True story of The Serpent serial killer is even more sickening than BBC series

BBC viewers are already hooked on new drama The Serpent, but it seems the true story is even more unbelievable.

The eight-part series tells the story of serial killer Charles Sobhraj as well as his capture and trial – but the story of the 'Bikini Killer' was a lot more horrific in real life.

Sobhraj is believed to have killed at least 12 people – mainly bikini-clad backpackers – and possessed a deadly charm and a habit of making outrageous claims to dupe the authorities.

But compared to the BBC show, his true story is even darker and at times bizarre.

Charles Sobhraj was born as Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj to Vietnamese shop girl Tran Loan Phung, and Indian Sindhi businessman Sobhraj Hatchand Bhaonani, who was based in Saigon.

When his parents divorced, Sobhraj was adopted by his mother's new boyfriend, a French Army lieutenant stationed in French Indochina.

Sadly, he was neglected in favour of the couple's later children but Sobhraj continued to move back and forth between Indochina and France with the family.

His life of crime began when he was a teenager and he received his first jail sentence, for burglary, back in 1963.

Whilst serving time at Poissy prison near Paris, Sobhraj eagerly manipulated prison officials into granting him special favours, such as being allowed to keep books in his cell.

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Around the same time, he met and endeared himself to Felix d'Escogne, a wealthy young man and prison volunteer.

After being paroled, Sobhraj moved in with d'Escogne and spent his time moving between the high society of Paris and the criminal underworld.

It was then that he began accumulating riches through a series of burglaries and scams.

He also met and began a passionate relationship with Chantal Compagnon, a young Parisian woman from a conservative family.

Following another eight-month stint in prison, Sobhraj wed Compagnon upon his release, and she gave birth to their daughter Usha after they fled to Mumbai.

However, their life of crime didn't end there and in 1973 Sobhraj was arrested and imprisoned after an unsuccessful armed robbery attempt on a jewellery store at Hotel Ashoka.

After escaping and being recaptured a few times, Sobhraj fled to Iran, leaving his family behind.

Sobhraj spent the next two years on the run, using as many as ten stolen passports, and passed through various countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Sobhraj met Jenna Coleman's character, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, in Thailand and she quickly became his most devoted follower, turning a blind eye to his crimes and his philandering with local women.

Sobhraj also met a young Indian man, Ajay Chowdhury, a fellow criminal who became his second in command.

It's thought that Sobhraj and Chowdhury committed their first murders in 1975.

Sobhraj claimed that most of his murders were really accidental drug overdoses, with the first being a young woman from Seattle called Teresa Knowlton.

She was found drowned in a tidal pool in the Gulf of Thailand, wearing a flowered bikini.

It was only months later that Knowlton's autopsy, as well as forensic evidence, proved that her drowning, originally believed to be a swimming accident, was murder.

As well as strangling some victims, the duo also burnt some of the bodies too.

In July 1976 in New Delhi, Sobhraj tricked a tour group of French post-graduate students into accepting him as a tour guide.

Sobhraj then drugged them by giving them poisoned pills, which he told them were anti-dysentery medicine but when the drugs took effect quicker than he had anticipated, the students began to fall unconscious.

Three of the students realised what Sobhraj had done and overpowered him before contacting the police, leading to his capture.

After being sentenced to 12 years in prison, Sobhraj's systematic bribery of prison guards in jail reached outrageous levels.

He led a life of luxury inside the jail, with television and gourmet food, having befriended both guards and prisoners, and even continued to have sex with female visitors.

In February 1997, 52-year-old Sobhraj was released with most warrants, evidence and even witnesses against him long lost. Without any country to extradite him to, Indian authorities let him return to France.

However, after being spotted in Kathmandu, the Nepal police reopened the double murder case from 1975 and got Sobhraj sentenced to life imprisonment by the Kathmandu district court on August, 20, 2004 for the murders of tourists Laurent Carrière and Connie Bronzich.

In 2018 Sobhraj was believed to be in critical condition, and had been operated on multiple times – receiving several open heart surgeries – but as of December 2020, Sobhraj was still imprisoned.

  • BBC
  • Serial Killers
  • Charles Sobhraj

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