Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Sobhraj

India

Charles and Chantal integrated into expatriate French society on the subcontinent. Charles, the highly personable and intelligent psychopath, was quickly accepted by some of the highest-ranking French citizens in India and Chantal, an attractive and personable young woman with an adorable baby was just as welcome at the women's teas and parties.

This early in their marriage, Chantal was still blissfully unaware of her husband's thieving ways. He would talk to her about his "business," and on more than one occasion she would act as unwitting accomplice to his schemes, but for a stretch of several months he operated successfully without police interference.

During much of 1970, Sobhraj operated a stolen car brokerage operation, obtaining hard-to-find American and European autos for homesick Frenchmen and wealthy Indians with a passion for Western cars.

Charles would either steal the cars or fence stolen cars in Pakistan or Iran then bring them over the border to India, greasing the palms of greedy Indian border guards who were willing to overlook the lack of import paperwork. He would gain legitimate title to the vehicles by turning them in as stolen and buying them back at auction. Then he would sell them to grateful friends at great profit.

His business put him on the road much of 1970 and 1971, leaving a lonely and homesick Chantal in Bombay often wondering where Charles had gone.  To appease her, he brought her back beautiful jewelry from God knows where..

Charles' only weakness seemed to be compulsive gambling, and this disease would result in his second serious run-in with the law and ultimately his downfall.

Charles lost lots of money at the Macao casino, prompting a liquidation of the jewels he gave to Chantal. Pawning the jewelry was insufficient to pay his gambling debts, literally putting his life at risk from casino collectors who are much more ruthless than their American and European counterparts.

Luckily, Charles was introduced to a Frenchman who had a plan to obtain enough money for Charles to pay off his debts, but also to live quite comfortably for some time.

The jewel store robbery was doomed from the start. Breaking into a hotel room above a store in the swank Hotel Ashoka in Delhi, India, Charles and his crew intended to drill through the hotel floor and drop down into the store during the night. But after three days of drilling with little progress it was clear the plan would fail.

The criminals then lured the owner of the store, blissfully unaware of the drilling going on above his head, up to the room on the premise of meeting a rich client. Sobhraj obtained the keys to the store at gunpoint and proceeded to empty the cases.

Fleeing to the Delhi airport with a bagful of stolen gems, Charles was forced to abandon his loot at customs when the store owner escaped his bonds and notified police, who sealed off the airport. Charles left $10,000 in cash and even more in jewels as he returned empty-handed to Bombay.

Bombay was too appealing to a thief like Charles. Besides, Chantal and the baby were still there so he again took up his car theft scam. Shortly after returning to Bombay he was pulled over by police in a stolen vehicle and based on eyewitness identification, he was arrested for the attempted jewel robbery at the hotel. He was taken to Bombay's prison, Tihar, and from there he staged the first of his dramatic prison escapes.

Pretending to have a bleeding ulcer, Charles was taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed as having appendicitis, even though there was nothing wrong with him. Recovering from a needless surgery, Charles convinced Chantal to help him escape from the hospital by drugging his guard. Chantal crawled under the covers in Charles' bed and took a dose of chloroform herself to allay suspicions that she had conspired to help her husband escape.

He was recaptured shortly after, and both Chantal, whose unconsciousness had failed to convince police of her "innocence," and Charles were taken into custody. Chantal was released shortly after on bail. Eventually Charles was able to post bail with money borrowed from his father in Saigon and they fled India.

 

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