An Indian Stalker Whose Obsession Transformed US Law
Prosenjit Poddar told Lawrence Moore that he often thought about killing the object of his obsession. The campus shrink thought Poddar had a bad case of schizophrenia. He advised him to sever contact with Tatiana Tarasoff and stay away from her, and told him that if he continued to talk about homicide, he would have to contact the authorities. Poddar simply ceased to show up for further sessions. Moore contacted Berkeley’s police to warn them, and recommended that Poddar be civilly committed. They detained him briefly, but he seemed rational, so they let him go. Moore’s boss recommended against any further detention of Poddar. Throughout, nobody warned Tarasoff or her parents. When she returned from Brazil, Poddar called her nonstop, and even befriended and moved in with her brother to try and get closer to her.
On October 27th, 1969, the perturbed stalker finally did what he had told the campus psychologist he planned to do to Tarasoff. That day, he shot her with a pellet gun, then stabbed her fourteen times with a knife. He was convicted of second degree murder, but the conviction was overturned five years later because of faulty jury instructions. Poddar was not retried, and was simply deported back to India. Tarasoff’s family sued the university the pyschologists, and various Berkeley employees for failure to warn. It ended in a landmark case, Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. In it, the state’s supreme court ruled that regardless of doctor-patient confidentiality, mental health professionals have a duty to warn people who are threatened by a patient. 33 states have since adopted what came to be known as Tarasoff laws.
Ancient China’s Prince Liu Pengli was a member of the ruling Han Dynasty. He was also the first notorious murderous stalker and serial killer in recorded history. In 144 BC, Emperor Jing, Liu Pengli’s cousin, appointed him king of the city of Jidong and its environs. That was bad news for the good people of Jidong, who would be ruled by Pengli for the next 23 years. Pengli preyed upon his subjects, and killed them for kicks and giggles and the sheer fun of it.
Pengli probably would have liked the Ramsey Bolton character from Game of Thrones. Like that fictitious character, Pengli liked to stalk and literally hunt human beings for sport. He stalked, hunted, and murdered at least 100 people for his amusement, and the true number of his victims was probably higher. His reign of psychotic terror lasted for over two decades. In that stretch, his subjects were too scared to come out of their homes at night. It only came to an end after one of Pengli’s victims finally screwed up the courage to travel to the imperial capital, where he complained to the emperor.
Throughout most of history, justice has often been illusory, and usually unequal. That explains why Prince Penglii got off light: this scary stalker and serial killer was not executed for his depredations. Instead, he was simply stripped of his rank and banished. As described by Han historian Sima Qian: “Liu Pengli was arrogant and cruel, and paid no attention to the etiquette demanded between ruler and subject. In the evenings he used to go out on marauding expeditions with twenty or thirty slaves or young men who were in hiding from the law, murdering people and seizing their belongings for sheer sport.
When the affair came to light … it was found he had murdered at least 100 or more persons. Everyone in the kingdom knew about his ways, so that the people were afraid to venture out of their houses at night. The son of one of his victims finally sent a report to the [Han Emperor], and the Han officials requested that he be executed. The emperor could not bear to carry out their recommendation, but made him a commoner and banished him to Shangyong“. Eventually, Emperor Jing revoked Liu Pengli’s royal privileges, and reclaimed his land.
The Nineteenth Century Killer Who Terrorized the Australian Outback
John Lynch (1813 – 1842) was trouble from early on. Born in Cavan, Ireland, he notched up his first criminal conviction at age fifteen, when he obtained property by false pretenses. Two years later, in 1830, he was sentenced to penal transportation to Australia. In 1832, Lynch’s ship reached Australia, and he was sent to the village of Berrima in New South Wales, about 75 miles from Sydney. Assigned to toil as a convict laborer on farms, Lynch soon tired of that. So he fled and joined a gang of bushrangers – Australian bandits who hid from authorities in the bush and the Outback. In 1835, Lynch and two others were tried for the murder of a man who had given evidence against their gang.
The jury convicted and sentenced Lynch’s comrades to hang. Inexplicably, however, despite the fact that he had confessed to the murder, the jurors acquitted him. That was unfortunate: Lynch went on to become a scary Outback stalker and Australia’s most notorious serial killer. He was unusual among serial killers, in that his preferred murder weapon was an ax. His homicidal spree began soon after his acquittal in 1835, when he stole eight cattle from a farm and set out to sell them in Sydney. En route, he encountered a man with an Aboriginal boy driving a bigger herd of cattle, loaded with wheat. So Lynch gained their trust, camped with them, then slew both with a tomahawk. He then continued on to Sydney with their goods.
On the way back from Sydney, John Lynch encountered a father and son driving another herd. He murdered both with his ax, and took their cattle. Next, he decided to settle accounts with the Mulligans, a family that owed him £30 for stolen goods he had sold them. He visited their farm, chopped them up with his ax, and burned their bodies. He then coolly made himself at home in his victims’ farm. He assumed the name John Dunleavy, and informed the Mulligans’ neighbors that he had bought the farm from the family, who had left town in a hurry without telling anybody.
As John Dunleavy, John Lynch got away with literal murder for years. Then in 1841, a cattle herder came upon the bludgeoned corpse of a local. He had last been seen a few days earlier, having dinner with a farmer named John Dunleavy. A police investigation was launched, and Dunleavy’s story about the “purchase” of his farm from the Mulligans in 1835 began to crack. Finally, a barmaid came forward and identified John Dunleavy and John Lynch as being the same person. Lynch was charged with murder, and at the end of his trial, it took the jury less than an hour to find him guilty. He was sentenced to death, and hanged in 1842.
Not that many people have ever been as obsessed with prostitutes as was Gary Ridgway (1949 – ). Sadly for the prostitutes he came in contact with, his obsession was of the worst possible kind: that of a homicidal stalker and prolific serial killer with his target population. Ridgway, also known as “The Green River Killer”, was convicted of the murder of 48 women, and pled guilty to another murder. Most of his victims were prostitutes. He eventually confessed to the murder of 71 women. It was a horrific for Ridgway, who was born in Salt Lake City, grew up in a poor neighborhood, and was raised by parents who often argued violently.
Ridgway wet his bed until he was thirteen. Whenever he did so, his mother washed his genitals. He informed psychologists that in his teens, he had been attracted to his mother, and simultaneously fantasized about killing her. Ridgway’s father often complained about the proliferation of prostitutes in and around the neighborhood. Between that, the humiliation of his bed wetting into his teens, what his mother did with his genitals whenever he did, and other dysfunctions as he grew up, something went wrong. It did not help that he was dyslexic, with an IQ in the 80s.
Gary Ridgway’s violent criminality began in the 1960s. At age sixteen, he led a six-year old boy into the woods, and stabbed him in the liver. The child survived, and recounted that Ridgway had laughed as he walked away. After high school, Ridgway joined the Navy and was sent to Vietnam. Upon his discharge, he got a job as a truck painter, which became his career or the next thirty years. Ridgway was a family man, but one who could not maintain a marriage: he tied the knot three times. He was also a regular churchgoer, and many who knew him described him as a religious fanatic. He as also seriously into hookers. Long before he turned murderous stalker and began to kill them, he was a frequent customer of prostitutes. His career as a serial killer began in the early 1980s.
Ridgway picked up prostitutes, runaway teenagers, or other vulnerable women, along Route 99 in King County, Washington. He took them to his home, where he usually strangled them with his bare hands. For variety, he sometimes garroted them with a cord or wire. He dumped the bodies in remote forested areas in King County, and often returned to the corpses to defile them. The first hint authorities had that a serial killer and stalker of ladies of the night was on the loose was when sex workers and teenage runaways began to disappear along Route 99. After the first five bodies surfaced in the Green River, the press dubbed the unknown culprit “The Green River Killer”.
New Technology Finally Ended the Depredations of This Homicidal Stalker
Gary Ridgway attracted law enforcement’s attention in 1987. Many prostitutes who worked along Washington State Route 99 – which he drove to and from work – described a suspect who resembled him. When investigators scrutinized his work record, they discovered that many victims’ disappearances coincided with Ridgway’s days off. Police took him into custody, but he passed a polygraph test, and allowed investigators to take hair and saliva samples. Released for lack of evidence, the Green River Killer was soon back on the prowl. Finally, in 2001, a new generation of detectives took over the investigation.
They had been children when Ridgway got started as a deadly stalker and serial killer of prostitutes, and now made effective use of computers in their investigations. They also had access to modern DNA techniques that had not existed in the 1980s. Ridgway’s hair and saliva samples, carefully preserved since 1987, were sent for DNA analysis. They returned a match that tied him to four victims. He was arrested, and entered a plea deal in which he disclosed the locations of dozens of still-missing women. In exchange, Ridgway was spared the death penalty, and was sentenced instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Celebrity stalkers are an unfortunate feature of today’s world, who plague the famous, and sometimes the infamous, alike. Such fame fiends are not a new phenomenon exclusive to the modern era. They have been around for some time, as Queen Victoria, were she still around, could attest. Britain was enamored by the young Victoria when she ascended the throne in 1837. Her two predecessors, her uncles, had been old, ineffectual, and corrupt, while their predecessor, the Mad King George III, had been, well… mad. So Victoria arrived as a breath of fresh air: a young, pretty, innocent, and clean new slate for her nation.
Admirers tossed letters into her carriage, and the bolder ones visited the palace with marriage proposals. As seen below, many of the he creepier ones became obsessed with the young queen, and turned stalker. They were helped by woeful security. Britain’s royal household bureaucracy was a mishmash of inefficiency, ineptness, and outright incompetence. When Victoria once asked a servant for a fire, she was told no can do. His job was to arrange and prepare the wood and coal for a fire. To light it was the responsibility of another department. In another example, cleaning palace windows was divided between two departments, one that cleaned the outside, and another for the inside.
Security at Buckingham Palace was inept and inefficient, with no single person in overall charge of safeguarding the royal palaces. Buckingham, for example, had low walls topped with tree branches, and lax guards. As a result, drunks and the homeless were often found asleep in the garden, propped up against the inner wall or laid out beneath the trees. Less innocent interlopers, such as many a stalker, faced little difficulty as they progressed past the garden and into the royal palace. An invitation to Buckingham to formally see Queen Victoria was a big deal and a great honor, coveted by many. On the other hand, to just get into Buckingham Palace and see the queen, informally and without invitation, was a cinch.
Drunks frequently staggered onto the palace grounds to sleep off a bender in the royal garden. Others, with more sinister and creepy intentions, found it easy to reach the palace itself. Such was the case with silversmith Thomas Flower, one of Victoria’s persistent admirers, who was found asleep in a chair near the queen’s bedroom in the summer of 1838. An admirer who turned stalker, Flower had managed to get into the palace, then wandered around for hours as he tried to find the queen – Buckingham Palace was and remains a big building. Finally, after he tired of the search, he fell asleep. He was arrested and imprisoned, until friends bailed him out for £50.
The stalker Thomas Flower’s pursuit of Queen Victoria was creepy. However, it paled in comparison to an even more persistent stalker, Edward Jones, a teenager dubbed “Boy Jones” by palace staff. Around 5AM on December 14th, 1838, a palace servant saw a gargoyle of a face in a window. It appeared to be smudged with soot, and belonged to an ugly youth who impishly grinned at him. Investigation revealed that a palace room had been ransacked, so the alarm was sounded, and the hunt for the intruder was on. A constable spotted a teenager outside the palace, gave chase, tackled, seized, and hauled him in.
A closer look revealed that the arrestee was an unfortunately featured young man, whose face and clothes were covered in grease and soot. He had on two pairs of pants, and when the outer one was removed, several pairs of ladies’ drawers fell out – Queen Victoria’s panties. The soot and grease covered young man arrested with Her Majesty’s underwear gave his name as Edward Cotton. Subsequent investigation revealed his real name to be Edward Jones, a fourteen-year-old urchin. He had gotten into the queen’s bedroom, and along with her panties, had stolen a letter, her portrait, and assorted linens.
That Boy Jones had gotten that close to the queen was bad enough. However, the discovery of just how long he had been in Buckingham Palace was worse: the urchin had lived in the royal residence for a year. In the daytime, he hid behind furniture, or in the chimneys and other spaces in the palace walls. At night, he wandered Buckingham’s halls. When he was hungry, he raided the kitchen, and when he got too dirty, he rinsed his shirt in the wash. During meetings between the queen and her ministers, he sometimes hid under the table and eavesdropped.
Edward Jones’ story became a sensation. When he was sent to the magistrates a few days later, the court session was packed with journalists and other curiosity seekers, eager to find out more about the now-famous Boy Jones. The kid was a lovable tramp, and the fact that he had avoided detection while he lived in the royal palace for so long testified to his intelligence and talent. He was tried for theft and trespass, but after a bonkers trial, filled with laughter and incredulity, the jury acquitted him. The police congratulated him and wished him well – and also, that he would put his undoubted talents to better use. As seen below, he did not.
After his acquittal, Boy Jones thanked the police for their well wishes, and left the courtroom, free as a bird. Less than two years later, on December 3rd, 1840, two weeks after Queen Victoria had given birth to her first child, Edward Jones was found beneath a sofa in a room next to Her Majesty’s boudoir. Whatever the public’s perception of Boy Jones as a lovable tramp, Her Majesty was not amused. As she put it in her journal: “Supposing he had come into the Bedroom, how frightened I should have been!”
He was rearrested, retried, and got three months’ probation. Soon thereafter, he was arrested again as he tried to break into the palace. This time, he got three months of hard labor. The authorities were stumped. Jones’ crimes were not felonies, so a lengthy stint behind bars was not an option. After he was arrested for a fourth, and then a fifth time as he loitered near the palace, they finally shipped the youthful stalker to Brazil. There, he was kept in an offshore prison ship for six years. He returned to Britain, and was deported to Australia, but snuck back to London. He finally returned to Australia, where he became Perth’s town crier. He died in 1893, after he fell off a bridge while drunk.
Korea’s Crown Prince Sado (1735 – 1762) was the son of King Yeongjo, and heir to the throne. He never got to inherit, and is best remembered today as a monstrous serial killer and stalker who terrorized the royal palace. Sado was the king’s second son, but the first one had died in 1728. For years, the king’s wives and concubines had given him only daughters, and he despaired of ever getting another male heir. When Sado was born in 1735, his arrival was met with widespread joy. The infant was set up in his own palace with an army of maids, governesses, and servants. However, his father took little part in how his son was raised, or how he was brought up. So Sado was spoiled rotten, did whatever he liked as he grew up.
On the few occasions when the king visited, he was highly irritable, and grew angry at even trivial missteps by his son. As Sado grew up, he oscillated between a great fear of his father, and a desperate need to please him. The latter was difficult, because the king was not into displays of affection. Whenever the two met, Sado’s father was more critical than affectionate. As a result, Sado felt unloved and resentful as he grew up. He had daddy issues, perceived lack of affection, lack of fatherly supervision, and was indulged and flattered by courtiers. Between those and other deep seated neuroses, something broke inside Sado. As seen below, he became a deadly stalker, murderer, and outright monster.
Prince Sado was a troubled young man, given to extremely violent and erratic mood swings. One day, he would behave with such decorum, dignity, and probity, so as to be all that his father had ever wanted in a son and heir. The next, he would undergo a transformation, and give free rein to violent outbursts in which he turned rapist and murderer. Historians are unsure what exactly ailed him, but he was clearly mentally unstable, and many today think that he was schizophrenic. Alcohol was forbidden at court, but Prince Sado was nonetheless downed heroic amounts of wine and spirits. He became a full-blown alcoholic. When a depressive mood fell upon him, the murder of servants brought Sado relief. On many a day, several dead bodies were carried out of the palace.
He also became a palace stalker who pursued, preyed upon, and assaulted court ladies. After he murdered his concubine, he began to harass his own sister. As a result, he became widely feared throughout the kingdom as a dangerous psychopath. Eventually, Sado’s father had enough, and determined that he could not in good conscience inflict his criminally insane son upon the Korean people as their next king. On July 4th, 1762, Sado was summoned by his father, who ceremonially struck the floor with a sword and declared the crown prince deposed. Taboos prohibited the outright execution of the prince. So the king had Sado placed inside a heavy wooden chest of the kind in which rice was stored, and locked him inside. There, the deposed prince was left to starve to death, and he perished eight days later.
Serial killer Ricardo “Richard” Ramirez became infamous as the Night Stalker. He was raised in a toxic environment that almost guaranteed that he would grow up to become a messed up dude. Although just how messed up he became probably shocked even those who knew him in his younger years and realized that he was headed for trouble. By his mid-twenties, Ramirez had advanced by steps from a peeping Tom to a burglar, child abuser, kidnapper, stalker, serial rapist, and serial murderer.
Raised in an extremely dysfunctional and violent household, Ramirez came from a family that was full of bad people. Not the “mom and dad were distant and never there for me and didn’t understand me” type of bad, but downright horrible frightful relatives. There was a father who beat the daylights out of his wife and children. There was a Special Forces older cousin who was himself a serial killer as vile or even worse than Ramirez became, who gave lessons on stalking and murder. There was even a peeping Tom uncle who took Ramirez with him to peek through the windows of unsuspecting women.
Ricardo “Richard” Leyva Munoz Ramirez was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1960, the youngest of five children. His father was a former Mexican cop who emigrated to the US and got a job as a railway man. Ramirez’s dad was a violent alcoholic who often flew into drunken rages, and abused his wife and children. To escape his father’s uncontrollable fits, a young Ramirez often snuck out of home at night and go sleep in a nearby cemetery. That macabre environment contributed to what became a lifelong fascination with death. He also began to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol at age ten.
As if that was not bad enough, when the future Night Stalker was twelve-years-old, he fell under the influence of an older cousin, Miguel “Mike” Ramirez, who was already a psychopathic serial killer. A decorated Vietnam War Green Beret, Mike Ramirez had sexually assaulted, murdered, mutilated, and dismembered numerous Vietnamese girls and women. He documented what he did to his victims, step by step, with Polaroid photos. Photos which he showed his young cousin, along with graphic descriptions of his wartime atrocities. Richard was not repelled by the gory images, but was instead drawn to and fascinated by them.
Twelve-year-old Richard Ramirez bonded with his older cousin Mike over weed and beer. The former Green Beret and war criminal regaled his younger relative with gruesome war stories of mayhem, murder, and mutilation. He also gave him tips and lessons on how to murder stealthily. He told Richard: “Having power over life and death was a high, an incredible rush. It was Godlike. You controlled who’d live and who died“. The macabre mentorship was interrupted in 1973, when Mike got into an argument with his wife, and fatally shot her in the face in front of the then thirteen-year-old Richard.
Mike Ramirez was tried for the murder of his wife, but he got away with it. He was deemed not guilty by reason of insanity, caused in large part by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his Vietnam War years. Mike Ramirez spent four years in the Texas State Mental Hospital, and was released in 1977. He promptly resumed his mentorship of Richard, who by then had fallen under the influence of yet another horrible older relative, this one a peeping Tom.
A young Richard Ramirez became even more withdrawn from his family when his older cousin Mike Ramirez got locked up in a mental facility. In late 1973, he moved in his with older sister Ruth and her husband Roberto. Roberto was a voyeur who liked to spy on women as they undressed and perform other intimate and perverse activities. He was a peeping Tom, in short. He initiated his young brother in law in his voyeurism, and took Richard with him on nighttime walks to catch peeks of unsuspecting women through windows.
When Richard hit the hormonal explosion of his teen years, the influences of his violent war criminal mentor Mike Ramirez and his degenerate peeping Tom mentor Roberto began to seriously mess him up. His teenage fantasies took flight, and began to combine voyeurism with violent forced bondage and assault. Around this time, he began to use LSD and developed a strong interest in Satanism and the occult. When Mike Ramirez was released from a mental hospital in 1977, he resumed his mentorship of Richard, and began to accompany both him and Roberto on nighttime peeping Tom expeditions.
Richard Ramirez got a job at a Holiday Inn when he was a teenager. It did not take long before he began to put the lessons on stealth taught him by his former Green Beret cousin Mike to practical use in burglaries. He used his hotel passkey to sneak into guests’ rooms as they slept, went through their possessions, and stole their valuables. He also began to molest underage guests. On at least one occasion, he fondled two children in an elevator, but was not charged and prosecuted. He finally got fired from the Holiday Inn when he tried to rape a woman in her hotel room.
She was saved by her husband’s timely return. The husband beat the daylights out of Ramirez until the would-be rapist was knocked out senseless, before the police arrived and took him into custody. Prosecutors hit him with a variety of felonies that could have put away the future Night Stalker away for a long time – and thus probably spared many victims in years to come. Unfortunately, the charges were eventually dropped because the couple, who were from out of state, did not want to go back to Texas to testify against Ramirez.
Richard Ramirez moved to California in his early twenties, and eventually ended up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. There, on April 10th, 1984, the Night Stalker committed the first – or at least the first known – murder in what would become a long list of killings. His victim was a nine-year-old girl, Mei Leung, whom he lured to the basement of the building in which he lived. There, he beat, strangled, assaulted, and stabbed her to death, then hung her corpse from a pipe. The crime differed from what became known of Ramirez’s standard operating procedure, and was not attributed to him until 2009.
In June, 1984, two months after he murdered Leung, Ramirez began to commit a long list of gruesome murders that made him famous – or infamous – as the Night Stalker. In a series of macabre nighttime home invasions that lasted through August, 1985, he terrorized first the Greater Los Angeles area, and then the San Francisco Bay area. He assaulted, mutilated, and killed with a variety of weapons that included not only firearms and knives, but also machetes, hammers, and tire irons.
The Night Stalker was finally undone by a fingerprint that he left on the windshield of a stolen car used in his murder spree. Richard Ramirez’s mug shots from earlier unrelated arrests were widely publicized in California, and he was spotted by Los Angeles citizens on August 31st, 1985. After a wild chase that involved multiple failed carjacking attempts, he was captured by members of the public, and beaten half to death before the police arrived. He was eventually charged with thirteen murders, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries.
Despite all the gory details that came out in the trial, one of the jurors, Cindy Haden, fell madly in love with the Night Stalker. On Valentine’s Day, 1989, she gave him a cupcake with “I Love You” iced on the top. She still voted him guilty on all counts, but her passion for him did not wane. After the trial – for which Ramirez was sentenced to nineteen death sentences – Haden got a private detective license just so she could visit the Night Stalker in prison in the company of his lawyers.
The Night Stalker Still Had Tons of Amorous Fans Despite Horrific Crimes
Former juror Cindy Haden’s plan to get closer to Richard Ramirez worked. As a licensed private detective, she accompanied the convicted murderer’s defense attorney on prison visits, and when the lawyer left the room to use the bathroom, Haden kissed and groped with the Night Stalker. When asked if she had been scared to have been left alone in room with a serial killer whom she had personally voted to convict, Haden replied: “No, absolutely not. He’d never hurt me“. Haden might have fallen head over heels for Ramirez, the only serial killer she knew. He was not as madly in love with her, however, since she was not the only macabre admirer who lusted after him.
By the time his trial began in 1988, the Night Stalker had numerous fans who regularly wrote and visited him. One of them, Doreen Lioy, wrote him about 75 letters. He proposed to her, and they eventually got married in 1996 in San Quentin State Prison. She loudly proclaimed that she would commit suicide when Ramirez was executed, but she left him in 2009, after DNA proved that he had disgustingly assaulted and murdered nine-year-old Mei Leung. Ramirez was not executed, as cancer got him in 2013 before California’s gas chamber did. By then, he was engaged to yet another fan, a twenty-three-year-old writer named Christine Lee.
There’s Even a Term for People Attracted to Monsters
Women attracted to monsters like the Night Stalker are commonly referred to as “prison groupies”. However, there is a psychological term for what draws them to monsters: hybristophilia. It describes a paraphilia – an intense attraction to unusual objects, situations, fantasies, behaviors, or people – centered around people who commit crimes. The term combines the Greek words hubrizein, or the infliction of outrages upon others, and philo, a strong affinity or preference for something. For hybristophiliacs, arousal and orgasm are facilitated by, and are sometimes exclusively contingent upon, a partner known to have committed dark deeds.
Hybristophilia explains the copious amounts of fan mail that are sent to high profile evil prisoners like Richard Ramirez – correspondence that is often amorous or physically intimate in nature. The hybristophliacs who send such mail are attracted to and turned on by such monsters precisely because of the vile acts that they had committed – acts that repel most normal people. Some macabre admirers – as actually happened twice in the case of the Night Stalker – go on to marry or become affianced to the objects of their affection in prison. Another serial killer, Jeffrey Dhamer, had amorous women send him letters, gifts, money, and proposals of marriage – despite the fact that he was a homosexual.
Charles Sobhraj (1944 – ), who became infamous as “The Hippie Trail Killer”, was a Frenchman of Vietnamese and Indian origins. In his childhood, he frequently moved back and forth between France and Indochina. At an early age, he became a delinquent and took to petty crimes. Sobhraj did his first prison stint at age eighteen, for burglary. A manipulative psychopath, he met and endeared himself to a rich prison volunteer, who introduced him to high society after his release. Sobhraj used that access to the rich to enrich himself in turn. He scammed his new upper class friends and acquaintances, and scouted their homes to burglarize them.
Legal troubles eventually forced Sobhraj to flee France with his girlfriend in 1970 to avoid arrest. The couple travelled through Eastern Europe with fake documents, robbed tourists along the way, and eventually ended up in India. In India, Sobhraj ran a car theft and smuggling ring until 1973, when he was arrested for an attempted robbery of a jewelry store. He managed to escape, however, and fled to Afghanistan. There, Sobhraj and his girlfriend began to prey on tourists along the “Hippie Trail”. An overland route between Europe and South Asia, the Hippie Trail was popular with Hippies and Beatniks between the 1950s and 1970s. Sobhraj became the scariest stalker on that route.
Hippies Who Befriended This Dude Were in for a Scary Surprise
Charles Sobhraj’s girlfriend eventually left him and returned to France. He carried on with a variety of criminal schemes. One of them, in which partnered with his partner, backfired and left his sibling locked up behind bars to serve an eighteen year sentence in a Turkish prison. From then on, Sobhraj’s crimes grew steadily darker, and he began to pile up the bodies of murder victims all along the Hippie Trail. It is believed that he murdered at least twenty Western tourists, but the actual body count is thought by many to be significantly higher.
In 1976, Charles Sobhraj was finally undone when he tried to drug a group of French tourists in India. Fortunately for them, he miscalculated the dosage. His victims became violently ill, but were still conscious enough to realize what Sobhraj had tried to do. They managed to overpower and seize him, until police arrived. Thai authorities sought his extradition for a murder committed there – which likely would have earned him a death sentence. However, Indian authorities decided to try him for lesser crimes committed on Indian soil, first. Found guilty of a variety of offenses, Sobhraj was imprisoned, but he escaped in 1986 after he drugged his guards.
Charles Sobhraj was recaptured a month after he escaped. That led many to speculate that the escape had been a deliberate attempt to get extra jail time for escape tacked on to his sentence. With the extra jail time, Sobhraj remained in an Indian prison until 1997, after the 20 years statute of limitations for his crimes in Thailand had expired. Thus, he could no longer be extradited to face a potential death penalty in Thailand. While behind bars, Sobhraj managed to keep himself in the public eye and maintain his celebrity status. While imprisoned in India, he charged a bundle for interviews with journalists, and an even bigger bundle to sell his Indian movie rights.
India had no “Son of Sam” laws to prevent criminals from profiting from the celebrity that arose from their crimes, so Sobhraj presumably managed to keep those earnings. After his release from prison in 1997, he returned to Paris. There, he enjoyed a celebrity lifestyle, and reportedly sold his international movie rights for U$ 15 million. His freedom did not last long, however: he unwisely travelled to Nepal in 2003. When the authorities learned of his presence on their soil, they arrested him for a 1975 double murder committed in Nepal. He was convicted, and received a life sentence. As of the fall of 2022, an elderly Charles Sobhraj was still locked up in a Nepalese prison.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading