The Truth About Killer Charles Sobhraj's Many Nicknames

Charles Sobhraj may have been given a long name at birth (his full name is Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj), but the French thief, scam artist, and serial killer, who spent much of the 1970s committing increasingly heinous crimes, earned a number of nicknames in the press. Throughout France, Southeast Asia, and India, Sobhraj conned the rich out of massive amounts of cash, stole the identities of travelers abroad, and murdered no less than a dozen people — most of them because they caught on to his many schemes.

Because it took authorities quite some time before they could identify the man they were after, one of his earliest nicknames was "The Bikini Killer," because of what his early victims were wearing when their bodies were discovered, per The Sun. The first murder took place in 1975, when Sobhraj drowned Teresa Knowlton, a 21-year-old woman from Seattle. Her body was found in a tidal pool in the Gulf of Thailand in a flowered bikini, but it was months after her drowning that authorities learned her death wasn't an accident. Sobhraj set the same stage with Charmayne Carrou when she arrived in Thailand to find out what happened to her boyfriend after he disappeared while in Sobhraj's company. She, too, was found in her bikini, having drowned to death, according to Esquire.

Charles Sobhraj was named 'The Serpent' for a good reason

Before long, Sobhraj was called "The Splitting Killer" and "The Serpent" for the same reason: He was able to stay one step ahead of authorities, and slither his way out of their grasp, even when they had him. Before Sobhraj became a serial killer, he had already escaped from jail multiple times in Afghanistan and Greece by feigning illness, drugging the hospital guard, and slipping away without being caught.

Sobhraj's ability to escape from prison probably saved his life. By 1976, Sobhraj had relocated to Delhi, where, according to the Los Angeles Times, he attempted to drug a group of French students so he and his band of thieves could rob them of their cash and passports. For that, he was sentenced to several years in an Indian prison, which meant he couldn't be extradited to Thailand, where he was to face murder charges. While in the Tihar prison, Sobhraj lived a life of luxury, including gourmet meals and a television in his cell, according to the New Indian Express.

Charles Sobhraj escapes a death sentence

As Sobhraj's sentence was due to end, the Thai arrest warrant would have still been valid, making his extradition and execution nearly certain. So, in 1986, to "commemorate" his 10 years in prison, Sobhraj threw a big party for his guards and fellow inmates, drugged them with sleeping pills, and walked out of the prison, as India Today reported at the time. Police captured him, and his prison term was extended by 10 years — just long enough to evade a death sentence in Thailand.

On February 17, 1997, at 52 years old, Sobhraj was released with most warrants expired, evidence missing, and witnesses unwilling to now testify. With no country seeking extradition, Indian authorities allowed him to return to France, where he lived as something of a celebrity, even selling the rights to his life story for a reported $15 million, the BBC reported in 2004.

That wasn't the end for Sobhraj, however. In an act of hubris, Sobhraj returned to Nepal in 2003, where he was arrested, tried, and received a life sentence, after being recognized by a journalist, per the Independent. Thus far, the now-76-year-old has not been able to escape.

On April 2, Netflix will begin to stream BBC One's eight-part dramatization of Sobhraj's story, titled The Serpent.