OXFORD, Miss. -- The investigation into poisoned letters mailed to President Barack Obama and others has shifted from an Elvis impersonator to his longtime foe, and authorities must now figure out if an online feud between the two men might have escalated into something more sinister.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was released from a north Mississippi jail Tuesday and charges against him were dropped, nearly a week after authorities charged him with sending ricin-laced letters to the president, Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and an 80-year-old Lee County, Miss., Justice Court judge, Sadie Holland.
Before Mr. Curtis left jail, authorities had already descended on the home of Everett Dutschke, 41, in Tupelo, a northeast Mississippi town best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. On Wednesday, they searched the site of a Tupelo martial arts studio once operated by Mr. Dutschke, who hasn't been arrested or charged.
Wednesday evening, hazmat teams packed up and left Mr. Dutschke's business. He was at the scene at times during the day. A woman drove off in a green Dodge Caravan parked on the street that had been searched. Daniel McMullen, FBI special agent in charge in Mississippi, declined to speak with reporters afterward.
Mr. Dutschke's attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said he is "cooperating fully" with investigators and that no arrest warrant had been issued.
After being released from jail Tuesday, Mr. Curtis, who performs as Elvis and other celebrities, described a bizarre, yearslong feud between the two, but Mr. Dutschke insisted he had nothing to do with the letters. They contained language identical to that found on Mr. Curtis' Facebook page and other websites, making him an early suspect.
Federal authorities have not said what led them to drop the charges against Mr. Curtis, and his lawyers say they're not sure what new evidence the FBI has found.
Mr. Curtis said he's not sure exactly what led to the bad blood. It involves the men's time working together, a broken promise to help with a book by Mr. Curtis and an acrimonious exchange of emails, according to Mr. Curtis.
The two worked together at Mr. Curtis' brother's insurance office years ago, Mr. Curtis said. He said Mr. Dutschke told him he owned a newspaper and showed interest in publishing his book called "Missing Pieces," about what Mr. Curtis considers an underground market to sell body parts.
But Mr. Dutschke decided not to publish the material, Mr. Curtis alleged, and later began stalking Mr. Curtis on the Internet.
For his part, Mr. Dutschke said he didn't even know Mr. Curtis that well.
"He almost had my sympathy until I found out that he was trying to blame somebody else," Mr. Dutschke said Monday. "I've known he was disturbed for a long time. Last time we had any contact with each other was at some point in 2010 when I threatened to sue him for fraud for posting a Mensa certificate that is a lie. He is not a Mensa member. That certificate is a lie."
Mr. Curtis acknowledges posting a fake Mensa certificate on Facebook, but says it was an online trap set up for Mr. Dutschke because he believed Mr. Dutschke was stalking him online. He knew Mr. Dutschke also claimed to be a member of the organization for people with high IQs. Mr, Dutschke had a Mensa email address during a legislative campaign he mounted in 2007.
Mr. Dutschke started a campaign to prove him a liar, Mr. Curtis said, and allegedly harassed him through emails and social networking.
Mr. Curtis said the two agreed to meet at one point to face off in person, but Mr. Dutschke didn't show up.
"The last email I got from him, was, 'Come back tomorrow at 7 and the results of you being splattered all over the pavement will be public for the world to see what a blank, blank, blank you are.' And then at that point, I knew I was dealing with a coward," Mr, Curtis said.
Hal Neilson, one of the attorneys for Mr. Curtis, has said the defense gave authorities a list of people who may have had a reason to hurt Curtis, and that Mr. Dutschke's name came up. Efforts to reach Mr. Curtis, his lawyers and his brother were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
Both men say they have met Mr. Wicker, and they each have a connection to Judge Holland.
Authorities say the letters were mailed April 8, but the one sent to Judge Holland was the only one to make it into the hands of an intended target. Her son, Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, said his mother did a "smell test" of the envelope and a substance in it irritated her nose. The judge was not sickened by what authorities say was a crude form of the poison, which is derived from castor beans.
Judge Holland has declined to comment on the case.
She was presiding judge in a case in which Mr. Curtis was accused of assaulting a Tupelo attorney in 2003. Judge Holland sentenced Curtis to six months in the county jail. He served only part of the sentence, according to his brother.
Running as a Republican, Mr. Dutschke lost a lopsided election to Steve Holland in 2007, and observers say the judge publicly chastised Mr. Dutschke at a political rally that year.
Mr. Dutschke -- who unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for Lee County election commissioner in 2008 -- told AP on Tuesday that he has no problem with Sadie Holland. "Everybody loves Sadie, including me," he said.
First Published April 25, 2013 4:00 AM