'Walking Dead' actress arrested: How ricin letters became tool of revenge

Several poisonous letters sent to officials appear to have been tied to settling private feuds. On Friday, the FBI arrested a woman for sending ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, apparently to exact revenge upon her estranged husband.

Curt Youngblood/The Texarkana Gazette/AP
Shannon Richardson is placed into a Titus County Sheriff's car after an initial appearance Friday at the federal building in Texarkana, Texas. The FBI says Ms. Richardson admitted sending ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but only after trying to pin it on her husband.

Two days after an Elvis impersonator’s online rival pleaded not guilty to sending letters tainted with the ricin toxin to several US officials, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a Texas actress for allegedly sending ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an apparently twisted bid to implicate her estranged husband.

The emergence of ricin, a deadly toxin that can be derived from a common ornamental plant, as a revenge tool is a new twist in the post-9/11 era, in which non-terrorists have ratcheted up their local feuds to national security events by involving high officials like Mr. Obama. A spate of poison-tainted mail escalated terror fears in the wake of 9/11, but these new attacks seem both more bizarre and more mundane, like made-for-tabloid vendettas.

In both cases, police say the people who tipped off authorities ended up being the alleged perpetrators. Earlier this spring, the FBI detained a Mississippi Elvis impersonator, Kevin Curtis, on suspicion he sent ricin-tainted letters to Obama and several other officials.

But this week, a rival, James Everett Dutschke of Tupelo, Miss., was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he sent the letters in order to pin the blame on Mr. Curtis.

It turns out the two men were engaged in a long-running personal feud, much of it carried out on social media, that spilled over into local politics and small town intrigue.

Curtis, the Elvis impersonator, has waged a long-running campaign to expose an apparently imaginary body-part trafficking scheme at a local hospital. His rival, Mr. Dutschke, is a member of Mensa, the high IQ society, a blues band frontman, and failed political aspirant.

"What looked at first like classic terrorism – poisoned letters sent to the president and other public officials – now seems more likely to be the product of a local feud between two not-so-good-old boys straight out of a Faulkner story, albeit with Facebook pages," USA Today reported about the two men in April.

In the case of Shannon Richardson, the actress – who has had roles on shows like “The Walking Dead” zombie extravaganza – allegedly attempted to impart revenge on her estranged husband by sending the letters and then contacting authorities and pointing blame at her husband. Her husband, Nathaniel Richardson, filed for divorce a day before his pregnant wife’s arraignment, after telling authorities she was “intentionally misleading” them. The couple was married in the fall of 2011.

After the Elvis impersonator incident in which the FBI appeared to have nabbed the wrong guy, the agency took a closer look at Ms. Richardson’s allegations, and a lie detector test apparently showed she was lying. She then admitted to sending the letters herself, the FBI says, but still maintained that her husband forced her to do it.

Richardson is accused of mailing a threatening communication to the president, a felony that could result in 10 years in prison.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.