This is a con of potions and spells: an ancient sorcery that’s survived into the modern world. A stranger hands you a cigarette, drops something in your drink, or blows in your face — and you wake up days later, your bank account drained and all your jewelry gone. Maybe you’ve been raped or smuggled drugs across country borders. The whole time you were blacked out, which can be days, you were awake, more awake and malleable than if you had been drunk. This curse of a drug called Devil’s Breath is said to take away your free will, and leave you at the mercy of whatever ploy your poisoner has cooked up. Just this February two women in Bogota were arrested for using the drug, to steal tens of thousands of dollars from thirty men. The women, who dubbed themselves “the Nanitos,” would routinely spike the drinks of men they met in bars, and then take them to the ATM to empty out their bank accounts. Often, they would even bring the men back to their houses where they would steal valuables. A few days ago two Chinese women and an European man were arrested in Paris in connection with a gang who uses a, presumably imported, version of the powdered version Devil’s Breath to empty the bank accounts of strangers, many of them elderly. They would start by isolating their targets and giving them a talk about the curative powers of their herb, persuading them to lean in and smell it. Once the victim complied, the powder would be blown or thrown in their face. For this gang, the game isn’t just a blow and run as some of the headlines suggest (like a spectral haunt snatching your consciousness as you idly walk down the street,) but a slow con fueled by the spellbinding elixir of attention and hope. Once intoxicated, the victims are lead to an ATM, and then to their homes where they dutifully fill bags with all of their money and jewelry.
Happy new Year! :-)
Scopolamine, the active agent of Devil’s Breath, has been studied and used over the years to help with the pain of childbirth (for its amnesiac properties, not anodyne) as a truth serum by the CIA and Nazis, to study Alzheimer’s disease, and, in small amounts, as an anti-nausea drug (NASA uses it for this purpose.) Tests indicate that it’s a “horrible” experience causing dry mouth, dizziness, sweating, and blurred vision in small doses. Large doses can lead to hallucinations, a terrifying memory loss, and, in some cases, death. It’s derived from a plant native to South America called brugmansia. Its blooms are strikingly long white flowers, often called “Angel’s Trumpets.”

Myth surrounds this crazy drug (according to legend, medieval witches used it,) but much of the terrifying hype around it is very real. “They go out to party and then wake up two or three days later on a park bench,” said Maria Fernanda Villota, a Bogota nurse who told Vice in 2012 her hospital saw several Devil’s Breath victims every week. “They arrive here without their belongings or their money.”

The trio were caught when someone close to one of their victims recognized them at a metro station. It’s currently unknown how many victims there are, or how many people may be in their gang.


If you’ve enjoyed this post, please show your support by sharing this link. You can also support this blog and help it keep running by contributing to Patreon. Every share and cent is much appreciated!