The disappearance of Agatha Christie sounds exactly like a title of one of her books but it actually was a real life event that has never been explained. I only came across this story lately. I set up a new Pinterest board to indulge my Agatha Christie obsession and I was searching for relevant pins to add to it. Then I found an image which lead me to lots of researching to find about all about this intriguing real life plot twist. I am tickled pink by the idea that the Queen of Mystery books left an unsolved puzzle for us all to forever speculate about.
In 1926 Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. Just over 88 years ago, on the 3rd of December, Agatha Christie (who was 36 at the time), kissed her sleeping daughter and drove away from her house at 9.45pm leaving a note for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire.
- Her car – a Morris Crowley – was found abandoned near Guilford (250 miles away from Yorkshire), close to a Silent Lake (where a character in one of previous books had drowned). With zero trace of its owner nearby.
- Some of her clothes and ID were in the car.
- And that’s it. No other concrete clues.
- A huge hunt began with reports of up to 500 policemen searching in four counties and a reward of one hundred pounds was offered for any information that led to finding Agatha.
- Another additional 15,000 volunteers also joined in the search, dredging the lake, fruitlessly scouring the countryside for clues.
It made front page news of The New York Times which just shows what a huge story it was.
- Her husband had been having an affair and was away with his mistress the night of the disappearance. He immediately became the number one suspect and a lot of attention was turned towards him as it was alleged he might have murdered her.
Agatha was discovered safe and sound at a spa hotel in Harrogate, North Yorkshire where she had checked in under an assumed name. Another guest noticed her close resemblance to the person making all the headlines at the time and notified the police. Agatha later claimed she was suffering from temporary amnesia. She had left her car, walked to the train station, went to London by train and then went on to Harrogate. Her husband came to hotel and later put out a statement:
She has suffered “the most complete loss of memory and does not know who she is.”
The couple divorced two years later and Agatha never discussed the episode again.
The first theory is amnesia. Agatha was in a mental state known as ‘the fugue’ where she just didn’t know who she was and really believed that she was the person whose name she had assumed and even if she read the newspaper articles she wouldn’t have recognised herself as Agatha Christie. It sounds someway credible and I buy it a little bit but it’s not my favourite theory. There was a lot of stress going on in her life at the time – her husband’s affair, he had requested a divorce which she didn’t want and her mother had died recently – so maybe just maybe, she cracked under the strain of it all.
The second theory is that it was all an elaborate publicity stunt. I don’t really like this one. Her novels were selling well, she was on the best sellers lists and she didn’t need the headlines. But more importantly she wasn’t a fan of public life and it just seems totally out of character for her as she was known for being shy and retiring. Also Agatha was famous for all the right reasons; I don’t think there would have been any advantage for adding notoriety into the mix.
The third theory is that it was a revenge hoax. My money is on this one. First off, she had checked into the spa hotel using name of husband’s mistress – Teresa Neale! She also said she was from Cape Town, I have no idea how this fits into the story but it adds another twist and I do wonder if there was a particular reason behind choosing this location. Even odder, she placed an advertisement in The Times stating:
“Friends and relatives of Teresa Neale, late of South Africa, please communicate.—Write Box R 702, The Times, EC4”.
I think this was a pretty clear sign that she was out for blood and wanted to humiliate her husband a little bit. Probably in the same way that she also felt humiliated by his affair. And if the police made his life uncomfortable for a while so much the better. The funny thing is that lots of people discount this theory as there are too many plot holes in it which Agatha Christie would never have entertained! But I think a mixture of stress, the anger of a woman scorned and depression could have resulting in even Dame Christie leaving some loose threads.
Whatever the actual story and maybe it was a mix of a few different stories, I know that I love that Agatha has left an unsolved mystery behind for us all to ponder over.
Bookish Chat : Which is your favourite theory? Let’s discuss!