Shakespeare and the Bible are the only publications to outsell mystery author Agatha Christie. She left behind a legacy of 80 publications and one of the most peculiar mysteries in history. The truth behind her story unfolds here.
Born To Read
Agatha's love for books grew nearly faster than she did! Born in September 1890, Christie taught herself to read by the time she turned five. Her parents quickly realized that an in-home library was in order.
Decades later, about four billion copies of her novels sold worldwide. In fact, Agatha is known to many as one of the best-selling novelists of all time. With a passion for murder-mystery stories, Christie gifted the world Miss Marple and Poirot, some of the most recognizable British literature characters.
A Mystery of Her Own
The author even set the Best Selling Novelist of All Time Guinness World Record. Many people around the globe know of her work, but a much smaller amount know that Agatha became wrapped up in a mystery of her own. When she disappeared from her home in 1926, many were left wondering how, why, and where she was.
Agatha Christie vanished without a trace, sending her loved ones, the media, and the world into a frenzy. It's a story that unfolds like a book you can't put down. As news hit the front page of papers and screens worldwide, many wondered, where was she?
The First Chapter
An exemplified procedure in her novels, the first to be questioned about Christie's disappearance was her family and friends. In fact, her husband, Archie, was the first to be interrogated. Agatha met British Army officer Archibald "Archie" Christie at an Army ball, and thus their whirlwind romance began.
The lovebirds married in 1914 on Christmas Eve and settled in Berkshire, England, soon after. The couple welcomed Rosalind, their daughter, four years later. During WWI, Archie deployed to France, which kept him away for multiple years. Upon his return, Agatha learned he'd been having an affair with Theresa Neele, his secretary.
A Failing Relationship
Archie didn't exactly hide his several-year affair from Agatha. When she found out, it caused a fight that was intended to stay behind closed doors. But somehow, it turned into one of the most bizarre mysteries in modern history. In late 1926, after countless arguments, Archie requested a divorce, but stone-willed Agatha refused.
On the evening of December 3, 1926, Archie left his wife and daughter at home, commencing on a weekend trip with his friends. Around 9:30 pm that night, Agatha kissed 7-year-old Rosalind goodnight, then left their Berkshire home. The young child didn't know it at the time, but Rosalind would be the last person to see her Mother.
It was unlike Agatha to leave Rosalind home alone. Naturally, the Christie family began to worry when she didn't return the next day. With no other choice, Agatha's secretary called the Police to report her as missing. Thankfully, they understood that the curious situation required the utmost sensitivity.
On high alert, the Police understood this could likely be the most prominent case they've ever had. The concept of a mystery author gone missing was a notion to be handled with care. Law enforcement knew the media and press would have a frenzy with an opportunity to turn the situation into something it potentially wasn't.
The Hunt Began
The Police search commenced in one of the largest missing person cases Britain had ever seen. The hunt included 1,000 Police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and airplanes for the first time in history. Berkshire newspapers led the pack in publishing tip line numbers, soon joined by others across the country.
The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressed Police to find Agatha faster, as the world had become immensely concerned and uneasy. With every available officer's feet on the ground, the case experienced days of silence and minimal leads. Until, one crucial piece of evidence was finally found.
Clue 1: Agatha's Car
After 48-hours with no sign of her, Christie's family was distraught. At 8:00 am on December 6, Agatha's 2-seater Morrie Cowley was discovered with nothing but her jacket on the seat. According to reports, "The novelist's car was found abandoned…on the edge of a chalk pit, the front wheels hanging over the edge..."
"...Only a thick hedge growth prevented [the car] from plunging into the pit." Officials found it strange that her jacket was lying on the passenger seat, as it was a rather chilly winter. This discovery was a clear sign of two things: Either something had gone horribly wrong, or something terrible was on the horizon.
The abandoned car's discovery blasted across international headlines. On the same day, Agatha's disappearance became front-page news in the New York Times. With headlines reaching far and wide, the Police magnified the pressure to decode the mystery. Before long, the press got on board.
Tabloids hypothesized that Agatha vanished under suspicious circumstances, took her own life, or used the situation as a hoax to promote her sixth book. Notable authors ceased rumors saying Christie's novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was selling so well that an elaborate plan wouldn't cause any of these theories to be true.
Clue 2: A Letter
Intricate tales began to spread that Christie had fallen victim to a murderous husband. Colonel Archibald Christie, a former First World War pilot, came under suspicion. It was then, on December 8th, that Archie's brother unearthed new evidence claiming that Agatha had sent him a personalized letter.
Per the New York Times, "The missing woman had been heard from. The brother of Colonel Archibald Christie...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." A weekend getaway. Story solved? Not even close.
Agatha's Dog Joins The Search
The letter alone was not enough to halt the search. Why would Agatha leave her car in such a hazardous position? How did she manage without her jacket in the middle of winter? Why did she leave Rosalind? All of the information gathered by the Police left them more bewildered than when the search commenced.
It seemed as if the entire world joined the search. Fellow novelists even attempted to dismantle the story to make sense of it. Police sent six bloodhounds, airedale terriers, retrievers, Police dogs, and even Agatha's beloved pet to search for her. Given the task, her dog "Wined pitifully." Everyone knew they were right to worry.
Novelists Begin To Hunt
Channeling his inner Christie, novelist Arthur Conan Doyle, widely known as Sherlock Holmes' creator, tried to help. Doyle, a believer of the supernatural, brought a glove of Agatha's to a spirit medium. He hoped it would help in some way, but unfortunately, it did not.
Dorothy L. Sayers, a fellow novelist and the creator of Detective Lord Peter Wimsey, offered her help as well. She traveled to the location of Agatha's car to search for clues. Unfortunately, all she found were theories and speculations. The writers tried not to lose hope for the sake of their mystery-writing friend.
Agatha's Haunted House
Many hypothesized Agatha had taken her own life since losing her mother and entering a depressive state. Others considered the calamity was merely a deception to promote her upcoming book. Agatha's friend reported to a newspaper that Christie feared she lived in a haunted house. Could the house have done something to Agatha?
The paper said: The house "Stands in a lonely lane...which has a reputation for being haunted. 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."
Mystery At Silent Pool
Officials tried to disregard the falsehoods spread in the papers, as they were even more puzzled now than before. Amidst many explorations taking place, little information was found. Authorities felt they had no other option but to operate under the assumption that Agatha had, indeed, taken her own life.
Police followed small clues and worked off the limited information they had. They swept the nearby spring, referred to as Silent Pool. The spring had a dreadful history of folklore, as it was rumored that two children had silently drowned there in years prior. The search turned up nothing, until...another clue was found.
Clue 3: Breadcrumbs
Somehow, it took eight days for a crucial detail about Agatha's disappearance to come to light. Officials learned that before Agatha went out into the cold winter night, she left three letters behind. The first letter was for Archie, but he refused to turn it over to the Police. He insisted it was merely a letter from his wife, nothing more.
The second letter was for Agatha's brother-in-law. Unluckily, he too refused to turn over his letter, claiming it held nothing of importance. For unknown reasons, Archie and his brother burned their letters, ridding of the evidence. This caused Police to be much more skeptical of them. There was one letter and one crucial clue left.
Christie's Last Words
Letter number three was destined for Agatha's secretary and close friend. Thankfully, she turned her letter over to the authorities to help with the investigation. As some were aiding the search, others were hurting it. Tabloids spread false reports, claiming Christie said, "I must get away. I cannot stay here in Sunningdale much longer."
The case spokesperson later stated the letter contained only standard instructions such as clearing Agatha's schedule. Unfortunately, this was yet another roadblock. The Police were losing momentum, but Christie's support system would not allow them to give up. Just as people were losing hope, the dead-end ruptured wide open.
A Tip Line Call
While all options were becoming exhausted in the search for Agatha, some turned to help from the spiritual realms. Others speculated foul play and stories of immense imagination. In the late hours of December 15th, the Police received a call to the tip line that changed everything.
A four-hour drive away from Sunningdale, in Harrogate, lived a man named Bob Tappin. He reported seeing Agatha at an Old Swan Hotel party. The hotel was well known for hosting UK's wealthiest guests for spa weekends. It was possibly a stretch, but Police had to take that chance to end the already 11-day-long search for Christie.
Agatha Is Found
Police combed through the Old Swan Hotel, and finally, they found Agatha! When they dug deeper, investigators found that Christie had made a reservation at the hotel under "Mrs. Theresa Neele," Archie's secretary. The renowned mystery author had vanished into thin air under her husband's mistress' name. But, for what reason?
Authorities presumed that Christie had left home and accidentally crashed her car en route to London. They believed she then boarded a train to Harrogate, and upon arrival, checked into the hotel with only a small bag. Archie was asked to immediately collect his wife, but Agatha acted as if she didn't know him when he arrived.
She Didn't Recognize Him
When Archie approached Agatha at the hotel, she did not recognize him. According to witnesses, she was in "No hurry to leave" with her husband. In fact, Christie stared at him blankly as if he was a stranger. Eventually, she consented to join him, but not before leaving him in the lobby while she changed into an evening gown.
Unfortunately, locating Agatha generated more questions than it found answers. And, no one, including Christie, knew what happened. At the time, Agatha was entirely convinced that she was not herself but was Mrs. Neele. Strangely, she seemed to have lost her memory, her sense of self, and her ability to tell fact from fantasy.
Memory Loss With No Explanation
Realizing she couldn't remember why she was at the hotel or who she was, Agatha felt confused. The only thing Christie confidently acknowledged was that her true identity was Theresa Neele. Perplexed, Archie told journalists, "The doctors told me such an action was compatible with that of a person suffering from loss of memory."
Biographer Andrew Norman declared, "Adoption of a new personality…and her failure to recognize herself in newspaper photographs were signs that she had fallen into psychogenic amnesia."
Norman hypothesized that Agatha might have been in a "Fugue state" or psychogenic daze, a rare condition brought on by trauma or depression.
Many people around the world believed that Agatha's discovery was the largest headline in history. When word spread of her homecoming, hundreds of people gathered at London's King's Cross Station. Concerned citizens waited to witness Christie's exciting yet historically complex return to Berkshire.
The platform's occupants were overwhelmed with glee as the author arrived home. However, her return to Berkshire didn't mean the mystery of Agatha's disappearance was solved. This sizeable gray area left plenty of unanswered questions. Unknown to Christie at the time, the experience would follow her for the rest of her life.
She Seemed To Be Okay
Agatha was tended to by medical professionals and seemed to be in a generally stable state. However, detectives continued questioning the events that occurred during the days of her absence. A friend of the novelist stated, "It was the unspoken subject. Agatha refused to talk about it. To anyone. It was a real no-go."
Confusion continued to surround the vague letters, car crash, and Agatha's memory loss. Archie still wasn't willing to shed light on the mystery and didn't offer any useful information to authorities when questioned. The world wondered: Why was Archie unwilling to help his wife?
The Gray Area Grew Darker
In interviews, Archie offered practically nothing of substance. This caused the New York Times to report less relevant details. "His wife had no idea of how she got to Harrogate," said the paper. "He could throw no light on the source of the money...Mrs. Christie, judging by her purchases at Harrogate, seemed well supplied."
The media concentrated on minor details like where Christie gathered the funds to stay at the inn. This caused attention to the critical questions to lessen. Nobody knew any of the facts, including Agatha. At least, that was what everyone believed. However, there was one mere detail that she distinctly remembered.
Agatha Finally Spoke Out
In the months, years, and decades after returning to society, Agatha seldom conversed about her disappearance. But, after time spent processing events that took place, she shared her account of the situation. Unfortunately, the author confused people even more, but what else is to expect from a mystery novelist?
Christie blamed her disappearance on the birth of a new identity and "A dreamlike state." When interviewed by a reporter, this was all Agatha could remember: "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."
Christie Tried To Explain
Agatha mentioned the topic once more, providing information that left the nation speechless. In 1928, she interviewed with the Daily Mail, considered her only "real" time speaking of her disappearance. Christie recalled: On the night in question, she kissed Rosalind goodnight, got into her car, and drove past Silent Pool.
"There came into my mind the thought of driving into it," Agatha admitted. "However, as my daughter was with me in the car, I dismissed the idea at once." No one knew how to digest the story Christie declared. Was Rosalind with her mother, or asleep at home? Luckily, the author kept talking, but the facts didn't unfold clearly.
Agatha's Desperate Moment
Struggling, Agatha admitted, "I felt that I could go on no longer." She continued, "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. I left the wheel and let the car run."
"The car struck something with a jerk and pulled up suddenly," she continued. "I was flung against the steering wheel, and my head hit something. Up to this moment, I was Mrs. Christie." The interviewer did not know what to make of this information, and neither did the world. Before they knew it, more elaborate theories spread like wildfire.
Theories Piled Up
Agatha never publicly spoke about her disappearance again, leaving ample room for the world to fill in the blanks. With 11 strange days left in mystery, many took the opportunity to end Christie's story their way. Some speculated the novelist had planned to end her life but was frightened, conjuring up the memory-loss fib.
Many others theorized that Christie suffered from "A period of out-of-body amnesia induced by stress," or a "Fugue state," as biographer Andrew Norman hypothesized. After more news and knowledge came to the surface, those theories would prove to be plausible. The former being more questionable, yet still believable.
The End of the Christies
Over a year after mysteriously disappearing and reappearing, a new chapter in Christie's story unfolded. The accomplished author made the headlines yet again, but this time, for a different reason. Agatha had made a full recovery, picked up her novelist's pen, and filed for divorce in 1928.
What was to make of Archie, you might be wondering. As it turned out, before his divorce was finalized, he married Theresa Neele, his mistress. Agatha was finally liberated from her unenjoyable union, but what was next for the universally known author? Well, she fell in love, this time, with a man who cared for her.
The Last Chapter
A mere two years later, Agatha met archaeologist Max Mallowan. He was captivated by the author when they met on a voyage in Iraq. By 1930, just six months after meeting, they married. The lovebirds were wed for the rest of Agatha's life until she peacefully passed away on January 12, 1976, of natural causes, at the age of 85.
Agatha was laid to rest at a plot she and Max chose 10 years prior. Buried with her were the answers to the puzzle of the author's disappearance and most substantial mystery. Like most of her novels, this story was left behind as another Christie mystery, destined to be studied by society for decades to come.
Once An Author Always An Author
Agatha is remembered by Vanity Fair's editor-in-chief, Radhika Jones, as "[Capturing] 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." Post-divorce from Archie, and before she passed, Agatha continued writing.
Christie didn't mention her disappearance in her final novel, Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple's Last Case. The book was published after her death in 1976. Years later, the film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman, was created. Despite their hard work to mimic her, Agatha set the bar high in British literature.
Her Legacy Lives On
Janet Morgan, Christie's biographer, remembers her as "Amused by life, and by how [human beings] behaved." From being a self-taught reader at five to publishing 14 short story collections and 66 detective novels, Agatha Christie arguably paved the way for enthralling tales that kept readers captivated from cover to cover.
Agatha once said, "Nothing turns out quite in the way that you thought it would when you are sketching out notes for the first chapter or walking about muttering to yourself and seeing a story unroll." Her last chapter may have been in 1976, but her memory and captivating novels will live on for millennia to come.