Serial killer Charles Sobhraj is trying to bag a Hollywood movie deal after prison release

Born to an Indian father, Hatchand Sobhraj and Vietnamese mother Tran Loan Phung, Sobhraj grew up in Saigon before his parents divorced and his father cut of all contact with the family. 

He was later adopted by his mother’s new boyfriend, a French Army lieutenant stationed in French Indochina, who is thought to have neglected him in favour of his own children with Sobhraj’s mother.  

As a teenager he spit his time between Indochina and France, beginning to commit petty crimes such stealing cars and robbing housewives at gunpoint. He served his first prison sentence for burglary in Paris in 1963.  

Jailed: Charles Sobhraj (pictured in 2014 with Nepalese police) preyed on Western tourists visiting Asia and was known as The Serpent and The Bikini Killer

In prison he met volunteer Felix d’Escogne, a wealthy young man who he would eventually move in with use to help accumulate riches through a series of burglaries and scams in high society Paris.  

After his release from prison, Sobhraj met his first love, Chantal Compagnon, a young Parisian woman from a conservative family who he too would later make complicit in his crimes. 

He proposed to Compagnon but was arrested later the same day for attempting to evade police while driving a stolen vehicle. He spent eight months in prison while pregnant Chantal remained loyal to him. 

From 1970 the pair travelled the world with fake documents by robbing tourists  they met on their travels and using their profits to feed Sobhraj’s gambling habit. 

In 1973 he escaped prison after an unsuccessful armed robbery by fleeing to Kabul where he first started fleecing tourists on the Hippie Trail, but was soon arrested again and fled again to Iran. 

Compagnon returned to Paris to escape a life of crime after being jailed in Afghanistan and giving birth to her daughter behind bars. Eventually being forced to move to the US to escape Sobhraj. 

He spent the next two years on the run, using as many as ten stolen passports,  committing crime with his half brother Andre across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, before his brother was arrested and he fled once again. 


In the Spring of 1975, Sobhraj met Marie-Andrée Leclerc, a medical secretary travelling India when he acted as her guide of the country. 

Sobhraj had been financing his lifestyle by posing as either a salesman or drug dealer to impress tourists, who he then drugged, robbed and often murdered.   

At this point the killer was joined by Ajay Chowdhury, a young indian man who would help him scam tourists by helping them out of situations he had caused, for example providing shelter to victims he had poisoned. 

While he claimed that murders were often accidental drug overdoses, it was later alleged by investigators that his motive for murder was silencing victims who threatened to expose him. 

Sobhraj, who is now aged 76 and serving his life sentence in Nepal, had already spent 20 years in prison for a string of crimes, including murder and robbery

Sobhraj, who is now aged 76 and serving his life sentence in Nepal, had already spent 20 years in prison for a string of crimes, including murder and robbery

Three months later Leclerc flew to Bangkok to meet him after months of him seducing her with love letters – turning  blind eye to his philandering with local women. 

According to The Sun, He once remarked on his gift for coercing women: ‘If you use it to make people do wrong it’s an abuse. 

‘However, if you use that power to make people do right, it’s OK. Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?’ 

Besotted, Leclerc became intwined in Sobhraj’s vicious crime spree, and would help him drug tourists to steal their passports and money

Jenna found it disturbing to portray Marie-Andrée Leclerc, the partner of Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) who stood by him despite full knowledge of his crimes and promiscuity.  

‘It was not an easy piece to play because how can you portray someone who has no empathy?’ Coleman told the Radio Times. 


According to Serpentine by Jennie Bollivar, the first murder took place in 1975, when he drowned a 21-year-old woman from Seattle called Teresa Knowlton.    

Her body was found a tidal pool in the Gulf of Thailand a flowered bikini, inspiring the killers nickname ‘the bikini killer’. 

Before her death was discovered, Marie willingly posed as Knowlton to cash in the travellers cheques she was carrying worth thousands of dollars. 

His next victim was Vitali Hakim, whose burnt body was found on the road to the Pattaya resort, followed by Henk Bintanja and his fiancée Cornelia Hemker,  who had been poisoned by Sobhraj and then nursed back to health.  

While they were staying with him, a visit from Hakim’s French girlfriend, Charmayne Carrou threatened to expose him, and so he strangled the pair and burned their bodies. 

He murdered at least two others in Thailand before fleeing to Kolkata, where he killed student Avoni Jacob simply to obtain his passport. He later murdered Jean-Luc Solomon by poisoning him. 


 In 1976, Sobhraj attempted to drug a group of 60 French students on holiday in New Delhi in an attempt to rob them of passports and cash by giving them sleeping pills disguised as antibiotics. 

But this time it backfired when the poison began working a lot faster than he expected.  When the first few students began falling where they stood, the others became alarmed and called the police. 

Despite being given a 12-year jail term he lived a life of luxury thanks to bribing prisoners and guards, and has claimed he was able to have female guests to have sex while behind bars. 

In The Life And Crimes Of Charles Sobhraj, authors Richard Neville and Julie Clarke claims he said: ‘I had a lot of female visitors, mainly journalists and MA students. Only intellectuals’. 

He was released from prison in 1997, when the 20-year arrest warrant issued by the Thai authorities had elapsed.  

Coleman undertook extensive research ahead of the role, reading Marie-Andrée's diaries of the periods before and after the murders

Coleman undertook extensive research ahead of the role, reading Marie-Andrée’s diaries of the periods before and after the murders

Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg helped exposed Sobhraj as a multiple killer, after the initial attempts to bring him to justice. 

His hunt for the killer started in 1975 with a brief to help Thai police investigate the deaths of the two Dutch students who had been invited to Thailand after meeting Sobhraj in Hong Kong. 

He launched his own investigation and gained permission to enter Sobhraj’s home, after the suspect had left for Malaysia. 

There he found victims’ blood-stained documents and passports, as well as poisons and syringes. 

A sighting of Sobhraj in Kathmandu in 2003 led to his arrest for the murders of two Canadians there in 1975, and at his trial the prosecution relied on evidence accumulated by Knippenberg. 

The former Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg who exposed Sobhraj will be played by British actor Billy Howell (pictured)

The former Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg who exposed Sobhraj will be played by British actor Billy Howell (pictured)