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The Serpent is streaming on the BBC iPlayer now and is coming to Netflix worldwide on Friday, April 2. The eight-part series delves into the crimes of Charles Sobhraj and the case dutch junior diplomat Herman Knippenberg built against him. Why was Charles Sobhraj called The Serpent? Express.co.uk has everything you need to know.
Why was Charles Sobhraj called The Serpent?
Charles Sobhraj is a french serial killer, conman and fraudster from Saigon, French Indochina.
Between 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj and fellow criminal Ajay Chowdhury (played by Amesh Edireweera) are believed to have committed at least a dozen murders and potentially more across Southeast Asia.
They preyed mainly on Western tourists, primarily beatniks, travelling the Hippie Trail of Southeast Asia through Nepal, Thailand and India.
His known victims were Teresa Knowlton (Alice Englert), Vitali Hakim (İlker Kaleli), Charmayne Carrou, Cornelia Hemker, Henricus Bitanja, Laurent Carriere, Connie Bronzick, Avoni Jacobs and Jean-Luc Solomon but there are believed to be many more.
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Over the years, he became known as The Serpent amongst other nicknames, including THe Bikini Killer and The Splitting Killer.
The nickname of ‘The Serpent’ derived from his power of deception and his ability to evade capture by the authorities.
Sobhraj would often befriend his victims before killing them, offering them a place to stay or the opportunity to purchase jewels.
As seen in The Serpent, Sobhraj could very easily manipulate strangers such as Ajay Chowdhury and Marie-Andree Lecerlc, who would later go on to become his main accomplices.
Sobhraj evaded arrest on numerous occasions, often by travelling across Southeast Asia and Europe on his deceased victim’s passports.
He was also able to escape prison multiple times. In 1973, Sobhraj was arrested and imprisoned after an unsuccessful armed robbery attempt on a jewellery store at Hotel Ashoka in India.
He was able to escape by faking appendicitis but was recaptured shortly thereafter.
However, after borrowing money for bail from his father, Sobhraj was able to flee to Kabul.
It was following his arrival in Kabul, Sobhraj began to rob backpackers on the hippie trail.
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After serving a 12-year sentence in India for murder, to avoid extradition to Thailand to stand trial for several murders, Sobhraj threw a party for inmates and guards and drugged them with sleeping pills so he could walk out of the prison.
He was on the run for almost two weeks before he was caught by the authorities.
As planned, Sobhraj received an additional 10 years to his sentence which meant by the time of his release in 1997, all of the warrants against him and extradition requests had 5expeired.
Speaking to Express.co.uk and other press, Tahar Rahim who portrayed Sobhraj in The Serpent revealed he imagined a cobra instead of a serpent when thinking of Sobhraj.
He said: “Usually when I build a character, I start from the inside and this time, we’ve been talking back and forth, and I came to realise that I should start from outside.
“That’s what we’ve done. We talked about him a lot. A lot of things about him, pictures video, I heard recordings and then it was more of the factual.
“And then someday, I don’t know what happened, I thought up this of an animal and of course it’s a serpent. But I had to pick one.
“I thought of a cobra because a cobra is very still and he bites and then there’s kind of a charm around this Cobra thing and suddenly, at some point, I just let my, my imagination and my guts lead me to something that I feel is kind of truth.
“And then with the other actors in the team, and what’s written? Just go with the flow.”
Sobhraj was also known as the Bikini Killer due to the attire two of his female victims, Teresa Knowlton and Charmayne Carrou were found wearing.
In 2003, he returned to Nepal where he was spotted on the street by a journalist and was arrested two days later in the casino of the Yak and Yeti hotel. The reason for his return to Nepal remains unknown.
Sobhraj was tried for the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich, 29, and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, 26. They had been killed in late December 1975 in Nepal.
He received a life sentence for the two killings in August 2004, and he has been incarcerated in Kathmandu prison ever since.
The Serpent is streaming on the BBC iPlayer now
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