A prolific criminal, Charles Sobhraj loved fame, money, gambling and women. His life is almost like a Bollywood film. The release of The Serpent on Netflix takes a look at what a drama-filled life he has led. Born Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj, he took pride in his manipulation skills. A man who fell in love with his own infamous legend and then fell in to the hands of the law due to his over confidence.
There is a lot to know about the enigma that is Charles. So, here is the story of the sinister & charming conman:
The birth of the Proofreader…
Sobhraj was born to a Vietnamese mother and an Indian Sindhi father in Vietnam . After his father abandoned him, he was adopted by his mother’s new boyfriend, a French army lieutenant . He moved to France when he was young and began to commit petty crimes.
He got his first jail sentence at the age of 19. Where he manipulated prison guards to grant him special favours and he grew close to a wealthy prison volunteer Felix d’Escogne.
Felix was so fond of Sobhraj, that they became roommates after Charles got parole.
He used Felix’s stature to enter the high society of Paris and then made his way to the criminal underworld.
He then began committing scams and burglaries during which he met Chantal Compagnon and proposed to her. But he got arrested that very day.
The day he got released, they married and the couple finally fled France to arrive in Mumbai in 1970.
Chantal was pregnant at the time and they travelled through Eastern Europe using fake documents, scamming tourists along the way.
They had a baby girl, Usha, but Sobhraj did not relinquish his criminal habits. He ran a car theft & smuggling syndicate.
He got caught trying to rob a jewellery store. But with the help of his loyal wife he escaped, feigning illness.
After being recaptured, he borrowed bail money from his father and fled to Kabul.
The couple continued their scams with tourists in Kabul only to be arrested again. But he escaped the same way: faking illness.
Charles then fled to Iran. But his wife, adamant on leaving her criminal past behind her, returned to France.
He spent 2 years on the run and used as many as 10 stolen passports for going through Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
During this time, he met his younger brother Andre, who became his partner in crime.
But the duo was caught in Athens, Greece, after pulling off scams in Istanbul. Charles escaped but his brother was left behind to serve an 18-year-jail sentence.
The serpent strikes…
In Thailand now, Charles began gathering followers, like Marie Leclerc through his charm. And she was devoted to him.
With her help, he pulled off scams that involved him helping people out of difficult situations which were actually conjured up by Sobhraj himself.
His victims felt indebted to him for helping them out. Not knowing what lay ahead.
Some victims had lost their passports, which Sobhraj returned to them because he had stolen them in the first place.
He also gave shelter to a French tourist who had dysentery. Sobhraj was the one who poisoned him.
The era of the Bikini Killer…
He was then joined by an Indian, Ajay Chowdhury, along with whom he committed his first murder in 1975.
The victim was Teresa Knowlton from Seattle. She was found dead in a pool, wearing a bikini.
The next victim was Vitaji Hakim, a Jew whose body was found in Pattaya, burnt and discarded. Hakim’s girlfriend Charmayne Carrou came looking for him and was also found dead in a pool, wearing a bikini.
He also murdered a Dutch couple whose bodies were found burnt and discarded.
The day the Dutch couple’s bodies were identified, Sobhraj & Leclerc entered Nepal where they killed another couple.
Bodies of the couple were wrongly identified and their passports were used by Sobhraj & Leclerc to reach Thailand again.
His French companions in Thailand had suspected him of being a murderer so they informed the authorities.
Amazingly, the Thai authorities let him go as they feared serial killings coming to light will affect their tourism.
A Dutch diplomat, Knippenberg, had then found evidence against Charles. But Charles was in Malaysia with Leclerc & Chowdhury, stealing gems.
Chowdhury stole some gems in Malaysia and gave them to Charles. He was never seen after that nor was his body recovered.
It is believed Leclerc & Charles killed him.
He came back to India and made two more women part of his clan, Barbara & Mery Ellen.
Charles and his trio of women then tried tricking a few French tourists but were caught in the act and they were arrested.
The poison used by them made a few tourists collapse all too soon and the remaining bunch overpowered the criminals and then handed them to the police.
Charles and the three women were arrested and sent to Tihar Jail. Where Charles had sneaked in a few gems and bribed the guards for a comfortable life inside.
Barbara and Mary Ellen however were having a terrible time & tried committing suicide.
Sobhraj was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Leclerc returned to Canada.
She died of cancer in 1984.
The walk to freedom…
Charles realised that post his 12-year sentence, there would still be 8 years left on his Thailand warrant and to evade arrest, he made an escape plan.
He threw a party in his 10th year in prison and drugged the guards & his inmates. Charles Sobhraj simply walked out of jail.
He was captured in Goa and his prison time was prolonged by 10 years, just as he wanted.
With no country to extradite him after 20 years, he was allowed to return to France on 17th Feb, 1997, upon his release.
Witnesses, warrants and evidences against him were long lost by then.
In front of the camera & behind bars…
He hired an agent in France and charged huge sums of money for interviews.
In 2003, he was spotted in Nepal by a journalist and was then arrested by authorities for one final time and given a life term.
The murder of the Dutch couple in 1975 came back to haunt him. Evidence was gathered by the Dutch diplomat, Knippenberg, and also lay with Interpol.
Sobhraj had no way out of this and was convicted in 2005.
In 2008, while in jail, he announced his engagement to Bigg Boss 5 contestant, Nihita Biswas.
The couple claimed to have married in prison but Nepalese Authorities deny those claims.
In July 2010, he was also charged with the murder of an American tourist in 1975 and the court also ordered seizure of all his properties.
His alleged mother-in-law (Nihita’s mother) was his lawyer.