HISTORY'S BLOTTER

A look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history

For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.

April 3, 1996 | Catching the Unabomber

UNABOM Taskforce Reward Poster, 1995-1996, National Law Enforcement Museum, 2007.110.1

“We were elated to get a demand. At that point we were thinking, 'We're going to catch this guy’ because he was acting like an extortionist and we almost always catch extortionists.”
—Jim R. Freeman (ret.), FBI Special Agent in Charge of the UNABOM Taskforce

It had been 17 years since the first package exploded. As FBI agents hid in the snowy woods outside of Lincoln, Montana, many were skeptical that the Unabomber’s gruesome attacks might finally be coming to an end. Disguised as lumberjacks, miners, and postmen, they staked out a remote cabin for weeks, watching a disheveled recluse. The agents formed a plan to safely serve a search warrant. On April 3, two agents dressed as miners casually strolled up to the cabin with a "quick question" about property lines. After answering the door, the man reluctantly agreed to help. When he was distracted turning for his jacket, the agents restrained him. It was a surprisingly smooth capture after such an extended reign of domestic terrorism. It did not take long for bomb experts searching the cabin to confirm that this man, Ted Kaczynski, was the Unabomber.

The explosions first started in May 1978 when a security guard in Chicago opened a suspicious package containing a homemade pipe bomb. Luckily, he walked away with minor scrapes and burns, but over time, the attacks became more destructive—even deadly. In 1979, the FBI formed a joint task force to investigate the case. It was code-named UNABOM after the earliest attacks: UNiversity and Airline BOMbings. In total, the Unabomber delivered 16 bombs, leaving 23 people injured or maimed, and three dead.

In the 1990s, the UNABOM task force’s manhunt was the largest and most intensive ever yet conducted by the FBI. Agents used cutting edge technology to narrow down the massive list of potential suspects. But, the Unabomber was smart. He left false clues and stripped bombs of identifying evidence.

In 1995, he mailed in his first demand: publish his manifesto about the evils of technology in a major newspaper, and the murders would stop. Months later, a man named David Kaczynski read the Unabomber’s manifesto and thought that it sounded like his brother, Ted. With David’s help and more investigating, agents learned Ted Kaczynski— a neo-luddite and mathematical genius turned recluse—was the author of the manifesto. At long last, the Unabomber was done making bombs.

*Learn more about the UNABOM case and the agent who led the investigation in Jim Freeman’s oral history.

History's Blotter Archive

1611
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611

1775
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775

1788
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788

1819
Night Watchmen | January 1819

1841
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841

1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844

1844
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844

1852
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852

1858
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858

1865
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865

1871
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871

1872
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872

1874
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874

1875
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875

1877
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877

1880
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880

1884
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884

1886
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886

1892
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892

1898
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898

1908
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908

1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908

1909
Police Autos | June 1909

1911
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911

1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915

1915
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915

1919
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919

1920
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920

1923
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923

1926
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926

1931
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931

1934
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934

1941
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941

1942
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942

1950
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950

1956
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956

1957
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957

1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957

1958
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958

1963
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963

1966
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966

1968
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968

1971
Phone Phreaking | October 1971

1980
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980

1981
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981

1982
Broken Windows Theory | March 1982

1985
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Kidnapped | February 7, 1985

1986
FBI Miami Shootout | April 11, 1986

1989
US Invades Panama | December 20, 1989

1990
Missing Masterpieces | March 18, 1990

 

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