Amidst the heyday of the Asian hippy trail of the 1970s lurked the mysterious Charles Sobhraj, who preyed on young unsuspecting travelers coming from the west. Connected to 12 brutal murders and suspected of having committed at least a dozen more, “The Bikini Killer,” as Charles Sobhraj was also known, traveled between Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Malaysia.
He was disguised as a gems dealer and befriended and drugged his victims so he could steal their valuables and passports. He and his accomplices would then travel to neighboring countries using his victims’ passports where they’d find more victims, and so the deadly cycle went on without the authorities even noticing that there was a serial killer on the loose.
It took the brutal deaths of two young Dutch travelers in Bangkok and the dogged investigation of a junior Dutch diplomat into their disappearance that eventually led to the uncovering of Sobhraj’s string of murders across the subcontinent. Still considered one of the most notorious fraudsters and serial killers in the world, having been at the top of Interpol’s most wanted list, Sobhraj has a chilling list of victims. Here, we take a look at the victims (chronologically) who were most likely murdered by “The Serpent.”
Teresa Knowlton, a 21-year-old American citizen from Seattle. was Charles Sobhraj’s first known murder victim and had come to Thailand to explore Buddhist culture and monasteries. She was to travel to Nepal from there. However, in October 1975, she was charmed by Sobhraj and brought to the resort in Pattaya, where he stayed with his accomplices and subsequently drugged. Sources differ on whether she was drugged in the resort or at a bar when she went out with Sobhraj and his accomplice Ajay, but soon after, she was stripped of her clothes, put in a bikini, and taken out to the sea.
5 days later, her body was discovered by a farmer in the Gulf of Thailand, floating face down in a floral bikini. Initially thought to be a swimming accident, it was 2 months before it was revealed that Teresa had been murdered. Sobhraj, when asked about her, said that she was smuggling heroin and that he killed her because of this very reason.
Vitali Hakim and Charmayne Carrou
Sobhraj’s next known victim was Vitali Hakim, a nomadic Sephardic Jew whose burnt body was found on the road leading to the resort in Pattaya. Some days later, his French girlfriend Charmayne Carrou landed up, looking for Vitali. Soon after, Charmayne’s body was found drowned near Pattaya, in a similar bikini to the one Teresa was found in. Charmayne had been drowned. The appearance of these two women in similar bikinis, though not immediately connected, later earned Sobhraj the nickname “The Bikini Killer.”
Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker
29-year-old Henk and 25-year-old Cornelia were a Dutch couple who were engaged and met Sobhraj in Hong Kong, where he supposedly invited them to Thailand. Once they were in Thailand, they were secretly poisoned by the fraudster, and then as he was “helping” them recover, Charmayne, the girlfriend of his previous victim Vitali, showed up. Fearing that they’d be caught, Sobhraj and his second in command, Ajay Chowdhury, quickly hustled the young Dutch couple out and took them away.
Their bodies were found strangled and burnt on December 16, 1975. According to an autopsy report, they had been set alight while still alive. The murders of Henk and Cornelia were partly responsible for Sobhraj getting caught. Their disappearance was investigated by the Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg and his wife Angela, who collected a lot of the preliminary evidence that resulted in Sobhraj getting onto Interpol’s radar.
Connie Bronzich and Laurent Ormond Carrière
Connie Bronzich was a 29-year-old American traveling with her Canadian partner Laurent Ormond Carriere, 26. The two met Sobhraj in Nepal, where he and Marie-Andrée had entered using the passports of the young Dutch couple they had just murdered. Between December 21, 1975, and December 22, 1975, Connie and Laurent were murdered by Sobhraj, and their bodies were found in separate locations, badly charred and with multiple stab wounds.
Connie and her companion were apparently killed over some gemstones that Connie had purchased in India, and sources say that Sobhraj and Leclerc traveled back to Thailand using Laurent and Connie’s passports shortly after killing them. The murders of Connie and Laurent were the crimes that Sobhraj had been officially charged with, receiving one life sentence for each of the murderers. These are the crimes that he is currently doing time for and the ones that could finally be pinned on him after trials that lasted approximately 7 years.
In early 1976, Sobhraj came to India after his French accomplices abandoned him in Bangkok. It is unclear whether it was in Varanasi or Calcutta, but he murdered Israeli student Avoni Jacob and stole his passport, using it to travel to Singapore with Chowdhury and Leclerc. Although the trio was eventually questioned by the authorities, they were consequently released.
Ajay Chowdhury was an Indian citizen from New Delhi and second in command to Sobhraj. The pair committed multiple murders together. However, at some point in 1976 in Malaysia, Ajay was last seen with Sobhraj and was then never seen again. Sources say that they were there to steal gemstones, which Ajay collected, after which the two were seen going into a forest, but only Sobhraj came out.
This theory, however, has been challenged with a reported sighting years later of Chowdhury in West Germany, which remains unverified. There are also suggestions that he might have been hiding out in Nepal all these years instead of coming back to India, where he would be more recognizable. Ajay’s current location and status are still unknown and even the Interpol file on the man remains open.
Once back in India and hiding from the police who were now looking for him in multiple countries, Sobhraj went to Bombay where he recruited Barbara Smith and Mary Ellen Eather, two westerners, as his accomplices. His next victim was a Frenchman, Jean-Luc Solomon, who Sobhraj drugged in a hotel in South Delhi in order to rob him. Allegedly meant to make him unconscious, the drug ended up killing Solomon instead. Charles ended up serving more than 2 decades in Delhi’s famous Tihar Jail for this crime.
Over the years, multiple different accounts (many of them supplied by Sobhraj himself) have emerged about how many people he murdered. His flat in Bangkok, when searched, had revealed many more passports and drivers’ licenses than victims discovered. Sobhraj may have killed at least some of them. He allegedly murdered a Pakistani taxi driver by overdosing him with drugs while on his way from Kabul to Teheran.
There were also victims that Sobhraj didn’t kill, but they were heavily endangered by him nonetheless. One of them was David Allen Gore, an American schoolteacher who was drugged in Hong Kong by Sobhraj, who then stole all his money and passport. Fortunately, Gore survived. When Sobhraj was questioned by the Thai police later, he used Gore’s passport (with his picture forged in it) to prove that he was an American citizen.
Dominique Renelleau was another victim and met Sobhraj and Leclerc in Northern Thailand, where he was drugged and woken up 2 days later in Bangkok. As he recollected in a later interview, he was then given an apartment, where he lived for 3 months, and saw multiple people arriving and disappearing. Realizing he was in danger, he managed to escape with the help of some neighbors and safely returned to France. He now lives in a seaside town in Western France with his wife and grown children and does not like to talk about his time in Thailand, which has undoubtedly had long-lasting effects on him.
Read More: Where is Charles Sobhraj Now?