When Michael Best drove back to his quiet neighborhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, on Tuesday, he couldn’t get to his house. The FBI had stretched police tape from one side of the street to the next as they searched the home of his neighbor, a bluesman and former Mensa member named J. Everett Dutschke, arrested early Saturday morning on suspicion of mailing letters laced with ricin to the president, a U.S. senator, and a local judge. (Beyond confirming the arrest via a text message to The Daily Beast Saturday, Dutschke’s Tupelo attorney said she would not be making any additional comment.)
Like so many who come home one day to find that the guy across the street is suddenly infamous, Best was surprised. But it wasn’t the first time he’d learned of legal trouble for his across-the-street neighbor. The first time was four months ago, when authorities arrested Dutschke for child molestation, stemming from allegations linked with his now-defunct tae kwon do studio, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus.
“When he got arrested for that child molesting thing, it blew my mind,” Best told The Daily Beast. “I’m like ‘Everett? My neighbor?’”
It’s been a rough year for Dutschke, a man described as a “genius” and “brilliant” even by the many who don’t care for him here. The Kentucky-born 41-year-old was at one point the kind of Renaissance man who could boast an array of accomplishments: award-winning broadcaster, entrepreneur, musician, karate master, political contender. But beneath a career that looked pretty good on paper lies a list of people Dutschke rubbed the wrong way, culminating in a bizarre feud that some say is the reason he is now in federal custody.
Dutschke was born in Louisville, Kentucky, according to his MySpace page, raised in Bryan and College Station, Texas, and attended two years of college—what is now known as the University of West Alabama, officials at the school told The Daily Beast. Dutschke didn’t earn a degree, but that didn’t keep him from landing one job after another: at a hospital in Meridian, Mississippi; at a radio station, where he claims to have won a Mississippi Association of Broadcasters award in 1997; and as an insurance agent, where he says he was one of the state’s top 10 producers each month for a two-year period. After 10 years, he launched two telecommunications companies that have since dissolved, before two unsuccessful bids at elected office and what appears to have begun his downfall.
One of the earliest hints of trouble emerged from his foray into tae kwon do. In the early 2000s, Dutschke joined a Tupelo studio called Kinetic Kick owned by Noel McMichael. He worked for several months there as an unpaid apprentice, McMichael told The Daily Beast, before moving into a role as an assistant teacher. Before long, though, McMichael said he had to ask Dutschke to move on.
“Tupelo is a very small town in the middle of the Bible Belt,” McMichael said. “He was dating one of my married parents. In this town, that doesn’t fly very well.”
He said he argued with Dutschke about whether it was anyone’s place to tell someone what they could do off the clock.
“His perspective was, ‘What I do outside the walls of the school is none of your business,’” McMichael said. But he disagreed. “I told him, ‘I don’t think you need to be teaching and breaking up families at the same time.’”
In December 2001, Dutschke married the woman, according to Lee County Chancery Court records obtained by The Daily Beast. Six months later, they separated. That November, the pair divorced, and Dutschke agreed to pay $15,000 in the settlement, according to the court records.
McMichael said he has no idea whether Dutschke did or didn’t mail ricin to President Obama. Still, “I don’t care for the guy,” McMichael said. “He’s very aloof, eccentric, and arrogant. He thinks he’s better than anybody else. There are not a lot of people close to him.”
McMichael’s reportedly wasn’t the first karate studio Dutschke was asked to leave. Another studio owner, Richard Hamner, told the Northeast Mississippi Journal that “students loved” Dutschke when he worked there, but that at one of the studios he worked “cash would be short” and “books would be off,” and in 1995, Hamner reported Dutschke to police. Dutschke pleaded guilty to embezzlement, according to the newspaper.
Dutschke’s first try at politics was in 2007, when he ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives and lost handily to Democrat Steve Holland. As a Republican running against a Republican in a heavily Democratic district, Dutschke apparently decided his only shot was to go after Holland with both barrels. He released several vicious YouTube videos and took to calling Holland “Boss Holland” á la Boss Hogg from the 1970s television show The Dukes of Hazzard. And he gave vicious speeches—one of which earned him a stiff public rebuke from the very judge he is now accused of trying to poison.
Dutschke did some of his campaigning in a “newspaper” he called the Gum Tree Plus and also refers to as 1SmallVoice; much of the content he reproduced on that MySpace page, where he maintained a blog that offered up an odd mixture of personal anecdotes and mediocre attempts at humor. One 12-minute video is titled “Cow Wars” and purports to be a “comedy video” spliced with clips of footage from Holland making statements Dutschke deems deplorable. Another shows him performing various karate maneuvers, such as jumping over a row of crouched youngsters with “Have a Little Faith in Me” playing as a soundtrack.
In July 2007, Dutschke wrote on the blog that his 9-year-old son, Parker, had been badly burned in a fire. The bill just to have the boy flown from Mississippi to a burn center in Georgia, he complained, was $17,000, before adding that the bills would eventually reach a half-million dollars, which would turn his family into “an example of indentured servitude.” He also implies that hand sanitizer was somehow to blame for starting the fire and that “numerous well-intentioned people have told me to get an attorney and sue the heck out of the makers of Purel [sic] Hand Sanitizer.” But no thanks, he said, because trial attorneys have too much “dominion” over “the free market (and subsequently the coast [sic] of EVERYTHING, including health care)” which has a “pernicious effect on society. I cannot change that conviction just because it is now MY son who is affected.”
He also wrote about illegal immigration, promising to take a “more Rooseveltian approach” to the program, and that “we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else.” He wrote about taxes, jobs, Medicaid, and the role of government, with lots of words in CAPS and plenty of exclamation points, but in a fairly coherent and straightforwardly conservative way.
In November 2007, though, Dutschke seemed to realize his campaign was quixotic. He explained on the blog that he had finally realized a Republican could never win the District 16 House seat, yet he “refused to believe it and trudged along anyway.” Now, he understood, “Black voters all vote as a block,” and that 80 percent of all the black voters in Lee County are in his district, and “I don’t know how to get through to those people.”
In 2008, Dutschke apparently decided the way to get through to those people was to become a Democrat, running for a post as a county election commissioner. He lost that race, too.
A few years earlier, Dutschke had entered into a strange feud with a man from Corinth, Mississippi, named Paul Kevin Curtis, who has his own colorful background and who was the FBI’s first suspect in the ricin case. It’s hard to understand why the two grew so angry with each other, because their feud was borne out of what to the outside world would look like minor issues: Curtis tried to get Dutschke to help him publish a story about a local hospital’s supposed plot to sell body parts. Dutschke boasted his blues band would knock Curtis off the “national circuit” as an Elvis tribute artist. Curtis put up on his MySpace page a fake certificate proclaiming himself a member of Mensa, leaving Dutschke outraged.
The rivalry took a turn for the ugliest after Dutschke’s January arrest on charges of child molestation. Court records show that he’s accused of fondling three different girls at his tae kwon do studio: a 7-year-old, an 8-year-old, and another girl who is now 18. Dutschke pleaded not guilty and was released on bail earlier this month. He was also convicted earlier this year of indecent exposure involving a minor, and sentenced to six months in jail. Curtis’ ex-wife told The Daily Beast that the Elvis impersonator couldn’t help but rub it in, via email:
“How’s it feel to be on that side?”