NEW DELHI: It was in 1986 that Charles Sobhraj scripted his great escape from Tihar by offering drug-laced sweets to prison staff on the pretext of celebrating his birthday.
As Sobhraj is expected to walk out of prison soon with Nepal’s Supreme Court ordering his release, officials who had interacted with him recalled him as a heartless and ruthless person in the guise of a charmer, who could woo women with his personality.
Former Tihar Jail law officer Sunil Gupta said Sobhraj was someone, who would make special efforts to dress up, when he had to meet women advocates but was rather casual in his attire when he had a meeting with their male counterparts.
“Sobhraj, who is also known as the bikini killer, had a natural inclination towards women. Whenever he was supposed to meet any female guest, be it a lawyer or anybody else, he used to make extra effort to dress up properly, apply perfume and look handsome,” Gupta told PTI.
The former Tihar Jail official said he had never seen Sobhraj ‘being so attentive’ towards male guests.
“He used to be rather casual in meeting men but extremely particular while encountering women to impress them. In fact, he preferred to interact with female lawyers more than the male ones. In those days since there were no limitations on the number of guests, all sorts of people used to come and meet him during the day,” he added.
Sobhraj was brought to Tihar Jail in 1976 and was lodged there till 1996 before being extradited to France. He scripted his great escape in March 1986, only to be caught after 22 days by Delhi Police.
At the time of his escape, he was lodged in Central Jail number 3 of Tihar and planned his meticulous escape with his friend David Richard Hall. Some other prisoners also escaped from Tihar that day, thanks to the plan hatched by Sobhraj.
Recalling the episode, Gupta said what he (Sobhraj) did was he told the jail staff that he was celebrating his birthday. In those times, since cooking was allowed inside the jail, he got sweets prepared for his birthday.
“With the help of his friend David Hall, he managed to get a drug called Larpose and got it mixed with burfi in heavy doses. The sweets laced with the drug were distributed to jail staff and security guards, specially those who were guarding the front entrance. He also distributed Rs. 50 each with a piece of sweet,” Gupta said.
After putting his plan into action, he went to the office of the gatekeeper, who had also fallen unconscious, and took away the keys from his waist and opened the gates and escaped with some other inmates.
Later, one of the staff members who was also drugged but was partially conscious took an autorickshaw and reached the residence of Deputy Superintendent of Jail and asked him to come to the jail soon.
After being brought to jail following his arrest, he had claimed that he was abducted by security agencies who wanted to extract information from him and had not fled from jail, Gupta added.
Amod Kanth, founder of Prayas NGO, was then the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime), was tasked with investigating the case, that had led to a huge furore, nationally and internationally. At that time, the Hong Kong-based Asiaweek wrote the hhad written about the escape as “Dr No. Goldfinger, Professor Moriarty, move over: Charles Sobhraj has you beat.”
The retired officer said he had a very deep association with Sobhraj, who he said, was neither a ‘psychopath’ nor like the person projected in the public limelight.
“He was a crook, a confident trickster and a cheat,” he said.
Decoding the person that Sobhraj was, Kanth said that he always targeted those who were close to him.
“That was his modus operandi. He used to drug them. He became very close to his victims and unfortunately women fell prey to him. He drugged them, made them unconscious, then robbed them and many a times managed to kill them,” he said.
Terming Sobhraj as ‘a heartless and ruthless character’ who sometimes pretended to be spiritual, intellectual, soft gentleman, the officer said he took full advantage of having mixed parentage. He was the son of an Indian businessman and a Vitenamee shop assistant and was apparently born out of wedlock with his father never accepting him.
“After escaping from Tihar, he fled to Mumbai. Hall, a UK national who was arrested in a case of drugs, was indebted to Sobhraj as he had got Hall released based on false medical papers. A popular businessman Rajender Sethi was also well connected to Sobhraj as he was also dealing with his case in UK and wanted Sobhraj’s help,” he said.
The conspiracy was hatched by the trio in a systematic way with Sobhraj holding complete control of jail authorities.
“He always behaved as an idle prisoner if one may call him so. In 1986, they planned to organise a fest and they held it for a couple of weeks before the D-day to gain the confidence of the jail staff and guards,” he said.
During investigation, Kanth found that on March 16, 1986, Sobhraj, whose birthday falls on April 6, threw a lavish party and pretended it was his birthday.
“Hall managed to get thousands of tablets of Larpose that were mixed in custard and barfi served to the jail staff in the afternoon. It was around 3-3:30 pm when the incident took place,” he added.
Talking about Sobhraj’s arrest, he said that they received inputs that he was in Mumbai where he was staying opposite to a hotel in Church Gate.
“We managed to get in touch with Mumbai Police and based on our inputs, both teams of Mumbai police as well as our team from Delhi Police were sent to Goa from where he was held from a restaurant. He was tried and convicted in the case,” he said.
Interestingly, that Goa restaurant, still has Sobhraj’s statue, and has gained an iconic status among visitors, who click selfies with the statue.
Sobhraj was serving a life-term in Kathmandu jail since 2003 for the murder of American woman Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975 in Nepal. In 2014, he was convicted of killing Laurent Carriere, a Canadian backpacker, and given a second life sentence. A life-term in Nepal means 20 years in jail.