Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Sobhraj

The Poisoner

With his brother languishing in a Turkish prison, Charles fled eastward. He flitted around India, Kashmir, Iran and the Near East operating small-time scams and frauds. His typical modus operandi was to find a French or English-speaking tourist couple, befriend them and impress them as a mysterious, wealthy dealmaker and either use them as jewel couriers or steal their bankrolls, passports and travel tickets.

Marie LeClerc
Marie LeClerc

As he was perfecting this scheme he met the woman who would become his closest confidant and accomplice. She was Marie LeClerc, and she had come to the East looking for adventure. She found it with Charles Sobhraj.

Charles met Marie, a French Canadian, while she was sightseeing, and managed to convince her to return to Bangkok after her vacation ended. When Marie returned to the Orient with a satchel full of love letters Charles had written her during their months apart, she was shocked to find that he had linked up with a Thai woman named May, whom he had described as his "secretary."

Marie's love for Charles was pathological. She was unable to see any evil in him and was even willing to put up with his dalliances. Years later, as she languished in Tihar Prison awaiting trial, she wrote to Charles (who had found a new lover): "Roong is twelve years younger than I, and fresher. You need a woman who can live under any conditions, any climate. As for me, I'm old, tired, rarely dynamic or smiling, with a bitter character that can't adapt due to my advanced age ... Roong must remain with you. The important thing is that you don't find yourself alone, that you have someone who loves you."

Map of Thailand
Map of Thailand

Undoubtedly, Sobhraj believed there was enough of him to share between two women. Somehow, Charles convinced Marie to become his partner in crime and they met up with an Australian professor and his wife who were vacationing in Thailand. Inserting himself into their lives, Charles skillfully won over the Australians who thought they had discovered a real friend. Charles and Marie served the Aussies coconut milk laced with powerful sedatives. When the couple was asleep, Charles ransacked their hotel room, stealing several thousand dollars in cash, as well as their passports, wedding rings and plane tickets.

Just as another man named Charles had done half a world away a few years before at the Spahn Ranch in California, Sobhraj began building a "family" of sorts, with himself as the head. As May floated around the periphery, Charles and Marie took in a wandering French boy named Dominique. Over a period of days Charles subtly administered enough poison to make Dominique ill with what appeared to be dysentery. Charles graciously offered the use of his home while the boy recovered. Normally, dysentery resolves itself quickly (or kills its host through dehydration), but Dominique had a hard time recovering.  In reality, Sobhraj was keeping Dominique off balance to make him dependent.

Once it was made clear that Dominique was in Charles' debt, and the boy accepted his position, his recovery accelerated. As the youth grew healthy, Charles added two more young men, Yannick and Jacques, former police officers in the French colonies. Rather than poison them, he wooed them with wine and song, and while they were enjoying a night out on the town with Marie, Charles slipped away and stole their passports and savings.

Do not worry, he assured the two frantic young men, they could stay with him while new passports were procured in Bangkok. Any remuneration would be worked out later.

Ajay Chowdhury
Ajay Chowdhury
The final addition to Charles' circle was a young Indian named Ajay Chowdhury. As cold as Charles, Ajay quickly became his lieutenant and accompanied him everywhere. Ajay was a confidant, accomplice and co-conspirator for Charles who could be counted on to come through in even the most delicate circumstances.

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