Last spring, after a ricin-tainted letter was sent to President Obama, the FBI arrested Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator and Prince super-fan from Mississippi, on suspicion of mailing the poison correspondence. But then a week later, charges against Curtis were dropped and soon another Mississippi musician was taken into custody, Tae Kwon Do instructor J. Everett Dutschke, who turned out to be Curtis's bitter rival. In the October issue of GQ, author/writer Wells Tower digs into the feud and the whole thing gets weirder—so so so much weirder.
The 8000-plus-word tale hinges upon the rivalry between Kevin Curtis (Exonerated Ricin Guy) and Everett Dutschke (Suspected Ricin Guy), two snappily dressed Southern conspiracy theorists who became acquainted because of a severed head. Yes, this is the sort of true-crime farce in which the antagonists were brought together by a severed head, one Exonerated Ricin Guy stumbled across working at a Tupelo hospital in 1999 that altered the course of his life:
What ended Kevin’s run of good fortune and plunged him into the world of conspiracy chasing was something he saw one night while cleaning out a clogged blood sump in the hospital morgue. Kevin was ordered off his usual beat in the ER to go tend to the mess. “I’m slipping and sliding in blood and guts. After three hours, I’m dehydrated, sweating, burning up. I gotta have something to drink.” In search of Dr Pepper, he peered into a seemingly innocuous Jenn-Air refrigerator, something Curtis and just about everyone who knows him wishes he could undo.
“The first thing I saw was an arm, wrapped in plastic with a bar code, and a leg wrapped in plastic—the whole bottom portion of the refrigerator was legs, arms, feet, hands, and eyes, and a brain.” In the upper compartment, Kevin says, “was the severed head of a man I had seen alive in the ER a couple of nights before.”
Curtis, a 46-year-old with a dog named Moo Cow, became convinced that he'd discovered a black-market organ-harvesting operation and became so obsessed with uncovering the truth that his wife Laura left him. She ended up working at an insurance company with Everett Dutschke, her ex-husband's soon-to-be-enemy:
Laura met Everett at a bleak time, her divorce from Kevin still fresh, his body-parts crusade still an exhausting, ostracizing force in her life. She liked Dutschke and was glad to have him as a friend. “He was nice to me, and no one is ever nice to me. But we didn’t have an affair. I would tell you if I had an affair with him, and I did not. And I thought about it.”
Why didn’t she, I asked.
“Because he’s short,” Laura Curtis explained. “He’s short and hairy.”
Dutschke was also the independent publisher of a no-sacred-cows newspaper and Curtis approached him about exposing the severed-head medical scandal. They immediately hated one another, things became acrimoniously juvenile from there, and the more characters introduced, the more patently absurd the narrative gets. For example, there's Steve Holland, a Democratic Mississippi state house incumbent who Dutschke nastily challenged in an election and still has plenty to say about his former opponent:
“I had never stood eyeball to eyeball or dick to dick with the man, but for some reason he just hated the hell out of me,” says Holland, a gloriously profane and paradoxically genteel man of 58. “He called me everything from gay to communist. Everything but a child of God. I mean, he had no campaign or agenda except to cut my nuts out.... But you got to get your ass up early and go to bed late to beat my ass. I’ve held this seat for thirty years. I can absolutely make love to a bull moose on the steps of the Lee County courthouse and garner more than 5 percent of the vote.”
Holland also coincidentally ran a funeral home with his mother, Judge Sadie Holland, one of the other ricin-letter targets who Curtis coincidentally believed was involved with organ harvesting. And if that seems confusing, well, just read the whole thing. It is bafflingly insane.
[l-r: Paul Kevin Curtis with his brother Jack Curtis, AP Photo/Bert Mohr; Everett Dutschke, AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis]
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