A soured affair between a Spencer Stuart bigwig and his subordinate tarnishes the reputation of an elite CEO headhunter. And now the relationship’s in the courtroom, not the bedroom.

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Caroline, and a fossi[li]zed guy named Dennis with a snappy snazzola and a bald spot the size of Texas. Dennis was very much in love with Caroline and professed his love and affection for her daily…. We know that this story will have more chapters and more actors, but whatever happens, Dennis is the happier for opening his arms and heart to the lovely Caroline.”

So began a corporate fairy tale, as told in a private e-mail by its protagonist: Dennis C. Carey, now 54, a Spencer Stuart headhunting superstar with a wife and two school-aged children back home in Scottsdale. The “beautiful princess”? Marie-Caroline von Weichs, 38—an Austrian-born Carey subordinate with a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Oxford. Theirs was a world of private jets and expensive gifts, daily contact with the world’s most powerful CEOs, and whirlwind trips to executive getaways. “The sun shines brightly,” wrote Carey in a 1999 e-mail entitled ode to caroline, “on the memories of Arizona, Oxford, New York, Biarritz, Paris, Pantelleria, Frankford [sic], Washington, Connecticut, Florida, South Carolina, and St. Michael’s Island…. You have touched me in a way no other ever has or ever will.”

Unfortunately, this fairy tale is ending badly—very badly. Carey’s fable has become a bitter soap opera with a decidedly unromantic shift of scene to the courtroom.

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