Charles Sobhraj, the French serial killer known as “the serpent” who targeted western backpackers on the hippie trail in the 1970s, has walked free from a jail in Nepal after he was given early release.

Sobhraj, 78, had been serving a life sentence after he was convicted in 2004 for the murder of an American tourist, Connie Jo Bronzich, in 1975. In 2014, Sobhraj was also convicted of killing her Canadian companion, Laurent Carrière.

Sobhraj, who is a French citizen of Indian and Vietnamese descent, walked out of a high security jail in Kathmandu on Friday morning, after a court ruling this week that ordered his release on the grounds he had served 75% of his sentence and his health was ailing.

“I feel great, I am flying to Paris,” Sohbraj said over the phone, his spirits appearing high. “I have a book and a documentary coming soon.”

Sobhraj was known to many as a seductive and ruthless con-artist and murderer. He was linked to the deaths of at least 20 western travellers in Thailand, India and Nepal during the 1970s and 80s but became known as “the serpent” for his charm and slippery ability to evade arrest.

Sohbraj will be extradited back to France on Friday evening, said the lawyer Gopal Siwakoti, who has been providing legal support on the case. “Sobhraj has heart issues and he wants to do a health check-up before he flys out,” said Siwakoti.

Siwakoti described Sobhraj’s physical condition as “frail” but said he was mentally capable. He said the Nepalese government had been “unwilling to release him at any cost” and had attempted to dispute Sobhraj’s good behaviour in prison, but that was overruled by the courts, who approved his petition.

During his time in jail in Nepal, Sobhraj had raised eyebrows by marrying a Nepalese woman 40 years his junior. In 2008, Sobhraj, then 64, had met lawyer Nihita Biswas, 21, when she acted as an interpreter for him in the prison. The pair got married in jail and Biswas acted as his lawyer, always maintaining his innocence.

Standing outside the immigration detention centre where Sobhraj was taken after his release, Biswas said she had still not been able to see her husband. “After 14 years it’s such a relief. When his release order came though we all celebrated,” she said.

She said she would remain in Nepal and join Sobhraj later, as she still had court cases going on. “We are worried about his safety in Nepal, hospitals here are not secure, so we want to get him to a hospital in France as soon as possible.”

Sobhraj’s life was one of notoriety, dramatised in a number of TV documentaries and series, most recently in the BBC/Netflix drama The Serpent. He was said to have drugged, robbed and then killed about 20 western backpackers, but he was was convicted of only three of the murders. In Thailand, he was accused of killing six travellers and there was a decades-long warrant for his arrest, but he was never extradited to the country to face the charges.

Sohbraj had already served a two-decade prison sentence in India for the poisoning and killing of a French tourist, Jean-Luc Solomon. However, his time behind bars in jail became notorious for the luxury in which he lived, bribing guards with cash and gems, and would give interviews making outrageous claims to western journalists from his cell.

Sobhraj was eventually released in 1997, when he returned to France, but he later decided to risk returning to Nepal, believing he was safe from the authorities. However, there was still a warrant out for his arrest and he was spotted by a journalist, Joseph Nathan, outside a casino, who tracked him and published his photograph in the papers, and he was picked up by police in Kathmandu shortly afterwards.

In 2004, he was sentenced to 20 years, considered a life sentence, for the killing of Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975, and 10 years later found guilty of the murder of her Canadian companion.

Sobhraj had maintained his innocence over the deaths in Nepal. Sikawoti, who described the serial killer as “an extraordinary person”, said that now he had been released, Sobhraj intended to “tell his story to the world”.


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