Sobhraj’s love for Goa’s O’Coqueiro restaurant proved to be his undoing

Serial killer Charles Sobhraj’s love for O’Coqueiro restaurant, a highway restaurant in Porvorim in Goa, led to his arrest from the coastal state on April 6, 1986.

The restaurant was famous then for its quality food and for a phone connection that one could use for long distance and international calls, a rare facility back then when most homes didn’t have a humble landline.

Sobhraj used to visit the restaurant to call his family members and associates from wherever he had moved. But he couldn’t make Goa his permanent hideout.

Speaking to IANS, Apa Teli, who was then an inspector at the Calangute police station in North Goa, recalled how Delhi Police had alerted all the states about Sobhraj after he had escaped from Delhi’s Tihar Jail in March 1986 after feeding the guards drug-laced food during a “party” in the heavily-guarded prison complex.

“I still remember that Delhi Police had also said that Sobhraj may go to Rajasthan. Four to five policemen of the coastal state, including myself, had a meeting during which we reached to a conclusion that Sobhraj must have arrived in Goa as he had been here in the past and knew some hideouts.

“The Mumbai Police got his track, and a team led by Madhukar Zende arrived in Goa and arrested Sobhraj from O’Coqueiro. A pistol was found from the possession of Sobhraj, who was then taken to Maharashtra,” Teli said.

“On that fateful day, Zende confronted a slim man with a scraggy beard and a black cap who alighted from a Premier Padmini car and walked into O’Coqueiro’, taking a seat at his favourite table. Minutes later, Zende, who was dressed in plain clothes, confronted and later arrested the man known as Charles Sobhraj,” Teli said.

Teli laso said that many people who knew Sobhraj were surprised after news was published that he was arrested in Goa.

According to sources, during his stay in Goa, Sobhraj had made efforts to alter his appearance. He had shed his spectacles and played around with his hairdo, but in vain.

However, Zende could not miss him as the Crime Branch sleuth had arrested Sobhraj once before in Mumbai in a car-jacking case.

Born to a Vietnamese mother and an Indian father, Sobhraj needed ready access to phone, because he had a reason to keep in touch with the world. His footprint around the world, especially Southeast Asia, was a bloody one, with around 10 murders to his credit, most of them foreign backpackers.

Sobhraj also had a brush with the law in France, where he was booked for burglary as well as car theft.

Sunil Naik, a former Goa correspondent of DD News, told IANS how he had rushed to the spot after coming to know that Sobharaj was arrested, but by the time he reached O’Coqueiro, the police had left.

“I then managed to interview the other guests who were present there, and sent the footage to the Bombay (now Mumbai) office by flight,” Naik said.

Recalling the incident, Naik said he identified Sobhraj’s favourite table and gathered all information about him from the staff of the restaurant.

For quite some time after Sobhraj’s arrest, when buses used to reach near the restaurant, conductors used to alert the passengers by saying “Charles Sobhraj stop”, Naik said.

“The place became famous because of Sobharaj. Even foreigners used to inquire about the place,” Naik said.

The restaurant has even put up a statue of the serial killer sitting on his favourite chair, complete with his trademark beret which Sobhraj was wearing at the time of his arrest.

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