"Charles, I Know You": Cop Recalls Encounter With "Bikini Killer" Sobhraj 4 Decades Ago
"On April 6 (1986), our team was at the hotel, where I saw Sobhraj walking inside..." retired Mumbai police officer Madhukar Zende recalls
Retired Mumbai Assistant Commissioner of Police Madhukar Zende, who had arrested serial killer Charles Sobhraj from Goa in 1986, on Thursday reacted cautiously to the news of his impending release from jail in Nepal, saying though he thinks dreaded criminals like Sobhraj should not come out of prison for life, what the criminal justice system thinks should also be taken into consideration.
Nepal's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Sobhraj (78), a Frenchman of Indian and Vietnamese parentage who has been in jail in the neighbouring country since 2003 on murder charges, on health and age grounds.
Zende, who as a Mumbai Crime Branch inspector had nabbed the notorious serial killer from a Goa hotel decades ago, told PTI in an interview that criminals like Sobhraj are dangerous for society and can commit more crimes if they come out of jail.
The septuagenarian had admitted killing 40 to 42 women and is a hardened criminal, who can do anything if he comes out, Zende said.
When nabbed from the Goa hotel, Sobhraj tried to dodge police by hiding his identity, but did not succeed, the retired police officer recalled.
"I think he should not come out of jail for life, he may commit more crimes, he is dangerous for society, but what matters is what the criminal justice system thinks," Zende said.
What the justice system thinks is more appropriate, he said, adding "judges are more learned than common people, it is their decision and it's wrong to comment on that".
Recalling the arrest of Sobhraj, Zende said when he escaped in a dramatic fashion from the top-security Tihar jail in New Delhi, it became an international news in 1986.
Sobhraj scripted his great escape from the Tihar jail in the middle of March in 1986 by offering drug-laced sweets to prison staff on the pretext of celebrating his birthday.
Though there were six jailers, three vehicles went inside the Tihar prison and 16 inmates, including the notorious French serial killer, escaped, he said, adding then nobody knew how he looked like.
"Next day, a newspaper in Mumbai published photos of Sobhraj. I had arrested him in 1971 in a robbery case so the newspaper published a story saying an inspector in the Mumbai Police knew Charles Sobhraj," he said.
Then Maharashtra DGP Suryakant Jog read the news report.
On March 29, 1986, the Railway Police arrested a man who had some connection with Sobhraj and this was conveyed to the then-DGP, he said.
The DGP immediately called Zende and a plan was chalked out to arrest the notorious criminal.
Accordingly, multiple police teams were formed and one of them under Zende was sent to Goa.
Initially, there were only two officers in the team and more joined later, he said, adding the squad went to various locations in the tourist state in search of the Sobhraj.
Zende was aware Sobhraj has an American wife and he may contact her over the phone.
"I went to the CTO (Central Telegraph Office) to check records of phone calls. While showing call register, an officer there gave information that there is a hotel named 'O Coqueiro' in Goa (in Porvorim), where foreigners get immediate international calls," he said.
Zende rushed to the hotel with his team.
During enquiry near a motorcycle taxi stand, a man provided information that a foreigner had been hiring a motorcycle and roaming in the state, the retired police officer said.
"On April 6 (1986), our team was at the hotel, where I saw Sobhraj walking inside. Immediately, I hid myself. Two officers were asked to stay outside the hotel, two stayed in the compound and two were with me. Without wasting time I pounced on him," Zende said, recalling those dramatic moments.
"Sobhraj tried to dodge us and said 'he didn't know who Charles was'. To which I replied, 'Charles I know you well, I had arrested you in 1971 and you can not forget me'," the former Mumbai cop said.
"He tried to reach out to his revolver, but we seized it immediately," he said.
Sobhraj was brought to Mumbai and placed under arrest, said Zende, adding later he was flown to New Delhi in a Border Security Force (BSF) aircraft.
In 1971, a Mumbai police team had arrested him in a robbery case, he said.
Sobhraj had committed a robbery at Ashoka Hotel in Delhi and later came to Mumbai to commit a similar crime at the Air India cash counter, the retired police officer said.
He was arrested along with his five others and arms and ammunition were recovered from him, said Zende.
Later on, Sobhraj was nicknamed the 'Bikini Killer' as he had killed at least 20 female tourists in South and Southeast Asia. He was convicted in some of the cases and was in prison from 1976 to 1997.