Thais Are Captivated By BBC and Netflix Series The Serpent

The Netflix limited series The Serpent is based on the crimes of a conman and killer Carles Sobhraj, who was linked to the unsolved murders of Western tourists in Southeast Asia in the early 1970s.
In a BBC One and Netflix co-production, The Serpent is the story of merciless serial killer Sobhraj (played by Tahar Rahim), who was born to a Vietnamese mother and an Indian father in Vietnam
In order to avoid detection by authorities, he was nicknamed “The Serpent” because of his snake-like appearance. He traveled to many countries while stationed in Bangkok and had a partner who was madly in love with him and helped him murder his victims who were all Western backpackers
At least 20 tourists were killed by Sobhraj in South Asia, including 14 in Thailand. Currently, he is 77 and serving a life sentence in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In 1976, Thai police issued an Interpol notice seeking his arrest after The Bangkok Post published a front-page article titled “Web of Death” describing the killing spree.
This series focuses on criminal mastermind Sobhraj’s crimes in Thailand and the dedication of Bangkok-based Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (portrayed by Billy Howle in the series). It soon gained popularity among Thai viewers.
As Pol Colonel Sompol Suthimai, an Interpol officer who joins the investigation later, actor and singer Teerapat “Tui” Sajjakul portrays the role in the crime drama.
Police Colonel Sompol plays only a minor role in the miniseries, but his work ultimately puts Sobhraj on Interpol’s radar, triggering a manhunt for him and his partner Marie-Andree Leclerc (Jenna Coleman).
In response to the heightened interest in the crimes following the broadcast of the series, the Thai media interviewed Poli Col Sompol, who is now Pol Maj Gen.
During those days, I really wanted to see him put on trial here and punished for what he did to those tourists. However, the statute of limitations on his case here has long expired, said the retired police officer.
Police Maj Gen Sompol says investigating crimes committed by foreigners 40 years ago was challenging partly due to language difficulties, which resulted in some suspects walking free.
He said he heard about Sobhraj’s crimes from his wife, Nicole Suthimai, a French woman working at the United Nations at the time.
Police Major General Sompol was initially skeptical about the missing tourists from the West, who were later found dead in a condominium in Bangkok. A friend of his wife had asked him to track down a relative who had gone missing.
I then read a news article in the Bangkok Post about a woman found dead on Pattaya beach, so I told my wife’s friend to go check out the body at the hospital.
It turned out that the victim was the missing relative, and Pol Maj Gen Sompol was contacted by Interpol to locate her boyfriend, a Turkish national. He found that the couple had never checked out of their hotel in Pathumwan.
While on vacation in Chiang Mai, he saw the pictures of foreign victims on the front page of the paper and decided to return to Bangkok only to be told that the Dutch embassy had dismissed the news report as fiction.
Certain it was not a made-up story, he asked to see Pol Gen Monchai Phankhonchuen, the director-general of the Police Department, and head of the police force at that time. He was assigned to the case and told to form a team of investigators from various units.
Pol Maj Gen Sompol said he went to the Dutch embassy where he met Mr Knippenberg for the first time and was unaware that the diplomat had been on Sobhraj’s trail.
Knippenberg was reluctant to share information, possibly because he did not trust the Thai police, Pol Maj Gen Sompol said.
“He wasn’t happy with the police because Sobhraj had been brought in for questioning but released. We found out the investigators didn’t examine his passport thoroughly. He was using someone else’s, and they believed he wasn’t the man they were looking for,” he said.
According to Pol Maj Gen Sompol, he learned from a source in Malaysia after Sobhraj fled that the Frenchman had bribed Thai police to look the other way while he made his escape.
The retired officer said the investigation made progress thanks to the massive amount of information collected by Mr Knippenberg. Eventually an arrest warrant was issued for Sobhraj and his girlfriend who were captured in India after travelling around South Asia on fake passports.
We couldn’t bring them back here. To my knowledge when he was jailed in India he bribed the guards and lived like a king. He was paid by journalists who wanted to use his story to write books. He was actually really scared to be sent back to Thailand and did all he could to dodge extradition.
Police Major General Sompol had been a law student at Thammasat University but decided to pursue a police career after becoming involved in a brawl.
He joined the force as a non-commissioned officer and worked at the Special Branch Police for two years before winning a scholarship to study in the UK. He returned to Thailand four years later and assumed a deputy inspector post.
His attention then shifted to the Thai Interpol bureau, a small unit with only four staff under the Police Department. There he became a deputy inspector responsible for the US and Europe.
The work, which mostly involved meetings and writing reports, bored him, so he approached his supervisor and asked if it was possible for him to join some investigations as well.
With help from the Japanese embassy, the unit was kitted out with radio equipment and telex machines which made their correspondence with other countries more convenient.
Pol Maj Gen Sompol received a two-step promotion for cracking the Sobhraj case and was transferred to the Immigration Bureau — a move he was not happy with.
He had loved his job with Interpol and this case had put the Thai bureau on the map and brought global recognition. In fact, he was to later return to the unit, which had become known as the Foreign Affairs Division, and retired as its division commander.
He asked to see Pol Gen Monchai Phankhonchuen, the Director-General of the Police Department and head of the police force at the time. He was assigned to the case and told to form a team of investigators from various units.
Knippenberg did not know that Pol Maj Gen Sompol had been on Sobhraj’s trail when he met him at the Dutch embassy, Sompol said he did not know he’d met the diplomat before.
It is possible that Knippenberg did not trust the Thai police, so he was reluctant to share information, Pol Maj Gen Sompol said.
It turned out that the police hadn’t examined his passport thoroughly, and they believed he wasn’t the person they were looking for he said. He wasn’t happy because Sobhraj had been brought in for questioning but had been released.
According to Pol Maj Gen Sompol, he learned from a source in Malaysia after Sobhraj fled that the Frenchman bribed Thai police to look the other way while he made his escape.
As a result of the huge amount of information collected by Knippenberg, the investigation gained momentum, and an arrest warrant was issued for Sobhraj and his girlfriend, who had been arrested in India after traveling around South Asia on fake passports.
They couldn’t be brought to Thailand because he bribed the guards when he was in jail in India and lived like a king, while journalists used his story in books. He was afraid to be sent back to Thailand and evaded extradition.
In addition to his legal studies at Thammasat University, Major General Sompol went on to pursue a police career when he got involved in a brawl.
When he joined the force as a non-commissioned officer, he worked at Special Branch Police for two years before winning a scholarship to study in the United Kingdom. He returned to Thailand four years later and assumed the post of deputy inspector.
His attention was drawn to a small, four-member unit of the Police Department, the Interpol bureau in Thailand. He served as a deputy inspector in charge of North America and Europe.
Since the work mainly involved meetings and writing reports bored him, he approached his supervisor to ask if it would be possible for him to be a part of investigations as well.
Thanks to the support of the Japanese embassy, the unit was equipped with radio equipment and telex machines, making correspondence with other countries easier.
In return for cracking the Sobhraj case, Pol Maj Gen Sompol received a two-step promotion and was transferred to the Immigration Bureau — a move he wasn’t happy about.
In fact, he later returned to the unit, which had become the Foreign Affairs Division, and served as its division commander until his retirement. He loved his job at Interpol, and this case had put the office in the spotlight, bringing the country international recognition.

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