Tracking down the Unabomber

Former FBI agent addresses students at PSU Berks

SPRING TWP., Pa. - Jim Fitzgerald is a retired FBI forensic linguist most publicly known for his role in bringing Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to justice.

But on Thursday, Fitzgerald was just a Penn State graduate returning to Penn State Berks, the place where his college career started, to talk to students.

Fitzgerald talked about his career journey from a Bensalem, Bucks County, police officer to an FBI special agent to the audience of more than 100 people, many of whom were college students majoring in criminal justice.

A large part of the evening was spent discussing the recently ended Discovery Channel miniseries, “Manhunt: Unabomb,” in which Fitzgerald was portrayed by actor Sam Worthington.

Fitzgerald opened his presentation by showing a picture of the handsome actor, apologizing to anyone in the audience expecting to see Worthington up on stage.

“It was fun putting this together,” he said of the writing process for the eight-episode series.

Filmed in and around Atlanta last spring, Fitzgerald shared photos of himself with the actors at a red carpet premiere. Although he didn’t meet the actor who would portray him until after filming began, Fitzgerald revealed that Worthington emailed him about 30 questions after being cast.

Worthington wanted to know what would be the first thing the FBI agent said to Kaczynski. Unlike the artistic license taken by the show, Fitzgerald and Kaczynski never met or had a conversation.

The one and only exchange between Fitzgerald and Kaczynski came in the courtroom when, during a break, an acquaintance called to him from across the room. Hearing the name Fitzgerald and knowing the name as the person responsible for catching him, Kaczynski glared at the agent.

“I’ve never had anyone give me a dirtier look for the next 45 seconds,” Fitzgerald said.

Marrying his world of linguistics and his college audience’s world of social media, Fitzgerald shared some of the tweets he received since the miniseries began airing. Many of the tweets included him taking the heat for how the Fitzgerald character treated a co-worker named Tabby. Clearing that up, there wasn’t a Tabby in real life.

The evening concluded with Fitzgerald answering some questions from the audience. He told stories of his proudest career moments, which included an instance of saving an infant's life using CPR while working as a police officer.

He explained that most of his favorite career memories are “more about those little cases that you never read anywhere.”

When asked what case he wished he could have helped solve, he was quick to answer the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

“Already retired, for the first time I thought, ‘I wish I could be back working,'" Fitzgerald said. "I knew I could help those guys.”

Up next, Fitzgerald will be working on the fourth installment of a four-part memoir series titled, "A Journey to the Center of the Mind."

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