The Real Serpent – what will Channel 4 interview reveal?

In 2021, BBC One showed a compelling drama about real-life serial killer, conman and gem dealer Charles Sobhraj.

Starring Tahar Rahim as Sobhraj, with Jenna Coleman as his girlfriend, it chillingly recounted how ‘The Serpent’ – as the series was called – hung out on the hippie trail in 1970s’ Bangkok, disarming young backpackers with his charm before drugging, robbing and murdering them.

At the time of broadcast, Sobhraj, a Saigon-born French national, was still serving 18 years of a life sentence for murdering 29-year-old American Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.

Sobhraj received another life sentence in 2014 for killing Bronzich’s travelling mate, 26-year-old Canadian Laurent Carrière.

Sobhraj agrees to be interviewed

However, Sobhraj was released the year after The Serpent was shown. Aged 79, he then spoke to documentary makers I happen to know – the team at Monster Films.

In what must be quite a coup for them, Sobhraj agreed to be interviewed about his past. And so tonight on Channel 4 in the UK, we get the start of a three-part series delving into his past – The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer.

The producers have brought in a couple of former Metropolitan Police detectives and a forensic psychologist to confront Sobhraj.

The killer apparently has an agenda here. In 1977, he confessed to author Richard Neville that he had committed 10 murders, an admission recounted in Neville’s book On the Trail of the Serpent (co-authored with Julie Clarke).

He has since denied those further killings, no doubt hoping to put greater distance between himself and such suspicions in tonight’s documentary.

Real Prime Suspect encounters real serial killer

Interrogating him will be former Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Malton. Jackie, whom scriptwriter Lynda La Plante used as inspiration for Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, is someone I have met and worked with several times.

I was even interviewed by her on another Monster Films production, The Real Prime Suspect, so I know first-hand she is a steely questioner.

However, it seems even she was disarmed by the beguiling Sobhraj. Before filming she spent time with him, encounters that included a few meals.

She describes him as ‘charismatic, highly intelligent… complex. He’s a fascinating guy.’

Charles Sobhraj today being interviewed by the documentary team ©Channel 4

He even joked with her about slipping something into her drink. I’m sure she would have kept her eyes on him after that.

Meanwhile, she is joined by another former senior detective, Gary Copson. In addition, forensic psychologist Paul Britton joins her on the series to explore Sobhraj’s childhood and motivation.

Serial murderers are rare. And I suspect that even for someone as experienced as Jackie, he presented a formidable challenge.

Attempting to pin down Sobhraj promises to be intense and probably a bit frustrating.

The Real Serpent: Investigating a Serial Killer, Channel 4 (in the UK), starts 9pm

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