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According to the TV series Manhunt: Unabomber (Manhunt S01), 2017, the "call Nathan R" message was mistakenly written by a New York Times intern.

Context (Chicago Tribune, 1995):

At one point, the FBI interviewed at least 10,000 people with the name and initial “Nathan R.,” simply because they found a faint impression of that name on one of the Unabomber’s letters.

One website (Grunge, 2023) says:

The "Nathan R" message was completely irrelevant to the case, and its meaning remains unknown. To resolve this, Manhunt: Unabomber explains that the imprint was left behind by a mailroom intern at the New York Times who had a habit of writing Post-it-Note reminders to himself. Believable? Sure! The truth? Probably not.

So was "call Nathan R" being mistakenly written by a New York Times intern a complete invention of this TV series? Or is there any truth behind this?

(Note: The TV series never claims to be the whole truth and instead states that it is merely based on true events.)

2 Answers 2

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By an Intern? Maybe. We just don't know.

Certainly at the time it was touted as a legitimate clue. But the FBI (eventually) seem to have ruled it out as important.

There doesn't seem to be a confirmation how it got into the letter in the first place, nor why the FBI decided not to actively pursue it after their initial rush of excitement.

They ran off on tangents. Once, they scurried after a mysterious message -- "Call Nathan R wed 7 pm" -- that had been imprinted, invisibly, on one of his communiques. The FBI scoured drivers licenses and phone books, tracking down some 12,000 Nathan Rs across the land.

Per LA Times - UnaBomber Stumped Experts for Years.

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was "call Nathan R" really mistakenly written by a New York Times intern?

Historically, we don't know (and probably never will...). That's probably why the show didn't clearly state it was one way or the other. But it's clearly not invented by the writers.

Some say it was an intern (FBI, papers... NY Times -- NY Times), some that it was a red-herring placed by the Unabomber to tease and confuse the Taskforce or one of the misleading tricks made to fool the FBI. Or just a mistake by Unabomber. Some say that it's Daniel Pride (beware of that source though, just here to show what has been said (or not), in all directions, because no one really knows, so theories go all the way, up and down, right and left).


Little was spared in the hunt. Working off a cryptic note left in Sacramento -- "Call Nathan R -- Wed 7 p.m." -- investigators compiled a 10,000-person list of every person in the country with the first name Nathan and a last name beginning with "R." They contacted everyone on the list.

The sweep came up empty. Some investigators now believe the note was nothing more than the Unabomber having a little fun with his pursuers. The Washington Post

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