He was a “happy-go-lucky” guy who was notorious for spicing up life on benefits in the medieval Belgian town of Ghent by strolling into a restaurant, calmly ordering lobster washed down with the finest brandy or some other gastronomic delight and then walking out without paying the bill.
But, after 100 or so incidents spread over a five-year spree, Titus Clarysse has turned up dead, prompting police to launch an investigation of “murder or manslaughter”.
Newspapers reported that he had been stabbed, but police refused to confirm this and there was no immediate indication of the motive.
However, his past as an unrepentant freeloader is almost certainly a focus of the investigation and questions on detective’s minds will surely include: Did he push a hot-headed chef too far, was he killed by a keenly sharpened Sabatier and just what was his last meal?
Tim Joiris, head of the Ghent region restaurant and hotel federation, struggled to believe anyone could have gone so far.
“Curse him? Maybe. But kill him? That makes no sense,” he said.
Detectives might do well to speak to Mr Joiris, as restaurant owners would often come to him to complain.
“It was trouble for everyone. And what's worse, for long nobody knew how really to deal with it,” he said.
“In the end, we knew his face, but you know, on a busy terrace in summer, full of people, he knew how to blend in.
“He did it all, the grand restaurants, the terraces. He really tried them all.”
Mr Clarysse was a “tafelschuimer” — someone who takes everything, even the crumbs, off the table.
“He was asking for it all — the whole menu,” Mr Joiris said with a laugh. “He would sit and wait after the meal — another beer, a brandy.
“We are not talking about an aggressive guy. He was just happy-go-lucky about it.”
Mr Joiris said that tales of people being forced to do the dishes if they could not afford to pay were “a myth”.
Restaurants in Ghent, a medieval university town with gabled fronts and terraces on cobblestones, attract an international and varied clientele.
Police spokeswoman Annemie Sirlippens said the 35-year-old Clarysse was found dead in his apartment on Monday night. She said they were looking for suspects in what she called “a case of murder or manslaughter”.
On his exploits in restaurant, she said: “We are talking about 100 incidents spread over several convictions.”
De Standaard newspaper reported he was living on municipal welfare and often seemed to have what the paper described as the wrong kind of friends.
The website Deredactie.be said that Mr Clarysse’s body had been found by his father. It added that Mr Clarysse had been given a six-month prison sentence and a 1,650-euro fine for failing to pay restaurant bills.