It takes a very strange person to undertake bioterrorism in America. Logic says there can't be many such people. But the recent case of accused ricin mailer, J. Everett Dutschke, Tupelo's now most famous other son adds another entry in an obscure catalog of dimly-lit unique coincidence and Americana.
J. Everett Dutschke before Tupelo's bean pounding.
Over the course of the last few years, J. Everett Dutschke was a man of many interests and hobbies: Karate instructor, Mensa member, someone fighting for local political office, insurance salesman and well before allegedly pounding castor beans into a crude powder, an electric guitarist and singer trying to make it with his band, Robodrum.
Dutschke recorded no less than four separate CDs, all of them sold on the world wide web and promoted around the country.
But Dutschke was not the only American accused of bioterrorism with a career, or intense hobby, in music. That history goes back farther -- to the start of the war on terror.
American bioterrorists are few in number. But they are a very modern phenomenon.
And the most famous bioterrorist of all, Frederick, Maryland's anthrax mailer, the research scientist Bruce Ivins, was also a recording musician.
Ivins, the only accused bioterrorist whose work killed people, five in the anthrax mailings of 2001, ignited a national panic and launched a bioterrorism defense industry boom that lasted for over a decade. Finally, with the FBI closing in and increasingly psychotic as a result of being ejected from America's premier bioterrorism research lab, USAMRIID at Fort Detrick, Ivins committed suicide with an overdose of acetominophen in 2008.
However, the previous years had been good. Ivins' research had flourished. He was well-known for playing music and gaily singing his heart out in bars and churches in and around Frederick.
Shortly after his death, a record-collector who is an acquaintance of the author found a vanity single made by Bruce Ivins, cast off in a record bazaar in Abbottstown, PA, about forty miles up the road from Frederick.
It was legitimate homespun country music, credible cover versions of Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" on the B-side, a rendition of another standard, "Pass Me By (If You're Only Passing Through)" on the A.
Billed as Bruce Ivins & the Country Boys, the record is credited to Nashville Recordings, "a record-making plant that did a lot of small pressings in the 70s and 80s," the collector told me. "Most likely a couple hundred or so were done ..." (The single is archived on the web here.)
In the earlier part of the last decade another man who came under a cloud of suspicion after purchasing castor seeds was Robert Alberg of Kirkland, WA.
Alberg purchased five pounds worth, apparently with the intent to make ricin. After his arrest, the court recognized he was profoundly impaired and granted release under a five year parole guideline. Alberg promptly went back to trying to obtain castor seeds and was jailed.
A local editorial cartoon from the time describes Alberg's plight: "When Seattle lonely heart and autism sufferer Robert Alberg wasn't writing songs about sand and being utterly alone, trying to sell DIY hydrogen gas kits on the Internet or placing wife wanted signs about town, he was busy making the deadly toxin ricin and sending e-mails threatening to wipe out all of humanity before blasting off in a rocket ship ... He was arrested by the FBI before he could secure a recording contract," it reads.
Alberg's very forlorn acoustic music is archived on YouTube and he, or friends, have sold it as a CD here.
Like Alberg, J. Everett Dutschke stands accused of making ricin. Unlike Bruce Ivins, the anthrax mailer, recent American history has shown that castor bean pounders kill and sicken no one.
The reason for that is easy to understand: Pounding castor seeds into a powder produces only something crude, a mixture which contains some ricin and many other things, not enough to pose any hazard to people who get the letters or handle the mail. What has been shoveled into letters in the case of J. Everett Dutschke, and a new incident this week in Spokane, WA, is not pure ricin. Pure ricin has never been recovered in any US terror investigation.
Crude castor powder containing ricin, you see, is simply not poisonous enough.
Decades ago the US had a thriving industry deriving oil and fertilizer from castor seeds. As a result, the country had mills that produced dusts and powders as waste, which was not a significant health hazard although it was known to cause allergies and asthmatic conditions in susceptible individuals.
Over time this common and prosaic knowledge was lost, replaced with the modern mythology of terrorism, one that trained Americans to believe ricin was easy to make simply by bean pounding.
No one can really say what attracts a few unusual American men to it.
Pure madness and mental dysfunction, social anomie, or just a bad itch, one scratched by making what they believe to be a secret deadly powder?
Of course, bean pounding never stays secret. What use is it to make such secret poison powder if others never know how clever you have been? Secret poison powders yearn to be lessons. The maker must tell friends or acquaintances or they are no good.
And so they occasionally emerge as news, something to send to others in letters so as to make fear and sensation.
In the years prior to what the FBI says was his buying of castor seeds on eBay, J. Everett Dutschke pursued musical dreams.
"There's Delta blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues, Piedmont blues and Jump blues, to name a few, but Everett 'Dusty' Dutschke is taking the blues to new places," reads a promotional piece on the net from three years ago, also mentioning one of the four Robodrum albums, Guitar Czar, here.
A promotional piece, in snapshot, of accused ricin mailer J. Everett Dutschke & Robodrum. Dutschke has maintained he is not guilty of the charge and the case is before a grand jury.
A 2011 interview with J. Everett Dutschke, conducted by a local web DJ named Vinny Bond, is here.
Advance to the 67 minute mark and you'll hear the accused ricin mailer speaking about Robodrum becoming a blues disco hip-hop act.
Indeed, there are videos of this in performance, one in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the summer of 2012, shortly before Dutschke began the ricin caper that would result in the arrest of an innocent man who was the target of a framing.
"College students are going to eat this up," said Dutschke at the time. "Isn't it exciting?"
Dutschke averred he was a "workaholic" who got only two or three hours of sleep a night. "If I hadn't been writing music for tv and movies for the last six months or so, I would have starved."
A famous TV and music composer? Certainly it was within the realm of faint possibility. But J. Everett Dutschke was an embellisher and we can find no evidence of it.
However, the summer of 2012 had J. Everett Dutschke and Robodrum in St. Louis, competing to win a Budweiser Light Battle of the Bands.
It resulted in what's now the one and only example of an American accused of bioterrorism in a ritzy promotional video sponsored and paid for by the King of Beers.
In make-up, glitter and sunglasses, Dutschke sings he doesn't need any fancy women, he just needs his guitar because he'll blow your house down in "Big Bad Wolf," a song from a Robodrum album of the same name. "Enjoy Responsibly" reads the big beer vendor's subtitling on the video.
It was at the same time that Dutschke was beginning to attract notice from authorities in Tupelo.
As the Washington Post put it, for a recent feature:
"In June, he was charged with indecent exposure by the city attorney's office after several neighborhood children came forward.
" 'He would get the attention of the girls with a green laser. He would hit the laser and click it around until they started to look into his house. Then he would expose himself,' said Dennis Carlock, whose 13-year-old granddaughter was one of the victims and testified to the incidents."
In Robodrum promotional material, Dutschke's band was also said to incorporate lasers in its stage show.
Dutschke was convicted for exposing himself to kids in the neighborhood. He would later be charged with three counts of fondling minors at his karate studio. He was awaiting trial on it when ricin letters arrived in the mail to a Mississippi senator and the president during the week of the Boston marathon bombing.
What had happened? Was pounding castor seeds in the karate studio in an apparent plan to frame a local foe, Paul Kevin Curtis, something spontaneous, a malicious brain worm? Or just something the ricin mailer knew would be a big thing, a lunge at a very peculiar sort of fame before being embarked on a long custodial sentence?
At the time, a former newspaper reporter and journalism professor at Ol' Miss, Curtis Wilke, made the observation:
"I've thought, 'God, I wish I were still a reporter; it'd be fun to cover this story ... Make a weapon of mass destruction from a bunch of beans?"
The reality has turned out to be weirder than anyone could imagine, worth a book, a script, maybe a movie, and someone to show the dark and twisted in the out-of-control mind.
In a now unsettling video for a song from J. Everett Dutschke's 2011 album, String Theory, he sings: "I don't ever want to leave this stage, I am a superhero these days."