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SALTILLO, Miss. – As investigators searched a Mississippi man's house earlier this week as part of their probe of poisoned letters sent to the president and others , Everett Dutschke answered reporters' questions but remarked, "I don't know how much more of this I can take."
The answer was apparently: Not much more.
On Thursday, Dutschke (pronounced DUHS'-kee), who has not been charged with a crime, had slipped from public view and stopped talking to the news media as investigators searched a home where he'd spent part of Wednesday. The home is about 20 miles away from his primary residence and former business in Tupelo, Miss., which had been searched earlier in connection with the letters that allegedly contained ricin.
Dutschke just needed to get away from all the media attention, a friend told The Associated Press on Thursday. Kirk Kitchens said he and Dutschke stayed at a home for a while Wednesday before slipping out through the woods to rendezvous with someone who drove Dutschke elsewhere.
"I just helped him get out of the spotlight," Kitchens said at his home in nearby Saltillo.
Although Dutschke has apparently gone into hiding, the man's attorney said he is cooperating and the FBI knows how to reach him.
As a plane circled overhead for much of the day, investigators on Thursday looked through the home where Dutschke spent time a day earlier.
Authorities are trying to determine who sent the letters last week to President Barack Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and earlier to an 80-year-old Mississippi judge named Sadie Holland.
Charges were initially filed against an entertainer who is an Elvis impersonator, but then dropped. Attention then turned to Dutschke, who has ties to the former suspect and the judge and senator.
Dutschke has not been arrested or charged in the letters case. The FBI has said nothing about the building searches or Thursday's developments.
Dutschke's lawyer, Lori Nail Basham, said there is no arrest warrant for her client, who he said continues to cooperate with investigators.
Earlier Thursday, Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson said agents told him Dutschke had been under surveillance, but authorities weren't sure where he had gone. He said they were satisfied he was not at the Ozark property.
Dutschke did not answer a call to his cellphone Thursday from the AP. He had previously kept in touch with AP reporters.
It was yet another strange turn in the case that began when charges were filed against 45-year-old entertainer Paul Kevin Curtis, whose lawyers now say he was set up for the crime.
Charges against Curtis were dropped Tuesday after authorities said they developed new information. His attorney, Christi McCoy, has said she does not know what new information led the FBI to abandon the charges but that the agency acted in good faith and worked from the information it had at the time.
The focus then turned to Dutschke.
"I don't know how much more of this I can take," Dutschke said Tuesday as investigators combed through his house. His business was searched the next day.
Hal Neilson, another attorney for Curtis, said the defense gave authorities a list of people who may have had a reason to hurt Curtis, and Dutschke's name came up. He said prosecutors "took it and ran with it."
Dutschke and Curtis were acquainted. Curtis said they had talked about possibly publishing a book on an alleged conspiracy to sell body parts on a black market. But he claimed they later had a feud.
Judge Holland is a common link between two men who have been investigated and both know Wicker.
Holland was the presiding judge in a case in which Curtis was accused of assaulting a Tupelo attorney in 2004. Holland sentenced him to six months in the county jail. He served only part of the sentence, according to his brother.
Holland's family has had political skirmishes with Dutschke in the past.
Her son, Steve Holland, a state representative, said he believes his mother's only other encounter with Dutschke was at a rally in the town of Verona in 2007, when Dutschke ran as a Republican against Steve Holland.
Holland said his mother confronted Dutschke after he made a derogatory speech about the Holland family. She demanded that he apologize, which he did.
Steve Holland said he doesn't know if his mother remembers Curtis' assault case.
Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus and Jeff Amy in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.