Continuing Netflix’s dominance in the true crime genre is biographical drama The Serpent. The new miniseries follows Charles Sobhraj (played by Tahar Rahim), who is a French con man and serial killer. He preyed on young travelers and terrorized Southeast Asia in the 1970s, murdering at least 14 tourists across Nepal, Thailand, and India. Sobhraj has been in and out of prison since entering India’s maximum security facility in 1977.
The Serpent series is partially based on the 1979 biography The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj, which names him in seven murders.
Though he killed over a dozen people, Sobhraj’s first victim, Teresa Knowlton, received the most attention in the press. He dumped her body in the Gulf of Thailand, earning Sobhraj the nickname “bikini killer” before he became known as “The Serpent.” Here’s what to know about Teresa Knowlton and her tragic death.
Teresa Knowlton was backpacking in Southeast Asia when she met Sobhraj.
In October 1975, 21-year-old Seattle resident Teresa Knowlton took a trip to the “Hippie Trail” in Southeast Asia in search of enlightenment. Her plan to study Tibetan Buddhism at Kopan Monastery was cut short.
She met Sobhraj in Bangkok on her way, per the Independent. Sobhraj lived in a mansion in the red light district and often entertained backpackers with his girlfriend, Marie-Andree Leclerc.
Her last night alive remains a mystery.
There are a few different accounts of Knowlton’s final hours. In one version of the story, Sobhraj impersonated a “gem salesman” and lured Knowlton to a hotel in Pattaya under the guise of selling cheap crystals, per The Daily Star. (He and his fellow criminals had set up shop at a resort in Pattaya, where most of the murders were committed.) Other accounts claim Knowlton went out drinking with Sobhraj and was poisoned, like many of his other victims.
However they connected that evening, Sobhraj and his companion drove her to different location to “take her for a swim.” He did and let her go in the ocean, where she drowned.
Knowlton was found off the coast a few days later.
A farmer found Knowlton’s body floating in the Gulf of Thailand on Oct. 18, 1975. She was wearing a floral bikini. Her travelers’ checks were cashed out two days after she disappeared by Leclerc, who plays a significant role in the Netflix/BBC series. The authorities didn’t suspect Sobhraj until more backpackers disappeared.
Sobhraj later confessed: “I killed her because she was transporting drugs.”
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