When the World’s Most Well-known Thriller Author Vanished

It was like a plot from one in every of her personal novels: On the night of Dec. four, Agatha Christie, carrying nothing however an attaché case, kissed her daughter good evening and sped away from the house in England that she shared along with her husband, Col. Archibald Christie. (He was having an affair with a youthful girl; the general public didn’t know this, however his spouse undoubtedly did.) Nobody knew the place Christie was for nearly two weeks.

Christie was 36 on the time and had already revealed a number of detective novels, together with “The Secret Adversary” and “The Homicide on the Hyperlinks.” Her disappearance merited banner headlines the world over, making the entrance web page of The Occasions on Dec. 6.

“The novelist’s automotive was discovered deserted close to Guildford on the sting of a chalk pit, the entrance wheels really overhanging the sting,” the paper reported. “The automotive evidently had run away, and solely a thick hedge-growth prevented it from plunging into the pit.”

After three days of looking for the novelist, the police known as it off. They stated Christie’s brother-in-law had acquired a letter from her, saying she was going to a Yorkshire spa “for relaxation and therapy.” Case closed, proper? Not fairly.

[ In Agatha Christie’s books, “she captures something elemental about mysteries: that motive and opportunity may suffice for a crime, but the satisfying part is the detective’s revelation of whodunit, how and why.” ]

The police, apparently unconvinced by the letter, expanded their search, even bringing one in every of Christie’s pets to the scene to see if he may observe his proprietor’s scent. (The canine simply “whined pitifully.”)

Detectives “at the moment are stated to be of the opinion that it’s a case of suicide,” The Occasions reported. The search appeared to middle on a pond known as “the Silent Pool,” which, in response to native legend, was bottomless.

There was an particularly tantalizing element close to the top of the story: Christie, the paper claimed, had been spooked by her personal home. “It stands in a lonely lane, unlit at evening, which has a repute of being haunted. The lane has been the scene of a homicide of a girl and the suicide of a person. … ‘If I don’t depart Sunningdale quickly, Sunningdale would be the finish of me,’ she as soon as stated to a buddy.”

Per week after Christie’s disappearance, the police had been flummoxed. “No dependable witness has seen her for the reason that evening she left her home in Sunningdale per week in the past,” The Occasions reported.

However there was one vital improvement. Christie had left three letters behind: one to her secretary, one other to her brother-in-law and a 3rd to her husband, who refused to reveal what she had written.

Detectives appealed for assist from motorists and newbie sleuths: “With out telling why, the police nonetheless imagine she is someplace on the downs … not removed from the spot the place her lacking vehicle was discovered.”

In the identical article, her private secretary angrily denied that the entire thing was a publicity stunt: “It’s ridiculous. Mrs. Christie is sort of an excessive amount of a girl for that.” The secretary additionally handed over the notice Christie had left for her, saying it contained solely scheduling particulars.

The police, scrambling for clues, turned to Christie’s manuscripts, inspecting what they thought was her work in progress, “The Blue Practice.”

Between 10,000 and 15,000 folks took half within the seek for Mrs. Christie, aided by “six educated bloodhounds, a crate load of Airedale terriers, many retrievers and Alsatian police canine, and even the companies of frequent mongrels.”

That very same day, the police speculated that Christie may presumably be in London, “disguised and doubtless in male apparel.” And rumors started flying that she had left behind a sealed envelope that was solely to be opened within the occasion her physique was found.

Spiritualists even held a séance on the chalk pit.

The paper reported that the police had discovered some vital clues close by, together with “a bottle labeled poison lead and opium, fragments of a torn-up postcard, a girl’s fur-lined coat, a field of face powder, the top of a loaf of bread, a cardboard field and two kids’s books.”

Maybe extra ominous, was the detectives’ new concept: “The police have data which they refuse to reveal and which leads them to the view that Mrs. Christie had no intention of returning when she left dwelling.”

The novelist was discovered at a Yorkshire spa, 9 days after she disappeared.

Her husband knowledgeable reporters, “She doesn’t know who she is … she has suffered from probably the most full lack of reminiscence.”

The Occasions reported that Christie had checked in to the Harrogate spa below the identify “Mrs. Tressa Neele.” When requested, Col. Christie insisted he had no thought what the that means of that exact identify was — nor, he added, did his spouse. Years later, it was revealed that Agatha Christie had, the truth is, used the identify of her husband’s girlfriend.

When Col. Christie confirmed up in Harrogate to gather his spouse, he was “welcomed by her with a stony stare.” Later, tons of of individuals confirmed up at a London practice station because the couple made their method dwelling, hoping to catch a glimpse.

In the identical piece, the paper famous that “tons of of newbie detectives had been in the present day placing away their lynx eyes, gum footwear and Sherlock Holmes pea jackets and resting from their weary trampings over the Surrey Downs.”

The subsequent chapter within the saga occurred about 15 months later, when Agatha Christie sued her husband for divorce.

Two years after her divorce, Christie remarried. (So did Archibald Christie: His new spouse was none apart from Miss Neele.)

Over 90 years later, biographers and historians are nonetheless debating what occurred throughout these days in 1926. Was it revenge, melancholy or amnesia? Latest biographies, like one by Laura Thompson, shed little gentle on the episode. (“It was the unstated topic. Agatha refused to speak about it. To anybody. It was an actual no-go,” one in every of Christie’s mates advised Thompson.)

Christie herself mentioned the incident publicly solely as soon as, in a 1928 interview she gave to The Day by day Mail. She advised them she had been driving previous a quarry on Dec. three, 1926, when

… there got here into my thoughts the considered driving into it. Nevertheless, as my daughter was with me within the automotive, I dismissed the concept without delay. That evening I felt terribly depressing. I felt that I may go on not. I left dwelling that evening in a state of excessive nervous pressure with the intention of doing one thing determined. … After I reached some extent on the highway which I assumed was close to the quarry, I turned the automotive off the highway down the hill towards it. I left the wheel and let the automotive run. The automotive struck one thing with a jerk and pulled up all of the sudden. I used to be flung towards the steering wheel, and my head hit one thing. As much as this second I used to be Mrs. Christie.

She didn’t discuss what occurred in “Agatha Christie: An Autobiography,” both, dismissing the top of her marriage in just a few terse phrases: “There isn’t a have to dwell on it.”

The episode continues to fascinate. In 1977 Kathleen Tynan wrote a novel, “Agatha,” concerning the episode; it was was a movie starring Vanessa Redgrave. In 2008, an episode of “Dr. Who” speculated concerning the novelist’s disappearance. And extra not too long ago, a British made-for-TV movie, “Agatha and the Fact of Homicide,” supplied a brand new concept: Christie disappeared with the intention to participate in a murder investigation.

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