Every episode of Netflix's The Serpent begins with a disclaimer that the true crime drama, which is based on the life and crimes of serial killer Charles Sobhraj, is only inspired by true events. Some of the names and circumstances have been changed both for dramatic purposes — they're trying to make some captivating television, you understand — but also out of respect for Sobhraj's very real victims and their families.
In real life, Sobhraj was accused of more than 20 murders throughout India, Thailand, Nepal, Turkey, and Iran in the 1970s — but was never convicted of murder until 2004, reported the BBC at the time. Nicknamed "The Serpent," Sobhraj was known to prey on young, usually Western travelers (and particularly women) who making their way along the "Hippie Trail" of the 1970s, or the overland route between Europe and South Asia that became popular for young backpackers in the 1960s and '70s.
As portrayed in the show, Sobhraj was skilled at appealing to lost souls and people who needed to feel seen, and had plenty of charm to spare — but was ruthless in his hatred of Western culture and capitalism. And, as seen in the show, Sobhraj left a slew of victims in his wake all across the globe, including the people he killed and the people he enraptured and managed to manipulate. But what really happened to the women in his orbit?
The Accomplice: Marie-Andrée Leclerc
Sobhraj's on-screen accomplice, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, bears the most resemblance to her real-life counterpart. As played by Jenna Coleman, she was a Quebecois woman who met and quickly fell in love with Sobhraj while traveling, and eventually became his accomplice. In real life, many of the details about her life are true. It's assumed she and Sobhraj met while traveling, and Coleman did extensive research into the question of whether Leclerc was fully complicit or brainwashed by her companion and how she was able to distance herself from the crimes.
“I think the [question of] ‘is she a victim or is she not,' how much of her was brainwashed, how much of it was a choice to be there and a choice to live in the delusion," Coleman told Radio Times, "I think that’s what’s really interesting: to make the choices that she made in keeping this reality in a way that she could so that she could keep existing and being with Charles.”
Leclerc and Sobhraj were ultimately captured and sentenced in India (for at least some of their crimes there), but she was released in the early '80s and after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and allowed to return to Canada, where she died in 1984.
The Informant: Nadine Gires
Ultimately, it was neighbor Nadine Gires (Mathilde Warnier) who helped Knippenberg crack the case of Sobhraj. The details from the show — that she was a lonely housewife who befriended Marie-Andrée and did not suspect "Alain" of anything — are correct, she told the U.K.'s Mirror in a January interview.
“Charles is a monster and I am terrified of him – I used to sleep with a baseball bat under my bed. But I have to admit that when we first met, I suspected nothing and was taken in by his charm. I was married to a sous chef and had little to do while he was at work, so I spent almost every day at Charles’ apartment. I became good friends with Marie-Andrée and she’d cook dinner for me, normally rare steaks and salad," Gires said. “We’d drink Coke and beer, talk about life – we seemed to have a lot in common. When I found out what he was doing to those people I had to act, or I would not be able to live with myself.”
Gires is now 67 and told the paper that when Sobhraj was arrested, she broke open a bottle of champagne.
While the names and details of all of Sobhraj's victims on the show don't exactly correlate to real life, for the most part the people we meet do have real-life counterparts. The Dutch couple who sparked Herman Knippenberg's investigation that ultimately brought Sobhraj's crimes to light were named Willem Bloem (Armand Rosbak) and Lena Dekker (Ellie de Lange) on the show, but in real life they were based on backpackers Henk Bintanja, 29, and his fiancée Cornelia Hemker, 25.
Teresa Knowlton, the American tourist headed to a Nepalese monastery, was based on a real-life woman of the same name from Seattle (and Sobhraj has confessed to her murder multiple times in print: On the Trail of the Serpent, the biography by Julie Clarke and Richard Neville, and articles). Vitali Hakim served as the real-life basis for "the Turk" character, and Charmayne Carrou was his French girlfriend briefly seen on the show.
The couple Sobhraj and Leclerc attacked while in Nepal were based on real-life murder victims Canadian Laurent Carrière, 26, and American Connie Bronzich, 29. The daring escape of Sobhraj's captive roommate Dominique Renelleau was also rooted in real life — he was poisoned by Sobhraj and he did escape Thailand with the help of his neighbors.
Other real-life details: Sobhraj's wife on the show, Juliette, is based on his real-life wife Chantal Compagnon, and their TV daughter, Madhu, is based on their real-life daughter, Usha. Like Juliette, Compagnon did join Sobhraj on the road for a while, but ultimately took their daughter back to France.
The Investigator: Angela Knippenberg
Herman and Angela Knippenberg, played in the show by Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber, were the key to unraveling Sobhraj's web of crimes. Both characters are based on real-life people of the same name, though Angela has since remarried and goes by Angela Kane. After she and Herman divorced, Kane went on to serve as Under-Secretary General of the U.N. and spent years working in diplomacy.
Kane told the U.K.'s Mirror that she was actually more assertive and more involved in the investigation than the show portrays, and thanks to the six languages she speaks she was able to translate all the evidence she and her husband found and catalogued before turning it over to Interpol.
"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," she said.