Barely two episodes into The Serpent, Marie-Andrée Leclerc—sometimes “Monique” or just “Marie”—watches as partner Charles Sobhraj (“Alain Gautier”) pushes a drugged American tourist into a car. The woman, Teresa Knowlton, would be Sobhraj’s first victim. As many as 23 others would follow. Whether Leclerc (portrayed by English actor Jenna Coleman) knew then of the subsequent murders isn’t clear, but in the series, it is this moment when her dissonance begins. She will deny herself the truth for the next two years.
Picked up from the BBC, Netflix’s The Serpent looks to be yet another dramatic international crime hit for the streaming service—following the success of Lupin (France) and Who Killed Sara? (Mexico). The series, however, may be closer to Netflix’s true crime docuseries content, with much of the events of the series taken directly from actual source material, including reporting and books. While the series notes that all dialogue is imagined, the majority of the scenes in the series are reconstructed from actual events taking place between 1972 and 1975. Leclerc and Sobhraj were real as were Teresa Knowlton and Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg.
The series, however, avoids the salaciousness of most true crime reporting—particularly that done by Netflix, which has found massive success in mostly redundant reconstructions, like Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel and American Murder: The Family Next Door.
The Serpent is less interested in Sobhraj, the killer, than the obsession and destruction left in his wake. The central characters of the series become, therefore, Knippenberg, whose fixation on the case carries both professional and personal costs, and Leclerc, whose ensnarement and forced cognitive dissonance—while at times almost utterly inexcusable—makes her the series’ tragic lead. But how much of this tragedy was fiction, and how much of it was hard truth?
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Who is Marie-Andrée Leclerc?
Leclerc was born in Levis, Canada, just outside Quebec, in 1945. She worked as a medical secretary before traveling to India in 1975. There, she met Sobhraj, who courted her through love letters. She later returned to Asia, meeting Sobhraj in Bangkok.
Over the next two years, Leclerc and Sobhraj traveled across Asia using stolen passports. During this time, Sobhraj posed as a gem dealer, while drugging, stealing from, and murdering at least a dozen tourists visiting Thailand, India, and Nepal.
Leclerc denied knowledge of Sobhraj’s murders, though she did help him to drug at least one of his victims. Another victim claimed that Leclerc “had to know about it. Anyone with eyes and ears could see what was going on in this apartment.”
In an interview with the RadioTimes.com, Jenna Coleman, who portrays Leclerc, discussed the disassociation Leclerc must have had to maintain:
“I think the [question of] ‘is she a victim or is she not’, how much of her was brainwashed, how much of it was a choice to be there and a choice to live in the delusion; I think that’s what’s really interesting, to make the choices that she made in keeping this reality in a way that she could so that she could keep existing and being with Charles.”
In 1976, Leclerc was apprehended in India alongside Sobhraj. The couple’s international crime spree had finally, it seemed, come to an end.
Where is Leclerc now?
Leclerc was originally sentenced to life in prison in India. An Indian high court, however, overturned the conviction and allowed Leclerc to return to Canada. She was by then diagnosed with cancer. She died in Levis in April 1984.
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