Could the Unabomber and the Tylenol killer -- who both left victims across the suburbs -- be the same person?
The Federal Bureau of Investigations wants DNA from Evergreen Park native Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber imprisoned for life for killing three people. The agency won't say why, but Kaczynski, in a court filing, said the FBI wants to determine if he was responsible for the 1982 Tylenol poisonings. He denies any involvement in the Tylenol case. Seven people died in three days when cyanide-filled capsules were put into Extra Strength Tylenol bottles on retail store shelves in Cook and DuPage counties. The deaths triggered a massive product recall, widespread consumer panic and new standards for tamper-proof product packaging.
Killed were Mary Kellerman, 12, of Elk Grove Village; Adam Janus of Arlington Heights; Stanley Janus of Lisle, the brother of Adam; Theresa Janus of Lisle, Stanley's wife; Mary McFarland of Elmhurst; Paula Prince of Chicago and Mary Reiner of Winfield.
Chicago FBI spokeswoman Cynthia Yates confirmed Thursday that the agency asked for Kaczynski's DNA, saying he is among "numerous individuals" from whom the FBI wants samples. She would not provide details about any of the others.
Kaczynski's initial bomb targets were in the Chicago area, with two bombs exploding at Northwestern University in Evanston in 1978 and 1979; one placed on a United Airlines jet leaving O'Hare International Airport in 1979, forcing an emergency landing; and another exploding at the Lake Forest home of United Airlines' president in 1980.
Kaczynski disclosed the DNA request in court papers in an effort to stop an auction of his belongings, now in progress. The 68-year-old former mathematics professor also wrote in his motion: "I have never even possessed any potassium cyanide."
Kaczynski's attorney, John Balasz, said he's "completely convinced" Kaczynski had no involvement in the Tylenol case and thinks the FBI wants his DNA only so they can definitively rule him out as a suspect.
Kaczynski has refused to voluntarily give the sample, and in the motion filed over his belongings, said he'd be willing to go to court over it.
The FBI collected DNA samples from Kaczynski after his arrest, but that material "might have degraded to the point that it is not usable," said Ross Rice with the FBI in Chicago. "It's always best to have a current sample."
Kaczynski wants to keep certain items taken from his cabin in 1996, including journals he says could prove his whereabouts in 1982 and other evidence that could clear him in the Tylenol case.
Kaczynski grew up in Evergreen Park before enrolling at Harvard University at age 16. After graduating he lived in Michigan and California, then returned to suburban Chicago in 1972 and used his family's Lombard address to acquire an Illinois driver's license. He surrendered that license for one in Montana in 1973, but renewed his Illinois license in 1978.
In 1996, Kaczynski was arrested at a remote Montana cabin and charged with sending 16 mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others.
"I don't know how strong of a suspect he is, but based on his past, I can see why the FBI is doing this as a process of elimination," said Arlington Heights Police Cmdr. Kenneth Galinski, whose department has an officer assigned to work with the FBI on the Tylenol case.
Despite national hysteria, intense media attention and what was initially a 140-member police task force, the Tylenol killer was never found and investigators said the trail was cold.
Thursday's news marks the first time in decades the FBI has put the spotlight on someone other than James Lewis, the Boston man widely believed to be the killer.
Lewis spent 12 years in jail for extortion after he sent Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, a letter demanding $1 million to "stop the killing." He has denied any responsibility in the cyanide poisonings.
"I would certainly think he is still a person of interest," Galinski said. "I don't know if the FBI has learned everything they want to know about him."
Dozens of different theories about suspects have circulated over the years, pointing to everyone from Johnson & Johnson's competitors to Roger Arnold (now deceased), a convicted killer who worked at Jewel's distribution facility in Melrose Park.
True crime author Douglas Oswell and researcher A.K. Wilks are among those who always suspected the Unabomber was connected to the case. They shared their research with the FBI and published it online.
Wilks said he emailed the FBI after the 2009 raid of Lewis' home, when he "thought they might be going down the wrong road," and ended up speaking at length with two different FBI agents. He also contacted authorities suggesting they stop the auction of Kaczynski's items, because he thought they might contain valuable evidence.
"The fact that (the FBI) called me twice made me somewhat hopeful," said Wilks. "If the authorities give it a serious look, that's all you can ask for."
"If I were on a jury right now, I couldn't convict him. But if I was a cop right now, I'd have to be brain-dead not to be interested in him," said Oswell, who lives in Delaware and describes himself as "an ordinary Joe" fascinated by criminal psychology.
Helen Jensen of Arlington Heights doesn't know who committed the Tylenol murders. But the former nurse, who accompanied investigators to the Kellerman home on the day the girl died, said she hopes this latest news isn't a dead end like so many before. She still occasionally talks to the victim's grandmother and said her "whole family was destroyed by it."
"It sure would be nice to finally get some end to the whole thing, for the people that are survivors," Jensen said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.