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Asia’s most notorious serial killer was charming and ’emanated power’

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Two Australian journalists spent weeks interviewing Asia’s most notorious killer; Charles Sobhraj after his arrest. One said it was impossible not to fall under his spell.

Serial killer Charles Sobhraj would use his charm to lure in unsuspecting victims, a true crime author says.

Then "The Serpent" would strike.

He would drug them, kill them — often by stabbing or strangulation — then he would steal their identity and use it to travel through the well-worn backpacker routes of Asia searching for more victims.

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Charles Sobhraj pictured with his lover and accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc.

Sobhraj, a French national of Indian and Vietnamese descent, preyed on Western tourists looking to get lost along the "hippie trail" in South Asia during the 1970s.

Also known as the "Bikini Killer", he is suspected of murdering anywhere between 12 to 24 people.

As the bodies piled up, Sobhraj and his accomplices Marie-Andree Leclerc and Ajay Chowdhur managed to escape incarceration three times.

But his murder spree caught up to him in 1976.

Teresa Knowlton, 21, was Sobhraj's first known victim.

He was imprisoned in New Delhi after drugging 60 French engineering students at a banquet in the Hotel Vikram.

A year later, journalists Julie Clark and Richard Neville flew to the Indian capital to meet Sobhraj.

The couple spent weeks interviewing the then 33-year-old for a book titled The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj.

Speaking to Today Extra, Ms Clark said Sobhraj "emanated power", even while awaiting trail.

"Charles was just so charming," she said.

"We knew what he'd done, but he hadn't been convicted, so we had a kind of an open mind, but I - I mean, I'm really embarrassed to say I really wanted him to like me.

Julie Clarke first met Sobhraj with her partner Richard Neville at a New Delhi courthouse. She said it was impossible not to be drawn in by the killer.

"He sort of emanated a power, like you know very major movie stars have. They have a kind of a power field around them.

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"And he had a gravitas as though he was some sort of important scholar, and he was a really impressive person.

"I hate to say that."

Charles Sobhraj was arrested in New Dehli in 1976 after drugging dozens of students in a hotel lobby.

Ms Clarke, who travelled the hippie trail herself in 1976, said it was hard not fall under Sobhraj's spell.

"Richard used to visit him every day at the courthouse," she said.

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"They had a little private shed where they were allowed to talk and Richard would tape the interviews, then I would listen to them at night and we'd both type them out.

"I could see Richard was getting to like Charles.

"We thought, we're meant to do this book, and we did become very obsessed with the case."

'The Serpent' is an eight-part limited series.

Sobhraj was sentenced to 20 years behind bars in New Dehli.

When he was released in 1997, he headed back to France after a warrant for his extradition to Thailand had expired.

Sobhraj walked free and returned to France in 1997 after serving 20 years.

In 2003, for reasons that still remain a mystery, Sobhraj returned to Nepal; the only country that had a warrant out for his arrest.

There he was imprisoned to a life sentence for killing American Connie Jo Bronzich and her partner Canadian Laurent Carriere.

Source: 9News

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