Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Sobhraj

Tihar Prison

Main entrance of Tihar Prison outside New Delhi
Main entrance of Tihar Prison outside New Delhi

For Marie and the two women, the deepest circle of Hell would have been better than Tihar Prison. Classified as murderers awaiting trial, their food consisted of bread and water with whatever else they could buy. The water came out of a standpipe in their cells once a day and if they weren't ready for it, they could wait for tomorrow's ration. Rats and insects knew no fear in Tihar Prison, as the convicts were usually too weak to put up much of a fight, so rodents ran brazenly through the bars of the cells. As for toilet facilities, those consisted of a hole in the corner of the cell. Marie's cellmate was a young Malaysian girl who had been arrested and then forgotten and who was slowly going insane.

But Charles wasn't bothered in the least. He knew how things worked in India and concealed in his body were more than 70 carats of precious gems. While his new home wasn't as comfortable as his apartment in Bangkok, it would do until he decided it was time to move on. Charles had no fear of being left to rot in Tihar; he knew eventually, he would buy his way out.

Times were tough in India during the mid-1970s. Indira Gandhi ruled with an iron fist through martial law, and conditions were harsh. The judicial system was clogged with political prisoners and criminals alike. As a result, nearly two years passed from the time that Charles Sobhraj and his clan were arrested before he and Marie went on trial. In the intervening months, Mary Ellen and Barbara had each tried to kill themselves out of despair. Charles, of course, was fine.

Charles Sobhraj's trial is worthy of a story in itself. It featured the return of Andre Darreau, who, having been granted early parole by the Turks, unbelievably traveled to India at Charles' request to help him escape. There was a mid-trial appeal to the Indian Supreme Court and a witness (Mary Ellen) recanting her statement of seeing Charles drug Jean-Luc. Sobhraj hired and fired lawyers at will and toward the end of the trial went on a hunger strike to protest the inhuman conditions at Tihar. He ended up defending himself.

The judge, however, was unimpressed with the theatrics and found Charles guilty of administering drugs with intent to rob, causing hurt to commit robbery and the Indian equivalent to manslaughter -- culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Marie was found not guilty, but was returned to Tihar to await trial in the poisoning of the French graduate students. She would eventually serve some time for that crime and be released on mercy parole when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died at home in Canada, professing her love for the man who had ruined her life.

Charles faced the death penalty, and the prosecution argued strenuously for just that. It was well-known that he had killed many besides Jean-Luc Solomon, and that he undoubtedly would kill again. But Charles argued that time served in Tihar was punishment enough.

Did Charles manage to buy off the judge? That isn't known, but it is certainly a possibility. Around the world, law enforcement officials were astounded when the judge sentenced Charles Sobhraj to seven years in prison. The Serpent had emerged victorious once again.

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