Step Inside the FBI’s Unabomber Investigation in VR

Between 1978 and 1995, the U.S. was terrorized by a domestic terrorist named Ted Kaczynski. He’s more famously known as The Unabomber.

A former mathematician, Kaczynski abandoned his academic career to live in a small secluded cabin in Lincoln, Montana. From there he set out on a twisted bombing campaign that killed 3 people and injured 23 others.

In 1995, the Unabomber wrote a letter to The New York Times and Washington Post, promising to ‘desist from terrorism’ if they printed his manifesto.

The FBI gave the go-ahead to print the manifesto, but only as a trap that would lead to Kaczynski’s eventual arrest.

To preserve the history of the FBI’s investigation and capture of Kaczynski, The Newseum and HTC Vive Studios have partnered to develop and produce a unique VR experience titled, Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience. The experience details the Unabomber case with video clips, a VR reconstruction of the New York Times editor’s office, the FBI conference room, and even Kaczynski’s Montana cabin where he plotted and constructed his explosives.

You follow the FBI as they try to figure out who the Unabomber is by examining evidence, traveling to various locations, and listening to narration from two of the three lead FBI agents assigned to the UNABOM (University and Airline Bomber) investigation. Assistant Special Agent Terry Turchie and FBI Agent Max Noel guide you through each part of the VR experience and provide you with details of their investigation.

Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience is a well constructed history lesson that really shows off the impact VR could have on learning environments around the world. It’s interactive, engaging and it allows you to go at your own pace.

In an interview with VRScout, FBI Agent Max Noel told us how he got involved with the Unabomber VR project. According to Noel:

Terry Turchie, Jim Freeman [the Special Agent in Charge of UNABOM] and I did a panel discussion in 2014 at the Newseum, it was very well received. Mitch Gelman [Newseum CTO] approached us about helping with the VR project and Terry and I readily accepted.

Every detail of the UNABOM investigation was meticulously rebuilt in VR through hundreds of case photos and input from Agent Noel and Agent Turchie.

Nothing was overlooked, which meant meticulously reconstructing details including files from the actual investigation that include real photos and evidence that you can pick up and examine.

“It captures our conference room completely, as well as made me feel like I was back at the cabin,” said Agent Noel.

As for what part of Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience Agent Noel thinks users will find most impressive, “I believe they’ll thoroughly enjoy the cabin. The whole experience is almost surreal,” said Noel, “You really get a feel for how Kaczynski lived.”

Agent Noel says working with HTC and Newseum on the details in Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience really brought back memories of the investigation, and showed him how VR technology is able to take those memories and bring them to life as if they were happening all over again.

One thing Agent Noel wished VR could replicate better, however, was a moment between himself and Kaczynski that happened right after Kaczynski was arrested. Noel tells VRScout:

After detaining him – I had Kaczynski in my personal custody in a very small space. All indications showed that he never expected us to be able to penetrate the sanctity of his cabin, and that he had no intention of being taken alive – during that moment, two things amazed me – his physical appearance and his arrogance! What you won’t get in VR is the incredible smell of Kaczynski and his cabin.

Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience is the first of several educational VR experiences planned by HTC Vive Studios and The Newseum. Each new VR experience will be available on Viveport as well as for all visitors to The Newseum in Washington.

Unabomber: The Virtual Reality Experience runs about 20 to 30 minutes (depending on how you decide to play it). It is currently available for $4.99 on the Viveport app store.

About the Scout

Bobby Carlton

Hello, my name is Bobby Carlton. When I'm not exploring the world of immersive technology, I'm writing rock songs about lost love. I'd also like to mention that I can do 25 push-ups in a row.

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