Charles Sobhraj: The True Story of The Bikini Killer

Who is Charles Sobhraj?

Charles Sobhraj is a notorious French serial killer and con artist who operated in South Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. He was born on April 6, 1944, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and grew up in France.

Sobhraj targeted young, Western tourists in South Asia and used his charm and cunning to gain their trust before stealing from them or harming them. He was involved in other criminal activities, including drug trafficking and counterfeiting, and was known for using multiple identities and false passports.

He was nicknamed “The Bikini Killer” and “The Serpent.”

Charles Sobhraj biography

Charles Sobhraj remains one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century, and his crimes have been the subject of numerous books, articles, and TV shows. He is known for his cunning and ability to manipulate those around him, and his crimes continue to captivate people worldwide.

Early Life of bikini killer

Charles Sobhraj was born on April 6, 1944, to an Indian father, Sobhraj Bawani, and a Vietnamese mother in Saigon, Vietnam. Tran Loang Phun. His full name is Hotchand Bhawnani Gurmukh Sobhraj.

Sobhraj’s mother was a shopkeeper, and his father was a businessman in Vietnam on a business tour. His parents were in a live-in relationship but were never married. Soon their love life hit rock bottom, and his father, Bawani, decided to return to India when Charles was still four years old.

A French Army lieutenant posted in Vietnam meets Charles’s mother after Bawawi. At that time, Vietnam was a French colony. Soon Lung Foon married him and moved to France. As a child, Charles never emotionally bonded with his family because of his father, who abandoned him, and his mother and stepfather, who were more affectionate towards his half-brother.

I will make you regret that you have missed your father’s duty writes the young Sobhraj in his diary.

Related: The story of imposter and killer Christopher Karl Gerhartsreiter

He would travel back and forth between Southeast Asia and France with the family. 

Charles Sobhraj childhood photo
Charles Sobhraj childhood photo

Soon, Charles Sobhraj started committing petty crimes. In 1963 he received his first custodial sentence for burglary. He was sent to the Poissy Prison near Paris, which proved to be a playground for him to hone his manipulation skills. He manipulated prison officials to gain special favors, including keeping books in his cell. It is where he met and befriended Felix d’Escogne, who was a wealthy young man working for an NGO that helps prisoner rehabilitation. After he was released on parole, Sobhraj moved in with Felix, who opened the door to Paris’s high societies and the underworld.

Sobhraj is back in his game, scamming people and stealing riches. During this time, he fell in love with a Persian woman from a conservative family, Chantal Compagnon. Unfortunately, the day he proposed to her for marriage was the day police arrested him for driving a stolen car and trying to evade the police. Charles Sobhraj was sentenced to eight months in jail.

After being released from jail, Chantal marries him. It is not long before the Bikini Killer returns to his trickery, stealing cars and scamming people; as a result, the French Police have him in their sights. The Sobhraj couple decided to flee France forever, fearing an imminent arrest. 

Chantal Compagnon
Chantal Compagnon

In 1970 Sobhraj took a car from Felix, stashed all his money in it, and drove to the neighboring country in Eastern Europe to travel to India. It was the beginning of the new chapter in his crime saga. Charles befriended and began robbing western tourists on the “hippie trail” from Europe to Southeast Asia. But, so far, there are no records of murder victims.

Finally, they arrived in Mumbai, India, for the first time, where his wife gave birth to a daughter, Usha. 

Back to his old habit, Charles is stealing cars and smuggling. Over time, his nexus grows, giving him access to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for stealing expensive cars, weapons, and drugs. His ability to speak multiple languages fluently was one of his most valuable skills.

In 1973, Charles Sobhraj needed money, so he picked a jewelry shop at the Ashok Hotel as the next target in New Delhi, India. He stays in the hotel and loots the shop at night. After which, they rush to the airport to go back to Mumbai. However, Customs officers became suspicious of his luggage and asked him to open his bag. The airport officers discovered a lot of jewelry and cash, which they suspected was the loot. Sobhraj attempts to flee, but it is too late for him. The police nab him and send him to Tihar Jail, one of the high-security prisons in India.

He again tries to escape by faking illness. The police take him to the hospital for treatment, where he successfully escapes from the hospital after a blackout during the load-shedding. Charles Sobhraj’s freedom was short-lived, and the Indian police captured him again shortly thereafter.

Sobhraj borrows money from his father for his bail. Soon after, he flees to Kabul, where he starts conning the tourists on the hippie trail. The Afghan police catch him. Again, he uses his old tactics of faking illness and drugging the hospital guards to escape successfully. The couple flees to Iran this time, but Chantal is tired of the chase. She returns to France with the daughter, vowing never to see him.

For the next two years, Charles Sobhraj was on the run again, traveling around Eastern Europe and the Middle East with the help of 10 stolen passports. His half-brother, Andre, joins his venter in Istanbul and becomes a partner in crime in Turkey and Greece. Both brothers were caught in Athens and imprisoned. After a few days, the Bikini Killer again escapes from prison, but Andre doesn’t succeed. His younger brother was later handed over to Turkey police, where he served 18 years in prison.

He escapes to Thailand and becomes a drug dealer to finance his lifestyle. Additionally, he poses as a gem salesman to impress and befriend foreign tourists. It is in Thailand he hatches a plan to create a gang. 

Nicknames of Charles Sobhraj

Charles Sobhraj was given several nicknames throughout his criminal career, including “The Serpent” and “The Bikini Killer.”

“The Serpent” was a reference to Sobhraj’s cunning and devious nature and his ability to escape from authorities and evade capture for many years. This nickname reflects the dangerous and unpredictable nature of Sobhraj’s crimes and his ability to manipulate those around him.

“The Bikini Killer” referred to the type of victims that Sobhraj targeted, typically young who were young woman tourists traveling in South Asia. They were found dead in bikinis.

Modus Operandi of Charles Sobhraj

Charles Sobhraj’s modus operandi, or method of operating, involved targeting young, Western tourists in South Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. He used his charm and cunning to gain their trust and then steal from them or harm them.

Sobhraj would often pose as a tour guide or travel agent, using his knowledge of local languages and customs to win over his victims. Additionally, he will create difficult scenarios and rescue the victims to win the trust.

He would then drug them, steal their money and valuables, and in some cases, kill them. He was also known to use multiple identities and false passports, making it difficult for the police to track him.

In addition, Sobhraj’s criminal activities included drug trafficking and counterfeiting. 

Overall, Charles Sobhraj’s modus operandi was characterized by his cunning and charisma and his willingness to use violence and deceit to achieve his goals. 

Accomplices of Charles Sobhraj

Marie-Andreé Leclerc

Marie-Andreé Leclerc

Marie-Andrée Leclerc was born in Quebec, Canada, and grew up in a middle-class family. She was a well-educated woman fluent in several languages, including French, English, and Spanish. Despite her upbringing and education, she was drawn to the excitement and adventure of life on the road and began traveling extensively throughout Europe and Asia.

In 1976, Leclerc met Charles Sobhraj in New Delhi, India, and became his lover and first accomplice. She assisted him in his criminal activities, including the drugging and theft of his victims, and was also implicated in several of the murders he committed.

Marie-Andrée Leclerc was eventually arrested in India and sentenced to life in prison. However, she was released after serving ten years. After her release, she returned to Canada and disappeared from public view. She died of ovarian cancer in April 1984 at the age of 38.

Ajay Chowdhury

Ajay Chowdhury
Ajay Chowdhury

Another accomplice of the Bikini Killer was Ajay Chowdhury, an Indian man who met him for the first time in New Delhi in 1975 at a park in New Delhi. The flamboyant lifestyle of Sobhraj attracted him. 

Before joining Sobhraj’s entourage, he was a small-time criminal, but later he assisted him in the theft and murder of tourists in South Asia in the 1970s. One of them was the stabbing and burning of American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich and Canadian tourist Laurent Carriere in Nepal. Among the many murders to come, it was his first.

There is little to no information on Chowdhury, but there are speculations. 

It is said that Ajay and Charles were last spotted in the Malaysian Jungle, where they went to seal the gems. However, only Sobhraj was seen leaving it. However, the police never found Ajay’s body, and the Bikini Killer categorically denies the claim. Now, another speculation is that Chowdhury was spotted in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1976, after which he has completely gone underground.

He is wanted for robberies, murders, thefts, and burning of the victims’ bodies in Kathmandu.

Barbara Sheryl Smith

Barbara Sheryl Smith

Barbara was a Brit from Hampshire, England however; she was born in Karachi in 1956. Her father was working for the Pakistani company Aeroradio. She was only 22 when she left for India to escape the economic gloom of 1970s Britain. Smith was attracted to the hippie lifestyle.

Smith met the Bikini Killer in the summer of 1976 in Mumbai and fell for his charm. Sobhraj used her as bait to lure a young French man in India.

Interestingly, Barbara was the one that was crucial in pinning down the Bikini Killer and ending his 13-year killing spree. She agreed to work with the prosecutors and gave overwhelming evidence.

Barbara returned to the UK in 1978. She is approximately 66 years old now.

Mary Ellen Eather

Mary Ellen Eather
Mary Ellen Eather

Mary Ellen Eather was an Australian nurse who was another accomplice of the Sobhraj. She was also used as bait to lure young tourists. Eather was jailed for three years in prison in India. 

On February 4, 1980, she was returned home after serving a sentence accompanied by Commonwealth Police.

Victims of Charles Sobhraj

Newspaper edition publishing about the death of Charles Sobhraj victim

Teresa Knowlton

The first known victim was 21-year-old Teresa Knowlton from Seattle. She was traveling from Bangkok to Nepal. She was heading to Kathmandu to study Tibetan Buddhism at Kopan Monastery. 

Teresa Knowlton
Teresa Knowlton

Sobhraj introduced him to her as a tourist guide. She was last seen with him going to Pattaya Beach. Her body was discovered by a farmer floating in the Gulf of Thailand on October 18, 1975, in a flowered bikini.

Sobhraj, in his confession, said, “I killed her because she was transporting drugs.”

Vitali Hakim and Charmayne Carrou

Vitali Hakim
Vitali Hakim

Vitali Hakim was a Turkish guy whose burnt body was found on the road to the Pattaya resort. Hakim’s girlfriend flew to Thailand to investigate his disappearance. Her name was Charmayne Carrou.

Soon, her body was found drowned wearing a similar-styled swimsuit like that of Teresa Knowlton.

Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker

Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker who were killed by Charles Sobhraj
Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker, who Charles Sobhraj killed

Henk Bintanja was a Dutch student in Hong Kong with his fiancée Cornelia Hemker, where they met Charles Sobhraj. The bikini killer invited them to Thailand, which they couldn’t resist.

When the dutch couple visited Thailand, Sobhraj poisoned them and then nursed them back to health. 

While they were recovering, Charmayne arrived in Thailand, as mentioned earlier, to investigate her boyfriend’s disappearance. 

Fearing he would get caught, Sobhraj and Chowdhury hustled them out. Their body was found strangled and burned on December 16, 1975.

Henk Bintanja was, 29, and Cornelia Hemker, 25..

Laurent Carrière and Connie Jo Bronzich

Photos of Canadian and American tourists who were murdered by Charles Sobhraj
Connie Bronzich and Laurent Ormond Carriere

After killing the Dutch tourist, Sobhraj and Leclerc headed to Nepal with their victim’s passports. In Nepal, they met Laurent Carrière, a Canadian who was 26 years old, and Connie Jo Bronzich, from America of 29 years. After befriending these backpackers, he murdered them. Their burned bodies were found on December 22, 1975. 

The bodies of both were misidentified as Laddie DuParr and Annabella Tremont. The Nepal Police arrested Sobhraj to question him for the murder; however, the police later released him because of a lack of evidence. 

They did not wait in Nepal anymore; they returned to Thailand using Carriere and Bronzich’s passports. 

Yannick, Jacques and Rennelleau

dominique renelleau
Dominique Renelleau

Yannick and Jacques were two former French policemen Sobhraj helped recover missing passports. Dominique Rennellau was a Frenchman to whom he gave shelter.

But in reality, they fell prey to the con artist’s scheme, which we will tell later in this video. 

They grew suspicious of Sobhraj when they found multiple passports belonging to the victims in the resort where they were all staying. So they notified the local authorities and then fled to Paris. 

Luckily this time, no one was killed. Due to the fact that two of the victims were former police officers, they were probably alert and out of harm’s way.

Avoni Jacob

To avoid arrest, Sobhraj flees to Calcutta, India. There Sobhraj meets an Israeli student Avoni Jacob. He murders Jacob for his passport, which he needs for traveling and running his con.

The trio travels to Singapore, India, then returns to Bangkok, even though they know the police are looking for him. Soon he was arrested, but again the Thai Police released him after questioning. 

Jean-Luc Solomon 

The next victim of the serial killer was Jean-Luc Solomon, who was a french tourist. Sobhraj uses Barbara and Mary as bait to lure him. Soloman died accidentally due to an overdose meant to incapacitate him so that Charles and his accomplices could rob him.

French Post Graduate Student tourist group

In July 1976, in New Delhi, the serial killer and his female gang tricked a tour group of French post-graduate students into accepting them as tour guides. 

The bikini killer tricked them into consuming pills laced with poison, convincing them that it was an anti-dysentery medicine that was meant for them to lose consciousness.

However, things didnt go as planned. All but three quickly collapsed. The three who had a bit of consciousness realized what was going on. They quickly overpowered Sobhraj and contacted the police leading to his capture.

Imprisonment of Charles Sobhraj

Twenty-two years sentences in India

Charles Sobhraj arrested by Indian Police
Charles Sobhraj arrested by Indian Police

After Charles and his accomplices were arrested, Barbara and Mary confessed to the murder of Jean-Luc Solomon. Based on the evidence by the two, Sobhraj was sentenced to 12 years in jail. 

Even inside the jail, he lived a luxurious life by befriending guards and prisoners and bribing them. He had television and gourmet foods. It is said that his sentence in India ended before the 20-year Thai statute of limitations. It meant his extradition to Thailand, where he would face a certain death sentence.

In March 1986, after completing his tenth year in prison, Sobhraj threw a big party for his guards and inmates, drugged them with sleeping pills, and walked out of prison. Twenty days later, he was caught in Goa and sentenced to 10 years more in prison which was his overall plan to escape the extradition.

He was set free from prison on February 17, 1997.

Life Imprisonment in Nepal

Charles Sobhraj with Nepal police
Charles Sobhraj with Nepal police

Charles Sobhraj returns to Paris. After his return, he became highly interested in western media. He charged a lot of money for interviews and photographs, including the rights to a film based on his life, for over USD 15 million.

This time his over-confidence was the reason for his downfall. In 2003, Sobhraj returned to Nepal to allegedly set up a mineral water business. Interestingly it was a country where he was still wanted for the murder of a Canadian and an American tourist.

In 2003, a reporter named Joseph Nathan of The Himalayan Times spotted him in a Kathmandu casino. After following him for two weeks, Nathan wrote a news report with photographs of Sobhraj. The Nepal police raided the casino and arrested the Bikini Killer.

 On August 20, 2004, Sobhraj was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Kathmandu district court for the murder of the American citizen Connie Jo Bronzich.

Even in prison, he married a Nepali woman, Nihita Biswas, on October 9, 2008. She was his Indian Nepali interpreter. With the help of his Nepalese wife, he appealed to various courts in Nepal, but all upheld the initial sentence. 

Later on September 18, 2014, he was again convicted by the Bhaktapur district court for the murder of Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In 2018, Charles went through several open-heart surgeries. Because of his health condition on December 21, 2022, the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered his release. Additionally, the court ordered him to leave Nepal within 15 days on December 23, 2022.

Dutch diplomat that ended the reign of Charles Sobhraj

Herman Knippenberg and Angela Kane

Angela and Herman Knippenberg
Angela and Herman Knippenberg

Herman Knippenberg and his wife, Angela Kane, were two individuals who played important roles in the investigation and prosecution of Charles Sobhraj.

Knippenberg was a Dutch diplomat working at the Netherlands Embassy in Thailand in the 1970s. He became involved in investigating Sobhraj’s crimes after the Dutch students Henk Bintanja and his fiancée Cornelia Hemker went missing in the region. He discovered that Sobhraj was a suspect in their disappearance.

Herman Knippenberg was determined to bring Sobhraj to justice and spent years working to gather evidence and build a case against him. Despite facing obstacles and opposition, he eventually provided the evidence necessary to have Sobhraj arrested and brought to trial.

Angela Kanem, his wife, is a former German diplomat who worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the 1970s. She investigated Sobhraj’s crimes after she became aware of Knippenberg’s efforts to bring him to justice. Kane provided important support to Knippenberg and helped to raise awareness of Sobhraj’s crimes, eventually leading to his arrest and prosecution.

Overall, Knippenberg and Kane were instrumental in bringing Charles Sobhraj to justice and bringing attention to his crimes. They demonstrated tenacity and determination in the face of opposition, and their efforts helped to ensure that Sobhraj was held accountable for his actions.

Similar Posts