“There had been times earlier in the ’90s when he would come by the house, and my parents weren’t there, and I would feel scared enough to hide in the closet until he was gone,” she said.
But the day at the rock quarry was the first time Gehring said she was “truly terrified” of him.
“I said ‘hello,’ he said ‘hello,’ and I turned around to leave, and I walked at first, and as soon I thought I was out of eyesight, I just ran,” she said.
About one year later, Gehring would find out the neighbor that would bring her painted rocks and other trinkets was the country’s longest-running domestic terrorist. The Unabomber.
In her new book, “Madman in the Woods: Life next door to the Unabomber,” released on April 19, Gehring recalls growing up next to Kaczynski, who built his 1.4-acre cabin on land sold to him by Gehring’s father, Butch Gehring.
Kaczynski, now 79, gave up his career as a math professor at the University of California, Berkeley to live a primitive life in his remote Lincoln cabin that did not have running water or electricity. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski would go on to kill three people and injure 23 more. Kaczynski was arrested in 1996 after a search by the FBI that cost $50 million. He is currently serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The book contains stories of the Gehring family’s interactions with Kaczynski, from friendly family dinners and games of pinochle to more menacing revelations like Kaczynski pointing a rifle at Gehring’s little sister and poisoning their family’s dog.
Gehring’s first and last encounter with Kaczynski could not be more different. As illustrated in the book’s opening pages, Gehring views Kaczynski as her friendly neighbor “Teddy,” who brought the then-4-year-old painted rocks.
“However, what I didn’t know at the time was that this man, this hermit, who took time to find these rocks … had already attempted to kill people seven times,” Gehring writes.
After Kaczynski’s life as a serial killer would become public, Gehring said she needed to dig up more of the story, so she spent five years investigating not only Kaczynski but also herself and her family — specifically the role of her father played in the FBI’s investigation.
“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?” she wrote.
While her main goal in writing the book was to share her own story, Gehring said she tried to write the book as accurately as possible. The process included interviews with Kaczynski’s brother, David Kaczynski, combing through newspaper clippings and court filings and talking with the FBI agents who investigated the case.
“I really did try and write the book in a very balanced w and very journalistic way … I wanted to tell the story as accurately as I possibly could,” she said.
Both David Kaczynski and Max Noel, one of the FBI agents who tracked down Ted, said Gehring succeeded in her goals for the book.
“Jamie Gehring’s book might well be the best attempt yet to understand the strange life and mind of my brother,” David Kaczynski wrote in his review of the book.
Noel echoed the message in his review: “Her exhaustive research and numerous interviews of Kaczynski’s neighbors and Lincoln, Montana, townspeople give her account a unique perspective. I believe ’Madman in the Woods ’ is a must-read for true crime aficionados.”
The most surprising thing Gehring said she discovered about Kaczynski while writing the book was how methodical he was, which tracks for someone with a genius IQ of 167.
“You imagine that the inner workings of a killer would be dark, but I wasn’t quite prepared to read his own words in his journals. I think that was the most shocking and surprising part of this,” she said.
An example she pointed to was Kaczynski referring to his victims as numerated experiments. “It just felt so cold and calculated to see a person referenced that way,” she said.
But she also discovered something about herself, specifically her ability to forgive.
“Even after I discovered that he was committing these acts of domestic terror in our backyard, that he had poisoned our dog and pointed a rifle at my sister … I was really angry, but there was still part of me that wanted to learn more about him and write him in a fair light. I think that was a surprising revelation, she said.
Gehring said her 16-year-old self did not fully grasp the weight of the situation when Kaczynski was arrested in 1998, but looking back on it, she said she feels validated.
“My parents told me I had an overactive imagination because I would tell them there was someone outside of my bedroom, so growing up thinking that, and then finding out (Kaczynski) was scavenging for metal and finding out that it was actually him outside of my window … little things like that from my childhood really made sense to me,” she said.
And despite the trauma from growing up to next Kaczynski, Gehring said she has managed to maintain a pretty level head about the situation.
“I haven’t let it change me, and I still feel like people are good for the most part. Plus, what are the chances I would live next to another serial killer? Pretty slim,” she said.
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