The Serpent: Did Charles Sobhraj neighbours really help to try catch him?

The Serpent: Jenna Coleman stars in BBC series trailer

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The Serpent delves into the harrowing true story of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj (played by Charles Sobhraj) and the work of Dutch junior diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) to try and catch him in the 1970s and 1980s. In the series, Knippenberg works closely with Sobhraj’s neighbours, Nadine (Mathilde Warnier) and Remi (Grégoire Isvarine) but did they help to try and catch Sobhraj? Express.co.uk has everything you need to know. 

Did Charles Sobhraj neighbours really help to try to catch him?

Inspired by real events, The Serpent tells the remarkable story of how French conman and murderer Charles Sobhraj was eventually brought to justice.

Between 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj and fellow criminal Ajay Chowdhury (Amesh Edireweera) are believed to have committed more than a dozen murders across Southeast Asia.

They preyed mainly on Western tourists, primarily beatniks, travelling the Hippie Trail of Southeast Asia.

His known victims were Teresa Knowlton, Vitali Hakim, Stephanie Parry, Cornelia Hemker and Henricus Bitanja, Laurent Carriere, Connie Bronzick, Allen Jacobs and Jean-Luc Solomon.

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Nadine Gires and her husband Remi played a vital role in helping Herman Knippenberg build a case against Charles Sobhraj.

Sobhraj had been living in an apartment block in Bangkok, Thailand where he befriended his neighbours, Nadine and Remi.

At the time, Sobhraj was posing as a gem dealer and his accomplice, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) as his wife Monique.

The real Nadine and Remi were unaware of Sobhraj’s murderous streak until Dominique Renelleau (Fabien Frankel) and Yannick Masy (not featured in the series) told Nadine and Remi they were being held against their will by Sobhraj and feared for their lives.

Speaking to the Mirror, the real Nadine Gires reflected: “I remember meeting the Dutch couple [Two of Sobhraj’s victims Henk Bintanja, 29, and his fiancée Cornelia Hemker, 25] briefly. 

“I walked into Sobhraj’s apartment and he was standing over them trying to convince them to buy sapphires and rubies. He said, ‘Sorry, I am talking business with these people, can you come back later?’

“Days later I heard noises – people moaning – and asked Charles, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘The Dutch are sick’. 

“Then before Christmas, we saw photos of the burned bodies in the Bangkok Post newspaper and Yannick told me, ‘It’s the Dutch couple. He killed them’.”

As seen in The Serpent, Dominque shared he had been drugged by Alain. He also admitted several young travellers had also been drugged by the Frenchman and Monique. He also revealed his suspicions, believing the other travellers had been killed.

Dominique had witnessed lifeless bodies being dragged from the apartment building, matched the passports found in Sobhraj’s safe to deceased travellers found by the police, and noticed many items in the apartment belonged to missing travellers.

Alongside her husband Remi, they helped Dominique escape by purchasing him an aeroplane ticket and helping him re-construct his own passport.

In The Serpent, it is suggested Nadine could not go to the Thai police with the information she had as Alain was working closely with a corrupt officer who could offer him protection. Whether this is true remains unknown today.

The real Nadine did visit several embassies in the area and when dutch junior diplomat, Herman Knippenberg heard reports of a woman claiming there was a killer in the area, he tracked Nadine down.

At the time, Herman had been investigating the murder of dutch tourists, Henk Bintanja, 29, and his fiancée Cornelia Hemker, 25.

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Nadine and Remi told Herman everything they knew and even risked their lives by going undercover and taking photographs of the items left behind by the travellers such as Teresa Knowlton’s (Alice Englert) green clock and other items that linked to the missing backpackers.

She also took pictures of Alain, Monique and Ajay in their apartment.

After providing Herman with the evidence he needed, Alain and Monique were arrested by police but later released.

Nadine and Remi’s information would become useful more than two decades later when Sobhraj was arrested in Nepal in 2003.

At the time of his return to Nepal in 2003, Sobhraj was wanted in the country for the murders of 

American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich, 29, and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, 26.  

He was arrested two weeks after arriving in Nepal in the casino of the Yak and Yeti hotel.

In The Serpent, Sobhraj is on the verge of being a free man before Knippenberg manages to fax some key evidence to the Nepal police at the last second, incriminating Sobhraj in the deaths of Dutch travellers Bintanja and Hemker back in 1975.

Knippenberg also sent over to the Nepal police Marie-Andrée’s statement to the Indian police when the couple was arrested in 1976, where she admitted they had both visited Nepal in 1975.

In her confession, Leclerc told the Indian police everything she knew, including the names of victims she recalled, the places they had visited, how they postpone their victims and the names of the passports they travelled on.

Maire-Andree had also recalled in her statement Sobhraj and his accomplice, Ajay Chowdhury had met a young Canadian boy and an American girl in Nepal who they took to the mountains but they never returned alive.

Most of the evidence Knippenberg had gathered alongside Interpol’s finding were used to build a case against Sobhraj.

Today, the real Sobhraj, 76, is serving out a life sentence in Kathmandu prison, Nepal for the murders of American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich, 29, and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, 26 who had been killed in late December 1975 in Nepal.

Nadine and Remi have lived very private lives and very little is known about them today.

At the end of The Serpent, it is revealed Nadine and her husband Remi returned to live in Thailand but are now divorced.

Today, Nadine runs a beach resort in the south of Thailand and Remi lives in the north, where he grows tropical fruits to sell at markets.

The Serpent is streaming on the BBC iPlayer now and is coming to Netflix on Friday, April 2

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