Charles Sobhraj, a convicted killer who police suspect was responsible for a string of murders in the 1970s and 1980s, will be freed from prison in Nepal on Friday after nearly 20 years behind bars, a jail official told Reuters on Thursday.
Sobhraj, 78, a French national, is suspected of killing more than 20 Western backpackers on the “hippie trail” through Asia, usually by drugging their food or drink in the course of robbing them.
Nepal’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered his release from prison, where he has served 19 years of his 20-year sentence, citing his age.
“We will release him and take him to the Department of Immigration tomorrow morning,” said Ishwari Prasad Pandey, a jailor at the Central Jail in Kathmandu.
Sobhraj was expected to be freed from prison on Thursday but it took time to complete the pre-release processes, including a health check-up, said Pandey.
He has been held in the Kathmandu prison since 2003, when he was arrested on charges of murdering American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975, and had served 19 years out of a 20-year sentence.
Sobhraj denied killing the American woman and his lawyers said the charge against him was based on assumption.
Several years later he was also found guilty of killing Bronzich’s Canadian friend, Laurent Carriere.
But he was suspected of many more murders.
Thailand, where he was known as the “bikini killer”, issued a warrant for his arrest in the mid-1970s on charges of drugging and killing six women, some of whom turned up dead on a beach near the resort of Pattaya.
He was jailed in India for poisoning a group of French tourists in the capital, New Delhi, in 1976, before he could stand trial on the charges against him in Thailand.
Thailand’s justice ministry did not immediately respond to questions on whether there were any outstanding warrants for him.
Sobhraj escaped from India’s Tihar jail in 1986 after drugging prison guards with cookies and cakes laced with sleeping pills.
Days later, police caught him at a restaurant in the Indian beach holiday state of Goa, where a statue of the man, with his signature peaked cap, stands to this day.
He was jailed in India until 1997 when he returned to France.
In 2003, he was arrested in Kathmandu, in connection with the 1975 murders of Bronzich and Carriere, after being spotted at a casino.
Associates have described him as a con artist, a seducer, a robber and a murderer.
Last year, the BBC and Netflix (NFLX.O) jointly produced a TV series dramatizing his crimes called “The Serpent”.