The True Story Behind Terrifying New Netflix Series ‘The Serpent’

From Charles Sobhraj's murderous rampage to where he is now

From The Ripper to Murder Among The Mormons, Netflix has done more than deliver with its true crime offerings, however this time, they’re taking shape in the form of a fashionable remake, courtesy of The Serpent.

Jumping back and forth in time, the Netflix hit follows the crimes of notorious jewel thief and serial killer, Charles Sobhraj who terrorised Southeast Asia during the 1970s.

In The Serpent, Charles Sobhraj and his long-time girlfriend, Marie Andrée-Leclerc use their assumed identities as the gem-dealing married couple, Alain and Monique, to con young backpackers and wayward travellers by promising them adventure and free housing at their home in Bangkok.

But while the series seems like a work of fiction, there are some truths that inspired the show and its characters.

Before you dive into your newest binge-watching obsession, we’ve unpacked the truth behind The Serpent, from Sobhraj’s real life crimes to where he—and all those involved—have ended up.

Is Netflix’s The Serpent Based On A True Story?

Inspired by real events, The Serpent focuses on the pursuit of Charles Sobhraj and his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc by Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg in the late 1970s. 

Using their assumed identities as a gem-dealing married couple, Alain and Monique, the pair make a living from conning young backpackers and wayward travellers by promising them adventure and free housing at their home in Bangkok. 

Sobhraj’s right-hand man, Ajay Chowdhury, helped the couple lure victims to their apartment at Kanit House, where they would drug them and steal their belongings and identities.

Nicknamed “The Serpent”, Sobhraj was known to prey on young, usually Western travelers (and particularly women) who making their way along the “Hippie Trail” of the 1970s, or the overland route between Europe and South Asia that became popular for young backpackers in the 1960s and ’70s.

In real life, Sobhraj did just that and was accused of more than 20 murders throughout the ‘Hippie Trail’—which included victims across Thailand, Nepal, and India—however, he was never convicted of murder until 2004, as per BBC.

The Serpent
(Credit: Netflix)

What Happened To Charles Sobhraj?

Charles Sobhraj was arrested in 1976 for providing an entire bus of French students with copious amounts of drugs in New Delhi, India. As a result, he was jailed for various charges and served 20 years, briefly escaping in 1986 after drugging the prison guards with poisoned sweets. However, he was released from jail in 1997 after the warrant for his extradition to Thailand ran out. 

In 2003, Sobhraj was arrested in a Kathmandu casino and later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1975 murder of Connie Bronzich. In 2014, he was also convicted of the 1975 murder of Laurent Carriere. Currently in his mid-70s, Sobhraj has suffered health problems and is looking to be released from jail. He has never stood trial for the alleged murders in Thailand.

The Serpent
(Credit: Netflix)

What Happened To Marie-Andrée Leclerc?

Sobhraj’s on-screen accomplice, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, was a Quebec native who met and fell in love with Sobhraj while travelling, eventually becoming his partner in crime. 

However, in real life, many of The Serpent‘s details about her life are, in fact, true. Played by Jenna Coleman, the actress revealed that she did extensive research into whether Leclerc was complicit in the crimes or brainwashed by her companion, as well as how she was able to distance herself from their wrongdoings.

“I think the ‘is she a victim or is she not,’ how much of her was brainwashed, how much of it was a choice to be there and a choice to live in the delusion,” Coleman told Radio Times, “I think that’s what’s really interesting: to make the choices that she made in keeping this reality in a way that she could so that she could keep existing and being with Charles.”

Ultimately, Leclerc and Sobhraj were captured and sentenced in India, however, she was released in the early ’80s and returned to Canada, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, where she died in 1984.

What Happened To Ajay Chowdhury?

By the end of The Serpent, Ajay Chowdhury’s fate remains unknown after Sobhraj abandons him in the middle of nowhere. However, in real life, Chowdhury’s whereabouts still remains a mystery to this day. Aside from the alleged sighting in Germany in 1976, no one has seen or heard from Chowdhury since.

However, his last known whereabouts was in Malaysia with Sobhraj, which could mean that Sobhraj may have killed his partner in order to evade arrest. However, the truth is still unknown.

The Serpent
(Credit: Netflix)

What Happened To Herman And Angela Knippenberg?

By the end of The Serpent, Angela and Herman Knippenberg’s marriage troubles are evident as the latter’s obsession with catching the “Bikini Killer” completely consumed their lives. After leaving Thailand in 1977, the couple were divorced by 1989, and are now both remarried. Angela later served as the Under-Secretary-General for Management in the United Nations until she retired in 2015.

Herman, however, served as a diplomat in nations around the world until he retired in 2003. Now 76-years-old, Herman lives in Wellington with his second wife, Vanessa, after  serving as a consultant for the series based on his real-life investigations.

The Serpent
(Credit: Netflix)

What Happened To Nadine Gires?

Nadine Gires, the neighbour who helped the Knippenberg’s prove Sobhraj’s crimes, was a lonely housewife who befriended Marie-Andrée but did not suspect “Alain” of anything and the real-life Gires told the U.K.’s Mirror in a January interview, that those details were, in fact, true.

“Charles is a monster and I am terrified of him—I used to sleep with a baseball bat under my bed. But I have to admit that when we first met, I suspected nothing and was taken in by his charm. I was married to a sous chef and had little to do while he was at work, so I spent almost every day at Charles’ apartment. I became good friends with Marie-Andrée and she’d cook dinner for me, normally rare steaks and salad,” Gires said.

“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.”

Now, Gires is 67-years-old and told the publication that when Sobhraj was arrested, she broke open a bottle of champagne.

The Serpent
(Credit: Netflix)

Who Were The Victims Of Sobhraj’s Crimes?

The names and details of Sobhraj’s victims on The Serpent may not correlate to those who suffered in reality. For example, the Dutch couple who sparked Herman Knippenberg’s investigation were named Willem Bloem and Lena Dekker on the show, but in real life they were based on backpackers Henk Bintanja, 29, and his fiancée Cornelia Hemker, 25.

Teresa Knowlton, the American tourist on her way to a monastery in Nepal, was actually based on a real-life woman of the same name from Seattle—who Sobhraj confessed to killing multiple times in On the Trail of the Serpent, the biography by Julie Clarke and Richard Neville, and several articles. Vitali Hakim served as the real-life inspiration for “the Turk” character, with Charmayne Carrou as his French girlfriend briefly seen on the show.

When it came to the couple who Sobhraj and Leclerc attacked in Nepal, they were based on real-life victims Canadian Laurent Carrière, 26, and American Connie Bronzich, 29. As for Sobhraj’s roommate Dominique Renelleau, who made a daring escape, he was poisoned by Sobhraj and he did escape Thailand with the help of his neighbours.

As for the rest of the real-life details, Sobhraj’s wife on the show, Juliette, is based on his real-life wife Chantal Compagnon; and their TV daughter, Madhu, is based on their real-life daughter, Usha.

You can rewatch season one of The Serpent on Netflix here.

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