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Over the last year, Netflix has become a certified boss of true crime content, pumping out chilling documentaries like Murder Among the Mormons and Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel and rebooting classic series like Unsolved Mysteries. The new BBC crime show The Serpent is the latest true crime TV show to land on the streaming network and is out now.
The highly bingeable series centers on French-Vietnamese serial killer Charles Sobhraj (played by Tahar Rahim), who is nicknamed the "Bikini Killer" after the attire most of his victims wore. But he also goes by another nickname, The Serpent (hence the TV show's title), due to his ability to mislead law enforcement and slither out of imprisonment.
The show dramatizes the Ripley-esque, real-life serial killer during his most, uh, prolific years targeting backpackers on southeast Asia’s Hippie Trail. After diving deep in his past, you might be wondering where Charles Sobhraj, a.k.a. The Serpent, is now.
What crimes did Charles Sobhraj commit?
No one actually knows how many crimes Sobhraj committed. Some say he killed as many as 20 people, the Los Angeles Times reported. He targeted tourists in the 1970s that were traveling through southeast Asia’s "Hippie Trail," and was believed to have killed at least 12 young backpackers, according to The Independent. Sobhraj identified himself to victims as a gem dealer and enticed them with all kinds of hookups—from drugs to parties to a place to crash. His first victim was American backpacker Teresa Knowlton.
He lived in a mansion in the red light district and often entertained travelers with his girlfriend, Marie-Andree Leclerc, per The Independent. He would then poison, strangle, drown, stab and, in some cases, burn his victims alive.
Most information about The Serpent’s murders comes from the culprit, per the Los Angeles Times. “Arrest warrants were issued for those murders, but he successfully managed to avoid returning to Thailand, so they expired,” the series’ co-producer Paul Testar told the publication. “Much of what’s known about the murders is from the mouth of Sobhraj himself, from interviews he gave to [biographer] Richard Neville. As with everything with Sobhraj, it’s difficult to verify where the truth ends and where the lies begin.”
How was Charles Sobhraj caught?
He was so skilled at evading the authorities that he became Interpol’s most-wanted man, but was eventually captured in 1976, per The Independent. His killing spree came to an end at one party in New Delhi, where Sobhraj attempted to drug 22 members of a French tour party. However, some people managed to stay awake despite the drugs and called the police, explaining what had happened.
The French couple Nadine and Remi Gires, Sobhraj’s neighbors in Thailand, risked their lives to make sure he was caught. “When Charles was arrested I celebrated with a bottle of champagne,” Nadine told the Daily Mirror. She used to sleep with a baseball bat under her bed in case he tried to attack her in her sleep. “I don’t feel guilty because I know I did everything I could to put a stop to the murders. And I can tell you it was a good lesson. Now I am very careful with the people I meet.”
Sobhraj was imprisoned for 12 years, initially for the manslaughter of two tourists. But 10 years later, he drugged the Indian prison guards and escaped for a month before authorities recaptured him, The Independent reported. He was jailed for another decade.
Where is Charles Sobhraj now?
After he was released from jail in 1997, he became a kind of media star, even charging journalists for interviews. Sobhraj tried to sell the rights to his life story for millions of dollars by going on an elaborate press tour in Paris, per the Los Angeles Times.
"He is constantly trying to monetize himself and his story, and we were adamant that we would never pay him," the series’ writer and producer Richard Warlow told the publication. "And the other thing is, he’s a compulsive liar, so whatever he had to tell us wouldn’t have been true."
But Sobhraj's odd life in the spotlight ended in 2003 when he was arrested in Kathmandu, Nepal for traveling with a false passport and for murdering American tourist Connie Jo Boronzich and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière in 1975.
Sobhraj received a life sentence for his crimes and is still alive and imprisoned in Nepal.
While in prison in 2008, Sobhraj got married to his lawyer’s daughter Nihita Biswas. She was 20 and he was 64 years old at the time. His wife is a former reality star (she appeared on the Indian show Bigg Boss). Biswas reportedly fell in love with Sobhraj while visiting him in prison and serving as his interpreter. She believes he is innocent, per an interview with the Times of India.
According to The Express, he’s now 76 years old and has had several heart surgeries in prison.
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