BBC One’s new show The Serpent is in fact based on a true story, and yes, that makes it all the more terrifying. The BBC retelling features eight episodes that explore the life of serial killer Charles Sobhraj as a pseudo-gems dealer in Bangkok before he met his partner in crime and Canadian girlfriend, Marie Andrée Leclerc, in Thailand. Exploring the countless investigations that took place, the show follows Herman Knippenberg, a junior diplomat turned detective, as he tries to piece together the slivers of evidence he finds.
Who Was Charles Sobhraj?
Charles Sobhraj was born in Vietnam in 1944 and is of both Vietnamese and Indian descent. His father, an Indian Sindhi businessman, left their family early on in Charles’s life, which led to him moving between Indochina and France for most of his teenage life. He preyed on Western tourists, known as “beatniks”, a term associated with young people in the late 1950s and early ’60s who followed the Beat Generation. Primarily, his victims were those who travelled along the Hippie Trail in Southeast Asia during the 1970s, a popular route amongst young tourists.
What Was the Beat Generation?
The Beat Generation was based on a literary movement founded in 1948 and started by a group of authors: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke, and William S Burroughs. The group explored American culture and politics in the postwar era, and their work primarily gained traction during the 1950s. Followers of the Beat Generation were known as “beatniks”, with key elements of “beat” culture involving the rejection of standard narrative values, sexual liberation and exploration, and the experimentation of psychedelic drugs. Beat culture also encouraged the concept of spiritual quests, hence the popularity of the Hippie Trail at that time.
What Is the Hippie Trail?
The Hippie Trail is a route that runs between Europe and South Asia through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. Basically a kind of “alternative tourism”, the aim for those travelling along the trail was to spend as little money as possible. We’ve all been there. . . A number of hotels, restaurants, and hostels catering to Westerners were located along the trail, making it super easy for people to get around and a rare opportunity to interact with the local population. These types of travellers were the ones known as beatniks back in the 1950s, a term which later evolved into the more popular “hippies”, one that we’re all pretty familiar with. Access to the Hippie Trail ceased in the late 1970s, after the Iranian Revolution, closing off the route to western tourists altogether.
Who Was Charles’s Wife?
Charles Sobhraj married a young Parisian woman named Chantal Compagnon in the late 1960s. They were together for a number of years despite his various crimes, and they even had a child together, a baby girl named Usha. Eventually, Compagnon saw the error of her ways and left Sobhraj, vowing never to see him again (though it’s been rumoured that the pair remained friends for many years after their divorce). Sobhraj, somewhat unfazed, as psychopaths tend to be, ended up dating his accomplice Marie Andrée Leclerc anyway and later claimed he “never loved” Compagnon. After a number of years of committing crimes with Leclerc, Sobhraj was imprisoned, and by 2008, he’d become engaged to the woman who is now his current wife, Nihita Biswas.
Biswas was a mere 20 years old at the time that 64-year-old Sobhraj supposedly married her in prison (it just gets worse, doesn’t it?), and she later appeared as a contestant on India’s hit TV show Bigg Boss.
Where Is Charles Now?
Sobhraj was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Kathmandu district in 2004. In 2006, he appealed against the court’s verdict, accusing them of racism, however, the verdict was unsurprisingly upheld by the Supreme Court in 2010. At this point, he’d committed countless murders, and it was virtually impossible for him to be considered a guilt-free man. He was finally convicted in 2014. Four years later, he was reported to be in critical condition, and since his conviction, he’s been operated on multiple times and has received several open-heart surgeries. His current condition remains unknown, but thankfully, he is still very much in prison.
BBC One’s The Serpent airs on New Year’s Day at 9 p.m.
Image Source: BBC