The twisting, real-life story of Charles Sobhraj, a murderer, thief and master of disguise, who was a hidden darkness in the mid-1970s on Asia’s hippie trail. The serial killer left a trail of bodies – mostly young European and North American backpackers – across Asia in the 1970s, then shocked everyone when he escaped from prison not once but at least four times.
The Serpent a real true serial killer story
The story of the serial killer is an eight-part docudrama called ‘The Serpent‘ from Mammoth Screen, which was first shown on BBC but is now available on Netflix. It was created by Tom Shankland and Richard Warlow. The creators decided to frame the story around Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, who spent years on the trail of Sobhraj and was key to his eventual arrest. They interviewed Knippenberg along with several other real-life figures who are still alive. However, they did not speak with the imprisoned Sobhraj, who has manipulated his own story over the years.
Nadine Gires (Mathilde Warnier) played a pivotal role in assisting Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) build a case against Sobhraj that eventually led to his arrest.
As shown in the series, Gires and her husband, Remi Gires (Grégoire Isvarine), were neighbours of Sobhraj and Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) while they were living at Kanit House in Bangkok. Unaware that Sobhraj was a killer, Gires would introduce him to potential clients, and most often than not, they’d end up as his victims. It wasn’t until Gires helped Dominique Renelleau (Fabien Frankel) escape from Thailand that she discovered how dangerous Sobhraj truly was. Gires and her husband then teamed up with Knippenberg to find evidence against Sobhraj in the hopes of getting him arrested. Gires went undercover and snuck into Sobhraj‘s apartment to take photographs of articles left behind by the victims. After delivering this evidence to Knippenberg, Sobhraj and Leclerc were arrested by police until they were eventually let go by a corrupt cop. Gires ended up returning to her home in France.
The Serpent: Storyline
Thomas Thompson’s book ‘Serpentine’ was a must-read in the 1970s and ’80s for backpackers who were embarking on trips to Asia, a cautionary tale of Sobhraj and his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc (known as “Monique”).
The lengthy account of his crimes was a non-fiction bestseller about the dangers of overly helpful “friends” offering free drinks. But the producers of ‘The Serpent‘ didn’t adapt the series from a book; instead, they based it on interviews that recounted the real-life story of Sobhraj.
The story is set in the ’70s as young travellers on the “hippie trail” in Asia were seen both by authorities and in the media as druggies or sexually permissive, and tracking down their killers wasn’t always a priority for authorities in several different countries.
Charles Sobhraj was a murderer and a conman — The Serpent recounts the worldwide hunt that attempted to capture him. pic.twitter.com/WJljkl0H7R
— Netflix (@netflix) April 2, 2021
Why wasn’t the book ‘Serpentine’ the main source of inspiration for the docuseries?
Sobhraj has tried to sell rights to his story many times, reportedly trying to charge up to 15 million dollars, but factual information is not copyrightable, so anyone can make a story based on facts in the media or from independent interviews.
The cast includes Tahar Rahim as Charles Sobhraj, Jenna Coleman as Marie-Andrée Leclerc, Billy Howle as Herman Knippenberg, Ellie Bamber as Angela Knippenberg (later Angela Kane), Amesh Edireweera as Ajay Chowdhury, Tim McInnerny as Paul Siemons, Chicha Amatayakul as Suda Romyen, Sahajak Boonthanakit as Major General Janthisan, lker Kaleli as Vitali Hakim, Adam Rothenberg as Gilbert Redland, Mathilde Warnier as Nadine Gires, Supadej “Kenneth” Wongwatanaphan as Yotin, Ellie de Lange as Helena Dekker, James Gerard as Jules, Dupont, Apasiri Kulthanan as Lawana, William Brand as Ambassador van Dongen, Chotika Sintuboonkul as Kannika, Ryan O’Donnell as Greg Raynott, Libby Jennings as Viola Raynott, Raphael Roger Levy as Count Michel-Andre Jurion, Fabien Frankel as Dominique Renelleau, Alice Englert as Teresa Knowlton, Tim McMullan as Douglas Cartwright, Nicole, Beutler as Dagmar Boeder, Johan Van Assche as Otto Boeder, Surasak “Noo” Chaiyaat as Romyen, Grégoire Isvarine as Remi Gires and Ruby Ashbourne Serkis as Celia Austin.
- “Episode One” Bangkok, 1975.
Herman Knippenberg, a Dutch diplomat in Bangkok, investigates the disappearance of a young couple who were last seen alive at the apartment of gem dealer Charles Sobhraj.
- Episode Two”
Marie-Andrée Leclerc leaves her life behind for the love of Charles Sobhraj but discovers the chilling cost. Herman Knippenberg vows to investigate the murders of the Dutch couple Willem Bloem and his fiancée Helena Dekker.
- “Episode Three
Young Frenchman Dominique Renelleau tries to escape Charles Sobhraj’s terrifying lair. As he listens to Nadine and Remi’s testimony, Herman realises the scale of Charles’s crimes.
- “Episode Four”
Charles embarks on a terrifying trail of destruction in Nepal, while Nadine helps Herman gather the final evidence he needs for the police to act.
- “Episode Five”
Herman with the help of Nadine begins an exhausting cat and mouse game with Charles. Despite Herman providing substantial evidence to the Thai Police, he continues to pile on the pressure on Major General Janthasin to prosecute Charles, Marie and Ajay. Unfortunately, the suspects are one step ahead.
- “Episode Six”
The fallout from Charles Sobhraj’s (aka Alain Gautier) escape threatens Herman’s diplomatic career. Charles attempts to set up business in France, a place that holds powerful memories for him.
- “Episode Seven”
Charles and Marie-Andrée arrive in Paris and try to set up a new life. Charles takes Marie-Andrée to meet his mother, however, their meeting is not amicable. In Bangkok, Herman makes a breakthrough as news of Charles’s crimes makes the headlines in the Bangkok Post and receives the attention of Interpol in Thailand. Meanwhile, Charles visits his ex-wife to make amends as Marie-Andrée returns to visit Charles’s mother alone to obtain some answers.
- “Episode Eight”
After an international arrest warrant is issued by Interpol at the request of the Thai police, the net begins to close in on Charles and Marie-Andrée in India. However, the final chapter of Herman’s pursuit of Charles Sobhraj stretches long into the future.
How many times did Sobhraj escape from prison?
He escaped from prison and hospital confinement at least four times. Twice he escaped by feigning illness and then drugging the hospital guards.
Who really cracked the case?
As shown in the series, the tenacious Knippenberg and his wife Angela Kane, who later became a high-ranking United Nations official, were indeed key to getting Sobhraj finally convicted in Nepal, 28 years after the murders of Laurent Carrière and Connie Bronzich.
What really happened to Ajay Chowdrury?
He was last seen after he travelled to Malaysia with Sobhraj and Marie-Andree in 1976. Though Sobhraj‘s accomplice was reportedly once seen in Germany, the sighting was never verified. His remains have never been found and his case remains open.
What happened to Nadine Gires after Charles Sobhraj was caught?
During the end-credits scenes, it’s revealed that Gires and Remi have since returned to live in Thailand, though they’re now divorced. Gires runs a beach resort in the southern part of the country, whereas Remi retired to the north, where he grows tropical fruits to sell at markets. In an exclusive interview with the Mirror, Gires recalled meeting Sobhraj. “Charles is a monster and I am terrified of him – I used to sleep with a baseball bat under my bed,” he said. “But I have to admit that when we first met, I suspected nothing and was taken in by his charm… We’d drink Coke and beer, talk about life – we seemed to have a lot in common. When I found out what he was doing to those people I had to act, or I would not be able to live with myself.”