Barack Obama

Karate teacher and fake Elvis' enmity is at heart of ricin letters case

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 10:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 3:26am

United States Federal agents invaded northeast Mississippi several days ago, on a mission: Find the man who sent a poison-laced letter to President Barack Obama. But the US government quickly found itself entangled, once again, in a misunderstood land dominated by squabbling tribes and petty vengeances.

Agents first arrested Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator on April 17. He was known to have spun wild conspiracies about the local hospital selling body parts and apparently signed the poisoned letters with his initials.

But the FBI found no evidence of ricin in Curtis' home nor any incriminating research on his computer. They decided he had not sent the letters after all and released him last Tuesday.

Investigators gradually concluded that what they had descended upon was probably less about Obama - or the US senator and retired state judge who also received letters - than a serious case of indigenous bickering.

Within hours agents had raided the home of his archenemy: James Everett Dutschke, a karate instructor. Curtis claimed Dutschke wanted to frame him. It would not be the first skirmish between Tupelo's most famous son and a karate man.

Both men have made multiple trips to jail. Curtis was arrested for, among other things, assaulting a Tupelo lawyer - for which he received a six-month sentence from Holland. In January, Tupelo authorities charged Dutschke with molesting children. He pleaded not guilty, but he shut down his karate school while awaiting trial.

After the FBI released Curtis, the two enemies' paths diverged. Curtis headed for New York.

Dutschke, meanwhile, watched federal agents in protective masks search his home, his karate studio and his van. On Saturday the US attorney charged him with "knowingly developing, producing" and stockpiling ricin. If convicted he faces maximum penalties of life imprisonment, a US$250,000 fine and five years of supervised release.