People who know me well have often asked me: how did you dream up that twisted serial killer – Michel – in VENOM? Is there something you should tell us?
In fact VENOM was suggested to me by the life of one of the most notorious serial killers of the twentieth century. His name was Charles Sobrajh. He’s not as well known as Manson or Bundy or Gacy because he did all his killing in Asia. He is also different to them – and most serial murderers – in one very substantial way; his motives for killing were not from deep seated psychological damage (as Michel’s were.) He did it to maintain his lifestyle.
What I borrowed from the real Sobrajh in VENOM were his methods, for he had a cold genius in executing robberies.
There was little indication of his arcane abilities early on; a troubled childhood and adolescence led to a life of petty crime in France. Fleeing another possible jail term he arrived in India in 1970 and started robbing tourists on the hippy trail. His MO was to befriend travelers, drug them and then steal their money and their passports.
But this soon wasn’t enough to feed his appetite for the high life, or his growing gambling addiction. He soon devised a way of robbing jewellery stores, charming the female shop assistants into stealing gems for him.
Apart from a fierce cunning, Sobrajh’s main weapon was his charm. Even when people knew he was a killer and a psychopath they still allowed him to seduce them, and that is perhaps the scariest part of the story.
Women were hypnotised by Sobrajh; they remained devoted to him even as he used them without conscience or pity to further his own ends.
He committed his first murders in 1975; the first was a young American woman, found on a beach in a flowered bikini in the Gulf of Thailand. This later earned him the nickname of the ‘Bikini Killer.’
Over the next few years he left a trail of strangled, charred corpses all over Asia; he is thought to have killed at least a dozen people. Once someone was no longer useful, or loyal, he got rid of them. Using any one of the many passports he stole from his victims, he kept ahead of the authorities by border hopping, setting up his operations in another country once things got too hot for him where he was.
Finally brought to trial in India, he turned the New Delhi courts into a media circus. He and his lawyer manipulated the jury and the system and he got just twelve years. But he soon realized it wasn’t enough; Thailand wanted to extradite him, and that warrant lasted for twenty. So he engineered a jail breakout which earned him another ten.
He lived a life of some luxury inside Tihar prison, with his own television and even gourmet food, revelling in his notoriety, giving interviews to Western authors and journalists. In 1997, at the end of his sentence, he retired to a life of some celebrity in Paris, even hiring a publicity agent and charging huge sums of money for interviews and photographs. He demanded a seven figure sum for the film rights to his story.
Until ten years ago, the life of Charles Sobrajh might dissuade you of any idea that life is fair and just.
And then, inexplicably, he brought about his own downfall. In VENOM Michel fell prey to one of his own victims; in life Sobrajh fell victim to himself.
But reasons he has never explained, he flew back to Nepal, a country that still had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. On September 17, 2003 he was spotted in a Kathmandu street by a journalist. He was arrested soon after in the Yak and Yeti casino and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Kathmandu district court on August 20, 2004 for the 1975 murders of two foreign backpackers.
VENOM is not the story of Sobrajh, but it does evoke a time and a place that allowed him to thrive. Asia in the seventies was far from the place it is now; it was a haven for hippies, Singapore was dirty, India was ruled by Indira Gandhi and a serial killer could evade capture simply by crossing borders.
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