than life in the mountains. We were robbed once; the “bad guy” had broken a window and gotten away with our cylinder of change that Mom had been saving from waitressing at the grill. Helena was only an hour’s drive from here, but it felt a world away. Sidewalks, stoplights, tall buildings, steel playgrounds, and bad guys. Mom had told me Helena was the capital, but I wondered why there weren’t bigger backyards if it was the “big city.” 

“I hate back and forth,” I told Fritz. 

My imaginary friends Junior, Jennifer, and Mason weren’t far from my mind, and the cat wasn’t very talkative today. He nudged me for more affection and kneaded my legs with his sharp claws. 

I should go back inside. Maybe Dad needs my help fixing something. I think my knees are pink from sun kisses. Or maybe I will look at the clouds again. That one looks like a Pegasus. Why does Dad always tell me this is Big Sky Country? Do we really have the biggest sky? 

Unsure from where or what direction, I could hear the noise of something or someone approaching. Still sitting in my small path of soil, my heart quickened. Then, like a ghost, a figure appeared on the mountainside with me.

Fritz leapt out of my lap, leaving only some black fur and a spot of drool behind. He ran full-tilt down the mountainside and clawed his way up the side of the woodshed. The sound of the frantic claws sliding and scratching in the rough-cut lumber caused a ringing in my ears. 

As the figure came closer, I realized it was my neighbor. 

Strange cat. It’s just Teddy. 

I stood, brushing myself off. I felt something poking my foot inside the glittery jelly sandal. 

I can take care of that later, just a couple little rocks, maybe a foxtail. 

I pushed strands of my blonde pixie cut from my eyes and stared at the hermit. He was on my dirt trail, his long legs carrying him closer and closer to my little playground. 

What does Teddy want today? Maybe the time? Or to work with Dad again? He’s not going to the house; he’s coming straight here. He’s coming to see me!

Visitors aren’t frequent when you live on an isolated dirt road nearly four miles from town, and his appearance came as a pleasant surprise. I waved excitedly. 

He approached with caveman hair and his usual playclothes. His brown hair was longer on top than the sides and seemed to be sticking straight up. The jacket that I imagined he used to play army was ripped and the camouflage dingy. I told myself it must have been his favorite because he wore it all the time, like my white shirt with the lace collar. 

Too many commando crawls, I thought to myself. That’s what Dad says when we play with the little plastic soldiers.

Ted’s hiking boots had holes in them, and his jeans needed patching.

Poor Ted doesn’t have his mom here to help with those holes. Just like me. Two more sleeps. From the room with the blue walls to my mom. My Barbies and Pound Puppy. Maybe it’s one more sleep? 

“Hi, Ted!” 

There we were, just him and me—no cat, no Dad. 

In Ted’s dirt-darkened hands were four large rocks. His fingers were outstretched and rocks pulled in against his body for stability. I wanted to offer a toothpick, a stick, anything to get the mud from beneath his nails. I had no problem with grease, sawdust, or dirt. But the layers of filth on his hands and beneath his nails were too much for even four-year-old me.

Dad had always told me to be polite, even when someone was different. Ted was definitely different.

I think he takes a bath in the creek by his cabin. I hope he gets bubbles. I wonder when the last time was . . . 

As we stood together, the exposed mountainside layered as our backdrop, the hermit spoke. 

“Jamie. I brought you something.” He held out the precious treasures to me. “Take them.”

I favored him with a small grin. “Thank you,” I said, reaching out to accept the gift. My eyes rested on his face for a moment, then the beautiful stones. They were vibrant in the afternoon sun. 

Our hands touched briefly as he placed the treasures in my hands, two at a time. My small body cradled them as if they were a fragile delivery requiring extra care and protection. Placing them delicately at my feet, I sat down in the dirt with the rocks and looked up at the wild man. He gave a quick grin before looking up to the trees. 

“I painted them for you.” 

My heart leapt as I ran my hands along the cracks and smooth lines, tracing the colors, yellow and red, the colors of my favorite blooms. Our log cabin on the hill was forever full of hand-picked bouquets of Indian paintbrush and sunflowers placed in glass vases. 

How did he know these are my favorite colors, my favorite flowers? I love them. Did he notice my masterpieces, the gifts I picked, and create these for me?

The reason behind the painted rocks wasn’t important. I had new toys and a visit from Teddy. I rolled the gifts together, crafting elaborate games with Castle Sunflower and the Land of Paintbrush. As I lost myself in this new imaginary world, with Ted as a silent observer, I heard more footsteps. As I looked up, I recognized the glow of my dad’s copper hair as he walked toward us. Clad in his favorite short-sleeved plaid shirt with the pearl snaps, his muscular arms freckled and slightly pink—a common color on the redhead—he surveyed the situation. 

“Hi, Ted,” Dad said. 

Only a nod back from the hermit. 

“What have ya got there, little buddy?” 

“Ted brought them! Aren’t they beautiful?” I yelled as I lifted up one of the treasures for my dad to behold.

This time it was Dad who gave the nod. 

Without another word, the hermit turned and disappeared back into the woods as quickly as he had appeared. His visits were always that way, as though he had the power to appear and disappear in an instant. 

I want to believe Ted was happy during this brief exchange. He had made me feel special, and I like to think that this connection offered a small amount of contentment. His years alone in the wilds, tormented by the angst of his past, fueled by the terror of his present—I want to imagine he dismissed it all for a moment on the mountainside that day in 1984. A moment that I would always remember. 

However, what I didn’t know at the time was that this man, this hermit, who took time to find these rocks and thought of me as he hand-painted them one by one in my favorite colors, whose dirt-stained hands I could still picture, had already attempted to kill people seven times.

• • •

I had just finished flipping through a newspaper, pausing at the headline "Madman Had Soft Spot for Children," paired with an awkward picture of me next to an image of Ted in his orange jumpsuit, as I took another sip of coffee.

The words hit hard. 

I sat back in my plush chair at the neighborhood café—my office for the day.

“Soft Spot,” the words dancing around my thoughts—handcrafted gifts, the quiet voice he reserved for speaking to me, and his shy nature in those early years. Although the painted rocks are the only gift I remember, I am told he delivered a hand-carved cup for me as a baby, more rocks through the years, and a tea set. Yes, it seems he did have a soft spot for me. 

I penned in my writing journal, “Did Ted have a love for children because they represent humanity at its rawest and most honest, unfettered by the influence of society? Or instead, was it a few children that he saw as vulnerable, maybe recognizing glimpses of himself? Was I the only child? Did he long for a child of his own?”

From my early conversations with Ted’s brother, David, I learned that Ted—during his time in Great Falls—had delivered some toys to children of David’s friend. He had dropped by unannounced to bring the three kids handcrafted gifts. Another generous offering of his time and effort.

I put my pen down and grabbed another book, one I had bought from an independent bookseller in small-town Colorado. It didn’t take long to find exactly what I was looking for. I read the words of an interaction between Ted and the Lincoln librarian’s son, Danny. The young adolescent had been teased for being an academic, and Ted consoled him with, “Don’t worry about the other boy. You have a loving dad, a good mom, and right now the kids are just jealous of you. So, hang in there, because you are really smart, and you don’t want to waste that.”3

I emailed the boy’s mother to confirm the truth of this quotation. As I typed the words, the nostalgia of my time as a child in the one-room library with her took hold. I thought back to the occasional library trip with my dad.

“Hi, Sherri. Do you happen to have Rikki Tikki Tavi?” I would ask, not old enough to reach all the books on the shelves. 

After she helped me locate my desired book and others that may interest me, she and Dad would chat while I flipped through the pages, making my final decisions. I loved the smell of the pages, the act of handing over my library card, and I always looked forward to our visits with Sherri. 

On our trips into the library, every so often we would see our neighbor Ted reading quietly at the wooden tables.

“Hi Ted, would you like a ride home? Head’n there now,” Dad offered.

“No, Butch. On my bike, but thanks.”

I never saw Ted and the librarian’s son together, but I am told they spent time with one another, Ted not only offering counsel but help with schoolwork. Danny even referred to Ted as Uncle. 

Sherri’s return email was full of kind words and a simple, “Yes. Ted did help Dan when he was being bullied at school. Ted was really nice to the children he liked.” 

The children he liked. The words left me with more questions. 

Then I thought back to my rocks. Ted knew of my parents’ separation. He didn’t know why, although he would learn later of my father’s tendency to drink a little too much whiskey, a trait Ted seemed to disdain, as he did any trait that strayed from self-control and discipline. Did he know I needed a friend, and rocks were his way? Did Ted feel compassion for me as a child, innocent and alone? Or was it simply part of the methodical cover, giving a gift, something any “normal” neighbor would do? 

I loved those painted rocks; my father did not. After they had sat for too long in the front yard, Dad decided they could serve a different purpose. He took the stones and found a pothole that needed filling on our long gravel road. They’re now long buried in my family’s dirt driveway full of washboards, potholes, and many memories. 

I remember exactly how I felt on the mountainside with Ted. I can’t help but think of how, for a short time, I felt completely at ease, happy, and appreciative of the hermit next door. His sincere act of kindness left a strong impression on my four-year-old self. 

I needed to find out more. How could this man who produced such a happy memory also kill three people and injure twenty-three more? 

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