Who is The Serpent's Charles Sobhraj in real life?

The BBC drama depicts the life and crimes of murderer Charles Sobhraj

Charles Sobhraj in The Serpent
(Image credit: BBC)

The Serpent’s Charles Sobhraj is masterfully played by talented actor Tahar Rahim, but the real-life figure he’s portraying is every bit as terrifying and evil as the show presents. 

The eight-part BBC series is based upon serial killer Sobhraj’s horrific crimes and tells the true story of his journey to manipulate, steal from, and murder backpackers on Asia’s "hippie trail" in the 1970s. 

He is helped in his twisted acts by devoted Marie-Andrée Leclerc, played by Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman in the show, and Ajay Chowdhury,, who acts as Sobhraj's right-hand man. The serial killer is also shown as being investigated by Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg. 

But when it comes to The Serpent, some viewers might be wondering exactly how much of what is shown about Charles Sobhraj really happened. 

Here we reveal who Charles Sobhraj is and where he is now. 

Who is Charles Sobhraj?

French thief and serial killer Charles Sobhraj was born in Vietnam in 1944. It has been claimed that he later moved to France with his mother after his parents divorced. 

As a teenager he reportedly committed a range of petty crimes, before escalating to fraud and murder in later life.

What are Charles Sobhraj’s crimes?

He eventually moved back to Asia and it's understood that he would pose as a gem salesman, impressing and befriending tourists. 

Sobhraj would then rob and defraud them. According to Metro.co.uk, he would use up to 10 false passports in order to make his way around the continent, being on the run from police at the same time. Sobhraj was also often surrounded by a group of dedicated followers, perhaps the most prominent of these being Marie-Andrée Leclerc. 

In some cases, he went beyond theft, murdering his vulnerable victims. He earned himself three awful names for his crimes - the Bikini Killer, the Splitting Killer, and The Serpent. He was finally caught in 1976 after a failed attempt to drug a group of tourists in New Delhi, India.

He was in prison until 1997, when he was freed, before later receiving a life sentence in Kathmandu, Nepal after being found guilty of the murder of Connie Bronzich, which is thought to have taken place in 1975. In 2014, he was also convicted of the murder of Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, for which he received a sentence of 20 years.

It’s believed that Sobhraj has killed at least a dozen people.

Is Charles Sobhraj still alive today?

Charles Sobhraj is currently still alive and remains in a Nepalese prison, aged 76.

BBC One's The Serpent, telling the tale of his horrific crimes and the quest to bring him to justice, premiered on New Year's Day 2021. 

All eight episodes of The Serpent are available to view on BBC iPlayer now. 

Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with five years experience working in digital publishing, ranging from book publishing to magazines. She currently looks after all things Lifestyle for Woman&Home, GoodToKnow and My Imperfect Life.

Before she joined Future Publishing, Emma graduated from the University of Warwick with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Comparative Literary Studies. After leaving education, she started out her publishing career in the world of books, working as a Publisher for an independent digital publisher specializing in back-list and debut commercial fiction novels. With a huge book list and a passion for bringing the best stories to the broadest audience possible, Emma filled her spare time with reading the latest best-sellers and catching up on hit adaptations.

In 2017 she joined TI Media as a fiction writing coordinator on Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly Fiction as part of the features team. From here, she used her love of books, working to bring short stories to our dedicated readers and began writing for the books pages of Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman&Home, as well as online features ranging from genre round-ups to travel pieces for womanandhome.com. 

After honing her skills, Emma branched out online in 2020 when Future gave her the opportunity to focus on digital-first. When she’s not writing about the next big lifestyle trend, she enjoys cooking, long walks and watching as many crime dramas as she can!