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Where Is Charles Sobhraj, Who Calls Himself’Alain Gautier’ in Netflix’s The Serpent, Now?

In Netflix’s BBC pick-up, The Serpent, Tahar Rahim brings to cinematic life once again the story of Charles Sobhraj (alias for much of the series: “Alain Gautier”), the so-called “Bikini Killer,” who preyed on tourists traveling through southeast Asia’s “Hippie Trail” during the 1970s. The celebrity of Sobhraj has persisted for some time. After his…

In Netflix’s BBC pick-up, The Serpent, Tahar Rahim brings to cinematic life once more the story of Charles Sobhraj (alias for much of the series:”Alain Gautier”), the so-called”Bikini Killer,” who preyed on tourists traveling through southeast Asia’s”Hippie Trail” during the 1970s.

The celebrity of Sobhraj has persisted for a while. After his release from prison in India in 1997, Sobhraj supposedly sold the rights for his exploits to some French producer for $15 million. His narrative is one of deception and mass murder. Between 1972 and 1976, Sobhraj is thought to be responsible for between 12 and 24 killings. The victims were all Western travelers visiting Thailand and the Indian subcontinent.

The BBC/Netflix series probably takes inspiration from the many accounts of Sobhraj’s killings, such as Thomas Thompson’s Serpentine, that chronicles not just Sobhraj, spouse Marie‐Andrée Leclerc, and apparent henchman Ajay Chowdhury’s crimes, but also the harrowing investigation by Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, that is, by all reports, the protagonist of the story.

While The Serpent fictionalizes a few characteristics of the history–largely the dialogue, which, the series points out, is entirely composed –the inherent tale and its players are all very real. Knippenberg has stated in a recent interview that, occasionally, the show felt”dangerously close” to the real thing.

Here’s the real story behind The Serpent.

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Who is Charles Sobhraj?

Sobhraj was created in Japanese-occupied Saigon in 1944. As a young child, Sobhraj had been reportedly a chronic bed wetter, liar, and thief. In 1962, he had been arrested in Paris for stealing a vehicle. After another robbery charge, he served a jail sentence soon after. In prison, he also learned karate and Italian. Sobhraj later married and, in 1970, moved along with his wife and infant daughter to Greece, then to Hong Kong, then to Macao, where he abandoned them.

Serpentine: Charles Sobhraj’s Reign of Terror

He met Marie‐Andrée Leclerc who became his mistress and partner. By this time, in the first’70s, he had begun drugging, robbing, and reportedly killing travelers. The drugs would cause dysentery and incapacitate them. Sobhraj was eventually arrested in India in 1971, but he escaped jail by faking an appendicitis. In 1975, Sobhraj was operating as a gem dealer in Bangkok. Sobhraj would later say,”As long as I can talk to people, I can control them.”

One French woman, however, did go to the British Embassy with the story. She was turned away. During this time, Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg began independently investigating the death of two Dutch citizens, despite pressure from his superiors to stop.

“It was so simple for [Sobhraj],” Knippenberg would say later. “The murders, the deception, everything. He had got away with so much for so long that he thought he was invincible. As for me, I think he may have killed many more. Inside his Bangkok apartment, we discovered a stack of passports and driver’s permits. They might have easily belonged to others.”

Knippenberg’s investigation led to Sobhraj and Leclerc’s arrest by Thai police. The couple, however, later escaped.

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Their freedom was short lived. In New Delhi, they were set upon by a French tour group after the couple had tried to drug them. The Indian government found Sobhraj guilty of only one murder, and he was given a seven-year prison sentence. He escaped several years later by drugging prison guards, but was later arrested. Some speculate the escape was designed to add to his prison sentence and, therefore, avoid extradition to Thailand where he could be executed for his crimes.

Leclerc had denied any knowledge of Sobhraj’s murders. (It is believed that she did help Sobhraj drug at least one of his victims.) One victim later claimed that Leclerc”had to learn about it. Anyone with ears and eyes could see what was happening in this apartment.” However, the same Indian court that sentenced Sobhraj overturned Leclerc’s conviction. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was allowed her to return to Canada. She died there in 1984.

By the time Sobhraj left Indian prison in 1997, the time frame needed for him to be tried in Thailand had lapsed. He was free. He immediately moved to Paris, embracing his public infamy.

french serial killer charles sobhraj c is escorted by nepalese police at a district court for a hearing on a case related to the murder of canadian backpacker laurent ormond carriere, in bhaktapur on june 12, 2014 sobhraj, a french citizen who is serving a life sentence in nepal for the murder of an american backbacker in 1975, has been linked with a string of killings across asia in the 1970s, earning the nickname bikini killer afp photoprakash mathema        photo credit should read prakash mathemaafp via getty images


Where is Charles Sobhraj now?

In 2003, Sobhraj was arrested in Kathmandu for murder and traveling with a false passport. The murders–American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière–had occurred in 1975. He was given a life sentence.

As in the Netflix series, it was Knippenberg’s documentation that would help convict Sobhraj. “He wanted to move in the shadows into the limelight by showing up in the 1 place where he knew he’d committed murders but they would not possess the proof ,” Knippenberg told the Daily Mail in an interview. “But he forgot I still had the files. He had been a gambler. It was like he always did casinos, placing everything on black. But it landed on red.”

With Sobhraj’s arrest, Knippenberg’s nearly 30-year pursuit of the man had finally, it appeared, come to an end. “It took a very long time to get Sobhraj, several decades,” he said. “But I needed to do it. He got in my like any type of tropical malaria. He would not go away. This is not over until Sobhraj and I will be in different worlds. When there is a Hell, I am sure he’s a candidate.”

Sobhraj remains serving his life sentence in Nepal. He is 76 and has reportedly obtained several heart surgeries while in prison.

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