December 2012 – January 2013

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Richard Neville & Charles Sobhraj

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Long, lean and languid-limbed with Mick Jagger lips and hair to his shoulders, Richard Neville was the very picture of a bell-bottomed hippie. A pioneer of the war on deference, the one-time UNSW student newspaper editor was convicted and sentenced to prison for publishing a rude satirical magazine called OZ. That was 1964.

In 1966, aged 25, Neville upped stumps to London, went fluorescent and co-founded a psychedelic version of OZ. All too soon, he found himself at the centre of the longest obscenity trial in British legal history, charged with conspiring to corrupt public morals by publishing an offensive depiction of Rupert the Bear. The case was a sensation, a free speech milestone. John and Yoko protested the guilty verdict. Between court appearances and spliffs, Neville knocked out Playpower, a gleefully chaotic insiders’ guide to the counter-culture from the barricades of Paris to the Istanbul–Kathmandu trail. But the hash cookie had begun to crumble. All too soon, the hippy hippy shake was all shook out. Worse, there was a serpent in the garden.

Since 1970, Charles Sobhraj, a burglar, con man and smuggler, had been robbing satori-seeking Western stoners from Turkey to Thailand. The Paris-raised son of a Vietnamese mother and an Indian father started out by drugging and swindling his marks. Before long, he was killing them. Continually on the move, he eventually murdered at least 12 people.

In July 1977, commissioned to co-write a book on the serial killer, Richard Neville flew to Delhi, where Sobhraj was facing trial, arriving with a “crude theory of Charles as a child of colonialism revenging himself on the counter-culture”. Instead, he found himself being courted by a psychopath.

Over the next four months, Neville interviewed the charming, urbane and self-assured killer in a stifling courtroom cell. Eventually, on condition that Neville never testify against him, Sobhraj confessed to five known murders in Thailand and two in Nepal. He called them “the cleanings”.

Neville published the confessions in The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj and eventually returned to Australia and a brief attempt at a television career. Sobhraj was sentenced to 20 years’ jail, broke out, duchessed the system and was deported to France a free man in 1997. Six years later, he was recognised in the street in Kathmandu and arrested in the casino of the Yak and Yeti hotel. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and there he remains, a privileged inmate.

Richard Neville describes himself as a practising futurist. Charles Sobhraj is on Facebook.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

Cover: December 2012 – January 2013

December 2012 – January 2013

From the front page

Fair gone

The Coalition’s aspirational pitch worked a treat

Illustration

The cases against Colin Manock

Calls mount for a royal commission into SA’s former forensic pathologist

Image of former prime minister Bob Hawke

Remembering the Silver Bodgie

Bob Hawke’s ability to build consensus reshaped Australia

Doomsday is nigh

The ALP’s policies are mild – why are they being treated as a mortal threat?


In This Issue

Image from ‘The Last Diggers’ by Ross Coulthart. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Lest We Inflate

Why do Australians lust for heroic war stories?

Ballarat–Colac Road

John McTernan, Parliament House, Canberra, 20 April 2012. © Penny Bradfield/Fairfax Syndication

The Strategist

Julia Gillard’s hard-nosed director of communications

‘Love Story’ by Florian Habicht (director), In limited release

‘Love Story’ by Florian Habicht (director)


More in Arts & Letters

Photo of Leonard French underneath his stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Leonard French’s Balzacian life

Reg MacDonald’s biography may return this Australian artist to the national imagination

Book cover of Choice Words

The desperate, secretive drama: ‘Choice Words’ edited by Louise Swinn

Personal stories consider questions of choice, legality and stigma surrounding abortion

Still image from John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Killer instincts: The ‘John Wick’ franchise

Keanu Reeves hones his stardom in the hyperreal violence of an assassin’s tale

Image of Michael Jackson and James Safechuck.

Starstruck: Reckoning with Michael Jackson’s legacy

What do we do with the music after ‘Leaving Neverland’?


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Read on

Image of former prime minister Bob Hawke

Remembering the Silver Bodgie

Bob Hawke’s ability to build consensus reshaped Australia

Doomsday is nigh

The ALP’s policies are mild – why are they being treated as a mortal threat?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Our distorted politics

Why is the Coalition even competitive under Morrison?

Image of the News Corp Australia office in Sydney

When journalists revolt

New Corp’s influence is being tested this election


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