Charles Sobhraj

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A brief biography

As in 2022

Dec 23, 2022: The Times of India

Notorious serial killer Charles Sobhraj was released from a jail in Nepal, following an order from the country's Supreme Court earlier this week. Sobhraj (78) served more than 18 years in prison after being convicted for the murder of two American tourists in 1975. He was released on

Born in 1944 in Vietnam, Sobhraj was the son of an Indian father and Vietnamese mother. He moved to France at a young age and became involved in criminal activity early on, including petty theft and fraud.

In the 1970s, Sobhraj traveled to Southeast Asia, where he began committing more serious crimes, including murder.

Sobhraj's crimes were characterized by his cunning and ability to manipulate those around him. He picked his victims, using his charm and good looks to lure them into his trap.

Sobhraj targeted tourists, particularly backpackers, in Thailand, Nepal, and India. He would often befriend and then drug them, stealing their possessions and identification.

In some cases, he killed his victims and disposed of their bodies in a gruesome manner, earning him the moniker "Bikini Killer."

Sobhraj was finally caught in 1976 in New Delhi, after a series of murders and theft at the city's Ashoka Hotel. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Sobhraj ultimately spent 21 years in jail, with a brief break in 1986 when he escaped and was caught again in the Indian coastal state of Goa.

Released in 1997, Sobhraj retired to Paris but resurfaced in 2003 in Nepal, where he was spotted in Kathmandu's tourist district and arrested.

A court there handed him a life sentence the following year for killing US tourist Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975. A decade later he was also found guilty of killing Bronzich's Canadian companion.

Sobhraj's story has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and movies, including the TV series "The Serpent," which was released in 2021.


Dec 23, 2023: The Times of India

Charles Sobhraj- A brief timeline
From: Dec 23, 2023: The Times of India

He led global law enforcement on a merry dance, flitting from Paris to Thailand and India, killing at least a dozen women in the process. He was arrested and sent to Delhi’s Tihar jail, but he walked out after throwing a party for the guards and feeding them drugged grapes. The press called him 'bikini killer' and 'the serpent', and he became quite the cult figure back in the 1980s. Now, Charles Sobhraj, the serial killer, will walk out of a Kathmandu jail aged 78.

Incarcerated since 2003 for killing two North American tourists, Sobhraj is being released after nearly 20 years, following a Nepal Supreme Court order on December 21, 2022. The order states a legal provision that prisoners who have completed 75% of their jail term and showed good character during imprisonment can be released. Sobhraj’s failing health on account of a heart disease is another reason why the court ordered his release. 
In Nepal, a life sentence is for 20 years, of which Sobhraj has served 19 years.

Sobhraj’s early years

The con artist-turned-serial killer was born in April 1944 in French-administered Saigon, Vietnam, to an Indian father and Vietnamese mother. According to reports, his parents never married, and his father – a merchant – did not acknowledge paternity.

Sobhraj moved to France at a young age after his mother married a French soldier. The early years left their mark on Sobhraj, who resented his father abandoning him; he also had issues with his mother’s new family. “ I will make you regret that you have missed your father's duty," he wrote in his diary, the BBC reported some years ago.

It was a prediction that came terrifyingly true.

His life of crime started early, with petty theft and fraud. He was first arrested in Paris in 1963 for burglary – from there on his crimes became more sinister, leading up to not one but multiple murders.

The ‘bikini killer’

In the 1970s, Sobhraj was connected with a string of murders across Asia. A French citizen, he began travelling the world in the early 1970s and wound up in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

Posing as a gem trader, he would befriend his victims, many of them Western backpackers on the 1970s hippie trail, before drugging their food or drink, stealing their passports, and then robbing and murdering them. "He despised backpackers, he saw them as poor young drug addicts," Australian journalist Julie Clarke, who interviewed Sobhraj, told news agency AFP in 2021. "He considered himself a criminal hero.”

Sophisticated and handsome, he was implicated in his first murder in Thailand, that of a young American woman whose body was found on a beach wearing a bikini, in 1975. Nicknamed the ‘bikini killer’, he was eventually linked to more than 20 murders of young women, some of them in bikinis, – not just in Thailand, but also Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nepal, Iran, Hong Kong and India, as well as countries in Europe.

Sobhraj eventually admitted to at least 12 killings between 1972 and 1976, and hinted at others to interviewers before retracting the confessions ahead of further court cases, according to his biographers. His true number of victims is unknown.

Nadine Gires, a Frenchwoman who lived in the same Bangkok apartment block as Sobhraj, remembered him as "cultured, courteous". But he was far more. "He was not only a swindler, a seducer, a robber of tourists, but an evil murderer," she said in an interview to AFP last year. Others described him as a psychopath with a manipulative personality.

Law enforcement authorities and journalists who interacted with him said Sobhraj came across as suave and charming – qualities that may have helped him escape from prisons in different countries and evade punishment. When he could not escape, he bribed jail officials to treat him preferentially – India was one such country where he lived a very comfortable life in prison.

And this is where Sobhraj's other sobriquet, ‘the serpent’ comes from – his ability to assume other identities to evade justice. It even became the title of a hit series made by the BBC and Netflix that was based on his life, which was released in 2021. Besides that, these are at least four books and three documentaries portraying his life story.

The Indian connection

In the early-1970s, Sobhraj was caught following a failed robbery attempt at Hotel Ashoka in New Delhi, but he managed to escape from hospital after faking an appendix issue. 
In the mid-1970s, Thailand issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of drugging and killing six women, some of whom turned up dead on a beach near the resort of Pattaya. He was, however, jailed in India before he could stand trial on these charges in Thailand.

In 1976, he was arrested in New Delhi for poisoning a group of French student-tourists. Before that, he had poisoned a French national who died and murdered an Israeli national in India. He was eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison, but managed to briefly escape in 1986 following an audacious plan – throwing a birthday party in which guards and prisoners in Delhi’s Tihar jail, where he was incarcerated, were invited. The BBC reported that grapes and biscuits handed to the guests were secretly injected with sleeping pills, knocking out everyone except Sobhraj and four other escapees.

He was soon captured again in Goa. But that appears to be what he wanted all along – he deliberately escaped towards the end of his jail term in India in order to be re-captured and face new charges for his escape. That way he could avoid extradition to Thailand where he was wanted for five murders and would almost certainly be given the death penalty.

By the time of his release in 1997, the 20 year timeframe for him to be tried in Bangkok had lapsed. He was deported to France without charge, where he lived in Paris, giving paid interviews to journalists, and minted large sums of money. But then he went back to Nepal in 2003.

Life sentence in Nepal

In September 2003, he was spotted in Kathmandu's tourist district and arrested in a casino at a five-star hotel after he travelled to the country from Hong Kong on a fake passport. Nepal was one of the countries where he could still be arrested for past crimes.

A court in the Nepalese capital handed him a life sentence the following year for killing American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975. Her body had been found in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kathmandu. At the time, Sobhraj denied killing the US woman and his lawyers said the charge against him was based on assumption, but the court thought otherwise.

A decade later he was also found guilty of killing Bronzich's Canadian companion Laurent Carriere.

Ladies' man

In 2010, Sobhraj is believed to have married his Indian-Nepali interpreter, Nihita Biswas, the daughter of one of his lawyers, while in prison – the news wasn’t confirmed. Biswas was 20 years old and Sobhraj 64 when they got engaged in 2008. The TOI reported that Sobhraj called it “love at first sight” with Biswas. Biswas went on to star in the fifth season of Indian reality show Bigg Boss. In 2017-18, she reportedly donated blood before Sobrraj underwent heart surgery.

Before that, Sobhraj was married to Chantal Compagnon, a chic Parisienne around 1970. He has a daughter from that marriage – Usha – who was born in Mumbai. She is now living in the US, reports say. Sobhraj and Chantal divorced later.

While in India, he met Marie-Andrée Leclerc from Quebec, Canada, a tourist looking for adventure. Blindsided by Sobhraj, Leclerc became his most devoted follower and was his accomplice in some of the crimes.

Sobhraj also reportedly had many other romantic relationships. Even while in prison in India, women would, according to reports, routinely come to meet him, some of them for visits of a sexual nature. A report in South China Morning Post quotes a former Tihar jail official, Sunil Gupta, who says, "“He used the guest house of one of the top jail officials to meet his girlfriends,” adding that Sobhraj would shed his kurta-pyjama in favour of a suit worn with a matching scarf whenever he had a woman visitor.

What next 
Sobhraj’s order for release on December 21 comes nearly a year after Nepal’s top court issued a show cause notice to its government asking why Sobhraj should not be released.

Sobhraj had earlier filed a petition in court for an exemption on his life term on grounds of old age and failing health.

His system

Amod K Kanth, Dec 23, 2022: The Times of India

Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj has done it again in Nepal jail, proving himself to be a ‘good prisoner’, producing ‘medical papers’ and getting an order from the highest court of the country to be released two years ahead of completing his full 20-year sentence. He has been serving terms for the murders of two tourists, an American and a Canadian, in the mid-1970s.

Ageless charmer; ruthless killer

Born in 1944 to an Indian father and aFrench mother, Charles, now 78, looks the same as I had found him in April 1986 when I brought him to Delhi in a chartered aircraft amidst media glare following his sensational Tihar jail escape of March 16, 1986. In preparing his dossier while he was in our custody, his modus operandi and character revealed themselves: a crook, confidence trickster and a heartless, ruthless killer targeting those who trusted him, often forming a ‘family bond’ with women friends who mostly did his bidding.

Since 1963 when he landed up in jail in Poissy, near Paris, as a young offender, all through the years he was in Nepal jail and nearly 20 years that he spent in Delhi’s Tihar, Charles has always been playing his game with jail authorities and inmates while being in complete control of the situation.

On November 1, 1971, Charles was arrested in Delhi. He was found travelling without a passport. He feigned illness and when he was taken to the Wellington Hospital for treatment, he hoodwinked the police and escaped. He was caught again in India but managed to secure bail in 1973 through his father, and kept travelling using forged passports, making new friends and forging ‘families’ with foreign tourists, drugging and killing at least 22 known persons, becoming the most wanted person in the Interpol list inIndia, France, Afghanistan, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and Nepal.

From June 6, 1976, when he was caught by Delhi Police for drugging his foreigner friends who were staying with him at YMCA Hostel and killing one of them, he remained in jail for nearly 10 years before escaping in March 1986.

The Don of Tihar

During the 10 years in Tihar,he took lessons from another high-profile criminal of a notorious bank van robbery-murder case. Ironically, Charles became one of the most influential inmates who fought for human rights of the detenus while freely terrorising and bribing jail authorities. In 1985, after having lost his petition in the Delhi high court against his extradition to Thailand for the murder of several tourists that had the evidence and stamp of his style, he got restless.

Scared of facing the death sentence, he along with some notorious undertrial criminals meticulously set in motion the most devious escape planfrom Tihar jail. He helped David Richard Hall, a British citizen and a creative artist, who was in Tihar jail in a drug case and was desperate to get out, get bail through a jail doctor and false medical papers. Following his release, David, along with Raju Bhatnagar, a notorious kidnapper, Rajender Sethia, a high-profile businessmanprisoner, and several Britishers who came all the way from the UK to helpCharles and David, planned the grand jail escape with plenty of money flowing.

When we took over the case we were aghast to find that all possible rules of the jail manual had been broken by Charles and his friends in Tihar, which was like his fiefdom. Numerous jail officials were operating at his beck and call, all freedom and facilities being available to him or to any of his friends.

He not only located himself and his escapee-conspirators according to his design, he was able to get everything he wanted including the weapon he carried during the escape and the huge quantity of drugs he used for stupefying a large number of jail officials and policemen on duty; even his girlfriend was allowed inside for romantic escapades. On March 16, all officials were fed custard and other food laced with the sleeping drug Larpose, becoming totally unconscious and facilitating the escape which was being photographed by David Hall. We recovered the photographs and used them subsequently.

A restless creature of habit

The Tihar escape was amongst the most publicised jail breaks in history; but it wasn’t so difficult to recapture Charles Sobhraj since his habits were well known. Charles was cornered at O’ Coquerio at Porvorim in Goa and taken to Bombay from where we brought him to Delhi. Charles remained in Tihar for more than 10 years, and was finally deported to France as a State Prisoner in 1997.

The restless maverick that he was, Charles again travelled and got into the trap of Nepal Police in 2003, he was convicted in two murder cases and remained incarcerated for 18 years.

It has to be seen what he gets up to now, after being released and deported to France – his second home. Considering all that he did in India and how we got him deported to France 25 years ago with considerable difficulty, he shouldn’t be a welcome tourist in India.

The writer is former Director General of Police and is the author of soon to be published book, ‘Khaki on Broken Wings’

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