Former Snake-Charming Murderer Poised to Make Millions in Tech

·4 min read
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

A snake charmer who earned two doctorate degrees while serving a prison term for the heinous murder of his reptile-trading partner could soon become a millionaire thanks to his tech company—if Israel will let him.

Harel Hershtik was an uneducated 14-year-old trying to deal with the physical and emotional abuse of his childhood in a zoo therapy class when he met his victim, Yaakov Sela, a venomous snake trader.

Sela had a following of kids like Hershtik who saw an opportunity in the reptilian world. The snake handler saw something special in Hershtik and quickly latched on to his young protege, teaching him how to work with and even cross-breed the reptiles, some of which aren’t even legal in Israel. He also latched onto Hershtik’s mother, Rina Hershtik, with whom he had a romantic relationship.

But, as Hershtik tells it, the relationship became manipulative and even abusive; and in an act of revenge, Hershtik stole around $15,000 from him. In court, Hershtik said he had “a problem seeing him talking to women in demeaning ways, especially toward someone that I cared about and loved.”

When he found out about the stolen money, Sela said he wouldn’t go to the cops if Hershtik paid him back—at a rate of 100 percent interest. Instead, Hershtik shot him in the head and buried his body. Hershtik was just 20 years old.

In an extensive interview with the Associated Press, the murderer—now on parole with an electronic ankle bracelet—says he wants to be forgiven. He is vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical—which specializes in a medical device that the company says can detect disease through a breath test—that he founded in prison in 2018. But some say he should not be allowed to rehabilitate completely, and that some of his fortune should go to the state and to his victim’s family.

He disagrees.

“When I was young, I would say that I was stupid and arrogant,” the 46-year-old told the AP. “You can be a genius and yet still be very stupid and the two don’t contradict each other.”

Hershtik’s crime was discovered in May 1996 when a group of kids found Sela’s hand in some gravel in the Golan Heights. Authorities immediately identified Sela who had been reported missing a month earlier.

Hershtik, whose mother called him a “pathological liar” in the wake of the scandal, was ultimately convicted of murder, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit murder, theft, fraud, forgery and false impersonation. He was sentenced to life in prison, which in Israel is a 30-year sentence. He will be completely free in May 2026.

He told the AP that while in prison he traded his love of snakes for chemistry and mathematics, earning doctorate degrees in both. He also married three times, meeting his first wife through prison visits, his second wife through an advertisement in a women’s magazine, and his third in an online chat room. He is divorced from all three and has no children due to the clearly difficult obstacle of his incarceration.

His prison record is sketchy, having been in isolation after setting up internet to his cell and telling the AP he was stabbed by two Arab inmates after “hypothetically” suggesting Jewish nationalist inmates should catapult a severed hog’s head with a Quran in its mouth into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

He says he also began 31 companies, of which he sold six, while behind bars. He now wants to take Scentech Medical public through a merger with NextGen Biomed. The merger, which still needs regulatory approval, values the company at $250 million, according to the AP.

As his successful company edges towards going public, the former snake charmer told the AP that he hoped investors wouldn’t be fearful of his extensive rap sheet, and that he demoted himself in hopes of winning over those who might be skeptical.

But he also told the wire service that the reason he needs to be forgiven is because he formed his company to give something back to society, to leave the world a better place.

“Trust me,” he told the AP. “This is not for the money.”

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