On a cold winter’s night in 1926, 36-year-old mystery novelist Agatha Christie vanished from her English estate in Berkshire without a trace! Around 9.30 p.m. on December 3rd, Christie kissed her 7 year-old daughter Rosalind goodnight and went back downstairs. Instead of retiring herself, she climbed into her Morris Cowley automobile and drove off into the dark countryside. She would not be seen again for 11 days.
Agatha Christie was already one of the most famous mystery writers in all the world. So her disappearance sparked one of the largest manhunts in English history. Her car was found empty on a steep slope at the edge of a caulk quarry, not far from her home. Its hood was up and lights still on. Inside was Christie’s fur coat and driver’s license. But there was no sign of Agatha herself, and no evidence of an accident.
British authorities suspected foul play, maybe even murder!
News of the famous novelist’s disappearance spread quickly, and a massive manhunt was organized. A thousand police officers and 15,000 volunteers combed the English countryside. Dredge teams scoured the surrounding lakes, ponds and rivers. Biplanes searched from the air – the first ever in England’s history for a missing person.
Even fellow mystery writers contributed to the hunt. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries was an avid occultist. He gave one of Christie’s hand gloves to a London medium in hopes that the “Spirit World” might provide a clue. Alas, it did not.
By the end of the week, Christie’s disappearance was making headlines around the world. Newspapers had a field day, inventing lurid theories as to what might have happened. After all, it was the perfect story, with all the elements of one of her own mysteries. Suicide seemed unlikely for her career was as lucrative as ever. Doubters proclaimed the whole thing was nothing more than an elaborate publicity stunt, a clever ploy to sell more of her novels. Others hinted at a far more sinister plot …
Who could have abducted the Queen of Mystery?
Suspicions fell upon Christie’s older husband, Colonel Archie Christie, a former World War I pilot. It seemed the retired Colonel had struck up an affair with a much younger woman by the name of Nancy Neele. The philanderer made no attempt to hide his affair from his wife, or anyone else for that matter. On the day of Agatha’s disappearance, the Christie’s had quarreled after Archie announced he planned to spend the weekend with his mistress rather than his wife! Did that argument lead to murder?
Agatha Christie remained missing for 11 days. Then suddenly, on December 14th, she was finally found – not in a roadside ditch but safe and well, hiding away at the elegant Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, England. She was eventually recognized by one of the hotel’s musicians, who alerted the local police. They quickly informed her husband. Colonel Christie came to collect Agatha, but she was in no hurry to leave. She kept her husband waiting at the bar while she changed into a travelling dress.
It seemed Agatha had registered under the name Theresa Neele from Cape Town, South Africa, using the last name of her husband’s mistress no less. The circumstances raised more questions than answers. Christie herself was unable or unwilling to provide any clues. She claimed she remembered nothing of the night she disappeared. It was left to the police to piece together what might have happened. They concluded that Agatha Christie had abandoned her malfunctioning car and boarded a train to Harrogate. Upon arrival, she checked into the Swan under an assumed name with almost no luggage.
This particular plot twist shocked the public.
Some suggested darker motives – suicidal depression or a clever scheme to frame Archie and his mistress for murder. Others surmised an upset Christie merely sought to shame her cheating husband. Agatha Christie never spoke publicly about those missing days. Her husband said she’d suffered total memory loss as a result of a car crash. Psychiatrists suggested she been in a ‘fugue’ state or trance, brought on by the trauma or depression of her husband’s affair. She never discussed the matter in interviews and the incident does not appear in her own autobiography.
In the days after her return, the author blamed her vanishing on a mysterious state, in which she took on an entirely new identity:
“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 in from South Africa.”Agatha Christie
Christie made a full recovery and soon took to her typewriter once again. But she would no longer tolerate her husband’s philandering. Agatha divorced the Colonel in 1928, and later remarried archeologist Max Mallowan two years later.
She went on to have a long and distinguished career writing 66 detective novels. She died peacefully in 1976 at the age of 85. Her novels have been adapted into countless movies over the years, and still are by actor Kenneth Branagh. Today, the only person who truly knows what happened in those lost eleven days is long gone. Alas, Agatha Christie left us a mystery even her famous detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple would find unsolvable.