When acclaimed mystery writer Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days, it became headline news around the world. But what exactly happened? For years, historians have been trying to figure out what caused her to disappear, and what took place during those 11 days. Now some believe that they have figured out Agatha Christie’s disappearance, the mystery writer’s greatest mystery.
The Mystery Of The Mystery Writer
Author Agatha Christie is known to be one of the most famous murder mystery novelists of all time. Her multitude of works brought the world some of the most beloved detectives in literature, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, along with unforgettable classic stories like Murder on the Orient Express. But while fans of her work know her stories, many don’t realize she harbored a mystery of her own.
Christie’s own disappearance has become her greatest mystery of all time, and those 11 harrowing days continue to go unsolved. Even as the Guinness World Record’s best-selling novelist of all time, Christie could not have made this story up if she tried.
Life With The Christies
Oftentimes, when a woman disappears or goes missing, police question the husband. In the case of the Christies, suspicions about their relationship would have been merited. Agatha, born Miller, met British Army officer Archibald Christie at a grand ball. After a quick romance, they were married on Christmas Eve 1914. Five years later, the pair had a daughter, Rosalind. But things quickly went south for them.
Archibald and Agatha’s marriage was rocky. It had started off with Archibald, also known as Archie, away fighting in World War I in France for years. After returning, Archie had been cheating on his wife for years with his much younger secretary, Nancy Neele. He was not trying particularly hard to hide it from Agatha. It was a fight between Agatha and Archie that would spark one of the strangest mysteries in modern history.
The Evening Of Christie’s Disappearance
It was December 3, 1926. Agatha and Archie Christie’s relationship was not exactly marital bliss. Four months prior, Archie had asked Agatha for a divorce, and she had refused. Now, they spent many nights fighting once their daughter went to sleep, and this night was no different. Archie had told Agatha about his plans to go away for the weekend with friends — plans that did not including taking her along for the trip.
Once the night had calmed down, at about 9:30 PM, Christie was said to have gone into her daughter Rosalind’s bedroom, kissed her goodbye, and left her home in Berkshire. That was the last time that she was seen before she was reported to police to have disappeared.
It was very much not like Agatha to leave her daughter behind in such a manner, so those close to Christie became concerned when she did not return the next morning. And there was good reason to be concerned. As time dragged on the next day without a trace of Christie, her secretary decided that it was high time to call the police.
As soon as police received the call, they knew that they could have a potentially huge case on their hands, and they knew that they had to handle it all with the utmost sensitivity. Christie was already known around the world for her writing, and the sensationalism of the mystery writer becoming the mystery would be too much for newspapers to pass up.
Police Begin The Historic Search
As the clock ticked on in this sensitive and highly-watched case, the police efforts went into full gear to try to find clues about Christie’s disappearance. At the time, the search for the mystery writer became one of the largest missing persons searches of its time in Britain.
In total, 1,000 police officers were assigned to the case and a whopping 15,000 volunteers helped in the search. Newspapers, first in the Sunningdale area of the Royal County of Berkshire, and then around the country, began to post numbers of tip lines or listed other ways to help in the search efforts. And then, the police landed upon a major piece of evidence.
On December 6 at 8 AM, two full days after Christie’s disappearance was reported to police, her beloved two-seater Morris Cowley car was found abandoned. According to reports, “the novelist’s car was found abandoned…on the edge of a chalk pit, the front wheels actually hanging over the edge.”
The reports went on to say that “the car evidently had run away, and only a thick hedge growth prevented it from plunging into the pit. In the car were found articles of clothing and an attache case containing papers.” On the passenger’s seat, police found Christie’s jacket, which she would have needed during the English winter. The discovery was a breakthrough in the case, but it was also a sign that something grim might have occurred.
Making International Headlines
If the disappearance of one of the most recognized names in the novelist world was not already enough to make headlines, the discovery of her abandoned car blew the story up to become international news. On December 6th, the same day Christie’s car was found, her disappearance became front-page news on the New York Times.
All of this added attention only piled on pressure for the police. Many tabloids speculated that Christie had either died under suspicious circumstances, or that she had taken her own life. And if this story was not already ripe for tabloid fodder, the discovery of a letter would complicate the story even further.
A Sudden Ending?
The search for Christie was still in full swing when another unexpected twist led to a sudden turn in the already-bizarre case. On December 8th, days after she had disappeared, Col. Christie’s brother, Agatha’s brother-in-law, came forward with some new evidence. He claimed she had written him personally.
The New York Times wrote, “The missing woman had been heard from. The brother of Colonel Archibald Christie, who lives in London, it was explained, had received a letter written since her disappearance, in which the novelist said that she had been in ill health and was going to a Yorkshire spa for rest and treatment.” Mystery solved? Not so fast.
Police Continue The Search
It seems that the letter sent to Christie’s brother-in-law was not enough to convince authorities to close the case. If Christie had just wanted some rest and relaxation, they wondered, why would she leave her car without her coat or her briefcase at the side of a chalk pit? It certainly seemed pretty suspicious.
Without any new evidence, police began to utilize hounds in their hunt for the novelist. Police even used Christie’s own pet dog to see if it would be able to pick up her scent, but according to reports at the time, the dog only “whined pitifully” at the task. And there were other notable characters helping with the search.
Other Famous Novelists Join The Hunt
Thousands of people wanted to help find the beloved novelist, including some of the world’s most famous crime authors. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known as the author who created Sherlock Holmes, tried to offer his help. He was known to be a believer in all things supernatural, and brought a glove of Christie’s to a spirit medium hoping it would prove to be helpful. Unfortunately, it was not.
Author Dorothy L. Sayers, who brought the world detective Lord Peter Wimsey, also joined in on the efforts. She traveled out to the site where Christie’s car was found to help scour the area for clues, but nothing came of her search. As the days dragged on, more and more wild theories surfaced.
Christie’s Haunted House
Since Christie’s car was found, and even before that discovery, people could not help but speculate. Some thought that Christie had taken her own life. She had been in a depressive state for months, following the death of her mother. Others still thought that the entire ordeal was a clever publicity stunt to promote her upcoming book. But one of Christie’s friends told a newspaper that Christie might have feared her house was haunted.
“[Her house] stands in a lonely lane, unlit at night, which has a reputation for being haunted,” the newspaper wrote. “The lane has been the scene of the murder of a woman and the suicide of a man and its tragic associations were felt by Mrs. Christie. ‘If I do not leave Sunningdale soon, Sunningdale will be the end of me,’ she once said to a friend.” Meanwhile, the police had been drawn to a new place of interest.
Commotion At The Silent Pool
By December 10th, the police were even more baffled by this mystery than they had been when they first got the call. Vast searches had been conducted both by land and by air, and none of them brought forth any results. Authorities began to operate under the conclusion that Christie had indeed taken her own life.
They turned their sights to a nearby natural spring called Silent Pool, a place that had inspired much folklore. Two young children were said to have drowned there in previous years, and there was a local legend that the pond was bottomless. Police combed through the Silent Pool and found, once again, nothing of interest. They were still at square one. But just as any Christie novel would have included, there soon came a remarkable twist to the story.
The Letters Left Behind
Somehow, it took until December 11, a full week after Agatha Christie disappeared, for an important piece of information to come forward. It turned out that before Christie had left her home, the last time anyone had seen her, she had left three notes behind.
The first note, according to reports, was for her estranged husband. Archie Christie would later refuse to hand the letter over to police, having declared that “there was nothing in it having any possible bearing on his wife’s whereabouts” within what he described as “a personal note” from his wife. Another letter was sent to her brother-in-law, who said the same. Both men said, suspiciously enough, that they burned the letters after reading them. But one letter was left intact.
Christie’s Last Words Before Her Disappearance
Christie had been very close to her secretary, and had left a note for her shortly before vanishing on that mysterious night. The New York Times wrote at the time that “the most important [letter] was one left for her secretary. It is the only one that was not destroyed and is in the hands of the police.”
Tabloid magazines spread rumors that the letter said something along the lines of “I must get away. I cannot stay here in Sunningdale much longer.” But police later came forward with the correction that “the letter to the secretary contained only ordinary instructions,” with some newspapers reporting that Christie instructed her secretary to cancel some meetings over that upcoming weekend. It seemed that authorities had hit yet another dead end — and then the case broke wide open.
A Call With A Tip
Over the next few days, people tried just about everything to locate Christie. Some occultists went so far as to hold a séance at the chalk pit where Christie’s car had been found. Others suspected foul play and came up with their own theories. But in the late evening hours of December 15, police got a promising tip.
Far up north in Harrogate, a full four-hour drive away from Christie’s home in Sunningdale, a banjo player at the Old Swan Hotel said that he had spotted Christie at a party. Known by locals as “the Hydro,” the hotel was known to host a spa where some of the United Kingdom’s wealthiest went on holiday. But for police, this destination was now the site of the potential end for one of the most massive missing persons searches in English history.
Christie Is Finally Found
As soon as police heard the tip, authorities and Archie Christie made their way north to the hotel. Once they arrived, police found Agatha Christie at long last, and learned that Christie had made her hotel reservation under the name “Mrs. Tressa Neele.” Recognize the last name? Well, strangely enough, that was the last name of her husband’s secretary and mistress.
But when Christie’s husband approached her at the hotel, witnesses reported at the time that she “was in no hurry to leave” with him. Rather, she stared at Archie blankly, as if she had never seen the man before in her life. She even kept him waiting in the lobby as she went upstairs to change before she left. It seemed that finding Christie somehow led to even more questions.
No Explanation For What Happened
On December 16, 1926, Archie Christie spoke with reporters about his wife’s discovery. It turned out that no one, including Agatha Christie herself, knew what had happened. She was fully convinced that she was somebody else entirely, her husband explained. “She inserted the advertisement in The London Times under the name of Neele, asking her relatives to communicate,” he said.
“She was in an extraordinary position, being in a strange hotel for no purpose that she could think of and with no knowledge of who she was other than the conviction that Teresa Neele was her real name,” Archie said. “The doctors told me such an action was compatible with that of a person suffering from loss of memory.” So was memory loss enough to explain this bizarre case?
The Return To Sunningdale
It felt like the news of Christie’s discovery was the biggest headline in the world at the time. Pictures, including the one below, show hundreds of people packed onto the platform of London’s King’s Cross Station, waiting to see Christie’s return.
But just because Christie was found did not mean that the mystery had been solved. Thankfully, it seemed that Christie was generally in a stable state, and was being tended to by medical professionals. But “amateur detectives,” as the New York Times labeled them, continued to question what had happened during those eleven days. Unsolved questions surrounding the car crash and the letters continued to raise eyebrows.
The Plot Only Thickens
Archie Christie himself did not seem to be able to shine any more light on this puzzling mystery. When he spoke to reporters, he could not tell them anything about how his wife Agatha Christie had ended up at a random hotel up north in Yorkshire, four hours away from her home.
The New York Times wrote: “His wife had no idea of how she got to Harrogate and he could throw no light on the source of the money wherewith Mrs. Christie, judging by her purchases at Harrogate, seemed well supplied. Mrs. Christie went away with some money, he said, but she cashed no check.” But there was one detail that Agatha seemed to remember pretty clearly.
Agatha Christie Herself Speaks Out
For the days after she was found, and for the decades before her eventual death, Christie would rarely speak about the disappearance. But shortly after the entire ordeal, Christie was able to give her most full recollection to date, a recollection that made the entire episode seem even stranger.
She blamed her entire disappearance on what she called a dreamlike state and the birth of a new identity. In an interview, she told a reporter that all she remembered was: “For 24 hours I wandered in a dream, and then found myself in Harrogate as a well-contented and perfectly happy woman who believed she had just come from South Africa.” She spoke one more time about the incident, giving a fuller account that was even more puzzling.
Christie Tries To Explain
While Christie tried her best to glaze over the topic in a previous interview, it was an interview with the Daily Mail in 1928 that has now been regarded as her only true time speaking about the event, and her fullest explanation of what took place on that one December night.
She told the Daily Mail that on December 3, she had driven past a quarry. “There came into my mind the thought of driving into it,” she explained. “However, as my daughter was with me in the car, I dismissed the idea at once.” So then what ultimately ended up taking place? Christie continued to explain.
A Desperate Moment For Christie
Christie continued to describe her personal circumstances on that December night in her interview. “That night I felt terribly miserable,” she said, “I felt that I could go on no longer. I left home that night in a state of high nervous strain with the intention of doing something desperate.”
“When I reached a point on the road which I thought was near a quarry, I turned the car off the road down the hill toward it. I left the wheel and let the car run. The car struck something with a jerk and pulled up suddenly. I was flung against the steering wheel, and my head hit something. Up to this moment I was Mrs. Christie,” she said. This recollection caused a ton of theories to come forward.
Several Theories Emerge
Since Christie gave no more interviews on the subject of her disappearance, she left the door open for speculation to run wild. If she was not going to address those 11 days, the amateur sleuths who had grown to love her mystery novels surely would. And that they did.
Among the theories was one that said that Christie had originally gone to take her own life, but had been scared off from the idea in the end and, rather than admitting that, made up a clever ruse by saying she had amnesia. Others say that Christie suffered from a “fugue state,” or “a period of out-of-body amnesia induced by stress.” And after some news about Christie’s life came to light, those theories would in fact be proven plausible.
The End Of The Christies
The next chapter to Christie’s story came about on March 17, 1928, a full 15 months after she mysteriously disappeared and even more mysteriously reappeared. She was in the headlines once again, and this time it was because she had filed for divorce against her husband, Archie. One month later, she was granted her divorce, but continued to write under her married name Agatha Christie long after.
Meanwhile, Archie ended up marrying his secretary, Nancy Neele, just one week later, and some at the time were able to make the connection between the mistress’ name and Christie’s mysterious surname she’d listed at the hotel. It seemed that Christie, even in a possible fugue state, was able to successfully troll her husband. Now free from Archie, what lay ahead for her?
The World May Never Know
Christie went on to remarry Max Mallowan, a well-known archaeologist whom she had met during a trip to Iraq. They went on to be happily married for the rest of Christie’s life. On January 12, 1976, Christie died peacefully at age 85 from natural causes.
Christie was buried at a plot she had chosen with her husband 10 years before her death, in Cholsey, England. Buried along with Agatha Christie were the hopes that her mysterious disappearance and the 11 days that it took to find her would ever be fully explained. Like many of her books, this period was left behind as just another Christie mystery to be parsed through.
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