What is it about the crimes of the 1990s that seem to interesting to us in the 2010s? It could be nostalgia, or it could be that some of the cases were truly crazy, but events following the O.J. Simpson trial, the Gianni Versace murder, Jonbenét Ramsey's death, and the Unabomber hunt dominate the television waves now just as they did in the 1990s. The latest, Discovery's Manhunt: Unabomber, focuses on the latter of that group, with Sam Worthington playing FBI agent and profiler James “Fitz” Fitzgerald as he tries to find elusive Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. The series talks a bit about how prolific Fitz was in his ability to profile this case, but it's far from his only achievement. The other cases James Fitzgerald worked on after the Unabomber show that his talent was always in high demand.
For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Ted Kaczynski, now known as the Unabomber, plead guilty to 16 bombings from 1978 to 1995 and was sentenced to life in prison in 1998. Kaczynski alluded the authorities for years, but Fitzgerald's unorthodox approach was what accelerated finding the Unabomber himself. According to Newsweek, after Kaczynski sent a 35,000 word manifesto to the Washington Post and the New York Times and demanded it be published, Fitzgerald told the newspapers to do it, which is against FBI protocol. He told the magazine, “I was very adamant about that. A few bosses were against it. We didn’t want to cede to the demands of a terrorist. I said, we may run that risk, but there's so much in the way of idiosyncratic language features, someone will recognize it — a teacher, a professor, a friend, a family member.” That’s exactly what happened — Kaczynski’s brother recognized his brother’s unique phrasing and ideas and turned him in.
With the Unabomber case in the books, Fitz set his sights on other cases. According to his webiste, he worked on the FBI investigation into JonBenét Ramsey’s murder, the D.C. sniper case, and the anthrax investigation that took place in the months after 9/11. The year 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the Ramsey case, and Fitz joined CBS’ The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey to try and figure it out again. Unfortunately, they couldn’t crack the case.
Fitz retired from the FBI in 2007, but he hasn’t left the field completely. He’s an author, he teaches at the FBI Academy, and he’s the technical advisor to the television series Criminal Minds, according to the Centre For Forensic Linguistics. Of his television career, he told the Centre:
“I mostly deal with the writers as opposed to the actors. I told them when they hired me that I would tell them how it works in real life: how criminal profiling functions, what it can do, what it can't do, and what my experience with real-life serial offenders, killers and rapists had exposed me to. On the whole, I believe the show is very much true to form in terms of real life, the only exception being of course, that the crime is solved in 42 minutes, or even a few days and weeks of TV time. That is less common in the real world.”
Fitzgerald may have completed his FBI career, but he’s using his skills and experience for accurate and exciting entertainment purposes, and for that, we can all be grateful.