BBC One is currently exploring the crimes and capture of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj in The Serpent.


Sobhraj, who was dubbed "The Bikini Killer" and "The Serpent," evaded capture for years.

Throughout the eight-part series, we see Herman Knippenberg (played by Billy Howle in The Serpent cast) investigate the killer's trail and even speak to his neighbours about what they knew.

Eventually, Sobhraj was caught in New Delhi in July 1976, but the story doesn't end there.

Read on for the real-life story being The Serpent's ending and how Charles Sobhraj was caught.

How was Charles Sobhraj finally captured?

The Serpent
The Serpent (BBC Pictures) BBC

Charles Sobhraj was finally captured in July 1976 in New Delhi. He was accompanied by Barbara Smith and Mary Ellen Eather, two women whom he had recruited in Bombay, and the trio had set out to drug a large group of over 20 French tourists in a hotel lobby.

However, the plan went wrong: not all of the victims fell unconscious, and some sounded the alarm. Sobhraj was apprehended at the scene, and his accomplices Smith and Eather both confessed to authorities. The mass murderer was subsequently sentenced to a 12-year stint in Tahar prison.

Herman Knippenberg recently told The Telegraph that he believed Sobhraj was caught due to his reluctance to play it safe and to instead "gamble" (in this case, by trying to drug and presumably rob 22 individuals at once).

"I think, in essence, his downfall is that he is the born gambler," Knippenberg said. "This is in line with Nietzsche, that the only thing in life is to live as dangerously as possible – the tightrope-walker, building your house on the slopes of Vesuvius. So you push your luck as far as you can because you are different."

What happened after he was jailed?

Sobhraj manipulated the prison guards and fellow inmates around him at Tahar prison, allegedly receiving luxuries that included a colour TV, a typewriter, and extravagant food orders.

He also escaped the prison prior to his release (by drugging the prison guards during a fake birthday party) and was caught, receiving another 10 years in prison - and thereby escaping a Thai arrest warrant and likely extradition and execution in Thailand.

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He was released in 1997 (after the Thai arrest warrant had lapsed) and travelled to Paris, where he lived life as a free man and celebrity criminal, conducting press interviews and charging for fans to have lunch with him.

However, "a born gambler" as Knippenberg said, Sobhraj inexplicably travelled to Nepal (one of the few countries where he could be arrested) in 2003, where he was arrested and, with the help of Knippenberg's extensive dossier on him, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.


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