MONTREAL (AP) _ Luc Jouret was a mysterious and charming man. Perhaps he still is - the greatest mystery about the cult leader is whether he's alive.

Until that question is answered, authorities investigating the deaths of his followers in Switzerland and Canada are limited to the sometimes-sketchy memories of people whose paths crossed with the founder of the Order of the Solar Temple.

They tell of a charismatic man, a man of erudition, accomplishment, wealth - and a complex theology including the belief that the world is on the verge of fiery annihilation.

''On his desk I saw a Buddha statuette and a sun. He already had the tendency to complement his work with the paranormal,'' said Joseph Etienne, the town hall secretary in Leglise, Belgium, where Jouret once practiced homeopathic medicine.

Jouret later moved to Canada, where he attracted members to his cult.

''We had heard about him, but not many people seem to know him,'' said Michael Kropveld, executive director of the Montreal-based Info-Cult, which follows religious sects and cults in Canada.

But others say they saw signs that - in retrospect - look like a prelude to horror.

''Jouret pretended to be Christ,'' Rose Marie Klaus Opplinger told the Montreal newspaper La Presse last year. ''He told people that a great catastrophe was coming, and that only the chosen would survive.''

Her husband was a follower of Jouret and the couple invested up to $500,000 with the group. When they divorced, Klaus Opplinger won a $150,000 judgment against the order for brainwashing.

Montreal's law-enforcement officials saw a mixed picture. On one hand, they prosecuted him on weapons charges in 1993. Yet, Jouret and his co-defendants ''looked like businessmen, there was nothing crazy about them,'' prosecutor Jean-Claude Boyers told Canadian Press.

Jouret was born in the Belgian Congo - now Zaire - in 1948. He received a medical degree in 1974 in Belgium and studied homeopathy, a controversial form of medicine based on the theory that diseases can be cured by giving patients small doses of substances which in healthy patients would produce symptoms similar to those of the disease.

It's not know when he came to Canada or when his following developed in Switzerland.

Police in Switzerland said they had no reason to investigate Jouret prior to this week's fires. But others knew him.

Jean-Francois Mayer, a Lausanne, Switzerland, researcher on spiritual movements, said Jouret was well known there for his doomsday predictions.

The most visible aspects of Jouret's movement in Switzerland were the ''Archedia Clubs,'' which set up farms, supposedly for biological research.

People in Belgium said Jouret was loved by his patients but spurned by the traditional medical establishment.

''He was a charming, good boy who was loved and well regarded. A great many people came to his practice,'' said Michel Simon, who rented a house to him in Leglise.

Simon tried to convince him to stay. ''I told him, 'All these patients who have put their trust in you, you cannot just leave them. And it is such a good business.'

''He replied,'' Simon said, '''Michel, money doesn't matter.'''