Set in the 1970s, The Serpent tells the gripping tale of a notorious criminal, Charles Sobhraj (nicknamed the "Bikini Killer" and "The Serpent"), who targeted Western tourists eager to explore the Hippie Trail in Asia.
The Serpent focuses on Sobhraj's thirties — charting how he and his then-lover and partner in crime, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, carried out various criminal activities. But so, who was Sobhraj married to before? Here's what you should know about his first wife.
Sobhraj met his first wife, Chantal Compagnon, after his release from a Poissy prison.
Born in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, in 1944, Sobhraj reportedly spent his teenage years moving back and forth between France and Vietnam. He likely received his first prison conviction aged 19, in 1963, for a burglary. He met his first wife, Chantal Compagnon, after his release from the Maison centrale de Poissy in France.
As an anecdote has it, Sobhraj was arrested for trying to dodge the police while driving a stolen vehicle on the day he proposed to Chantal. Some believe he swore to Chantal — who hails from a conservative Catholic background — that he would give up on his rowdy lifestyle after they got married. But things panned out differently.
It's understood that Sobhraj and Chantal exchanged their wedding vows in 1969. They traveled to Mumbai, India, in the early 1970s. Chantal likely gave birth to their daughter, Usha Sobhraj, during this period. In The Serpent, Juliette's character is modeled after Chantal, while Madhu is based on Usha.
The Juliette part is not accurate. Chantal (her real name) supported Sobhraj throughout his life, giving him money, and even fought for him at the European Court of Human Rights in the 2000s. She was also engaged in the early robberies acc to the book.— Jayde B (@JaydedCreed) January 31, 2021
Things between Chantal and Sobhraj started to fall apart at a breakneck speed after she realized how reckless her husband was. Too caught up in his various illegal dealings, Sobhraj continued to get himself and his wife into trouble long after they left France.
Sobhraj and his first wife went their separate ways in the early 1970s.
In December 1971, Chantal and Sobhraj likely left for Kabul, Afghanistan, where Sobhraj reportedly got involved in gun smuggling. They might have stopped in Pakistan and Thailand as well.
According to Tatler, the couple likely parted ways during this period. As the outlet states, it was there and then that Chantal decided to send Usha back to France — hoping her parents would be able to take much better care of her — before putting a plan in place for herself.
According to another line of interpretation, an unsuccessful armed robbery Sobhraj carried out in the early 1970s — some sources put it to 1971, others to 1973 — could have served as another red flag for Chantal.
Sobhraj got arrested for attempting an armed robbery at the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi, India. It's understood that he tried to drill into a jewelry store from the room directly overhead, but he got caught by the police.
why didn’t The Serpent include the fairly crucial detail that Charles Sobhraj’s wife was his first accomplice and she helped him escape a jail sentence and later helped him rob people?— April Radness li'l 🌳 listen to @onbeliefpod (@karengeier) April 5, 2021
According to Crime+Investigation UK, Chantal and Sobhraj left for Kabul, Afghanistan, after the armed robbery attempt at the Ashok Hotel. As the outlet states, Chantal made up her mind after Sobhraj fled to Iran without her.
As this interpretation holds, Chantal and her daughter made their way back to France together.
Chantal reportedly brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights in a bid to help Sobhraj.
It is believed that Chantal filed a case against the French government for their failure to provide legal assistance to Sobhraj in the early 2000s. The appeal turned out to be futile, however.
Sobhraj's conviction was confirmed by the Patan High Court in Nepal in 2005. He continues to serve a life sentence at the Central Jail in Kathmandu, Nepal.