Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Sobhraj

Arrests and Escapes

In Kabul, Afghanistan, Charles supported his wife and child by running cons and robbing hippies who had come east following the hashish trail from Europe. The Sobhrajs lived comfortably in Kabul, but soon wanderlust struck Charles and he took his family to the airport. He had neglected, however, to pay the hotel for two months of rent and was arrested by Afghan police.

Again he plotted an escape. In Afghan prisons, inmates are responsible for obtaining their own food by employing runners, often young beggars. If an inmate has no money, he starves. Charles had his runner purchased a syringe with which he drew his own blood and drank it, making it look like he had an ulcer. Taken to the hospital, he managed to drug his guard once again and flee to Iran.

For the next year he flew around the Eastern Hemisphere in a scattered manner, never settling anywhere long enough to arouse the suspicions of the police, although he continued to support himself by theft.

He often traveled with as many as 10 passports, some bought, some stolen, and none with the name Charles Sobhraj. Charles no longer used his given name, instead he changed identity at the drop of a hat depending on the passport he held. He would later tell police that during 1972-1973 he traveled to Karachi, Pakistan, Rome, Teheran, Kabul, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and as far north as Copenhagen.

Abandoning his family in Kabul, Charles saw his marriage end. The loyal Chantal, now with a dossier of her own in the massive Interpol database, had had enough of her criminal husband and left for France. Once there, she prayed she would never see  Charles Sobhraj again.

By the time Chantal fled to Paris, the places Charles Sobhraj could travel to were quickly becoming limited. He was joined in Istanbul by his younger brother Andre -- the same person he had called "an idiot willing to do his bidding" as a 10-year-old -- who became an active participant in Charles' scams. Andre pledged obeisance to his older brother when Charles told him he could never return to France because of his criminal record, but the younger man suggested they find other countries in Europe to plunder.

Looking East, Charles told Andre he saw a world where he could blend into the crowd -- his Indian-Vietnamese heritage allowed him to portray any nationality he wanted -- and where police were more "accommodating" if the price was right. Rejecting Andre's suggestion that they return to Europe, Charles decided to return to the Orient.

Ultimately, Andre would pay dearly for his foolish desire to follow his brother. They pulled a couple of minor heists in Turkey, then fled to Greece when things got too hot and robbed a few tourists in Athens before they were arrested following a minor jewel robbery. Charles banked on the hope that the Greeks and Turks, historic enemies, would never share information about the two brothers who preyed on tourists.

Charles convinced Andre that it would be easy to make authorities think Charles was Andre and Andre Charles. Sobhraj was a wanted man, and if he pretended to be Andre -- whose crimes were minor in the eyes of Greek justice -- he could walk out of prison in a few weeks. Later, when he was safely across the frontier, Andre could tell the Greeks that he was the real Andre Darreau and that they had released the wrong man. They would then let him free.

The plan nearly worked, but when the Greeks decided to throw the book at the two men, Charles was forced to fall back on another plan. Once again feigning illness, he managed to escape from a police van taking him from a hospital to prison and he disappeared.

In a few days, Andre went to the warden and revealed that they had let Charles Sobhraj, not Andre Darreau, escape. Sadly for him, the angry Greeks opted to turn Andre over to their Turkish enemies, who were not prepared to be lenient. After a trial, Andre was convicted of theft and sentenced to 18 years at hard labor.


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