November 15, 1993 12:00 PM

IT WAS THE FRIDAY BEFORE THE FOURTH of July weekend in 1982. Around 7:30 in the morning, Diogenes Angelakos, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wandered into a coffee room in the engineering building. On the floor he noticed a cylindrical box covered with gauges and wires. When he picked up the box to examine it, a pipe bomb connected to a small gasoline tank exploded, tearing the flesh off three of his fingers but leaving him otherwise intact. “The idiot filled the tank to the top and did not leave enough air for the gasoline to explode,” he says. “I was really lucky.”

Others have not been as fortunate. Since the late 1970s, one person has been killed and 23 others injured by 14 bombs made by an elusive figure known as Unabomber—so named because so many of his creations exploded at universities, high-tech centers and airlines. Now, after a six-year hiatus, the bomber is active once more, and federal authorities have stepped up their investigation, announcing a $1 million reward for any information that will help them catch the bomber (The toll-free number is 1-800-701-BOMB). “We’ve got to get this guy,” says FBI spokesman Nestor Michnyak. “We need help.”

The first tangible break investigators had in the case occurred in February 1987 when a white male in his 30s was spotted placing one of the intricate, handmade bombs outside a Salt Lake City computer store. After that, the attacks suddenly stopped and the trail grew cold. Unabomber was nearly forgotten.

Then, four months ago, Charles Epstein, 59, a geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, opened a padded brown envelope delivered to his home. It blew up in his hands, shearing off three fingers and shattering his right arm. Two days later, a similar mail bomb left David Gelernter, 38, a computer scientist at Yale, with severe injuries to his abdomen, chest, face and hands. Unabomber was back, to the anger and dismay of his previous victims. “I had hoped he’d blown his brains out trying to make a bomb some place,” says Angelakos, 74.

The Angelakos bombing in ’82 was not the professor’s only experience with Unabomber. Nearly three years later, Angelakos was in his office at the engineering building on May 15, 1985, when he heard a blast and saw smoke pouring out of a student lab down the hall. John Hauser, an Air Force pilot working on his master’s degree in electrical engineering, had inadvertently triggered the explosion when he picked up a plastic file-card box attached by a rubber band to a loose-leaf binder. All the fingers on his right hand were blown off at the knuckles, the nerves in his forearm were severed, his right biceps muscle was torn, and the retina of his left eye was damaged.

The bomb also permanently damaged Hauser’s career plans. One week after the bombing, he received a long-awaited letter from the Air Force inviting him to apply to the astronaut-training program. “That added insult to injury,” he says, since his wounds meant he could never go into space. Hauser taught himself to write left-handed and underwent a year of occupational therapy before conceding that his days as a military pilot were over. He is now a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Unabomber began his deadly work in 1978 in the Chicago area and was originally called the Junkyard Bomber because he used common materials like scrap wood and lamp cord. While some of the bombs have varied in size and construction—with seven placed by hand and seven delivered by mail—they are all handcrafted and many have been engraved with the initials “FC.” The bomber’s first victims were a security guard and a graduate student at Northwestern University. In 1979 one of his bombs went off in a mailbag on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Washington causing 12 people to be treated for smoke inhalation. Seven months later, Percy Wood, then president of United Airlines, survived a bomb delivered to his home in Lake Forest, Ill., that was concealed in a mailed package with the Sloan Wilson novel Ice Brothers.

After that, Unabomber apparently moved his base of operations to California. The lone fatality, Hugh Campbell Scrutton, 38, died in 1985 after he picked up a booby-trapped package in the parking lot of his Sacramento computer store. Both bombs mailed to victims this year originated in Sacramento. Found with one of those packages was the message, “Call Nathan R wed 7 pm.” But so far, investigators say, they have no idea who Nathan R may be. They describe Unabomber as a meticulous individual who spends hours making and polishing bomb components. But his motives and how he chooses his targets remain a mystery. “The tragedy,” says Angelakos. “is that one guy can affect so many lives and never let us know what is troubling him.”

ELIZABETH FERNANDEZ in San Francisco and bureau reports

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