A man who tried to track down his father’s best friend decades after he disappeared has unraveled a disturbing tale of alleged abuse, drug trafficking, and an apparent suicide — that some believe was actually murder.
Aria Inthavong’s father, Somock, had been searching for his close pal Serge Armand since he fled the U.S. in 1989. When Aria attempted to locate him, he learned that his father’s charismatic friend had a dark side he knew nothing about.
The 28-year-old filmmaker chronicled his search for Serge in a 33-minute documentary that was released by BuzzFeed Unsolved Network this summer. While he hoped to reunite his father with Serge, he ended up having to break the news to his dad that his friend wasn’t who he thought he was.
Mystery: Aria Inthavong (pictured) attempted to reunite his father, Somock, with his close friend Serge Armand after he disappeared more than three decades ago
Missing: Somock (right) had been searching for Serge (left) since he fled the U.S. in 1989. Aria ended up having to tell his father that his friend wasn’t who he thought he was
At the start of the short film, Somock was excited to be working on this project with his son, and he recalled how he met Serge at the Mission Dolores Park Tennis Courts after he and his wife had moved to San Francisco in 1985.
They immediately bonded after learning they were both from Aix-en Provence in the South of France. He explained that Serge had left his work as a journalist to become a salsa dance teacher and was always fun to be around.
Somock said the last time he had seen Serge was when he asked him to take him to the airport in the winter of 1989.
‘It was sudden,’ he recalled. ‘He called me and said, “Can you drop me at the airport tomorrow?” I said, “Where are you going? Why?” He said, “Yeah, I need to go. I need to leave quickly.” He said he was on his way to Cuba, but he may stop in Mexico first.’
Somock admitted that he knew little about Serge’s family aside from the fact that his parents Robert and Josette lived in Nice, France, and had a different last name. They went by Kvitachvilie, not Armand.
Serge would travel to Northern California from time to time to work for a farm, but Somock didn’t think he had a work permit.
He told his son that when Serge fled the country, he left without his girlfriend at the time, Jenny Jiménez, who was from Colombia.
Aria enlisted the help of his brother, Saixana, to find their father’s old friend, who was nearly untraceable online. The only thing he found was a black and white portrait of Serge that was taken in San Francisco in 1987.
Lalo Borja, the photographer who posted the image, included a short bio about Serge, saying he ended up in Havana, Cuba.
They sent him an email to see if he knew where Serge was, but Lalo said he hadn’t heard anything from him since he sent him a postcard in the early ’90s — without a return address.
Lalo knew that Serge was involved with a theater group and lived with Jenny until he got ‘busted’ sometime in the late ’80s.
While they thought his leaving the country may have had something to do with him being an illegal immigrant, Saixana noted that wouldn’t explain why he seemingly disappeared without a trace.
When Aria called his mother, Sakura, for more information, she said Serge was working at a farm where they grew marijuana illegally. She also thought he and Jenny were once raided for being in the country illegally.
She noted that his father likely didn’t mention any of this ‘because he likes the guy’ and ‘will only say nice things’ about him.
At this point, Lalo had stopped answering Aria’s emails, so he tried contacting every salsa teacher in San Francisco and Cuba, but no one remembered Serge.
When he asked for help in a video shared on Instagram, he attracted the attention of French journalist Pauline Bezzina, who was confident they’d find something.
A few days later, they found a website for an Aikido school in France that said Serge had disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Cuba in 2006.
Aria immediately contacted the person who had written about Serge, Jean-Marie Tung. He said that his friend Georges Vignati had introduced him to Serge and the salsa dancer had lived in San Francisco with his sister, who married a lawyer named Bob Delventhal.
Jean-Marie also noted that it was Georges who told him ‘about the brutal disappearance in Cuba that was apparently an assassination.’
Aria was unable to get in contact with Georges, so he had Paulina call him locally in France. She said Georges was ‘very emotional’ during their conversation because Serge was like a brother to him.
Tragic end: After tracking down Serge’s relatives, Aria learned that his father’s friend had committed suicide in 2006, though some refused to believe he would take his own life
End: Somock (pictured with Aria when he was a child) said he was glad he knew the truth about Serge, but it was hard for him to learn his friend was allegedly abusive and trafficked drugs
Georges explained that Serge was a journalist in Paris and worked for Le Monde and Libération, but he was also involved with questionable far-left extremist groups in the ’70s and ’80s. He recalled how Serge would always go to the Netherlands and Latin America and come back with a lot of money.
Paulina later uncovered on MyHeritage.com that Serge’s death was listed as a suicide. While Serge’s sister Claude Delventhal had died in 1990, Aria found the name of his cousin Elisabeth Anne Kvitashvili and contacted her.
‘He didn’t disappear. He died,’ she said of Serge, explaining he left the U.S. quickly because he was about to be arrested for drug distribution. He had been dealing drugs to survive.
Elisabeth said he went south and eventually headed to Cuba where he made a living dancing. He married a Cuban woman, and shortly after, he committed suicide by jumping out of a building.
The day after Elisabeth’s shocking revelation, Lalo finally responded to Aria’s emails. He recalled how his girlfriend at the time hated Serge because the dancer’s girlfriends would tell her he was abusive.
Lalo also alleged that Jenny had turned Serge in for selling marijuana because he was abusing her.
Elisabeth put Aria in contact with Serge’s niece, Juliette Delventhal, who said she never heard of her uncle being abusive, but it wouldn’t surprise her if he was.
Juliette said her mother was dying of cancer when Serge called her to bail him out of jail, which she did. He came to say goodbye before he left, and her mom knew she would never see him again.
She said she saw her uncle in France a year before he died, and she recalled him being a ‘deeply unhappy person.’
After learning of Serge’s suicide, she was contacted by his widow Willema. She explained that some thought he was sick while others speculated he was in debt when he jumped out of a hotel.
However, Serge’s friend Georges doesn’t believe his friend would have committed suicide because he ‘loved life too much.’ He and several others questioned if Serge was killed in Cuba because he was a ‘”gringo” with money’ or if he got involved with the wrong people.
Despite the speculation, Serge’s death appears to be a suicide. Willema told Aria that her late husband had many struggles and killed himself at a hotel near their home. She said he left behind a book with a note for her that said: ‘How wonderful to have found you, long paths await your steps.’
‘I am glad to know because I would rather know the truth,’ Aria’s father said at the end of the documentary. ‘But it’s difficult because I have to find a way to keep all these beautiful memories I have with Serge while living with the darker truth of who he really was.
‘He lived a life with a mysterious ending and that’s the person he was as well; he was mysterious.’