‘The Serpent’: Who Are the Real People Behind the Netflix Drama?
Charles Sobhraj has kept true crime fans hooked for decades, and now Netflix is delving into the serial killer’s twisted story with the eight-part series The Serpent.
Aside from “the Serpent,” the nickname he earned for being so slippery and avoiding law enforcement, Sobhraj was also known as the Bikini Killer for his murders of tourists along Southeast Asia’s “Hippie Trail” in the mid-1970s. According to Esquire, Sobhraj is responsible for at least 12 killings and perhaps as many as 30.
The Serpent—which dramatizes both Sobhraj’s crimes and the remarkable attempts to bring him to justice—hits Netflix on Friday, April 2, after premiering in the U.K. earlier this year.
While you wait, read on to discover what became of the lead figures in the story.
According to Express, Sobhraj was initially convicted and imprisoned in India for the murder of Frenchman Jean-Luc Solomon, receiving a 12-year prison sentence with the agreement that, upon his release, he would be extradited to Thailand for other murder trials. But he orchestrated a prison escape in 1986 and got his prison sentence extended by 10 years, thus avoiding the extradition.
Sobhraj, played in The Serpent by Tahar Rahim, was released in 1997 and lived in France for a time. In 2003, however, he traveled back to Nepal, where he was arrested and given a life sentence for the murders of American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière. These days, he’s still behind bars in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
Sobhraj and his girlfriend-turned-accomplice, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, were captured in New Delhi, India, in 1976, and she too was sentenced to 12 years in prison for her role in his crimes, according to Tatler. She won release on an appeal and was ordered to stay in India. But in 1983, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and allowed to return home to Canada, where she died at age 38 the following year. In her book Je Reviens, Leclerc claimed she never loved Sobhraj, Tatler added.
“I think the [question of] 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, 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,” The Serpent actress Jenna Coleman said, per Entertainment Daily.
Knippenberg was working as a Dutch diplomat in Bangkok, Thailand, when he was assigned to investigate the disappearance of Dutch backpackers Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker. He and his then-wife, Angela, worked the case and accumulated evidence that they handed over to Interpol.
The former diplomat—played in The Serpent by Billy Howle—is now retired and living in New Zealand, where he keeps an archive of the Serpent case in his home, according to The Guardian.
“It was absolutely imperative to stop the killing,” he explained on a recent appearance on the talk show Loose Women. “As I have said to friends and some before, even if it was not in the parameters of my official work, if I could make the difference, I felt at that moment I should and I would.”
Kane, Knippenberg’s ex-wife, served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Management from 2008 to 2012 and United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs from 2012 to 2015. She’s currently the chair of the United Nations University Council.
In an interview with the Mirror, Kane objected to The Serpent’s portrayal of her as a “dutiful wife,” as played by Ellie Bamber, who merely assists her husband’s investigation.
“Herman and I were very much partners in all of this,” she told the tabloid. “A husband and wife detective team is a good story—and that is the real story—but that’s not the way they wrote it.”
The Serpent, Streaming, Friday, April 2, Netflix