Where are they now? The real life people from The Serpent murder case
Herman Knippenberg has retired, but remains a hero
TV drama The Serpent is based on the true story of serial killer Charles Sobhraj. The series tells the story of his crimes, those who helped him commit them and the people who sought to have him caught. Most of the characters portrayed in the series are based on real people, a lot who have very different lives now.
*Contains spoilers for The Serpent*
Charles Sobhraj is French thief and murderer who preyed on young tourists backpacking in India, Nepal and Thailand, killing them and stealing from them. He went by name of Alain Gautier in Thailand, and often stole identities of his victims to avoid trace and make it look as though they had left the country they died in. The true number of his victims is unknown and his crimes spanned between 1963 and 1976, across 13 years. From 1974 to 1975, he killed 12 people, while the total number of his victims is thought to be at least 30.
Charles Sobhraj aka The Serpent killer is now in prison
Sobhraj was arrested and imprisoned multiple times during his life, for various crimes from burglary to armed robbery, but he was always released or manage to escape. He did this through many means, such as when he pretended to be ill, drugged a hospital guard and fled. He got the name “The Serpent” because he was able to get away with crimes and escape so many times.
After his capture in New Delhi, 1976, Sobhraj served 10 years in Indian prison but escaped when he befriended the guards and managed to poison them during a party which he threw in jail to celebrate his sentence ending. He walked out of prison and was quickly recaptured and sentenced to another 10 years.
At the end of The Serpent series on BBC, we see Charles Sobhraj head to Nepal and appear to be a free man, but then he gets caught, seemingly on purpose so that he can escape again. Just as it looks like he’s going to get away again, Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg digs out his old evidence to keep him in custody.
In real life, The Serpent is still now in jail. It is not known why he returned to Nepal in 2003. Previous to this, he had been living in France and created a celebrity-like lifestyle for himself. He did interviews and charged and over $15 million for the rights to a movie based on him.
In November 2004, he was sentenced in Nepal to life in prison for the murder of Connie Jo Bronzich, a crime which took place in December 1975. He attempted to appeal this conviction twice, but failed both times. In 2010 the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed that Sobhraj did not receive a fair trial. In 2014 he was convicted of the murder of Canadian backpacker Laurent Carrière, and received another 20 years on his sentence – a sentence he did not appeal.
Although Thai police issued a warrant for his arrest, Sobhraj never returned there and has never been tried for any crimes committed there. Therefore, he is assumed innocent for all of the Thai murders.
He is currently 76 years old and remains in prison in Kathmandu. In 2017, Arab News reported he had suffered a heart attack and was scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery.
Where is The Serpent accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc now?
Marie-Andrée Leclerc was Charles Sobhraj’s accomplice, who went by the name Monique. After the crimes, Marie-Andrée was imprisoned and accused of complicity in the murders of Jean-Luc Solomon and Avoni Jacob. She was acquitted of the crime towards Jean-Luc but was convicted of the murder of Avoni. In the series we see her visit Sobhraj and say she has cancer and is dying.
Marie-Andrée was able to leave the country and return home to Canada after her diagnosis. She died of ovarian cancer, at home in 1984.
Ajay Chowdery is portrayed in The Serpent as being Sobhraj’s right-hand man, helping him commit the murders, and a lot of the time doing the dirty work for him. But then Sobhraj choses Marie, and leaves Ajay behind on his own. Ajay has since been spotted once in Germany in 1976, but has never been seen again.
Nadine and Remi Gires
As for the couple, Nadine and Remi Gires, who helped the diplomats with their investigation and collected a lot of the crucial evidence, they have since divorced. In an interview, the real life Nadine said she constantly lived in fear and kept a baseball bat under her bed, where she was a neighbour of Sobhraj and Leclerc.
Nadine, who was married to sous chef Remi, said she felt she had “a lot in common” with Marie, and they would often eat dinner together and “talk about life”. She says it was Remi who first told her he had suspicions about the couple.
Nadine and Remi have since got divorced and both live in Thailand. Nadine is 67 now and runs the Bamboo Resort hotel in Khanom, which is in the south of the country. Remi lives in the north, where he grows and sells tropical fruits.
In The Serpent series, we see Dominique try to escape Charles Sobhraj – who was calling himself Alain Gautier. He had been drugged by Sobhraj and coerced into working for him. Sobhraj took his passport, left him with no money and made him so sick he couldn’t get his visa renewed – so he felt as though he couldn’t escape. However, with the help of Nadine and Remi, Dominique fled back home to France and we see him finally reunite with his parents.
Since the case, Dominque has kept a pretty low profile and returned to normal life. His still lives in his hometown in France and has got married as has grown up children. Despite everything he went through, he has remained a keen traveller.
Herman and Angela Knippenberg
Herman Knippenberg and his wife Angela were the ones who collected all the evidence and made sure everyone knew what Charles Sobhraj did. The real-life Dutch diplomat Herman helped hunt down conman and serial killer Charles Sobhraj in the 1970s, whilst working for the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok.
Now, the couple have divorced and have both remarried. Herman is 76 years old and has retired. He now lives in Wellington, New Zealand with his new wife Vanessa. Angela worked for the United Nations before retiring in 2015.
In an interview Angela, who is now 72, has said she believed her role in The Serpent case was played down by the TV series. She said she is portrayed as a “dutiful wife” rather than half of a team. “I was a lot more assertive than she [Ellie Bamber, who plays her] portrays me in many ways”, she said.
Angela added: “I was never the dutiful diplomat’s wife. I had my own experiences and I could be difficult and that part of me was not properly captured. Herman liked a sounding board and as the case went on, he relied on me. I would have liked certain things to be different and I have told them that but it is what it is. They can take certain liberties and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Herman Knippenberg keeps all of the files he has on the case updated and open to this day.
Paul Siemons was a diplomat, who worked for the Belgian Foreign Service. He retired in 1979 and sadly died in 2004.
The Serpent is available on BBC iPlayer now.