Convicted serial killer Charles Sobhraj arrived in Paris from Kathmandu on Christmas Eve after serving 19 years in prison for the murder of American Connie Jo Bronzich and his Canadian friend Laurent Carrière in 1975.
Sobhraj’s nicknames – Snake and Cobra – refer to his ability to escape from prison and the way they change their identities like a snake changes its skin. Like a cobra, Sobhraj had an almost hypnotic effect on the men and women he enchanted before drugging, robbing, and killing them. Most were westerners seeking gems, spiritual or drug-induced elevations on the “hippie trail” in Asia. Nine murders were proven; some believe Sobhraj killed as many as 30 people.
Solange Pezet was with a group of French students who crossed paths with Sobhraj in Delhi in July 1976. last month.
Sobhraj distributed tablets to students, apparently to prevent dysentery. But the sleeping pills took effect immediately and began to fall into the hotel lobby. The rescinded crime led to his arrest and 20-year sentence in Delhi.
Photographs from that period show a lightly built, muscular young man wearing high-leg trousers. Sobhraj is now 78 years old and suffers from a heart condition. His life sentence was to continue until 2034, but he was released due to old age and illness under Nepalese law. Nihita Biswas, 34, the attractive daughter of a Nepali lawyer, is staying in Kathmandu.
Sobhraj’s mother was Vietnamese and his father was an Indian tailor working in Vietnam, where Sobhraj was born. His parents separated when he was three years old. He became a French citizen after his mother married a French officer.
The convicted serial killer now looks set to enjoy retirement in France. He told the Indian Express that he wanted to live for many more years.
The French authorities were not willing to accept Sobhraj, but he cannot refuse entry to a French citizen. He is not charged with any crime in France and will be released, but the police are expected to keep an eye on him. He wants to broadcast his memoirs and make television documentaries.
Sobhraj also plans to file several lawsuits, including one against Netflix, for the 2021 series The Serpent. Two of France’s most controversial lawyers are represented by the late Jacques Vergès, who defended multiple extremists, fallen dictator, and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, and now Vergès’ former partner, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre. Coutant-Peyre married in prison Ilich Ramirez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, a former client of him and Vergès.
While awaiting trial in India in 1977, Sobhraj gave a lengthy interview with Australian writer Richard Neville describing his crimes in gruesome detail. Three years later, Neville published The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj.
Sobhraj committed his first murder in October 1975. In Bangkok, he met Teresa Ann Knowlton, an 18-year-old student who went to Nepal to study Buddhism. He told Neville that he took the young woman to a Pattaya Beach nightclub and added soothing Mogadon to his coffee.
Marie-Andrée Leclerc, a lone medical secretary from Québec, whom Sobhraj had met in Srinagar, India the previous spring, had been his accomplice. She helped carry Knowlton to the beach and there she dressed him in a bikini and strangled him. The next morning, a fisherman found the body, but Thai authorities assumed Knowlton had drowned. Several months passed before his body was exhumed and identified.
The four murders Sobhraj committed in Bangkok became known as the bikini murders, earning him another nickname, the Bikini Killer.
Sobhraj sold $1,600 worth of jewelry to the couple’s second victim, a young Turk named Vitali Hakim, whose body was found near Pattaya Beach. The autopsy showed that he was burned alive.
Hakim’s girlfriend, Stéphanie Anne-Marie Parry, was Sobhraj’s third victim. She had gone to Bangkok to look for Hakim and was last seen alive at Kanith House, the apartment complex where Sobhraj and Leclerc lived.
Victims four and five were a Dutch couple shopping for gems. Sobhraj and Leclerc went to Nepal, where they killed Bronzich and Carrière, using their Dutch passports.
After Sobhraj made the mistake of giving drugs to French students in his hotel lobby in Delhi, an Indian court sentenced him and Leclerc to 12 and six years in prison, respectively. Leclerc suffered from ovarian cancer and was exiled to Québec, where he died the following year.
At the Delhi prison, Sobhraj bribed guards to buy a television set, telephone, fine food and wine. He mixed drugs with pastries at a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment, escaped while the guards were unconscious, and was later arrested and sentenced to another ten years in prison. Escape and recapture were apparently a means of ensuring that Sobhraj was not extradited to Thailand, where he was likely to have been executed.
Sobhraj lived in Paris’ Chinatown and earned the equivalent of 5,000 euros for interviews from 1997 to 2003. Overconfident, he traveled to Nepal in 2003 with a television crew. She was recognized as a suspect on a street in Kathmandu. The murderer of Bronzich and Carriere, who was arrested, was tried to be sentenced to life in prison. He spent more than half of his life in prisons in Europe and Asia.