The FBI announced on April 17 the arrest of a Tupelo, Mississippi, man in connection with letters sent the previous week to President Barack Obama and Senator Roger Wicker that in preliminary tests came back positive for ricin. Ricin is a toxin derived from castor beans that is deadly if inhaled or ingested.
The suspected letter-writer is Paul Kevin Curtis, a 45-year old country music singer (and Elvis impersonator) and former hospital worker from Tupelo, Mississippi.
Curtis’s many on-line writings give indications to possible motives as well as to why authorities suspected him. Many of his writings center on a traumatic experience Curtis allegedly suffered years earlier while working for a northern Mississippi hospital. According to Curtis, he accidentally discovered a refrigerator containing dismembered body parts. Curtis convinced himself that the incident was somehow linked to an “illegal organ harvesting market.” The hospital in question allegedly fired Curtis around this time, in early 2000.
Over the years, this incident seems to have developed into an obsession with Curtis, who became convinced of a “conspiracy to ruin my reputation in the community.” Curtis filed a lawsuit against the hospital and contacted the media in an attempt to tell his story. He tried to publicize his grievances on Internet sites and through e-mail. He also sent letters to Mississippi politicians such as Trent Lott and Roger Wicker. According to his own account, he even accosted Wicker several times at banquets and fundraisers.
According to Curtis, his crusade led to financial losses, thefts, his house burning down, death threats, police harassment, his car “exploded,” bankruptcy and the dissolution of his marriage. He has also claimed that a prosecutor once put a gun to his head. “I feel this and everything that has been happening since 2000 is a direct result of my finding the dismembered body parts,” he wrote.
Although in his writings Curtis exhibited familiarity with some anti-government conspiracy theories (such as those surrounding plane exhaust fumes or “chemtrails”), initial indications suggest he was probably not an ideological extremist and that his motivations were likely related to his perceived grievances.
Fox News released portions of the intercepted e-mails that contained distinct language, including a particular quotation as well as the sign off “This is KC and I approve this message.” Curtis—who typically identified himself as Kevin Curtis or KC—used both the same quotation and the same or similar signoffs in his on-line writings.
The Anti-Defamation League provided information about Curtis to the FBI prior to his arrest. However, the FBI had already identified Curtis as the prime suspect by that time.