Starring Tahar Rahim as the killer Charles Sobhraj and Jenna Coleman as his lover and accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc, the eight-part drama is currently airing on BBC1 and BBC iPlayer.
“A hidden obscurity on the hippie track of Asia – the twisted, real-life story of a murderer, thief and alluring master of disguise” is how the BBC bills it, and critics have hailed Rahim’s performance as the “frosty” killer who has become one of Interpol’s most wanted men.
Here are the details of the drama.
Who is Charles Sobhraj?
A French national born Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj to an Indian father and Vietnamese mother in what was then known as Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Sobhraj led a life of petty crime in adolescence which degenerated into much darker acts.
Avoiding authorities using fake passports across Thailand, India and Nepal, on what was known as the hippie traveler route, he posed as a drug dealer or gem sellers to impress and get to know tourists, before you steal them.
He has been charged with the murders of several Western tourists, playing cat-and-mouse with authorities for years – his ability to evade police and escape jail has earned him his nickname the Serpent, although ‘he also became known as the Bikini Killer as the bodies of several female victims were found in swimsuits.
In The Serpent, we see him poisoning his victims, burning the bodies of some and leaving others to drown.
Sobhraj was finally jailed in India in 1976. Ten years later, when his sentence was due to end, he escaped from prison – knowing that a Thai arrest warrant against him, which would almost certainly have led to death penalty, was still valid. His escape and recapture meant an extension of his prison term in India – and he therefore avoided execution in Thailand.
He was finally released in 1997 and returned to France. Apparently enjoying his notoriety, he gave media interviews about his life.
But in 2003, after traveling to Nepal again, he was captured there by police and a murder investigation was reopened. Some accounts suggest he was hoping to be caught again, eager to gain attention. In 2004 he was re-incarcerated and now 76 years old, he is still in prison.
What happened to Marie-Andrée Leclerc?
Sobhraj had several followers, with his lover, Marie Andrée Leclerc, the most eminent of the Serpent. Seemingly blinded by love and infatuation, she accepted her crimes.
Born in Quebec, Canada, she met Sobhraj during a trip to India.
As an accomplice, she was also jailed for her participation in his crimes. However, in 1983 she was allowed to return to Canada because she was suffering from cancer. She died in 1984, at the age of 38.
Who is Herman Knippenberg?
In The Serpent, the story centers on the investigations carried out by Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, played by Billy Howle. Working at the Dutch Embassy in Thailand, he began investigating Sobhraj’s crimes after encountering the case of two missing Dutch travelers.
Eventually linking the disappearance to other deaths, he was able to build a case against Sobhraj with the help of one of the criminal’s neighbors.
Ahead of the show’s launch, Howle told the Radio Times he spoke to the real Mr Knippenberg while researching the role.
“It is a kind of moral outrage that drives this tedious investigation that he is undertaking,” he said. “It’s so unlikely, really, that a person in this position will do the job he was doing, for it to land on his desk, I think it’s moral outrage at the reality, at the gravity.” of it, which moves it forward. want to stop it. ”
Sobhraj was sentenced in Nepal for the deaths of Laurent Carrière, of Canada, and of the American Connie Bronzich, and in India of Frenchman Jean-Luc Solomon, but he is said to have killed many others.
He has never been tried for crimes in Thailand. American Teresa Knowlton, Turk Vitali Hakim and his French girlfriend Charmayne Carrou, as well as Dutch students Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker, are other victims he is linked to.
Some names have been changed in the drama out of respect for the victims and their families.
The series is dedicated “to all the intrepid young people who leave with big dreams, but who have never come home”.
The Serpent is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer