This post contains spoilers for The Serpent. As published on April 5, 2021.
Canadian Marie-Andrée Leclerc died on April 20, 1984, of cancer, aged 38. Her story is forever associated with the dark assassin Charles Sobhraj, whose lover, accomplice, and partner in several scams and crimes between 1975 and 1976, which is recounted in the Netflix series, The Serpent.
The nature of the Marie-Andrée relationship, both on the show and in real life, has remained something of an enigma. What made a 30-year-old woman, with a job and security in Canada, drop everything to live a great love affair with a stranger? Yet another woman victim of “bandit love”, who was at least an accomplice in more than 10 deaths between 1975 and 1976, in Asia.
Marie-Andrée was born in Quebec, where she was a nurse. She was engaged, but never got married. She met Charles Sobhraj during a trip to India, in 1975, where they started a romance. The two exchanged love letters for three months until he sent Marie-Andrée a ticket to visit him in Thailand. However, immediately after their reunion, she discovered her boyfriend’s true nature.
From the outside, it looked like she was passionate and submissive to Charles. Later, when writing her autobiography, Marie-Andrée alleged that she would have been coerced into participating in the scams, preparing the drugs that they mixed in the drinks of the victims and then traveling with him as if she were his wife. It doesn’t match the testimony against her.
In the series, Marie-Andrée – using the name Dominique – also helped Charles to choose the people they would hit as well as she was the one who approached them personally. So she was more active than she wanted to admit later. The Serpent implies Charles’s manipulation, highlighting Marie-Andrée’s low self-esteem, but does not explain her choices. Her neighbor, Nicole, believed (and believes to this day) in the Canadian’s fear of her boyfriend. There is a phrase that is in the series, in which Marie-Andrée talks about Charles’s jealousy and that she is his prisoner, without a passport or money, believing that he would kill her if she tried to escape. This phrase was mentioned in Nicole’s testimony.
However, the testimony of one of the rare victims to escape alive, the Frenchman Dominique Veylau, was decisive in the conviction of Marie-Andrée. After all, it was she who prepared the drugs applied to the tourists, including Dominique, and traveled with stolen passports more than once, accompanying her boyfriend. She would never have been publicly threatened, it was apparently done by choice.
Charles and Marie-Andrée were arrested in 1976 in India, where they were sentenced to 12 years in prison. It was at this time that she wrote the book, Je Reviens, in which she stated that she was never in love with Charles Sobhraj, arguing that she was a victim of manipulation, violence, and threats. In addition to Dominique’s version and the personal diaries she wrote describing her passion for Charles, Marie-Andrée even testified in favor of her partner, so these things contradict her biography.
While still in prison, Marie-Andrée was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1983. She appealed in court and was released to spend the last year of her life in Canada, where she gave interviews defending her innocence. Hard to believe her when she was at the killer’s side, drugging the victims he ended up murdering.
The actress, Jenna Coleman, read her diaries and biography to prepare for the role and tries to empathize. The actress defends the thesis of brainwashing as the reason for her participation. She’d rather live the illusion than face reality.
Marie-Andrée’s trajectory is somewhat reminiscent of the relationship between businesswoman Ghislaine Maxwell and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Ghislaine, who will be tried in July for her participation in an international network of exploitation of minors, insists that she is innocent, although a series of victims identify her as an active partner of the late Epstein in his crimes. Ghislaine and Epstein reportedly dated at some point and he referred to her as his “best friend”. These are women who at some point want to change roles, but there is no denying the facts. Ghislaine is for another post. In the case of Marie-Andrée Leclerc, her painful but quick death does not allow elucidation of the main question surrounding all deaths: why?