The Chilling Real Story of What Happened Behind the New Netflix Series. Who is The Serpent Actually About?
Women loved Charles Sobhraj despite of him being a serial killer. If he had been just a bit more careful, he might still have been free.
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He knew how to manipulate people and maintain loyal followers to commit crime with. That's one of the reasons why he was nicknamed Asia's Charles Manson. He has poisoned some of his victims, in order to cure them later, gaining their trust. However, he ended up murdering and robbing them. Serial killer Charles Sobhraj was responsible for a number of burnt or drowned bodies in the 1970s.
In prison, he enjoyed luxury and celebrations with the guards, using his money to buy their kindness. At the same time, he always knew how to seduce women. At the age of 64 he got engaged to a 20-year-old girl. She claims that Charles Sobhraj is innocent and has been defending him for many years. The life-sentencing killer will soon celebrate his 77th birthday.
- Where his nickname Bikini Killer comes from.
- What's written in his diary about his father.
- How he became a master of prison escapes.
- How he gained his victims trust.
- Why his first wife left him.
Charismatic Bikini Killer
Teresa, young American girl, wanted to get to Nepal's capital Kathmandu in 1975. She planned to learn more about Buddhism there. Before that, she made a detour through Bangkok, meeting the charming Charles Sobhraj, who introduced himself as a jeweller under a false name.
There are various versions of what happened next. But eventually, Teresa ended up with Sobhraj in the car. He either managed to convince the American woman to go with him voluntarily, or he drugged her. The second version is more likely, because he has lured his future victims in a similar fashion. Him and his accomplice murdered her, dressed her into a swimsuit and threw her body into the sea, according to the Daily Star.
Police initially thought that tourist Teresa had tragically drowned. However, the autopsy revealed that it's been a murder instead. Charles Sobhraj was later nicknamed Bikini Killer, due to this case. He searched for his victims on the so-called Hippie Trail, which stretches across Europe, India, Nepal and Thailand and used to attract many tourists.
In love with a criminal
Charles Sobhraj grew up in the 40s with his Vietnamese mother in the former Saigon. He's never met his father because he left the family shortly after his birth. "I will make you regret that you have missed your father's duty," he confided in his diary, according to BBC. Most likely, having no clue how this sentence will come across later.
A French soldier, with whom his mother got together, became the little boy's surrogate father for a while. They moved around with him based on his current work location. Eventually, they settled in France. Before becoming a cold-blooded killer, Charles Sobhraj was convicted in 1963 as a 19-year-old for burglary in France, writes the daily Herald Sun.
His criminal career continued after his release. He has met his first great love during this period - French girl Chantal Compagnon, with whom he had a son in Bombay in 1970. They have spent their free time robbing tourists.
In 1973, Charles Sobhraj tried to rob a jewelry store and fell into the hands of the police. However, his return to freedom was very quick. He tricked the guards by pretending to feel sick and demanded to be taken to hospital. They got into a car-crash while escorting the detained Sobhraj and Chantal promptly took him to safety.
Over time, the young woman was fed up with the criminal lifestyle, decided to leave Sobhraj and return to France. “It’s personal. He’s not responsible. You can’t judge him the way you would other normal people. I don’t think he realises what he does.” The Guardian quoting the words of his first wife, Chantal, answering a journalist's question about how she's capable to harbor feelings for the killer. He allegedly committed murders during their relationship already, for which he was never convicted.
Women loved him, no matter what he did
According to Crime+Investigation, after leaving Chantal, Charles Sobhraj went to meet his brother in Turkey. They committed crime together for a short time. His brother was later imprisoned, though. Sobhraj moved to Thailand, where he met the Canadian tourist Marie-Andrée Leclerc, who became his devoted companion. Apparently, the fact that he was a fraud, a thief, and a murderer was insignificant to her.
“I don’t think Marie-Andrée was very bright. She had a boring job in Canada and came on a holiday and was mesmerised by Sobhraj, and found there was no way back," said the diplomat Angela Kane for The Mirror. She and her husband at the time, Herman Knippenberg, also a diplomat, had been gathering evidence against Charles Sobhraj for many years.
After Marie-Andrée, Ajay Chowdhury of Indian descent also joined Charles Sobhraj's criminal group. In 1975 they allegedly killed Teresa Knowlton, that we mentioned in the introduction, according to Thomas Thompson's book Serpentine.
Charles Sobhraj's modus operandi was specific in the way that he damaged his victims in order to help them later. This allegedly happened in the case of the Dutch Cornelia Hemker and her fiancé Henk Bintany.
He poisoned them both and proceeded to help them heal, gaining their trust. Later, together with the accomplice, they physically attacked them, strangled and burnt their bodies, writes NZ Herland. According to CNN, the autopsy has shown that the perpetrators even burned the Dutch couple alive.
Apparently, he proceeded in a similar way with all other victims - befriending strangers, murdering them by strangling, poisoning or drowning, robbing the victims' bodies and throwing them into the sea or burning them.
In 1976, diplomat Herman Knippenberg and his wife Angela began searching for the missing Dutch couple. The couple has managed to get into the suspect's apartment and find evidence in the form of documents or victim's passports and also the poison with which he was putting people to sleep. “It was not scary in his apartment. It was exciting because we found things that validated everything we thought about Sobhraj," Angela told The Mirror.
Mass vomiting caught the attention of the police
Charles Sobhraj, his mistress Marie-Andrée Leclerc and accomplice Ajay Chowdhury have meanwhile moved to Malaysia, where Chowdhury has disappeared. According to certain theories, he was poisoned by the groups boss. Declining loyalty and fear of being turned in have been cited as some of the possible motives.
After arriving in Mumbai, two women replaced the male accomplice - Barbara Smith and Mary Ellen Eather. By creating a cult of devoted followers around him, Sobhraj was sometimes called Asia's Charles Manson (Charles Manson was leader of a cult that murdered people in the U.S.).
In this formation, he poisoned a group of students in India in the summer of 1976. According to Vice, the hotel staff saw as twenty people started to vomit, so they called the police. Other sources say that the police were called from the hospital. Either way, Sobhraj's slickness demonstrated during the arrest as well. Before getting behind the bars, he swallowed a number of stolen gems that he could use to bribe the guards.
He was also able to change the opinion of a judge by bribing. He was sentenced to only 12 years in prison instead of life sentence. His mistress Marie-Andrée Leclerc was convicted of drugging students, however, she got out on parole. In 1984, she died of cancer.
Unlike his associates, who attempted suicide, Charles Sobhraj enjoyed relative luxury. They put a TV, carpet, telephone and fax in his cell. Supposedly, he even had a squirrel in his cell, which he turned into a pet (more like imprisoned animal). Behind bars, he was popular not only with the guards but also with the fellow prisoners. Allegedly, he's sent financial contributions to children of the poorer cellmates.
Among other things, he has managed to conduct several interviews in prison, confessing to about 12 murders, according to CNN. In 1979, the book The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj was published by the journalist Richard Neville, based on the life memories of Charles Sobhraj. Sobhraj also revealed that he allegedly committed some of the murders for a drug cartel from Hong Kong.
He further reportedly claimed that he had been able to justify the murders to himself. He was comparing himself to a professional soldier who can kill people and does not feel remorse. "He has the face of an angel, but somewhere I think the devil crept into his soul," the author of the book quotes the killer's mother. Charles Sobhraj later denied all the allegations made in the book.
That's also the reason why we only write about his murders in general terms and do not give any exact details. Bikini Killer did not confess to any of the murders in court and, unlike many other perpetrators, did not come to the crime scene to help the investigators with the reconstruction.
Every time the journalists asked him about his motive and how he committed the murders, they usually didn't receive a relevant answer. Journalist Alan Dawson, who was considering writing a book about his life, said that Sobhraj had never explained the true motive for the murders to him.
For example, he suggested that white people destroyed Asia by smuggling opium and therefore deserved to die. He has mentioned similar motives to Richard Neville. For example, he told him that his love of Vietnam and Asia led him to do so. However, the writer considers that absurd. Charles Sobhraj enjoyed the attention of the media, contradicted himself countless times, and therefore all of his statements should be taken with a grain of salt.
Some journalists had to pay to interview the killer
Although Charles Sobhraj enjoyed his comfort in prison, his sentence was slowly coming to an end. He was threatened to be deported to Thailand, where he could be sentenced to life in prison for murder. Therefore, he tried to escape in 1986, which was again successful.
Using smuggled sedatives, he had put the guards, who were having fun at his prison birthday party, to sleep and walked out to freedom. For his multiple successful prison escapes, he was also nicknamed The Serpent - snake. A series of the same name was filmed about his life and is available on Netflix since April 1st 2021.
It didn't last long for Charles Sobhraj to be captured again. The court extended his sentence by 10 years. Many argue that he got himself caught deliberately, to stay convicted until his murders in Thailand were time-barred. He was finally released in 1997 and moved to Paris.
“I feel great, like I’m born again. The first thing I will do is stop and make a prayer on my way to the French embassy,” he said shortly after his release to freedom. Charles Sobhraj opened himself up to the world and wanted to make money on his own behalf. According to the BBC, he has sold the rights for his life story in the form of a film and a book for about 15 million dollars. In addition, he charged journalists to interview him for about 5,000 dollars.
However, he made a huge mistake in 2003. From the comfort of Paris, he returned to Nepal, where the authorities were still actively searching for him. More specifically, he was staying in the capital, Kathmandu, where one of the journalists recognized him. The negligent Charles Sobhraj was detained by the police at the time, and a year later sentenced to life in prison for the murder of tourist Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.
Diplomat Herman Knippenberg and his wife Angela played a major role in his conviction. They were searching for the serial killer Charles Sobhraj for many years and were therefore able to provide the investigators with invaluable evidence. In 2014, Charles Sobhraj was also convicted of murdering the Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, who was a friend of the first victim. The bodies of both victims were allegedly repeatedly stabbed and later burned, according to First Spot. The convicted Charles Sobhraj has denied the charges.
“I was very happy when Sobhraj was re-arrested but I think he has a cushy life in jail and he seems happy to be there, because how is he going to survive outside? All he knows is drugging and killing,” says Angela Kane.
The Bikini Killer did not lose any of his charm, despite of his old age. This is also supported by the fact that he got engaged to the 20-year-old Nihita Biswasova, daughter of his lawyer, with whom he got together at the age of 64, writes Express.
Nihita believes that Charles Sobhraj is innocent, and she has got herself into some problems due to her relationship with the convicted murderer. People began to threaten her that if she did not cancel her engagement, they would kidnap and torture her. However, she did not allow herself to be intimidated and, according to some sources, has been forming a couple with Charles Sobhraj since 2008, which has been denied by the Nepalese authorities.
As soon as Nihita appeared in one of the episodes of the Indian show Bigg Boss, she said that she had nothing to hide and was proud that Charles Sobhraj was her husband. In an interview with the AP Archives, she stated that her partner takes care of his environment and that she loves him more and more each day.
The total count of Charles Sobhraj's victims is still uncertain til this day. Based on various estimates, he is said to be responsible for 12 to 24 murders. He allegedly committed them in France, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Thailand and Malaysia.
According to Toronto Sun, when writing the book, journalist Richard Neville asked him why people become murderers. Charles Sobhraj replied, “Either they have too much feeling and cannot control themselves, or they have no feelings. It is one of the two." Which category the Bikini Killer belongs to still remains the question.
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