Born to an Indian father, Hatchand Sobhraj and a Vietnamese mother, Tran Loan Phung, Sobhraj grew up in Saigon before his parents divorced and his father cut all contact with the family.
He was later adopted by his mother’s new friend, a lieutenant in the French army stationed in French Indochina, who is said to have neglected him in favor of his own children with Sobhraj’s mother.
As a teenager, he spat his time between Indochina and France and began committing petty crimes such as stealing cars and robbing housewives at gunpoint. He served his first prison sentence for burglary in Paris in 1963.
Imprisonment: Charles Sobhraj (pictured in 2014 with the Nepalese police) hunted Western tourists visiting Asia and was known as The Serpent and The Bikini Killer
In prison he met a volunteer Felix d’Escogne, a wealthy young man he would eventually move in to help amass wealth through a series of burglaries and swindles in Paris high society.
After his release from prison, Sobhraj met his first love, Chantal Compagnon, a young Parisian woman from a conservative family whom he would later make complicit in his crimes.
He proposed to Companion, but was arrested later the same day for trying to evade the police while driving a stolen vehicle. He spent eight months in prison while the pregnant Chantal remained faithful to him.
From 1970 onwards, the couple traveled the world with fake documents, robbing tourists they encountered on their travels and using their profits to fuel Sobhraj’s gambling habit.
In 1973 he escaped from prison after a botched armed robbery by fleeing to Kabul, where he first began fleecing tourists on the Hippie Trail, but was soon arrested again and fled to Iran again.
Companion returned to Paris to escape a life of crime after being imprisoned in Afghanistan and giving birth to her daughter behind bars. Ultimately forced to move to the US to escape Sobhraj.
He spent the next two years on the run with as many as ten stolen passports, He and his half-brother Andre committed a crime in Eastern Europe and the Middle East before his brother was arrested and he fled again.
WHEN WILL HE MEET MARIE-ANDREE LECLERC?
In the spring of 1975, Sobhraj met Marie-Andrée Leclerc, a medical secretary who was traveling through India, when he acted as her guide to the country.
Sobhraj had funded his lifestyle by posing as a salesman or drug dealer to impress tourists, who he then drugged, robbed, and often murdered.
At the time, the killer was joined by Ajay Chowdhury, a young Indian man who would help him rip off tourists by helping them get out of situations he had caused, such as sheltering victims he had poisoned.
Although he claimed that murders were often accidental overdoses, investigators later claimed that his motive for murder silenced victims who threatened to expose him.
Sobhraj, now 76 and serving his life sentence in Nepal, had spent 20 years in prison for a series of crimes, including murder and theft.
Three months later, Leclerc flew to Bangkok to meet him after seducing her for months with love letters – turning a blind eye to his flirting with local women.
According to The Sun, he once remarked about his gift for coercing women: “If you use it to get people to do something wrong, it’s an abuse.
However, if you use that power to get people to do the right thing, that’s okay. Who will say right and wrong? ‘
Baffled, Leclerc became involved in Sobhraj’s brutal crime and allegedly helping drug tourists steal their passports and money
Jenna found it disturbing to portray Marie-Andrée Leclerc, the partner of Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) who assisted him despite full knowledge of his crimes and promiscuity.
“It wasn’t an easy piece to play, because how can you portray someone who has no empathy?” Coleman told it Radio times
WHO DID HE MURDER?
According to Jennie Bollivar’s Serpentine, the first murder took place in 1975, when he drowned a 21-year-old Seattle woman, Teresa Knowlton.
Her body was found in a tide pool in the Gulf of Thailand, in a floral bikini, earning the killers the nickname ‘the bikini killer’.
Before her death was discovered, Marie willingly posed as Knowlton to cash in the traveler’s checks she carried worth thousands of dollars.
His next victim was Vitali Hakim, whose burned body was found on the way to the resort in Pattaya, followed by Henk Bintanja and his fiancé Cornelia Hemker, who had been poisoned by Sobhraj and were then back to health.
While they were staying with him, a visit from Hakim’s French girlfriend, Charmayne Carrou, threatened to expose him, so he strangled the couple and burned their bodies.
He killed at least two others in Thailand before fleeing to Kolkata, where he killed student Avoni Jacob simply to get his passport. He later killed Jean-Luc Solomon by poisoning him.
HOW WAS HE CAUGHT?
In 1976, Sobhraj attempted to drug a group of 60 French students while on vacation 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 failed when the poison started to act much faster than he expected. When the first few students started falling where they were, the others were alarmed and called the police.
Despite being jailed for 12 years, he lived a life of luxury thanks to bribing inmates and guards, claiming he was able to allow female guests to have sex while behind bars.
In The Life And Crimes Of Charles Sobhraj, authors Richard Neville and Julie Clarke claim that he said, ‘I had a lot of female visitors, mostly journalists and graduate students. Intellectuals only ‘.
He was released from prison in 1997 after the 20-year warrant issued by the Thai authorities had expired.
Coleman did extensive research prior to the role and read Marie-Andrée’s diaries from the periods before and after the murders
Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg helped expose Sobhraj as a multiple murderer after initial attempts to bring him to justice.
His hunt for the murderer began in 1975 with an assignment to assist the Thai police in the investigation of the deaths of the two Dutch students who had been invited to Thailand after a meeting with Sobhraj in Hong Kong.
He started his own investigation and was allowed to enter Sobhraj’s house after the suspect left for Malaysia.
There he found victims’ bloodstained documents and passports, as well as toxins and syringes.
A sighting of Sobhraj in Kathmandu in 2003 led to his arrest for the murder of two Canadians there in 1975, and at the trial the prosecution relied on evidence gathered by Knippenberg.
Former Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg who unmasked Sobhraj is played by British actor Billy Howell (photo)