In the hottest weather, Emile De Verre was still to be seen on the boulevards of Paris's Left Bank in a broad-brimmed hat and heavy black cloak, clutching a silver-topped cane in his gloved hand. He had a grey beard and moustache which he twirled elegantly as he talked to the disciples who crowded round his cafe table or walked with him along the banks of the Seine, hanging on his every word.
For in the summer of 1922 black magic was the trend of the moment — and Emile De Verre was Paris' most fashionable and self-publicising Satanist. A contemporary of the notorious Alestair Crowley, he claimed to have carried out numerous human sacrifices at a secret rendezvous in Normandy at which the image of Satan had appeared on at least two occasions. His black masses were highly popular among the Paris bohemian community and he was said to be adept at evoking curses and spells. All of which could have been dismissed as the posturing of an elderly poseur if it wasn't for what came to be known as "the curse of the scorpion."
It was claimed that on two occasions in the summer of 1922, De Verre put what he called "the curse of the scorpion" on people he disliked and on both occasions they died. And according to contemporary reports in the French papers, both victims died in a particularly brutal way — bitten through the throat as though by some enormous insect.
The first time the curse was evoked was apparently in June 1922 when Charles Franconet did a business deal with De Verre — who earned a modest living selling antiquarian books — and then refused to pay up. A furious row ensued in a restaurant near the Paris Opera, during which De Verre was heard to threaten that if the money was not forthcoming by the following evening, he would be forced to send a "messenger of death" to visit Franconet.
It seemed that no one at the table took the matter seriously, certainly not Charles Franconet, who spent the following evening at the theatre and made no attempt to repay his debt.
About midnight, De Verre, who was drinking absinthe with a group of friends in a river-side cafe, looked at his watch and remarked: "Friend Charles should be breathing his last about now," but once again his remarks were not taken seriously. At least not until the next morning when Charles Franconet was found dead in bed in his elegant apartment near the Place de la Concorde. His throat had been torn out and his body virtually drained of blood. A doctor estimated he had been dead for at least eight hours.
The police on hearing about De Verre's alleged curse subjected him to intense interrogation but without success. The wounds were unlike anything inflicted by a human. There were also numerous witnesses prepared to confirm that they were with De Verre in the cafe at the time of the murder. It was two months later that newspapers reported that the curse of the scorpion seemed to have struck again. This time the victim was Marie Concourt, a 23-year-old secretary, said to have been De Verre's mistress for several months.
Now she was tiring of his attentions and was being seen in the company of several younger men, including a French symphony orchestra violinist named Maurice Sutterlin. At the end of August she told De Verre that she was getting engaged to Sutterlin and so wouldn't be seeing De Verre again. After their marriage they would be moving to Switzerland where Sutterlin had a new appointment. De Verre was white with fury one minute and pleading and sobbing the next. Finally he shouted: "If I can't have you, then he certainly won't. I will send the messenger to you."
Later that night, according to witnesses, De Verre apparently regretted his actions and tried to retract the curse but it seemed he was too late. The following morning the caretaker of the flats in which Marie Concourt lived, found the body of the girl lying at the foot of the stairs. The caretaker took one look and ran for the police. Marie's throat had been savagely torn out. Once more detectives questioned De Verre and got nowhere. Threatening people with curses was not strictly a crime and there was no evidence that De Verre was actually connected to the death. And once again a post-mortem revealed that the attack was unlike anything normally carried out by humans. Not surprisingly the "curse of the scorpion" became a national sensation in France and De Verre was even invited to make an American lecture tour, something he uncharacteristically declined. And in doing so, some psychic investigators believed he signed his own death warrant.
A week later De Verre disappeared from his usual haunts and was not at his flat or at the bookshop he shared with two business partners. Police assuming that his disappearance could be a sign of guilt, issued a warrant for his arrest but it was never served. On the third week of September, the body of Emile De Verre was found by children playing in a park near the Rue de Faubourg. It had been dragged under a bush. Once again the wounds were apparently not the work of humans. Had the curse of the scorpion claimed its third, and presumably final, victim?