This man was born in Vietnam in 1944. His father was Indian and his mother was Vietnamese. Sobhraj’s father already had a wife. He was not married to Sobhraj’s mother. It was deeply embarrassing for Charles Sobhraj to be born outside of marriage. His father was well off and owned several tailor shops. At that time Vietnam was a French colony. When Sobhraj was a baby a separatist rebellion started in Vietnam. The rebellion was partly communist inspired. Sobhraj grew up speaking French rather than Vietnamese. However, the French were being beaten and in 1954 they left Vienam which became independent. By this time his mother had been through a succession of French boyfriends and had children by them. When he was ten his mother married a French soldier and moved to France.
Sobhraj moved to France. He was in a precarious position. He was the step child of a Frenchman who did not like him much. There was considerable colour prejudice in France at the time. Sobhraj wished to return to Vietnam. He was bored at school and misbehaved. He became involved in petty crime. When he was 18 a French court ordered him to leave France because he was not a French citizen. He stole a car and drove towards Germany. However, he was caught and sent to prison. As his term of imprisonment came close to an end he contemplated deportation to Vietnam where a war was raging. In prison he studied psychology. He felt he could understand and manipulate anyone’s personality. He would work out if they were an extrovert or introvert. He would figure out if they were choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic or sanguine. He would be able to control them. He would win people over and have them do his bidding. He decided to become a master of charm and cunning. He also launched a legal action to claim French citizenship with the help of a sympathetic lawyer. This lawyer represented Charles for free. Charles won his case. He had been born in Vietnam when it was a French colony and he had since lived in France for over 10 years. He was given a French passport when he left prison. He married a wealthy young Frenchwoman named Chantal. Her parents very much disapproved of Sobhraj.
Charles decided to return to a life of crime but this time he would do it in a more intelligent way. Nevertheless he decided to return to Vietnam which he had not seen in 12 years. He met his father hoping his father would welcome him. In fact his father was unimpressed. Charles was hurt but this paternal indifference. His father said there was no future for anyone in Vietnam which was in the midst of a particularly horrific war. Charles took his father’s advice and left the country.
Charles Sobhraj went to Turkey and posed as a wealthy tourist. He befriended an rich American couple. He was invited to their hotel room. He drugged them both and stole their cash, valuables, travelers’ cheques and passports. He immediately left the country. He was able to put his photo into the passport of the American man and assume this man’s identity.
In Greece he engaged in the same ruse. He would strike up a conversation with affluent Westerners in hotels. Having gained their trust he would spike their drinks with powerful sedatives. He would help them to their rooms where he would steal their possessions. He would then give them an injection to knock them out for several hours before locking them in the room and fleeing.
Sobhraj moved to India. Being half Indian he looked Indian and did not stand out. He would get chatting to naive Western tourists. They were very trusting and he could easily steal their passports and other items. Soon he had many passports in other names. He could put his photos in other passports. He had numerous false identities.
In India at the time there was a high tax on precious imported items such as gold, diamonds, rolex watches etc… Sobhraj became friends with rich Indians who wanted these luxury items. He was able to smuggle them in tax free and sell them on at a handsome profit.
Sobhraj attempted to burgle into the jewellers’s shop in the Ashoka Hotel in Delhi. This attempt was interrupted and he was arrested. Sobhrak feigned illness by pricking his skin and drawing blood. He then put it in his mouth and pretended to be vomiting blood. He was sent to hospital under police guard. His wife brought him drugs to put in the guard’s drink. The guard was made to fall asleep. Sobhraj took the key from the guard and undid his handcuffs. He handcuffed the guard to the bed and escaped. Sobhraj decided to leave India. He went to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan he was arrested for trying to leave without paying his hotel bill. He spent a year in prison.
Charles Sobhraj then moved to Thailand. He set himself up as a gem dealer. He met a Canadian named Marie-Andree and began a relationship with her. He told people that she was his wife even though he was still officially married to Chantal.
Charles would chat to foreign tourists in English and French. He would invite them to stay at his house. Often they would fall ill and stay for days or even weeks. Charles was poisoning their food but not to kill them. He seemed to like having power over them.
Charles and Marie-Andree would start chatting to wealthy foreign tourists. They would drug them and steal their belongings.Charles acquired an Indian accomplice named Ajay Chowhury. In 1975 they did this to an American named Teresa Knowlton. They took her whilst she was unconscious and drowned her. The police found this young woman’s body and assumed it was accidental.
That same year Sobhraj targeted a rich Turkish tourist named Vitali Hakim. Hakim was also drugged and whilst unconscious he was handcuffed. Charles and his Indian confederate Chowdhury drove Hakim deep into the countryside late at night. The TurK Hakim was doused in petrol and set on fire. This made his body very hard to identify. The Thai police were not very professional in those days and did not do a proper investigation.
Sobhraj traveled to Hong Kong to buy gems. He would return to Bangkok to sell them at a higher price. In Hong Kong he met a Dutch couple named Henk and Cornelia. He invited Henk and Cornelia back to his house in Bangkok. In Bangkok he drugged Henk and Cornelia and stole their belongings. He and Ajay Chowdhury then put them in his car and drove them to the countryside in the middle of the night. They were soaked in petrol and set alight.
Sobhraj and his girlfriend used the passports of the Dutch couple they had just killed. They flew to Nepal. There they befriended a Canadian couple named Laurent and Connie. The killed the Candians using their usual method. They put some strong sleeping potions in the Canadians’ food. They then relieved their victims of their expensive goods and passports. They drove the sleeping Canadians into the countryside in the middle of the night poured petrol over them and set their bodies on fire.
Guests in Sobhraj’s house wondered where the Dutch couple had gone. Ajay Chowdhury was supposed to be manning the fort for Charles – so to speak. But Ajay slipped up and left Charles’ bedroom unlocked. Some house guests went into Charles’ bedroom. They also noticed that items belonging to the Dutch couple were still in the house weeks after the Dutch couple had supposedly left. Some French tourists who had been friendly with Sobhraj grew suspicious. Some French tourists in Bangkok flew back to France and reported Sobhraj to the French authorities. They suspected him of at least drugging people and stealing from them.
In 1976 Charles Sobhraj flew to India. There he met an Israeli academic named Avoni Jacob. This man came to trust Sobhraj because Sobhraj was very charming. Sobhraj used his normal strategy of putting sleeping pills in the Avoni Jacob’s food. As this man grew drowsy Sobhraj helped him to his hotel room. There Sobhraj gave the Israeli a sedative injection to knock him out. He took the man’s clothes off and put him in a hot bath and help Jacob under the water until he drowned. Then Charles stole Jacob’s passport and left. The police found the Israeli the next day and assumed he had had a heart attack in the bath. Sobhraj was long gone. He returned to Thailand.
In Thailand a Dutch diplomat named Herman Knippenberg was looking into the deaths of Henk and Cornelia. He had heard the same story from many Western tourists of a Frenchman of Vietnamese heritage and his Canadian wife befriending them and taking them out for a meal. The next day these people would wake up in their hotel rooms and find their belongings were gone. The physical description of the couple was always the same – even the name of their dog Fleur. However, Sobhraj was clever enough to use false names and to keep changing the false names that he and his mistress used.
The Dutchman Knippenberg finally persuaded the Thai police to arrest Sobhraj. The police arrested Sobhraj who by then was posing as an American academic. His English had a heavy French accent but the Thai police spoke English so badly that they did not notice. Charles was able to charm them into releasing him after a few hours of questioning. He was allowed to go home for the night. He would return to the police station next day for more questioning. In the middle of the night Charles, Marie-Andree and Ajay fled Bangkok. They drove over night to the border and crossed into Malaysia. The next day the Thai police raided Charles’ house in Bangkok. They discovered many stolen passports and other personal effects from various murder victims.
In Malayasia Ajay Chowdhury disappeared. It is presumed that Charles murdered his Indian sidekick and buried him in the jungle. Charles flew to India.
In India Charles met a group of French students. He decided to drug them by persuading them to take what he said was an anti dysentery pill. He gave too much sedative to a Frenchman named Jean Luc Solomon who died within minutes. The French students realised Charles had tricked him. They pounced on him and help him down. They called the police and Charles was taken away in handcuffs.
Charles went on trial in India in 1977. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder. It shows how charming he was that he got such a light sentence. He could have got the death penalty. He began his sentence in Tihar Gaol in Delhi. Marie Andree was also sent to prison.
In prison Charles quickly won the guards around. He also worked his charm on the governor who came to like him. Charles was allowed to see his mistress Marie Andree regularly even though she was held in the women’s gaol. This was against regulations for men and women to meet like this. Charles was a model prisoner. The Thai authorities requested Charle’s extradition. They wanted him to stand trial in Thailand for various murders. Thailand still regularly used the death penalty and Charles was keen to avoid this.
After a few years in prison Marie Andree died of cancer.
In 1987 the guards allowed Charles to hold a big party for being half way through his sentence. He was aware that even though his sentence was 20 years India almost never made people serve their full sentence. It was likely that he would be set free after serving only 15 years. He would not really be free because he would be sent to Thailand to go on trial for a few murders there. It was virtually certain that the Thais would convict him and he would be executed.
At the party Charles held in Tihar Gaol he drugged the guards. They foolishly accepted food and drink from him. Once they were unconscious he stole their keys and clothes and escaped.
Charles fled to the south of India. When the guards woke up after a few hours. They realised that Charles had escaped. They were humiliated and furious. They had made the mistake of trusting Charles. India launched a massive manhunt. Three weeks later Charles was arrested in Goa, India. Charles was returned to prison in chains. He was given an extended sentence for his escape. This meant that he actually served 20 years in prison. However, this was what he wanted. In Thailand people cannot be tried for crimes committed over 20 years ago.
In 1997 Charles was set free. He returned to France.
In 2004 Charles returned to Nepal. The Nepalese police could not believe it. Charles was arrested in the Yak and Yeti Hotel. He was charged with murders from the 1970s. Nepal has no statute of limitations. Nepalese law says that photocopied documents cannot be used in trials only original documents. All the documents from the 1970s cases had been lost. Only photocopies remained. DESPITE that Charles was prosecuted and found guilty. He is presently serving life imprisonment in Nepal.