The danger of Devil's Breath: How women criminals are using new trick of blowing drug powder in victim's faces, leaving them like zombie's who'll do ANYTHING Walking through the cosmopolitan streets of Paris’s 20th arrondissement, not far from rock star Jim Morrison’s tomb, a respectable, elderly lady is approached by a Chinese woman asking for directions. As the pair bend over a map, the Chinese woman blows a tiny dust cloud of white powder into the face of the helpful Parisian. What happens next is like something from a horror film. For, unbeknown to the victim, this white powder is Devil’s Breath, a substance so toxic and powerful that it turns everyone who ingests it into what investigators call ‘zombies’, devoid of their own free will. Indeed, so suggestible does it make its victims that South American tribes used to administer the drug to the wives of dead chiefs, who, under tribal tradition, had to be buried alive with their husbands after they died. Taken from the seeds of a plant which grows wild in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela — related to deadly nightshade — the drug meant these women could be persuaded to walk happily into the graves to their gruesome deaths. Now, in a series of cases that have horrified police, the drug is being used by criminal gangs in Europe to drug unsuspecting victims who are then easily persuaded to hand over their most valuable possessions. Among those recently robbed using Devil’s Breath was the elderly lady in Paris, one of at least 20 people targeted in recent days by a criminal gang in the French capital. The gang’s modus operandi seems almost too easy — they blow the drug into the faces of their victims, leaving them physically functioning, but mentally unable to resist orders. According to sources close to the French investigation, victims fell into a ‘hypnotic state under the total sway of their handlers’ after this powder was blown into their faces. A police source added: ‘They got the victims to take them to their home, where they asked them to put all their jewellery and money into a bag and hand it over to them.’ Two Chinese women and a European man who belong to the gang are now under arrest, but the fear is that hundreds of others across Europe could already have fallen victim to such criminals, or will be attacked in the near future. In a recent TV documentary, Devil’s Breath was dubbed by law enforcement officers as the ‘most terrifying drug in the world’. Miriam Gutierrez, a toxicology expert in Bogota, Colombia, explained: ‘From a medical point of view, it’s the perfect substance to commit criminal acts, because the victim won’t remember anything.’ It was once used as a ‘truth serum’ by America’s CIA, and even administered by Joseph Mengele, the Nazi’s so-called Angel of Death, during experiments on Jewish prisoners. Because of the amnesia brought on by Devil’s Breath, investigating this new crimewave has proved problematic. Police smashed the ring only after a handful of victims contacted them, having vaguely remembered what happened. Victims admitted they had co-operated with thieves — and even handed over passwords and pins for bank accounts — in ‘dream-like’ states. While one of the Chinese women in the gang blew the dust in her victims’ faces, the other told passers-by that she had a mixture of plants which had powerful medicinal qualities — and persuaded people to have a sniff. ‘They managed to isolate their victims, then got them to breathe in a mixture of plants, saying they had powerful curative qualities — even protecting them from misfortune,’ a police source told Le Parisien. During a police investigation into the gang’s activities, detectives discovered the Chinese women had been operating from a hotel room in a drab suburb in the north of the French capital, where powder believed to be Devil’s Breath, along with weighing scales and surgical gloves, were discovered. The gang is thought to be part of a much bigger criminal network operating across Europe and the U.S. There are reports that millions of euros have been stolen as a result of the drug’s use, and sent back to gangmasters in China. Chinese authorities confirm that those arrested in Paris are part of a notorious criminal network, ‘which acts around the world and specialises in mental submission (of victims) with the aid of unknown products’. The lethal qualities of Devil’s Breath should not be under-estimated: medical experts say that even a gram of powder is enough to kill, while lower quantities can result in hallucinations and a hypnotised state. The drug was even used by Joseph Mengele (pictured), the Nazi’s so-called Angel of Death, during experiments on Jewish prisoners The drug, which is known by the scientific name Scopolamine, comes from the seeds of a tree called the Borrachero, which means ‘the drunkard’, and which grows throughout northern parts of South America, including in city parks. With a beautiful white flower akin to an orchid or lily, every child in areas where the trees grow is warned not to go near them, for fear they will be poisoned. The seeds are contained in pods that hang from the branches. As far back as 1676, the drug was said to have been used against British soldiers in early colonial America during the so-called Bacon’s Rebellion when Virginia settlers revolted against their Governor, Sir William Berkeley. The soldiers were tricked into eating food secretly laced with Devil’s Breath shortly before they were due to fight. The result was that they spent ‘several days making monkey faces and generally acting like lunatics’. One soldier was found ‘stark naked, sitting in a corner like a monkey, grimacing at his comrades’. Robert Beverley, in his 1705 book on the history of Virginia, wrote how the British troops were in such a ‘frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves — for they would have wallowed in their own excrement, if they had not been prevented. And then after 11 days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.’ Throughout South American history, the seeds have been used by shamans or witch doctors. Brewed into a tea, it was used to discipline children, who experienced terrifying hallucinations after a tiny dose of the poison, in the hope that they would see terrifying visions of their dead ancestors telling them to behave. Murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen, infamously known as Dr Crippen, was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London in 1910 after killing his wife with Devil’s Breath and burying her body, then fleeing with his lover. The drug has also been used for mainstream medical purposes, with doctors administering it to mothers in labour to induce a ‘twilight sleep’ to ease the pain of childbirth. Doctors also noticed that these women answered questions accurately and with rare candour. Dr Robert House, a Texas obstetrician, was so astonished by this side-effect that he managed in the 1920s to persuade the authorities to let him use the drug on two prisoners in Dallas County Jail. On questioning them he discovered their protestations of innocence had not changed and, since they were unable to lie, his experiments led to the acquittal of both men. A local newspaper covering the case coined the term ‘truth serum’. Use of the drug for medical reasons and in courts was abandoned in the 1930s after users reported horrifying hallucinations and depression. After the war — during which the Nazis used this ‘truth serum’ in interrogations — it was tested in America as part of a secretive CIA-run operation to test mind-control drugs for the interrogation of Cold War prisoners — a programme that was only finally halted in 1973. Now, with the first cases of the drug being used by criminal gangs in Europe, there are fears that its use will rocket. In Colombia, some 50,000 people a year already reportedly fall victim to the Devil’s Breath gangs. Usually, the poison — also used as a date-rape drug — is slipped into the victim’s drink. One U.S. resident in the country told how he woke up in the morning, having met some locals in a bar the night before, to find his expensive apartment had been emptied of everything he owned. When he asked the doorman on his apartment block what had happened, the American was told that he had himself helped a group of men load up a van with all his possessions — all the while under the influence of the drug. The victim had no recollection of this whatsoever. Others have not escaped so lightly. One man in Colombia was reportedly coerced into giving up his kidney after Devil’s Breath was blown in his face. And scores of women there are said to have been raped after their drinks have been spiked with Devil’s Breath, while another victim told how she was persuaded to hand over her baby to people smugglers. The drug has also now been used in popular holiday destinations in Spain. A woman was raped last year in the tourist resort of Benalmadena having lost her memory after just one drink with a local man — and woke up 12 hours later, under a bridge and naked from the waist down. Initial blood and urine tests showed no traces of any substances, leading police to believe she was lying. Hair samples taken a month later, however, proved she had been drugged with Devil’s Breath. With its use in Spain and now Paris, the terrifying question is: how long will it be before we see a victim of Devil’s Breath on our shores?