But Tuesday afternoon, the FBI was searching the Tupelo, Miss., home of James Everette Dutschke in connection with the ricin case.
Dutschke said he is innocent and does not know anything about the ingredients for ricin.
It was clear that investigators are dealing with two men with histories of erratic behavior who nearly came to blows as they quarreled, according to the account that Curtis gave in a colorful, rambling news conference outside the federal courthouse in Oxford, Miss., late Tuesday afternoon.
The FBI in Mississippi and Washington, as well as the U.S. attorney’s office in Oxford, refused repeated requests to explain their about-face on Curtis and declined to say whether they are focusing on Dutschke as the man who might have sent three letters containing the deadly poison.
The case bears some resemblance to the FBI’s pursuit of scientist Steven J. Hatfill, who was investigated for nearly five years in connection with deadly anthrax mailings in 2001. The former bioweapons researcher was not formally cleared by prosecutors until 2008, after the death of another man, bacteriologist Bruce E. Ivins, who had become the leading suspect before he succumbed to a drug overdose.
Curtis is known for detailed Internet diatribes, his long-held conspiracy theory about underground trafficking in human body parts — which he has turned into a novel-in-progress called “Missing Pieces” — and his work as an Elvis impersonator. The Corinth, Miss., man has been arrested four times since 2000 on charges that include cyber-harassment.
Dutschke, 41, a martial arts instructor, was charged in January with two counts of child molestation, according to the Lee County Courier, and later released on bail. He was previously convicted of indecent exposure, according to numerous media accounts. He could not be reached at his home or martial arts studio on Tuesday.
At the news conference, Curtis said he and Dutschke had a falling-out and described e-mail exchanges between them that culminated in his challenge to meet Dutschke for a fight that never occurred. “Where his anger and hate started from, I don’t know,” Curtis said of Dutschke.
Dutschke acknowledged his conflict with Curtis and told the Associated Press that their last contact was in 2010, when Dutschke threatened to sue Curtis for saying that he was a member of Mensa, a group for people with high IQs. Dutschke ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2007.
He told the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., in a telephone interview Tuesday that he didn’t know why his name was brought into the case. “I guess Kevin got desperate. I feel like he’s getting away with the perfect crime,” Dutschke said.