The man suspected of sending poison-laced letters to President Barack Obama and other officials appears to have attempted to evade law enforcement just days before his arrest, according to FBI documents made public Thursday.
James Everett Dutschke, 41, was arrested April 27 at his home in Tupelo, Miss., and charged with making ricin, the same substance mailed on April 8 to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lee County, Miss., Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland.
FBI applications for warrants for Dutschke’s phones, dated April 25, were may public Thursday when they were filed in U.S. District Court in Oxford.
The documents say that at about 3:30 a.m. on April 24, Dutschke and his wife got into their green minivan and went to two different banks where they appeared to be retrieving money from ATMs.
After they went home, Dutschke waved at the surveillance team that was tracking him. When the team re-positioned their vehicles, the van left and wasn’t found until that afternoon at Dutschke’s former martial arts studio, the documents say.
Later that night, at about 8 p.m., Dutschke “appeared to attempt to elude law enforcement” when he crouched in the backseat of a friend’s truck and hid under blankets.
Dutschke and his friend drove “an evasive route” that took two hours to go 22 miles to a house in Mantachie, Miss., the documents said. Dutschke slipped away, prompting a search by law enforcement on the ground and by air, the county sheriff said at the time.
Dutschke was located the next day about 70 miles away in Ashland, Miss., but it’s not clear how he got there, the FBI documents say.
A friend of Dutschke’s, Kirk Kitchens, told The Associated Press on April 25 that he helped Dutschke sneak off, but Kitchens insisted he was only helping Dutschke get away from the news media, not law enforcement.
Kitchens said he drove Dutschke to Kitchens’ parents’ house in Mantachie then helped him slip out the back door, through the woods and to a rendezvous point where someone else picked him up.
“I just helped him get out of the spotlight,” Kitchens said at the time.
But the FBI asked later that day for permission to track the location of cellphones belonging to Dutschke and his wife in case agents needed to find them at “any time of day or night.”
Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor, has unsuccessfully run for public offices, including a 2007 challenge of Holland’s son, Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland. Dutschke is being held without bond pending the action of a grand jury. He has denied any involvement in the letters.
Authorities say a dust mask that he removed from his former martial arts studio and dumped in a trash can down the street tested positive for ricin and the DNA of two people, including Dutschke.
Dutschke is the second person to be charged in the case. The first, Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested on April 17, but the charges were dropped six days later. After his arrest, Curtis said he was framed and gave investigators Dutschke’s name as someone who could have sent the letters, according to court records.
Curtis said he knows Dutschke and they feuded over the years.
An FBI agent testified at a preliminary that Dutschke used the Internet to make three purchases of castor beans, from which ricin is derived, and researched how to make it.
The FBI has not revealed details about how lethal the ricin was. A Senate official has said the ricin was not weaponized, meaning it wasn’t in a form that could easily enter the body. If inhaled, ricin can cause respiratory failure, among other symptoms. No antidote exists.
Dutschke faces up to life in prison if convicted in the ricin case. He’s also facing unrelated charges of child molestation.