Threatening Letters

Obscene, threatening, and hateful letters sent to government officials and high-profile individuals are nothing new. Today, protecting American officials and public figures remains and important aspect of the Postal Inspection Service’s duties to the country.

Lillian Russell

Lillian Russell was one of the biggest stars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the spring of 1912, she began receiving threatening letters, like many stars before and after her. Renowned for her beauty, voice, and style, Russell live a somewhat scandalous life that was often reported in newspapers.

The high-profile life of Russell made her the target of Walter Harter, alias Ray Rarcher, who send Russell several threatening letters. Harter demanded she meet him personally in Rock Island, Illinois, and to bring $200 in cash with her. Russell reported the letters to postal authorities, and Harter was instead met in Rock Island by Inspector Harry Hadsall. Harter was arrested and later charged and convinced of misusing the mails.

Poison Pens

By 1917, sending threatening letters was considered a federal crime, but this did not prevent nasty letters being sent to public officials. President Truman was thrust into high expectations area a four-team run by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s. Truman was bombarded by threatening letters.

Most were dismissed, until one letter threatened an assassination attempt at the Blair House. The culprit showed up, attacking the house and killing two men as they protected President Truman. At this point, federal agencies scrambled to keep up with investigating these threatening letters. by 1950, 30 additional postal inspectors, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents were appointed to solely investigate threatening mail. Additionally, five laboratories were built for the Postal Service to analyze, x-ray, and investigate letters being sent to public officials.

2020 Election Letters

The investigation of threatening letters continues today. In 2020, Pascale Cecile Veronique Ferrier, a dual citizen of Canada and France, was caught sending threatening letters containing homemade ricin (a toxin) to then President Donald J. Trump at the White House. According to court documents, Ferrier admitted to making the ricin at her home in Quebec, Canada. She then placed the toxin in envelops, mailing them to President Trump

Ferrier was later caught at the Canada/USA border with a loaded firearm and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Ferrier was sentenced to 262 months in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release.


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