FBI considered Unabomber approach to preserving makeshift cell in Oregon kidnapping case


After photographing and measuring the makeshift cinder block cell found at the Klamath Falls rental home of accused kidnapper Negasi Zubari, FBI agents considered removing the structure as built to secure it as evidence.

FBI agent Travis Gluesenkamp said he and other agents immediately thought of the FBI’s helicopter airlift of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s isolated “shack in the woods’' in Montana. The helicopter deposited the shack at an Air Force base, and it then traveled on flatbed truck more than 1,000 miles to Sacramento for evidence storage.

“Many FBI agents are familiar with what happened with Ted Kaczynski’s shack, Gluesenkamp said Thursday in court. “… And so my first thought was, ‘OK, is this something I can feasibly take? And very quickly we realized that this is not something we can move.”

Instead, FBI agents measured, photographed and videotaped the cell built in the home’s garage and then allowed the property owners to dismantle it. It likely weighed thousands of pounds and couldn’t be taken as it stood, he testified during a hearing on a series of motions before Zuberi goes on trial.

Zuberi’s defense lawyers urged U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane to dismiss the federal indictment against Zuberi because the FBI and police allowed the cell’s destruction. Zuberi, 30, has pleaded not guilty to an indictment that charges him with two counts of kidnapping, two counts of being a felon in possession of guns and ammunition, two counts of being a felon with ammunition and one count each of transportation for criminal sexual activity. A trial is set for October. A separate charge of attempted escape from Jackson County Jail will be handled separately.

Defense lawyer Amy E. Potter argued the structure was a “critical piece of evidence” and now the defense has no way of examining or testing its “durability and strength” to determine whether it was built to “imprison somebody” or perhaps as a music sound studio.

Gluesenkamp testified that he used an oscillating saw to cut through drywall and insulation that was erected on a frame inside the cinderblock cell to determine if anyone was “behind those walls.” He found no one, he said. The FBI has the metal security door that was on the cell in its custody.

McShane denied the motion to dismiss. He found the government provided a “wealth of discovery” documenting the structure, including about 250 photos, 20 minutes of video footage from inside and outside, as well as multiple Home Depot receipts for much of the material used to build it.

He noted that the homeowner separately documented the five-hour sledgehammer demolition of the full cinderblock cell with photos.

Further, it would have been impractical and very difficult to have maintained and moved the structure from the private home, McShane said.

“There’s enough known about the structures, construction and composition to allow the defense to assess the structure’s utility,” McShane said. “I think the government, law enforcement, did everything they could to capture what is needed to understand the structure, understand its composition, and if necessary, give the defense experts an opportunity to comment on the structure.”

Although Potter said the defense lawyers don’t know what was used to hold the cinder blocks together, McShane found there’s nothing to prevent the defense from trying to recreate the structure.

“Rebuild it in the middle of the courtroom, if you’d like, and we can test how solid it is. But the fact is, it would be very easy to recreate the cinder block structure and test its worthiness,” he said.

The judge also denied a defense motion to divide the case against Zuberi into separate trials. The defense had argued that one trial would be prejudicial to Zuberi.

Zuberi is accused of abducting a woman from Seattle in July 2023, driving her to Klamath Falls and sexually assaulting her during the drive, then imprisoning her in the makeshift cell before she managed to escape by repeatedly beating on a metal screen security door and ripping through it with her hands until they bled, according to FBI agent Gluesenkamp. She crawled through a small horizontal slat in the door to escape, then grabbed a gun from the floorboard of a car parked in the garage, and ran out a garage access door into a front courtyard, he said. The woman climbed over an approximately five-foot fence to the driveway and ran into the street, screaming for help. A motorist stopped and called 911, the agent testified.

Zuberi was subsequently charged with kidnapping another woman outside a local bar, holding her in a car in his garage for 12 hours and sexually assaulting her in May 2023.

“By attempting to offer all this evidence in a single trial, the government is simply trying to paint Mr. Zuberi as an evil man who attacks women,” Potter wrote to the court. “This is not permitted by the rules of evidence.”

McShane ruled there’s no way to separate the two cases.

The two women shared similar observations of Zuberi, according to court records. Their allegations include that he threatened them with a black-and-yellow Taser stun gun, ordered them to place a sweatshirt backward over their heads so they couldn’t see their surroundings and took their phones and encased them in aluminum foil to prevent anyone from tracking their locations.

McShane found that the two cases pointed to “an ongoing scheme of Mr. Zuberi to plan and engage in a pattern of sexual abuse of women.”

McShane also said a 2021 assault conviction against Zuberi could be entered as evidence in the case, since it occurred close in time to his latest alleged crimes and involved similar actions. Zuberi had solicited sex from a 16-year-old girl and then beat her in a remote area of Alameda County, California.

Thursday’s hearing also revealed an alleged attempt by Alycia Westfall, the mother of Zuberi’s two sons, to obstruct police in the investigation, though she hasn’t been charged with any crime.

When first contacted by Klamath Falls officers outside the home in the July case, she denied any connection to Zuberi.

She said she simply rented a room in the house, wasn’t in a relationship with anyone who lived in the house and even falsely claimed she didn’t know who the father of her two sons was, according to Klamath Falls Sgt Chris Zupan.

“I never got a straight answer out of her about any of the questions I asked,” Zupan testified.

Westfall was later found with Zuberi and their sons when Zuberi was arrested the next day in Reno, Nevada.

Zupan also dropped an interesting detail in his testimony: The rock-gravel front yard of the home Zuberi was renting and an approximately 5-foot fence along the front yard violated city code. The home is owned by Klamath Falls Mayor Carol Westfall and her husband Kevin Westfall.

McShane ordered Zuberi to be shackled during the hearing, with one hand free to allow him to take notes, after investigators said he had made threats on jail calls directed at his defense lawyer and indicated he might cause an explosion or outburst if things didn’t go his way.

Potter, Zuberi’s defense lawyer, objected to the shackling, saying the comments on the jail phone were made out of frustration and don’t represent any real threats.

But the judge left the shackles on.

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