A French serial killer known by the nickname “The Serpent” has been released from a prison in Nepal. He was found guilty of several crimes committed against Western tourists in Asia in the 1970s.
Charles Sobhraj, 78, was released after the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled that this was due to the success of his legal team in petitioning for a reduction in the sentence due to his age and good behaviour.
Sobhraj had spent 19 years in prison in Nepal for killing two tourists, one American and the other Canadian, in 1975.
Who is Charles Sobrage?
Charles Gormukh Subraj was born on April 6, 1944, in Saigon, Vietnam, at a time when the Japanese army had wrested control of the country from the French. His Vietnamese mother was an unmarried shop girl and his father, an Indian merchant from Mumbai, denied paternity and deserted the family shortly after Subraj’s birth.
Sobraj adopted his mother’s new friend, a lieutenant in the French army stationed in Saigon, and he later married her, and the family moved to Marseille, France, which he obtained its citizenship.
His childhood was unstable, as the family moved constantly between France and Indochina, and he never felt comfortable anywhere.
Since his childhood, problems began to appear in his personality, especially lack of discipline. By his teens, he turned to petty crime, which quickly spiraled out of control.
His father’s refusal to acknowledge him aroused great resentment and bitterness in little Subraj, who wrote in his diary: “You will regret that you did not fulfill your duties as a father.” That was a correct prediction and was terrifyingly realized.
He was nicknamed “The Snake” due to his talent for disguising himself and his ability to escape from prison, and “The Bikini Killer” due to his connection to two murders involving two young women who wore bikinis.
Since 1963 Subraj has been in and out of jail for committing a variety of crimes, including armed robbery and carjacking. He has served time in the army in France, India and Afghanistan.
Then he turned to murder, his style always the same. He took advantage of the new global drug culture to befriend young French- or English-speaking tourists and then kill them.
Sobhraj has been linked to a series of murders of tourists in the 1970s in India, Thailand, Nepal, Turkey and Iran.
Between 1972 and 1982, he was involved in more than 20 killings in which victims were drugged and then strangled, beaten or burned. Most of his victims were young Westerners who were roaming in India and Thailand.
His life was the focus of the events of the series “The Snake”, which was produced by BBC and Netflix in 2020.
His first major fall came in July 1976 after he tried to drug a group of French tourists in New Delhi. When the narcotic pills affected some faster than others, three of his victims had enough time to attack him and alert the authorities.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and he lived a luxurious life in his prison while bribing many guards.
His capacity for violence is said to be matched only by his ability to escape from prison.
In 1971, he escaped from prison in India by feigning appendicitis and escaping from the hospital.
But he was arrested in 1976 after trying to drug French tourists, but 10 years later he staged a more daring escape, this time by throwing his birthday party to which guards and prisoners alike were invited.
Grapes and biscuits which were secretly served to the guests were injected with sleeping pills, infecting everyone except Sobraj and 4 others who escaped with him.
Indian newspapers reported that they were so arrogant about their escape that they filmed themselves walking through the prison gates on the streets of Delhi.
During his escape, he behaved more like a vacationing student than a desperate prisoner willing to stop at nothing to escape justice, drinking openly in taverns, and in one of them, offering an Italian pistol to those who were drinking beer in that tavern.
He later said that he did not want to escape, but wanted to avoid extradition to Thailand, where he faces the death penalty for 5 murders he committed there, so he managed his escape in this way so that the sentence against him would be extended and he would remain in his prison in India.
His plan succeeded, and when he was arrested, his sentence was extended for a period of 10 years, ensuring that the death penalty in Thailand falls by the statute of limitations, which falls after 20 years.
He was released in 1997 and returned to France, where he lived a comfortable life. In 2003 he moved to Nepal, and soon he was arrested on charges of traveling with a fake passport and murder. As in other cases against him, he denied the charges against him.
But the police said they had a “bag full” of evidence against him. He was sentenced to life imprisonment the following year for killing Canadian Laurent Carrier and American Connie Jo Brunsich in 1975.
After the verdict was announced, Subraj told reporters in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, that he would appeal the verdict. His appeal was rejected.
In 2004, his biographer, Australian writer Richard Neville, said Sobhraj had confessed to him of a number of murders. Later Subraj denied it.
He has one daughter, Usha Subraj, who was born in the early 1970s in Mumbai, India. In 1973, her father fled with her and her mother, Chantal Compagnon, to Afghanistan. The family was seized at the Afghan-Iranian border and imprisoned in Kabul, while Usha was sent to her maternal grandparents in France.
In Kabul, he drugged his guards and fled to Paris, where he drugged his mother-in-law and kidnapped his little girl, but he was soon imprisoned again to be sent again to her maternal grandfather. At that time, her mother, Chantal Compagnon, was released from her prison in Kabul, so she returned to France and obtained a court ruling of custody of her daughter, and they moved to the United States to keep her away from her father.
In 2008, while in prison, he married Nehita Biswas, a Nepalese woman 44 years his junior and the daughter of his lawyer.
Subraj was serving two life sentences, each of 20 years, in Nepal’s capital for the murders of an American woman, Connie Jo Brunsich, and a Canadian woman, Laurent Carrier. He was convicted in two separate trials, the latest in 2014 when he was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum security prison for Carrier’s murder.
But Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered Subraj’s release on Wednesday after his legal team successfully petitioned for a reduction in his sentence due to his age and good behaviour.
A provision in Nepali law allows prisoners who have shown good behavior and who have served 75 percent of their time to be released.
Agence France-Presse said that the verdict stipulated that “keeping him in prison on a continuous basis is not in line with the human rights of the prisoner,” and regular treatment for heart disease was cited as another factor in his release.