Speaking with the Serpent: my encounters with serial killer Charles Sobhraj

The notorious murderer who preyed on 70s backpackers is the subject of a new BBC drama. Our writer recalls his bizarre meetings with a charmer and psychopath

At the beginning of The Serpent, the new BBC drama series based on the exploits of a real-life serial killer, a title page declares: “In 1997 an American TV crew tracked Charles Sobhraj down to Paris where he was living as a free man.”

The ABC team were not the only ones back then to speak to Sobhraj, who was suspected of committing at least 12 murders. I too made the journey to Paris and managed to arrange an interview for the Observer with the Vietnamese-Indian Frenchman. He had just been released from jail in India, where he had spent 20 years on various charges (but not for any of the murders for which he was alleged to be responsible).

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