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The Serpent True Story: What Crimes The Show Left Out

Netflix's The Serpent explores the true story of the real-life criminal known as "The Serpent," and while the full scope of Charles Sobhraj’s crimes is touched on, there's quite a bit about the serial killer that gets left out. In the Netflix series, the majority of the story focuses on Sobhraj's killing spree that began with his first confirmed murder in 1975 and ended with his arrest in 1976. Netflix's The Serpent then flashes back and forth in time to briefly cover other crimes before speculating on Sobhraj's unknown victims.

Director Tom Shankland centers The Serpent around the true story of victims killed by Charles Sobhraj. These murders were investigated by Herman Knippenberg, the dutch diplomat whose findings would eventually take down the killer. This was also when Sobhraj met long-time girlfriend Marie-Andreé Leclerc, who was living with him during the time of this investigation and was allegedly an accomplice to his crimes. Leclerc, who has never been found guilty, denied any knowledge of The Serpent Crimes throughout the span of Charles Sobhraj's reign of terror, even up to her death in 1984.

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While conducting research, The Serpent creators relied on interviews with Sobhraj conducted by journalists Richard Neville and Julie Clark. Neville and Clark co-wrote a book about the killer: The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj. Published in 1979, the book covers what was known about Sobhraj's crimes up to that point and the murders that became the focus of The Serpent. But these crimes are just one aspect of the complicated true story of the con-man and serial killer. Like the Netflix series, the book leaves readers wondering where killer Charles Sobhraj, aka "The Serpent," is now. Here's what the show leaves out about Charles Sobhraj's crimes, as well as where he and his wife currently are.

Born in Vietnam in 1944, Sobhraj’s parents separated when he was young. Abandoned by his father, he spent his childhood with his mother and stepfather, a French Army officer who sent Sobhraj to boarding school in France. His compulsion to flee reportedly first began during that time. According to British GQ, while in France, Sobhraj attempted to escape back to Saigon by sea, and even made it as far as Djibouti judging by some historical accounts.

Sobhraj’s crime life began as a teenager outside of Paris, and his earlier crimes included petty theft and burglary. His first arrest came as early as 1963 at the age of 19. From the very beginning, The Serpent's Sobhraj learned how to manipulate the guards and other people he met while serving time, including a wealthy young prison volunteer named Felix d’Escogne, who he lived with after his release according to Crime+Investigation. Living with d’Escogne in Paris, Sobhraj honed his skills as the conman and master manipulator depicted in the Netflix show.

During this same time, Sobhraj met his first wife. In The Serpent's episode 6 story, the Netflix show briefly introduces Juliette into the story. Using fake documents, the couple fled France for Asia in 1970, and their daughter was later born in Mumbai. But marriage and fatherhood did not stop the budding serial killer from continuing his life of crime. With his family by his side, Sobhraj continued his criminal activity, spending time in and out of prisons in Afghanistan, Iran, and India. In 1973, while serving time in New Dehli for armed robbery, Sophraj escaped by pretending to be ill. From there, he left his family behind, fleeing to Instanbul where his half-brother Andre became his new partner in crime. They were eventually arrested in Athens, Greece before The Serpent Sobhraj evaded arrest yet again by lighting a prison van on fire.

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According to a CNN article, Sobhraj claims his first murder was in Pakistan, where he allegedly killed a taxi driver in 1972. But given that Sobhraj is an unreliable source, without evidence, there’s no way of knowing exactly how many people became victims of the serial killer over the years, or even when he committed his first murder. What The Serpent does do, however, is hint at a specific event in Sobhraj’s life that turned him into a killer. Sobhraj recounts that after a man accidentally suffocates in the trunk of his car, Sobhraj says he felt no remorse or guilt about killing the man, and, according to The Serpent's Bikini Killer story, this was the point at which Charles Sobhraj resolved to become a serial killer by any means.

By the time he became the jewel thief and gem smuggler (going by the name of Avian Gautier), Sobhraj had been in and out of prison in several countries for over a decade. That’s when Sobhraj met Marie-Andree Leclerc in Thailand and went from being a thief and gambler to a cold-blooded killer in line with the official account of his story. As The Serpent portrays, Teresa Knowlton is Sobhraj’s first confirmed murder victim, whom he allegedly killed with his right-hand man in The Serpent, Ajay Chowdhury. The media first nicknamed Charles Sobhraj the "Bikini Killer" because of the flowered bikini Knowlton was wearing when she was found. During this particular period in the ‘70s that is the focus of the Netflix series, Sobhraj allegedly murdered at least six people in Thailand, two in Nepal, and two in India.

The Serpent depicts Sobhraj’s 1976 arrest in Delhi, where he is sentenced to 12 years in prison after drugging a group of French tourists. Later that year, Sobhraj was charged with two additional murders. One of his victims was an Israeli scholar whose passport he used when leaving Bangkok with LeClerc and Chowdhury during the months leading up to his arrest in Thailand. In The Serpent, the Sobhraj and LeClerc crime spree during this time is depicted in a montage sequence, as they travel around Nepal, Hong Kong, and  India drugging and robbing tourists before returning to Bangkok.

As The Serpent depicts, Sobhraj later escaped the infamous Tihar prison by drugging the guards before subsequently being recaptured and having an additional 10 years added to his sentence. By the time of his release in 1997, the time period in which he could be prosecuted for his earlier crimes in Bangkok had lapsed. Incredibly, he was now free to return home to France, where he sought and gained media attention for his crimes. While there have never been any murders attributed to the main The Serpent character Sobhraj during the years he spent in France between his release in New Delhi and his arrest in Nepal in 2003, it’s hard to believe the lifetime criminal had completely given up his illegal activities.

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Having been so eager to talk about his crimes with the media, several journalists and filmmakers have had the opportunity to ask Sobhraj why he committed his crimes. While there will never be a satisfying answer to that question, Sobhraj has hinted at his motivations, seeming to have convinced himself that his victims deserved to be cheated out of either their money or their lives — or both.

As reported by Digital Spy in 2021, Sobhraj is reportedly now 77 years old and remains in a Nepalese prison for his heinous crimes. As recently as 2014, Charles Sobhraj's crimes surfaced again after he was convicted of another 1975 murder and given an additional 20 years behind bars in Kathmandu. It was also reported in 2017 by Arab News that Sobhraj had suffered a heart attack and was scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery, prompting investigators to step up their efforts to identify Sobhraj's other potential victims — especially during his largely unaccounted time living free in France.

While still shrouded in mystery to this day, it is widely assumed Sobhraj's first wife Juliette (real name Chantal Compagnon) was a French woman who came from a conservative family. He and Compagnon traveled whilst she was pregnant before the birth of his daughter and are believed to have committed petty crimes to make their way, stealing from tourists in the same manner as Sobhraj would later continue to do throughout his criminal career. While the current whereabouts of Compagnon are unknown, her last on-grid action was to bring a case against the French government to the European Court of Human Rights in a final insult to The Serpent's victims, arguing that Charles Sobhraj, due to his crimes, had unlawfully been offered no legal assistance. This plea fell on deaf ears, however, with Sobhraj's sentence confirmed by the Nepalese appeals court in 2005. While the whole world knows where The Serpent's Charles Sobhraj is today — one of his first true accomplice's whereabouts remains completely in the dark.

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