When he came out of the gate the paparazzi were seen eagerly waiting for him. In a light blue shirt, and his typical cap he looked old and very fragile. He has a smile on his face; his wife was there to receive him. The Supreme Court of the Himalayan nation ordered the release of Sobhraj on the grounds of old age and worsening health conditions. Since 2003, he has been serving his sentence in Nepali jail on the charge of murdering two American tourists. The court concluded that the 78-year-old will be set free as he had already completed 95 per cent of his jail term.
He was known as “the Bikini Killer” due to the attire of several of his victims, as well as the Splitting Killer” and “the Serpent”, due to “his snake-like ability to avoid detection by authorities. Sobhraj has murdered at least 20 tourists in South and Southeast Asia, including 14 in Thailand. He was convicted and jailed in India from 1976 to 1997. After his release, he retired, promoting his infamy in Paris. Sobhraj returned to Nepal in 2003, where he was arrested, tried, and received a life sentence.
Sobieraj was handsome, charming and absolutely without qualms, he used his looks and cunning to advance his criminal career and obtain celebrity status. He also enjoyed his notoriety. Sobhraj has been the subject of four biographies, three documentaries, an Indian film titled Main Aur Charles, and the 2021 eight-part BBC/Netflix drama series The Serpent. He got a lot of fame and a name with his criminal records.
Sobhraj was born in Saigon to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother. His parents were never married and his father denied paternity. Stateless at first, Sobhraj was taken in by his mother’s new husband, a French Army lieutenant stationed in French Indochina. There he felt neglected in favour of the couple’s later children. Sobhraj continued to move back and forth between Southeast Asia and France with the family.
As a teenager, he began to commit petty crimes; he received his first custodial sentence for burglary in 1963, serving his sentence at Poissy prison near Paris. While imprisoned, Sobhraj manipulated prison officials into granting him special favours, such as being allowed to keep books in his cell. Around the same time, he met and endeared himself to Felix d’Escogne, a wealthy young man and prison volunteer.
After being paroled, Sobhraj moved in with d’Escogne and spent his time moving between the high society of Paris and the criminal underworld. He began accumulating riches through a series of burglaries and scams. During this time, Sobhraj met and began a romantic relationship with Chantal Compagnon, a young Parisian woman from a conservative family. Sobhraj proposed marriage to Compagnon but was arrested later the same day for attempting to evade police while driving a stolen vehicle. He was sentenced to eight months in prison, yet Chantal remained supportive throughout the entirety of his sentence. Sobhraj and Compagnon were married upon his release.
Sobhraj, along with a pregnant Compagnon, left France in 1970 for Asia to escape arrest. After travelling through Eastern Europe with fake documents, robbing tourists whom they befriended along the way, Sobhraj arrived in Mumbai later the same year. Chantal gave birth to a baby girl, Usha, in the city. In the meantime, Sobhraj resumed his criminal life, running a car theft and smuggling operation. Sobhraj’s growing profits went towards his budding gambling addiction. In 1973, Sobhraj was arrested and imprisoned after an unsuccessful armed robbery attempt on jewellers at Hotel Ashoka. Sobhraj was able to escape, with Compagnon’s help, by faking illness, but was recaptured shortly thereafter.
Sobhraj borrowed money for bail from his father and soon afterwards fled to Kabul. There, the couple began to rob tourists on the hippie trail and were arrested again. Sobhraj escaped in the same way he had in India, feigning illness and drugging the hospital guard. Sobhraj fled to Iran, leaving his family behind. Compagnon, though still loyal to Sobhraj, wished to leave their criminal past and returned to France, vowing never to see him again.
Sobhraj spent the next two years on the run, using as many as 10 stolen passports. He passed through various countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Sobhraj was joined by his younger half-brother, André, in Istanbul. Sobhraj and André became partners in crime, participating in various criminal activities in both Turkey and Greece. The duo was eventually arrested in Athens. After an identity-switch hoax went awry, Sobhraj managed to escape but his half-brother was left behind. André was handed over to the Turkish police by Greek authorities and served an 18-year sentence.
Sobhraj was joined by a young Indian man, Ajay Chowdhury, a fellow criminal who became Sobhraj’s second-in-command. After doing lots of crimes and murders, his next destination was either Varanasi or Calcutta, where he murdered Israeli scholar Avoni Jacob to obtain Jacob’s passport. Sobhraj used the passport to travel with Leclerc and Chowdhury; first to Singapore, then to India.
Sobhraj’s systematic bribery of prison guards at Tihar reached outrageous levels. He led a life of luxury inside the prison, with television and gourmet food, having befriended both guards and prisoners. He gave interviews to Western authors and journalists, such as Oz magazine’s Richard Neville in 1977 and Alan Dawson in 1984. Although Sobhraj had freely talked to Neville and Clarke about his murders, he later denied everything he had told them and pretended his actions were in retaliation against “Western imperialism” in Asia. Sobhraj’s prison sentence in India was due to end before the 20-year Thai statute of limitations expired, ensuring his extradition and almost certain execution for murder in Thailand. So in March 1986, in his tenth year in prison, Sobhraj threw a big party for his guards and fellow inmates, drugged them with sleeping pills and walked out of the prison. Inspector Madhukar Zende of the Mumbai police apprehended Sobhraj in O’Coqueiro Restaurant in Goa; his prison sentence was extended by ten years, just as he had hoped. On 17 February 1997, 52-year-old Sobhraj was released with most warrants, evidence and even witnesses against him long lost. Without any country to extradite him to, Indian authorities let him return to France.
In 2003, Sobhraj returned to Nepal, on 1 September 2003, Sobhraj was spotted by a journalist for The Himalayan Times in a casino in Kathmandu. The journalist followed him for two weeks and wrote a news report in The Himalayan Times with photographs. The Nepalese police saw the report, raided the casino and arrested an unaware Sobhraj, who was still gambling there. The police reopened the double murder case in 1975. Sobhraj was later sentenced to life imprisonment by the Kathmandu district court on 20 August 2004 for the murders of Bronzich and Carrière.