Charles Sobhraj: How Many Murders Did He Commit in His Life?

Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj Hotchand Bhawnani (born 6 April 1944) is a French serial killer, fraudster, and thief who preyed on Western tourists traversing South Asia's hippie path in the 1970s.

He was dubbed “the Bikini Killer” because several of his victims were dressed in bikinis, as well as “the Splitting Killer” and “the Serpent” because of his “snake-like skill to elude identification by authorities.” Sobhraj is currently being held in Nepal.

Sobhraj is suspected of murdering at least 20 tourists across South and Southeast Asia, including 14 in Thailand. From 1976 to 1997, he was convicted and imprisoned in India. He retired after his release and promoted his notoriety in Paris.

Sobhraj returned to Nepal in 2003, where he was caught, tried, and sentenced to life in prison. He utilized his looks and skill to develop his criminal career and achieve celebrity status.

He was described as “handsome, charismatic, and absolutely without scruple.” He also relished his notoriety. Sobhraj has been the subject of four biographies, three documentaries, an Indian film titled Main Aur Charles, and the BBC/Netflix drama series The Serpent, which will premiere in 2021.

Early Life

Sobhraj was born in Saigon to a Vietnamese father and an Indian mother. His parents were never married, and his father denied being his father. Sobhraj, who was stateless then, was taken in by his mother's new husband, a French Army lieutenant stationed in French Indochina.

Charles Sobhraj

Sobhraj and his family continued to travel between Southeast Asia and France. He felt overlooked in favor of the couple's later children there. He began committing minor crimes as a teenager and received his first prison sentence for burglary in 1963, serving time at Poissy prison near Paris.

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Sobhraj tricked prison officials into allowing him unusual privileges, such as the ability to store books in his cell. He met and endeared himself to Felix d'Escogne, a wealthy young man and jail volunteer, about the same time.

12 Facts About Charles Sobhraj You May Not Have Known

1. Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj is his complete name.

2. Charles Sobhraj was born in Saigon to an Indian mother and a Vietnamese father. His parents later divorced. Thus he spent his youth moving between them.

After his mother married a French Army officer, he was sent to a French boarding school. He attempted at least twice as a child to flee to Saigon from France by sea, making it as far as Djibouti on one occasion.

3. Charles Sobhraj is one of the most renowned serial killers in history, killing anywhere from 12 to 24 individuals throughout South-East Asia during the 1970s and 1980s. Most of them were young travelers from Western countries on the ‘Asian Hippie Trail.'

4. Sobhraj spoke numerous languages, was a charmer and was well-known for his ability with women. His strategy was to befriend his victims and then drug-and-loot or drug-and-kill them. Teresa Knowlton, an American, was discovered dead in a tidal pool in the Gulf of Thailand, and she was his first known murder victim.

Charles Sobhraj

5. He was given several nicknames, including ‘The Serpent' Charles Sobhraj, which was given to him by the press due to his numerous prison escapes. He was also known as the ‘Bikini Killer.' This was because of the similarities in the swimsuits worn by his victims, Teresa Knowlton and Charmayne Carrou when their bodies were discovered.

6. Although Charles Sobhraj had previously been imprisoned for offenses like auto theft and non-payment of bills, the attempted poisoning of French students in Delhi in 1976 proved to be his end.

He was arrested and tried for the crime with two women, Barbara Smith and Mary Ellen Eather. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and could not be transferred to Thailand to face murder accusations.

7. Richard Neville published The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj in 1979. It was based on an extensive taped chat between Sobhraj and Neville. Sobhraj afterward denied telling Neville all he said.

8. He is claimed to have been engaged to two women and had sexual contact with his lawyer, Sneha Senger, during his term in Tihar. But he was planning his escape all along, which he eventually accomplished.

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In a deliberate move, he was apprehended a month after his ‘escape' and imprisoned until 1997. This meant that the 20-year statute of limitations on his sentences in Thailand had expired.

9. Charles Sobhraj has served more than 35 years in prison but has a habit of evading his sentence. It wasn't his first escape from Tihar. He also escaped from earlier prison stints in Afghanistan and Greece. Another time, he pretended to have appendicitis and squirmed his way out of a hospital.

10. After being released from Tihar in 1997, he returned to France and began charging for interviews. He sold the rights to a film on his life.

Charles Sobhraj

11. He would not have been apprehended in Nepal without a journalist who recognized him in Katmandu in 2003. He was charged with the deaths of Connie Jo Bronzich and Laurent Carrière in 1975. When he was arrested, he claimed he had never been to Nepal before and was going to film a TV documentary.

12. Charles Sobhraj was sentenced to prison in Nepal for one murder. The other case is still in the works. During the trial, he became engaged to Nihita Biswas, his lawyer's daughter. The two married while he was incarcerated, though Nepalese authorities dispute this.