Veteran journalist Camil Parkhe, who was among the first to break the news of the arrest of serial killer Charles Sobhraj in Goa by the Mumbai Police back in 1986, recalled how a relaxed and non-newsy late Sunday evening transformed into a hectic night that landed him the “biggest story” of his journalistic career.
Sobhraj is back in news after Nepal’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of the 78-year-old Frenchman of Indian and Vietnamese parentage who has been in jail there since 2003 on murder charges.
Parkhe on Thursday said he was a crime reporter at The Navhind Times, which used to be published from Panaji, when Sobhraj was arrested on April 6, 1986.
“When I was winding up my work as it was late Sunday evening, I received a call on the office landline from a newspaper reader, who told me that some frantic activity was going on around Porvorim near Panaji. After that, I called up the police control room. When I asked the police if everything was ok, I got the stock reply – ‘No major crime, all is well’. I was relaxed after that,” he said.
In the next half an hour, he received another call from the reader, which was more specific. This time, the reader said that the police had caught a big fish near Porvorim. After that, Parkhe along with sports reporter Jovita Lopes decided to go to the spot and see what exactly had happened.
“Jovita took out his scooter. Soon, we crossed Pato and Mandovi bridges and in 10 minutes arrived at O’Coqueiro restaurant in Porvorim,” he said, adding there they found that the “centre of action” had shifted to Mapusa.
So “without wasting a moment”, Parkhe and Lopes went to Mapusa, where they saw a huge crowd at the Hotel Residency, the hotel of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation located just opposite the bus stand.
“The crowd was watching even as a group of strongly-built persons made hurried movements from the hotel to the private taxis parked there,” he said, adding that the police personnel were in plain clothes and were in a hurry to leave the place as early as possible. Nobody was interested in speaking, he said.
Journalists from other newspapers in Goa had also landed at the spot. he said.
“What we came to know there was that a Mumbai Police team headed by Madhukar Zende nabbed international criminal Charles Sobhraj from O’Coqueiro hotel in Porvorim,” he said.
The Mumbai Police team was in a hurry to leave for Mumbai along with their “most prized catch”, he said, adding they were going with Sobhraj in private taxis.
He said there were six to seven taxis and Sobhraj was bundled into one of them.
“A few seconds later, the taxis left for Mumbai. Jovito and I immediately sat on his scooter and sped away in the opposite direction – to Panjim – to inform our boss about the story of the most-prized catch which we had to file late at night that was beyond the deadline of the newspaper,” he said.
Parkhe recalled that the next day, The Navhind Times carried an eight-column front page news with a joint byline (of Parkhe and Lopes) announcing the recapture of Sobhraj.
“It was not a scoop for The Navhind Times. A few other dailies in Goa had also carried the news in that day’s edition. The national dailies, however, missed the news of the late night arrest of one of the world’s most notorious criminals,” he said.
The next day Parkhe flew to New Delhi with a copy of his newspaper, which carried the news of the arrest of Sobhraj, as he was scheduled to go for a journalism course to Bulgaria.
“In Delhi, some senior journalists arranged my interaction with reporters in connection with the arrest of Charles Sobhraj. It was the biggest story of my career. I felt like a celebrity..,” he said.
Sobhraj spent 21 years in jail in India with a brief 22-day break in 1986 when he escaped high security Tihar Jail after drugging security guards, whom he had served sweets on the pretext of celebrating his birthday.
Sobhraj is believed to have killed 15 to 20 people in the 1970s.
Nicknamed “the Bikini Killer” and “the Serpent” due to his skill at deception and evasion, Sobharaj is serving a life-term in the Kathmandu jail since 2003 for the murder of American woman Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975 in Nepal. In 2014, he was convicted of killing Laurent Carriere, a Canadian backpacker, and given a second life sentence.
He befriended mostly Western tourists in Asia, later drugging and killing them mostly between 1972 and 1976.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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