Skip to main contentSkip to footer

The shocking true story behind The Serpent

The real story of Charles Sobhraj

the serpent bbc
Francesca Shillcock
Francesca ShillcockSenior Features Writer
Share this:

Are you watching The Serpent? The thriller series, which aired on BBC at the start of the year and recently landed on Netflix has proved to be a big hit with viewers who have already binged all eight episodes.

MORE: Fans saying same thing about BBC's 'dark' new drama The Serpent

But many viewers are wondering what the true story is behind the dark drama? Here's all you need to know about the shocking events that happened in real life that inspired The Serpent...

WATCH: The Serpent official trailer for dark BBC drama

Is The Serpent based on a true story?

Yes, The Serpent is based on true events. Back in the 1970s, a notorious killer, Charles Sobhraj, was on the loose, escaping authorities and police investigation. He and his girlfriend, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (played by Jenna Coleman), travelled across Nepal, Thailand and India in 1975 committing a series of crimes on what was known as the 'Hippie Trail'.

the serpent charles© Photo: BBC

The Mauritanian star Tahar Rahim leads the cast as Charles

Who was Charles Sobhraj and why was he called The Serpent?

Charles was a killer and a conman who posed as a gem dealer to fool his victims and those around him. He was Interpol's most wanted criminal for a period of time in the 70s, and was being hunted down by Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg.

Charles was dubbed 'The Serpent' due to his conniving ways and constant escapism from reprimand. He was also nicknamed the 'Bikini Killer' due to the clothing worn by his victims.

MORE: The Serpent: Where is Charles Sobhraj now?

MORE: The Serpent's Jenna Coleman talks challenges of her role in dark drama

jenna coleman the serpent© Photo: BBC

Jenna Coleman co-stars in The Serpent

Who was Herman Knippenberg?

Herman was a Dutch diplomat whose perspective is at the forefront of BBC's The Serpent and is played by Billy Howle. In real life, Herman was working in the Dutch embassy in Thailand while Charles was committing his crimes.

The diplomat then came across a case of two travellers who had gone missing. After investigating more details of the crime, along with previous media coverage of a similar case, he quickly realised the shocking truth and began looking further into Charles' criminal actions.

billy howle the serpent© Photo: BBC

Billy Howle as Herman Knippenberg

Where is Charles Sobhraj now?

Soon after Herman began investigating him, Charles was arrested in India in July 1976 and was sent to life imprisonment where he remained until 1997. After a suspicious return to Paris and courting infamous notoriety, he was reprimanded again and the now 76-year-old is still serving his sentence in prison to this day.

Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

More TV and Film

See more