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Tag: Al Capone

What the Discovery Channel Gets Wrong In Its Series on the Unabomber

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

The Discovery Channel TV series, “Manhunt Unabomber,” disrespects achievements of  the “Unabom” investigation by creating a predominantly fictionalized story.

Theodore Kaczynski (FBI photo)

Theodore Kaczynski (FBI photo)

One of the shows I watched in my youth was “The Untouchables.” I was about ten when it premiered in 1959 on TV, and it was one the things that inspired me to want to be a G-man. The first episodes of “The Untouchables” were based on Eliot Ness’ book by the same name that he wrote with Oscar Fraley a sportswriter. (The book was published in 1957 less than a year after Ness’ death.) Those early episodes closely followed the book and were presented as a true story. It is very good story – a crusading lawman puts together a team, a group of incorruptible agents who take on Chicago’s biggest crime lord, the ruthless Al Capone, and topple his empire that was built on the manufacture and sale of beer and liquor during prohibition.

The problem is some of the key parts of the story aren’t true.

The Untouchables didn’t topple Capone. They did raid and destroy some of Capone’s distilleries and breweries. This diminished Capone’s bootleg income and inconvenienced him financially, but it was the IRS agents working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that toppled Capone. The IRS agents and U.S. attorneys built a strong tax evasion case against Capone independent of Ness and the Untouchables. Capone was convicted of five counts of tax evasion and no violations of the Volstead Act (the illegal manufacture and/or sale of alcohol for consumption). Capone was sentenced to 11 years, most of which he served at Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco.

Ness Never Met Capone

Unlike the TV series or the subsequent movie, which was even more fictionalized, Ness and Capone never met. There was no dramatic confrontation.

Ness and Fraley in writing the book embellished the truth regarding Ness’ role in the demise of the Capone empire, and the TV series that followed solidified that fiction. Those IRS agents and US attorneys who successfully prosecuted Capone are forgotten. (For the record, the Chicago U.S. attorney who prosecuted Capone was George E.Q. Johnson, and the lead IRS agent was Frank Wilson – lest we forget.)

mv5botcxmjeymzc4nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwotq4mje4mji-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_

That brings me to a series currently running on the Discovery Channel about the “Unabom” investigation. The show makes the usual claim/disclaimer that it’s based on a true story. Unfortunately, it’s more fiction than truth. The series makes a large departure from the truth – it portrays a minor player on the Unabom Task Force (UTF), Jim Fitzgerald, as the investigator who broke the case and was involved in key aspects of the case. It then builds on that fiction by depicting a relationship between the Unabomber/Ted Kaczynski and Fitzgerald that never happened.

The Unabom (FBI shorthand for University and Airline Bomber) investigation began in 1978 with the first bomb and continued until the Unabomber was identified, arrested and prosecuted in 1998. (The last bombing was in 1995.) The investigation was the longest and most expensive in FBI history. Many people were involved in the investigation from different agencies. Some spent a substantial portion of their careers on the investigation. All kinds of investigative techniques were utilized, huge data bases were built and countless leads were followed only to what seemed to be dead ends.

In the later years, a Unabom Task Force was formed in San Francisco. The lead agency was the FBI, but there were representatives from the U.S. Postal Inspectors and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). San Francisco had been the mailing origin for some of the later bombs, and the San Francisco Chronicle was one of the newspapers that Unabomber had chosen to communicate through with law enforcement.

Finally, the big break came when the Unabomber claimed that he would discontinue his use of bombings to kill if his 35,000-word manifesto were printed in a major newspaper. (He did reserve the right to commit acts of sabotage without targeting people.) It was decided that the publication could lead to identifying the Unabomber, but a major newspaper had to be persuaded to publish it.

The Attorney General, Janet Reno, the then Director of the FBI, Louie Freeh, the San Francisco Special Agent in Charge, Jim Freeman, the Assistant SAC, Terry Turchie and Kathy Puckett, an FBI agent and a member of the UTF with a psychology background (PhD), met with and persuaded the very reluctant editors of the NY Times and the Washington Post to publish the manifesto. It was decided that the Post would publish the manifesto in its entirety, and the newspapers agreed to share the immense cost of the publication. (Jim Fitzgerald had no part in this process.)

Publication Triggers Suspicions

The publication led to David Kaczynski and his wife’s realization that David’s brother, Ted, was probably the Unabomber. (David’s wife had suspected that Ted was the Unabomber for a while.) They reached this conclusion by comparing some of Ted’s early writings with the manifesto.

Through their attorney they communicated their conclusion to the UTF.  When members of the UTF saw Ted Kaczynski’s early writings and compared them to the manifesto, most if not all of them thought they were written by the same person. No special analytical technique was necessary. (Jim Fitzgerald was not the first one to make this determination. He reached the same conclusion as did most of the other members of the UTF.)

David Kaczynski’s attorney told the UTF that Ted was living in a small cabin in Lincoln, Montana. A surveillance was quickly begun of Ted in Lincoln. Various UTF members and other agents were infiltrated into Lincoln using assumed identities. At the same time, investigation and interviews were conducted in all the locations where Ted had lived and gone to school.

All this information was analyzed and put together for a search warrant affidavit establishing probable cause to search Ted’s cabin. After the surveillance had been ongoing for about six weeks, the search warrant affidavit was presented to a local federal magistrate who issued the search warrant. A ruse was developed to get Ted to come out of his cabin, and the cabin was searched.

The search found: bomb making materials; voluminous incriminating documents including an original draft of the manifesto and a coded diary confessing to all of the bombings; the typewriter used to type the manifesto and a fully constructed bomb ready to be sent – the bomb was designed as an anti-personal bomb, despite Ted’s promise not to kill.

Post Arrest 

After Ted’s arrest, he was interviewed by Postal Inspector Paul Wilhelmus and FBI agent Max Noel. Both had been involved in the Unabom investigation for years. Ted did not confess, but after what was found in the cabin, it wasn’t necessary. (Jim Fitzgerald was never in Lincoln during the search of the cabin and the arrest of Ted. Consequently, he had no part in the search nor the interview.)

Like Eliot Ness, who never met Al Capone, Jim Fitzgerald never met Ted Kaczynski.

Much later Jim Fitzgerald in an interview with Newsweek, implied that his “forensic linguistic analysis” identified Ted Kaczynski as the Unabomer. In the Newsweek piece, that identification is referred to as a “defining moment in Fitzgerald’s career” – no such moment occurred.

I realize that the Discovery Unabomber series is a dramatization not a documentary, and it’s difficult to make a long often tedious investigation into a compelling story. But that’s not an excuse to make a minor member of a team who was only on the team for a matter of months into the star player who won the game. I’m not sure why the writers took this tack, and I don’t do screen plays, but maybe an ensemble cast of unique characters would have worked. That’s what the task force was – kind of like the movie, “Spotlight.”

The Unabom investigation is a great story and can be told without embellishing the minimal role of one agent in the investigation and thereby diminishing all those that contributed to a monumental team effort.

As the legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler said:

“No man is greater than the team; no coach is greater than the team; the team, the team, the team.”

Stejskal: Discovery Channel TV Series on Unabomber Disrespects The Investigation’s Achievements

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office. Stejskal was the case agent on the UNABOM  bombing that targeted Michigan Prof. James McConnell in 1985, and investigated Kaczynski’s time at Michigan as a grad student.

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

The Discovery Channel TV series, “Manhunt Unabomber,” disrespects achievements of  the “Unabom” investigation by creating a predominantly fictionalized story.

Theodore Kaczynski (FBI photo)

Theodore Kaczynski (FBI photo)

One of the shows I watched in my youth was “The Untouchables.” I was about ten when it premiered in 1959 on TV, and it was one the things that inspired me to want to be a G-man. The first episodes of “The Untouchables” were based on Eliot Ness’ book by the same name that he wrote with Oscar Fraley a sportswriter. (The book was published in 1957 less than a year after Ness’ death.) Those early episodes closely followed the book and were presented as a true story. It is very good story – a crusading lawman puts together a team, a group of incorruptible agents who take on Chicago’s biggest crime lord, the ruthless Al Capone, and topple his empire that was built on the manufacture and sale of beer and liquor during prohibition.

The problem is some of the key parts of the story aren’t true.

The Untouchables didn’t topple Capone. They did raid and destroy some of Capone’s distilleries and breweries. This diminished Capone’s bootleg income and inconvenienced him financially, but it was the IRS agents working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that toppled Capone. The IRS agents and U.S. attorneys built a strong tax evasion case against Capone independent of Ness and the Untouchables. Capone was convicted of five counts of tax evasion and no violations of the Volstead Act (the illegal manufacture and/or sale of alcohol for consumption). Capone was sentenced to 11 years, most of which he served at Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco.

Ness Never Met Capone

Unlike the TV series or the subsequent movie, which was even more fictionalized, Ness and Capone never met. There was no dramatic confrontation.

Ness and Fraley in writing the book embellished the truth regarding Ness’ role in the demise of the Capone empire, and the TV series that followed solidified that fiction. Those IRS agents and US attorneys who successfully prosecuted Capone are forgotten. (For the record, the Chicago U.S. attorney who prosecuted Capone was George E.Q. Johnson, and the lead IRS agent was Frank Wilson – lest we forget.)

mv5botcxmjeymzc4nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwotq4mje4mji-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_

That brings me to a series currently running on the Discovery Channel about the “Unabom” investigation. The show makes the usual claim/disclaimer that it’s based on a true story. Unfortunately, it’s more fiction than truth. The series makes a large departure from the truth – it portrays a minor player on the Unabom Task Force (UTF), Jim Fitzgerald, an FBI profiler and forensic linguist,  as the investigator who broke the case and was involved in key aspects of the case. It then builds on that fiction by depicting a relationship between the Unabomber/Ted Kaczynski and Fitzgerald that never happened.

The Unabom (FBI shorthand for University and Airline Bomber) investigation began in 1978 with the first bomb and continued until the Unabomber was identified, arrested and prosecuted in 1998. (The last bombing was in 1995.) The investigation was the longest and most expensive in FBI history. Many people were involved in the investigation from different agencies. Some spent a substantial portion of their careers on the investigation. All kinds of investigative techniques were utilized, huge data bases were built and countless leads were followed only to what seemed to be dead ends.

In the later years, a Unabom Task Force was formed in San Francisco. The lead agency was the FBI, but there were representatives from the U.S. Postal Inspectors and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). San Francisco had been the mailing origin for some of the later bombs, and the San Francisco Chronicle was one of the newspapers that Unabomber had chosen to communicate through with law enforcement.

Finally, the big break came when the Unabomber claimed that he would discontinue his use of bombings to kill if his 35,000-word manifesto were printed in a major newspaper. (He did reserve the right to commit acts of sabotage without targeting people.) It was decided that the publication could lead to identifying the Unabomber, but a major newspaper had to be persuaded to publish it.

Greg Stejskal

Greg Stejskal

The Attorney General, Janet Reno, the then Director of the FBI, Louie Freeh, the San Francisco Special Agent in Charge, Jim Freeman, the Assistant SAC, Terry Turchie and Kathy Puckett, an FBI agent and a member of the UTF with a psychology background (PhD), met with and persuaded the very reluctant editors of the NY Times and the Washington Post to publish the manifesto. It was decided that the Post would publish the manifesto in its entirety, and the newspapers agreed to share the immense cost of the publication. (Jim Fitzgerald had no part in this process.)

Publication Triggers Suspicions

The publication led to David Kaczynski and his wife’s realization that David’s brother, Ted, was probably the Unabomber. (David’s wife had suspected that Ted was the Unabomber for a while.) They reached this conclusion by comparing some of Ted’s early writings with the manifesto.

Read more »

Naming of New ATF Headquarters Causing Heated Debate

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

An ugly debate is brewing over the naming of the glassy new ATF headquarters in Washington D.C.

The Los Angeles Times reports that many people aren’t happy with the Senate’s decision to name the new building after famous federal agent Eliot Ness, who helped bring down Al Capone.

Opponents of the new name want the new headquarters to be dedicated to former ATF Agent Ariel Rios, who was shot and killed during a drug deal in Miami.

In 1985, the ATF headquarters was designated the Ariel Rios Building.

The ATF dedicated a reflecting pool at its current headquarters in Rio’s memory.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST


Chicago Tribune Editorial: Should ATF Headquarters Be Named for Eliot Ness

Al Capone/fbi photo

By the Chicago Tribune
Editorial Page

Chicago

We all know crime fighter Eliot Ness brought down Chicago mobster Al Capone, right?

Not quite. Ness spent the best years of his life in a hunt to put Capone behind bars, but he had less to do with the final outcome than legend has it. Ness retired from federal law enforcement in his prime, then worked as a public safety official in Ohio. His personal life became a mess and he died at age 54.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin are pushing to name the Washington headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after Ness. This has prompted a delicious debate about Chicago history during Prohibition.

Alderman Ed Burke, the City Council’s resident historian, has dismissed the famous lawman. “Eliot Ness had a checkered career after leaving the federal government,” Burke said. “I simply do not think his image matches the actual reality of his legacy.”

Read more here

 OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST


Al Capone an “Amateur” Compared to the FBI’s New “Public Enemy Number One”

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The head of a criminal enterprise in Chicago is far more violent and dangerous than mob boss Al Capone ever was, according to the FBI.

To capture the elusive, vicious Joaquin Guzman Loera, the FBI said it has joined forces with the Chicago Police Department, naming Joaquin Guzman Loera “Public Enemy Number One.”

“Not since the Chicago Crime Commission’s first “Public Enemy Number One” has any criminal deserved this title more than Joaquin Guzman Loera,” said J.R. Davis, President and Chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission. “Compared to Guzman, Al Capone looks like an amateur. Guzman is currently heading the largest and most powerful crime organization in Mexico.”

Davis said Lorea’s group – the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico – is the major supplier of narcotics in Chicago.

“His agents are working in the Chicago area importing vast quantities of drugs for sale throughout the Chicago region and collecting and sending to Mexico tens of millions of dollars in drug money,” Davis said.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Newly Released FBI Documents Show More Threats to Ted Kennedy; One Allegedly Came From Al Capone’s Son

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Just released FBI records show the bureau investigated more threats against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy than previously revealed, including one involving the son of the late mobster Al Capone and a plot by Cuban communists, the Boston Globe reported.

The paper reported that none of the half-dozen or so newly revealed threats were substantiated. Nonetheless, the paper reported that Kennedy seemed to live under constant threat after the murder of his two brothers and “protecting Kennedy became a full time job for the FBI and Secret Service agents.”

The Globe reported that the new documents released on Monday — the second since the FBI declassified the Kennedy file — spanned the mid-1960s to  2001.

The Globe reported that one of the more unusual threats surfaced in the summer of 1968, just weeks after Robert Kennedy’s death. The paper reported that a  man phoned the FBI’s Miami office to report that he, his roommate, a cashier, and a waitress at the New England Oyster House in Coral Gables, Fla., overheard a man  identify himself as Sonny Capone, the son of Al Capone, while making a threatening phone call.

“If Edward Kennedy keeps fooling around, he’s going to get it too,’’ the caller, who was apparently drunk, reportedly said.  The Globe reported that the FBI confirmed Sonny Capone was living in the area. However, there was no FBI document indicating a follow up to the call.

To read more click here.

Book Review:”Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s most Wanted Gangster”

The very able author Jonathan Eig, a former Wall Street Journal reporter,  who has written books on baseball legends Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig ,  has now written about another type of legend, and a  ruthless one at that: Al Capone. It details his colorful life and how the feds brought him down.  Here’s the New York Times review.

capone3

By James McManus
New York Times Book Review

Tell people in Belfast or Melbourne you’re from Chicago and some of them are still apt to mimic a tommy assault, spraying you with 400 rounds of hot lead per minute.

Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah! A tommy, of course, is a Thompson submachine gun, the weapon of choice for Al Capone’s ”outfit,” which deployed the guns to dominate the hooch and protection rackets in and around Chicago for most of the Roaring Twenties. Old associations die hard.

In ”Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster,” Jonathan Eig vividly retraces the efforts of President Herbert Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. and the United States attorney George E. Q. Johnson to bring Scarface to some sort of justice. Despite the gaudy subtitle, though, fully half the book covers Capone’s rise to power and the grip, drenched in blood, with which he maintained it for almost a decade.

To read more click here.

Read Chicago Sun-Times Review

Mobster Al Capone’s Wisconsin Hideout For Sale

The question is: Did Al Capone leave behind any bootleg liquor? It has got to be an interesting home — certainly more so than the ones being built these days.

Al Capone/fbi photo

Al Capone/fbi photo

By ROBERT IMRIE
Associated Press Writer
WAUSAU, Wis. — The buyer of a scenic property in northern Wisconsin will get more than just its bar and restaurant: They’ll have a former hideout of Chicago mobster Al Capone.

The 407-acre wooded site, complete with guard towers and a stone house with 18-inch-thick walls, will soon go on the auction block at a starting bid of $2.6 million.

The bank that foreclosed on the land near Couderay, about 140 miles northeast of Minneapolis, said Capone owned it in the late 1920s and early 1930s during Prohibition.

For Full Story