‘The Serpent’ serial killer and terror of Bangkok freed by Nepal on human rights grounds – Thai Examiner


The 78-year-old thief and murderer profited handsomely and lived in luxury off his exploits since he was arrested in India in 1976 even while spending forty-one of the last forty-seven years in jail. In 2008, the then 64-year-old Sobhraj married the twenty-year-old daughter of his Nepalese lawyer while being incarcerated in Kathmandu’s main prison for the 1975 murder of 29-year-old American woman Connie Jo Bronzich for which he has never shown any remorse. 

78-year-old Charles Sobhraj, who waged a murderous reign of terror in Bangkok and Pattaya in the mid-70s for which he never faced justice, was released on Wednesday from a prison in Kathmandu and is being deported to France. The evil killer whose exploits were featured in a 2021 Netflix hit series filmed in Thailand has also, in the last forty-seven years, despite spending forty-one of them imprisoned in India and Nepal, made a fortune out of recalling his evil deeds to the media often in gruesome detail. His release this week by a Kathmandu court was based on protecting his human rights taking into account his ill health and advanced age.

Charles Sobhraj, the serial murderer known internationally as The Serpent or in Thailand as the ‘Bikini Killer’, has been released from prison in Kathmandu on human rights grounds. The 78-year-old, the subject of a hit 2021 Netflix show filmed in Bangkok and Prachuap Khiri Khan in 2020 (inset right bottom) is known to have murdered at least 14 people in Thailand in the mid-70s up to 1976 with his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc (inset right top). It is still unknown what his final tally of murders is but it is far beyond the 20 that he has admitted to.

A court in Nepal has ordered the release of notorious serial killer Charles Sobhraj, whose as yet only partially told killing spree began in Thailand in the 1970s.

The conman and murderer spent nearly twenty years in prison in Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan country formerly the kingdom of Nepal and which became a republic 5 years after Sobhraj was jailed there in 2003.

Charles Sobhraj is a French citizen born in Vietnam when it was a French colony.

The son of Indian tailor Hatchand Sobhraj and Vietnamese mother Tran Loan Phung, he was born in Saigon but the family was abandoned by the Indian man before moving to France.

‘Bikini Killer’ who escaped the clutches of the Royal Thai Police in 1976 is thought to have killed 14 people in Thailand as he ran amok among tourists

He became well known across Asia in the 1970s, first in Thailand as the ‘Bikini Killer’ who murdered an estimated 14 people in the country, but quite likely many more before he was threatened with exposure and arrest by Royal Thai Police after an alert policeman, Lieutenant Colonel Sompol Suthimai, began looking into a pattern of murders in Bangkok and Pattaya while working with Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg to track down the killer.

The campaign was initiated by a series of news articles pushed by the Bangkok Post newspaper in 1976 themed the ‘web of death’.

The story, featured in a highly acclaimed and successful Netflix show broadcast in 2021 which was filmed in Bangkok and Prachuap Khiri Khan in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown and finished off by post-production facilities in the United Kingdom, was watched by tens of millions of viewers worldwide.

Iconic 70s Bangkok comes to life again as the dark story of The Serpent wows world Netflix audiences

The TV series starred Tahar Rahim as Sobhraj, the serial killer and Jenna Coleman as his French lover Marie-Andrée Leclerc.

Life of crime began in Paris in 1963 and continued in Bangkok in the mid-1970s with theft and murder

Sobhraj began his life of crime in Paris in 1963 when he was convicted of burglary and gradually drifted abroad committing crimes in Greece and escaping from prison in Turkey before arriving in Bangkok.

In the Thai capital, he worked closely with an Indian associate named Ajay Chowdhury, and would often ingratiate himself to tourists as an underworld crime figure involved in drugs but always willing to lend a hand to people in distress, in situations nearly always contrived and orchestrated by Sobhraj himself whose speciality appeared to be poisoning his victims before stealing their cash and valuables as well as their passports.

It is not known how many people were murdered by Sobhraj both in Thailand and in Asia on his regular travel circuit which he linked to his cover as a successful gem dealer, but it is thought to be substantially more than the twenty accounted for of which at least fourteen occurred in Thailand, most of the victims being western visitors on what was then known as the ‘hippy trail’ linked to popular drug culture which saw wealthy foreigners seeking enlightenment from eastern culture.

Sobhraj became Thailand’s ‘Bikini Killer’ taking his sobriquet from his first known victim in Pattaya, a young American woman found dead on the beach

The first to become public and which gave Sobhraj his first high-profile identity as the ‘Bikini Killer’ involved the murder of a young American, Teresa Knowlton from Seattle in 1975 whose bikini-clad body was found by police on the beach in Pattaya. 

The murder of the 21-year-old was followed by the murder, also in Pattaya, of Vitali Hakim whose burned and charred body was left on the road to the resort before Sobhraj befriended and poisoned American couple Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker.

The killer had been in the process of nursing the couple back to health in Pattaya to gain their trust when he was forced to murder them by strangulation after the French girlfriend of Mr Hakim, Ms Charmayne Carrou, turned up and threatened to expose him.

He later also incinerated their bodies.

Escape to India where the murder and mayhem went on until he was caught trying to poison a tour group

Forced to flee Thailand where he had once been held for questioning by the Thai police on a forged passport, he left the kingdom as the heat mounted due to the newspaper campaign and the efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Sompol.

He used a forged passport of one of his victims in Thailand to fly to India where he began similar murderous exploits duping people while using poison and violence at times to kill them to avoid exposure or to steal their valuables and identities.

He was finally snared in 1976 in Calcutta when he offered a French tour group of 60 people powerful sleeping pills disguised as antibiotic medication. He planned to steal all their valuables and passports 

However, the ruse backfired when some started to faint and lose consciousness immediately while the others, sensibly, called the police and Sobhraj was jailed for 12 years.

He was later charged and convicted of two murders.

One was a student named Avoni Jacob whose passport and identity he stole. He was also convicted of murdering Jean-Luc Solomon by poisoning his victim.

Grotesque fascination with Sobhraj made him an international media sensation and cult figure known as The Serpent even after he was jailed in India

At this point, the story of Charles Sobhraj and his ability to evade police authorities in the 1970s as he made his dark way across Asia became worldwide news turning the French man of Vietnamese and Indian descent into the cult figure known as The Serpent.

Jailed in a prison in Calcutta, the killer was afforded luxurious conditions bought and paid for by cash from worldwide media exclusives he granted to newspapers and broadcasters from around the world.

At that time, he began to withdraw information relating to select murders that would have opened him up to further legal jeopardy but admitted to at least 20 killings and would give the media their money’s worth by giving graphic accounts and details of his heinous exploits to titillate readers and audiences worldwide.

Nevertheless, Sobhraj managed to escape briefly from his ‘luxury wing’ at his Calcutta Prison and was later apprehended by Indian police in the western state of Goa in 1986.

Charles Sobhraj was finally released from prison in India in 1997 and returned to Paris where his upmarket and luxury lifestyle continued to be funded by his media forays and exclusives.

Return to Nepal and his arrest in 2003

This led him to return to Nepal, one of the countries on his Asian trail in the 1970s and where, unbeknownst to him, a warrant for his arrest existed for the murder of a 29-year-old American woman and former Stanford student Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.

Her body was also found charred and burnt in the capital Kathmandu.

She had been stabbed to death by Sobhraj who invited her back to his luxurious hotel room for a shower after discovering she was staying in rudimentary lodgings.

She was a recovering drug addict whose young husband had died from a drug overdose in the United States.

Identified by a journalist at a casino, he was arrested in Kathmandu that year and later sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime after being found guilty despite Sobhraj’s protestations that he had not even been in Nepal at the time.

He was found to have entered the country with a forged passport of another victim, a Dutchman. 

A later trial in 2014 in respect of 26-year-old Canadian and companion of Ms Connie Jo, Laurent Carrière saw him again handed down another life sentence.

Killer charmed his Nepalese lawyer and his lawyer’s daughter who married him in 2008 while in prison

However, the killer’s charms had also begun to work in his favour in Nepal as he managed to woo and marry the 20-year-old daughter of his lawyer Nihita Biswas, 44 years his junior, in 2008 while incarcerated in prison in the Bhaktapur suburb of Kathmandu.

At the time of his arrest in 2003, his lawyer Pasanta Ram Bhandari was clearly impressed and taken aback by the intelligence of his infamous client who could speak eight languages and expertly quote famous philosophers.

‘He knows every law for this case, murder law, immigration law, he knows everything. He knows more than me,’ Bhandari said. ‘The man is very clever, very cunning. He’s not an average man, he’s something brilliant. If he’d been a scientist, a politician, he’d have done something great.’

Kathmandu court orders Sobhraj’s immediate release on human rights grounds due to illness and old age

On Wednesday, a court in Nepal ruled that Sobhraj should be released if no further criminal charges were pending against him and deported to France within 15 days.

‘Keeping him in the prison continuously is not in line with the prisoner’s human rights,’ the court’s judgement declared. ‘If there are not any other pending cases against him to keep him in the prison, this court orders his release by today and the return to his country within 15 days.’

It is reported that the killer is currently suffering from severe ill health and is understood to be bedridden.

His lawyer Lok Bhakta Rana indicated to reporters that he would be held by the immigration service before he would be quickly deported.

‘He will be deported within 15 days. From the jail, they will send him to the immigration office, which will be a cell. They are processing his deportation and he could go much earlier,’ he explained.

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