Serpent 'serial killer' Charles Sobhraj faces interrogation over alleged victims

What did you miss?

The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer (Channel 4)
The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer sees Charles Sobhraj face questions over five murders he is closely tied to. (Channel 4)

Charles Sobhraj faced questions over the killings of Teresa Knowlton, Vitali Hakim, Stephanie Parry, Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker in Channel 4's The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer.

The convicted murderer is a suspected serial killer and is believed to have committed 20 murders, 14 of which took place in Thailand. He previously confessed to ten murders for a book written by Richard Neville and Julie Clarke in 1979, but retracted his statement and has since said he has never killed anyone.

Filmmakers of the Channel 4 series are investigating the five murders that have the closest ties to Sobhraj, and asked him directly about it in the show's second episode. Sobhraj agreed to be part of the documentary in order to attest his innocence, and the filmmakers are challenging his version of events with an investigation of their own.

When faced with questions about the five victims at the heart of the documentary, Sobhraj said he could not remember Teresa Knowton, Vitali Hakim, and Stephanie Parry, but did recollect meeting Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker.

What, how, and why?

The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer (Channel 4)
Charles Sobhraj previously admitted to murdering ten people, but has since retracted that statement and now denies killing anyone. (Channel 4)

Sobhraj was convicted of the murders of Connie Jo Bronzich and Laurent Carrière in Nepal in 2002, and he served a 19-year prison sentence from 2002 to 2023. He was also imprisoned in India between 1976 to 1997 for poisoning several people, and during this prison stint the statute of limitations for the killings in Thailand —for which he would have faced the death penalty— had expired.

In the Channel 4 documentary, Sobhraj's connections to the five murders they are investigating were shown in detail in episode 2. At the time of their deaths in 1975 Sobhraj was posing as a gems dealer in Bangkok, using the pseudonym Alan Gautier and working with accomplices Marie-Andrée Leclerc and Ajay Chowdhury.

When questioned about Knowlton's disappearance and death Sobhraj attested that he did not "remember anything because [he had] so many customers." Sobhraj had previously admitted to killing Knowlton, but he denied killing her in the documentary when asked directly.

He was then questioned over the death of Hakim, whose body was found burned in 1975. Neville said in an interview that Sobhraj said he had killed Hakim in order to tackle small-time drug dealers, there was an eyewitness who also said Sobhraj and Chowdhury smelt of gasoline. Hakim's passport was also found at his accommodation in Bangkok, named Kanit House.

The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer (Channel 4)
The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer presented evidence of the crimes Charles Sobhraj is accused of committing, alongside the answers he gave when questioned about them. (Channel 4)

When asked about the eyewitness, Sobhraj said: "I would like to be confronted by that person because I never had petrol on my clothes or smelling of petrol." Hakim's girlfriend Parry was also later found dead, a man who lived with Sobhraj at the time, Dominique Renelleau —who believed Sobhraj drugged him so he'd stay in Kanit House— said he saw Sobhraj with Hakim and Parry, as well as Dutch couple Bintanja and Hemker.

Sobhraj did admit to meeting with Bintanja and Hemker, saying that he had agreed to sell them gems. And when faced with questions over their murders, Sobhraj said: "The first time I heard that they were dead, or that [their deaths] was put on me was after I left Bangkok and it was front page cover. That was the first time I had heard of those murders, including the Dutch couple."

Despite evidence pointing towards Sobhraj's association with the victims, including an eyewitness saying he and Chowdhury were seen putting Bintanja and Hemker in a car before their deaths, he continued to deny any association.

Sobhraj said: "Those murders happened within a gap of two months, or two and a half months. So does that mean prior to that I was, as I say, normal and then after that I become crazy and kill and that and that. And then after two and a half months I become normal again, is it possible?"

What else happened on The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer?

The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer (Channel 4)
Charles Sobhra also spoke about his accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc (left), he said it was his biggest 'regret' that her ovarian cancer wasn't detected early enough because she was with him. (Channel 4)

Another key moment in the documentary saw Angela Kane, who investigated Sobhraj's crimes for Interpol, give an interview of her experience about it.

Kane explained that she and her Dutch diplomat husband Herman Knippenberg visited Kanit House after Sobhraj had left Bangkok with the help of his former neighbour, Nadine Gires. She explained that they found a number of pieces of evidence tying Sobhraj to the murders, including a diary of one of the victims that referred to meeting a French gem dealer in Hong Kong.

Reflecting on writing the Interpol report on Sobhraj, Kane said: "I think what was really important is those families who lost their loved ones is that there's a sense of closure."

Elsewhere in the documentary, Sobhraj also spoke about Marie-Andrée Leclerc contracting ovarian cancer, saying it was his biggest "regret" that it wasn't detected earlier because she was with him. He grew emotional as he said: "I'm really, really sorry. This is something the most I regretted because she was such a nice person."

Former Met detective Jackie Malton, who is investigating Sobhraj as part of the documentary, called his crying over Leclerc "crocodile tears", and revealed a letter that shows he was having an affair with another woman the whole time they were together.

The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer concludes Thursday, 21 March at 9pm on Channel 4.

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