Charles Sobhraj / aka “The Serpent” / “The Bikini Killer”

Charles SobhrajCharles Sobhraj

Charles Sobhraj, born Hotchand Bhawnani Gurmukh Sobhraj, in April 1944, was Asia’s premier serial slayer. He was the illegitimate son of a Vietnamese peasant girl and a wealthy Indian merchant living in Saigon.

Soon after his birth, Sobhraj’s father married an Indian woman in Pooma. His mother retaliated by marrying a French military officer when Sobhraj was four years old. The land of Indochina was in turmoil at the time, with French colonial troops fighting a hopeless rear-guard action against Viet Minh communist rebels. Young Hotchand Sobhraj witnessed countless acts of violence before his step-father finally took the family to France in 1953.

Sobhraj hated Europe and the Catholic boarding school in Paris. While there he soon became the butt of racial jokes and insults. The school’s lasting mark was a name change, to “Charles”, after Sobhraj’s clever impersonation of comedian Charlie Chaplin.

Charles Sobhraj Turns To Crime

At first, he expressed his displeasure through tantrums and persistent bed-wetting. Twice running away to Saigon in his teens. Sobhraj’s father sent him back each time, but finally agreed to pay his passage for a trial visit home. The ticket never came. Charles Sobhraj turned to robbery, landing briefly in jail on his second try.

Charles SobhrajCharles finally reached Vietnam on his own. But the family reunion was tense, and Sobhraj was soon packed off to live with relatives in India after wrecking his father’s car. When he turned up in Saigon again, uninvited, Charles’s father threw in the towel, sending him back to France. In Paris, Charles Sobhraj was locked up twice for auto theft. Emerging from jail the second time, Charles determined to go straight. But that was short lived.

Charles Sobhraj Marries

Charles got married and found a job. But the straight life quickly palled. Jailed again, for writing forged checks on his sister’s account, Charles was freed when she dropped the charges. He continued bouncing checks thereafter, saving up some 30,000 francs, before he took his wife to Bombay. He set up shop as an international con man and smuggler, specializing in the theft of passports from American and European tourists. Arrested for a jewel robbery in Delhi, Charles Sobhraj was granted bail in spite of an escape attempt.

He fled at once to Kabul, in Afghanistan, where he was jailed for auto theft and lesser charges. Another escape brought him back to France, where he kidnapped his infant daughter from his mother-in-law, leaving the woman drugged and locked in a hotel room. Sobhraj’s first known murder victim was a Pakistani chauffeur named Habib, hired by Charles and a female companion in September 1972, for a drive between Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

Charles SobhrajAlong the way, for reasons unknown, Charles injected Habib with a drug that took his life, then dumped the driver’s body in a river. Warrants were issued for suspect “Damon Seaman,” but another year would pass before Charles Sobhraj was finally identified.

Arresting Him Would Take A Little Time

In November 1973, Sobhraj was in Istanbul, teaming up with his brother Guy, to drug and rob wealthy tourists.

Both were arrested in Greece, but Charles managed another yet another escape. Leaving his brother in jail, he fled back to India. In Delhi, he entered the heroin trade, gaining a foothold in the cut-throat business with inside information procured, under drugs and torture, from a local pusher whom Charles Sobhraj later killed.

Charles Sobhraj Is On A Roll

Murder seemed to come easier each time. In October of 1975, Sobhraj killed an American tourist, Teresa Knowlton, in his Delhi flat and had a sidekick dump her body. A Turkish competitor in the drug trade, Vitali Hakim, was beaten and his was neck snapped. His body was then doused with gasoline and set afire. In Bangkok, Charles strangled Hakim’s French contact, Stephanie Parry. A month later, while still in Bangkok, Charles Sobhraj strangled Dutch tourists Cornelia Hemker and Henricus Bitanja on December 16, burning their bodies as a hedge against arrest.

Shortly before Christmas, Canadian Laurent Carriere and American Connie Bronzick were found dead in Katmandu. Their bodies had been burned. Sobhraj, traveling as Henricus Bitanja, with his victim’s passport, had booked a room at the same hotel, but he slipped out of Nepal after preliminary questioning.

Charles Sobhraj Makes His Way Across Asia

Charles SobhrajCharles continued his aimless trek across Asia, murdering Israeli Allen Jacobs for his passport at Varanasi, in northern India. A few days later, on January 9th in 1976, Sobhraj, and two accomplices, drugged a trio of Frenchmen at Goa, dumping their bodies at roadside. Miraculously, all three victims managed to survive.

In Hong Kong, Allen Gore was also lucky. He lost $8,000 but kept his life, despite a jolt of Sobhraj’s chemical cocktail. Arrested with false passports in Bangkok, Charles Sobhraj was allowed to walk away after doling out bribes. In Penang, Charles was arrested for trying to cash stolen traveler’s checks/ But, once again, he managed to talk his way out of jail. Back in Bombay, Sobhraj slipped a fatal mickey to a French tourist, Jean-Luc Solomon, before moving on from there to more ambitious projects.

Charles Sobhraj Goes For The Gold

Shooting for the moon, Charles Sobhraj drugged an entire class of 60 French engineering students, Miscalculation of the dose however, simply sent 20 to a local hospita. But this time police were waiting.

Charles SobhrajArrested on July 5, 1976, Charles Sobhraj was linked with at least ten homicides spanning the past three years. Convicted of “culpable homicide” in the Solomon case, Sobhraj was sentenced to seven years at hard labor, with two more years tacked on for drugging the French students.

In 1982, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Allen Jacobs. The appeals, however, would go on for years. Thailand and Nepal announced their intention to file murder charges if Charles Sobhraj should somehow manage to win his release.

credit – murderpedia