A neighbor who helped nail a psychopath named The Serpent shared how she lived in fear of the “monster” killer and slept under her bed with a baseball bat.
In exciting scenes that grab viewers on BBC1, housewife Nadine Gires is shown secretly taking photos and even sneaking into Charles Sobhraj’s apartment to collect evidence.
The dramatic moments come in the TV series The Serpent – the nickname for the cracked and slippery Sobhraj.
Today Nadine witnesses the terrifying real life events portrayed in the eight-part drama about the Frenchman Sobhraj, suspected of killing at least 12 travelers across Southeast Asia.
He drugged victims, then strangled, mutilated or shot them – and disfigured corpses. Two burned.
Nadine tells how she feared she would become Sobhraj’s next victim while living next to him and his cheater Marie-Andrée Leclerc.
In an exclusive interview, 67-year-old Nadine reveals, “Charles is a monster and I’m scared of him – I slept with a baseball bat under my bed. But I have to admit, when I first met, I had no idea and was fascinated by its charm.
“I was married to a sous-chef and had little to do while he was at work. That’s why I spent almost every day in Charles’ apartment. I made good friends with Marie-Andrée and she cooked me dinner, usually rare steaks and salad.
“We drank Coke and beer, talked about life – we seemed to have a lot in common. When I found out what he was doing to these people, I had to act, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
Nadine’s efforts to pin down the killer make up some of the most nerve-wracking scenes in The Serpent, starring French actor Tahar Rahim, 39, and British actress Jenna Coleman, 34.
Sobhraj was an easy-to-speak and debonair French conman who posed as a gem dealer to lure backpackers into his Bangkok apartment.
Nadine and then husband Remi Gires are from Normandy, France. In 1975 they moved to an apartment below Sobhraj’s apartment on the fifth floor in Kanit House in the Thai capital.
Nadine, who now runs the Bamboo Resort Hotel in Khanom, said, “I met Charles on the stairs for the first time.
“He was friendly and there weren’t that many French people in Thailand so we were surprised and happy to meet.
“He seemed to know a lot about Thailand and invited us to his apartment where I met his girlfriend.
“They looked different, but in a good way. He was cultured and she came from Quebec, Canada, which seemed exotic to us. “
But it wasn’t long before Nadine had serious concerns about her new friends and one of her co-workers who was always in the apartment.
Sobhraj’s roommate, Dominique Rennelleau, was constantly ill and later found out that he was poisoned. A second buddy, Yannick Masy – not featured on the TV series – collapsed and confessed that he feared for his safety.
The charred corpses of the Dutch couple Henk Bintanja and Cornelia Hemker were discovered in December 1975. Nadine said, “My husband didn’t like Charles because he noticed strange things happening. He said to me: “Your friend is not a good guy, he poisons these people.”
“The backpackers were vulnerable. We didn’t have internet back then and the phones were awful so parents were used to not hearing from them.
“I remember meeting the Dutch couple briefly. I went to Sobhraj’s apartment and he stood over them trying to convince them to buy sapphires and rubies. He said, “Sorry, I’m talking to these people. Can you come back later?”
“Days later I heard noises – people groaned – and asked Charles,” What is that? “He said,” The Dutch are sick. “Then before Christmas we saw photos of the cremated bodies in the Bangkok Post newspaper and Yannick told me,” It’s the Dutch couple. He killed her. “
Nadine loaned Dominque and Yan-nick £ 1,000 so they could fly back to France while Sobhraj was away.
Her most terrifying moment was in March 1976 when Sobhraj and his friends returned and wanted to know where his friends had gone.
Nadine said: “It was terrible. I was waiting in a hotel lobby when they came up behind me and said, “Surprise!” My heart jumped. They offered me a ride home and I had to get into a very small elevator with them.
“I was sure Charles could hear my heart beating. He kept asking: “Where are Dominique and Yannick?”
Nadine was afraid to go to the Thai police – she feared the officers were corrupt.
She and Remi gave a tip to the Belgian diplomat Paul Siemons and the Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, 76, who were obsessed with the case.
Together they broke into Sobhraj’s apartment and gathered evidence – including diaries and personal effects that Interpol used to solve a number of murders. Sobhraj and Leclerc fled but were arrested in New Delhi in July 1976.
The serial killer, who murdered two people in India, was caught drugging French tourists. He was given 12 years for poisoning the travelers – but that was extended to 20 years after he escaped from prison and was recaptured.
Despite her belief in helping drug victims, Leclerc was released and returned to Quebec. In 1984 she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 38. 76-year-old Sobhraj was sent back to France in 1997.
He was detained in Nepal in 2003 and killed there for two murders. He’s still in jail.
Nadine, who separated from 72-year-old Remi in 2005, helped: “I felt sorry for Marie-Andrée because she was a sad and simple person, not the movie star we see on the series.
“And she was Charles’ prisoner. She said to me,” I have no passport, no money and if I try to go he’ll kill me. “
But when Charles was arrested, I celebrated with a bottle of champagne. I don’t feel guilty knowing that I did everything I could to stop the murders. And I can tell you it was a good lesson. Now I am very careful with the people I meet. “
- The third episode of The Serpent is on BBC1 at 9pm today