Charles Sobhraj: 'The Serpent' who used skills to kill and evade grip of law
Despite multiple crimes committed in India including the alleged murder of an Israeli man in Varanasi and a French tourist in Delhi, Sobhraj was found guilty of only a robbery attempt.
NEW DELHI: A Sunday afternoon. March 16, 1986. Few top officials, guards and some prisoners of Tihar Jail were enjoying pethas, grapes and cream along with the most popular and famous inmate Charles Sobhraj. He said it was his birthday. In the next few minutes, those who consumed the stuff fell unconscious. Sobhraj walked out of India’s most heavily guarded high-profile jails around 2.40 pm, along with two guests who got the party goodies 20 minutes back, and drove off in white ambassador car.
Despite multiple crimes committed in India including the alleged murder of an Israeli man in Varanasi and a French tourist in Delhi, Sobhraj was found guilty of only a robbery attempt. For which he was sentenced to 12 years of jail. Around the time of escape, Sobhraj was nearing the completion of his 12-year jail term and was awaiting to get extradited to Thailand. There, he was to be executed for the drug and murder crimes he had committed under the strict Thai rules.So, he planned his escape from Tihar and get arrested again, so that his jail term gets extended and the Thailand extradition is thwarted. His plan worked. In the next 20 days, he was rearrested in Goa celebrating his actual 42nd birthday. His jail term was extended by 10 years.
Born in Saigon in 1944 to a Vietnamese mother and Indian father, he saw his parents separated soon after his birth. His mother married a French soldier, and moved to France.Sobhraj always came across as a handsome and charming conman. He had a colourful life with multiple girlfriends and many were also his partners in crime. He was jailed for the first time for burglary in 1963. He soon became infamous as a criminal and due to multiple escapes from prisons across the globe, he earned the name “the Serpent”.
While Sobhraj admitted to have killed at least 12 persons between 1972 to 1976, he never disclosed the reasons why he did so. He is said to have terminated his victims by overdosing them with chems and narcotics, then drowning some, let some tobleed after stabbing, or setting them ablaze, sometimes alive in drugged state.
The first person he killed was a Pakistani taxi driver in 1972. He had killed six victims in Thailand, including an American tourist, two French nationals, a Dutch couple and a Turkish man. The American woman he had killed was found in a swimsuit floating off Pattaya beach. The case earned
him the nickname “the Bikini Killer.”
Investigators say Sobhraj primarily targeted foreigners. In many occasions, he acquired his victims’ identity using his picture on their passports and travelled the world and evaded the law. His killings came to light around 1976 following the disappearance of a Dutch backpacking couple. Days after their disappearance, two charred bodies were found on the streets of Ayuthya, the ancient capital of Thailand, which turned out to be that of the missing couple. Probe led investigators to a French gem dealer - Alain Gautier who the couple had visited as per their travel notes to friends and kin.
It also turned out that Gautier was in possession of multiple passports and those were of people who went missing from Thailand. It subsequently came to light that Alain Gautier was one of the multiple identities that Sobhraj had used over many years. Even when he was arrested, he escaped authorities, claiming he was an American citizen using a passport which belonged to one of his victims.
An Interpol notice was issued against him and it led to his arrest on July 5, 1976, in India. He used his knowledge of law to draft petitions for wealthy inmates in jail. He spent his earnings to bribe guards and have a lavish living in jail.
After his release in 1997 from India, he was allowed to go to France where he earned a fortune by selling book and movie rights of the story based on his life for $15 million. Several books and television series on his life are now available on various platforms.It is unknown how many people Sobhraj has killed. He was convicted for only two killings during his life, for which he was facing life imprisonment in Kathmandu, Nepal. And now he is free!