The Strange Disappearance of Amazing Crime Writer Agatha Christie
Publicity stunt or something more sinister?
On the 3rd December 1926, Agatha Christie argued with her husband, Archibald. She had just discovered he was having an affair. Added to this, he was planning to spend the weekend with friends and his mistress. Once he had left, she went upstairs and kissed her daughter Rosalind (7) goodnight. Getting into her Morris Cowley, she left the house. What ensued was one of the biggest manhunts in history. In a mystery more connected to her books, Christie was not found again until eleven days later.
Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller. Her family was plagued by poverty, especially when her American father suffered a fatal heart attack.
At the age of twenty-two, Agatha fell for Archibald Christie, known as Archie.
He was an aviator who went to serve in World War I. When he returned on leave, the couple married. After the war, the couple moved to London, where Christie published her first novel in 1919. Due to her early childhood, Christie was said to have tight control over her finances, which caused tension in the marriage. The pressure increased, and Archie started an affair with twenty-five-year-old Nancy Teale.
When she disappeared, Christie had just published her sixth novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which was selling well. She was becoming a household name with her two famous detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
The next day, after she went missing, Christie’s car was abandoned at Newlands Corner near Guilford. There was evidence the vehicle had been involved in an accident; her coat and suitcase were in the back seat. Located near Silent Pool, the initial fear was that Christie had drowned herself. However, the pool was dredged, and there was no sign of a body.
Over the eleven days, over one thousand police and hundreds of civilians were involved in searching for the missing author. In addition, authorities used aeroplanes to search surrounding areas; this was a first for missing person cases.
Famous people also became involved in the case. Arthur Conan Doyle took a glove to a medium friend to see if they could help locate the author. Dorothy L Sayers also became involved by investigating the scene. But, unfortunately, neither provided any clues to the missing novelist.
Christie is found
On 14th December 1926, Christie was recognised by a member of staff working in a hotel in Harrogate. He alerted the police, who contacted her husband. Christie was using the name, Theresa Neale which was very close to her husband’s mistresses name; could this be a clue. When Archie turned up to collect his wife, observers would say it would take her several minutes to recognise him.
If the disappearance was not strange enough, the circumstances afterwards were even more bizarre. Christie could not explain where she had been or what had happened during her eleven-day absence. It is an incident she never spoke about, not even in her autobiography.
Theories were numerous
There were several theories at the time as to the location of the writer. A popular theory was that she had been murdered by her husband, who wanted to be with his mistress.
Some questioned whether the incident was a publicity stunt designed to increase the popularity of the writer’s work. However, many thought this was unlikely as Christie was already becoming a household name.
One of the most popular theories was that she was involved in a car crash and suffered amnesia. Two doctors at the time supported this theory when they were asked to examine Christie after the event.
The most plausible explanation
The most plausible explanation now seems to be that Christie was suffering from a psychological condition known as a fugue state or psychogenic trance. This is a condition that is brought on through depression and trauma. The person disassociates from themselves and has no memory of where or what they are doing. Finding out that her husband was having an affair weeks after her mother’s death could have been the cause.
I believe she was suicidal, her state of mind was very low and she writes about it later through the character of Celia in her autobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait.— Andrew Norman.
This similar condition led comic and writer Stephen Fry to travel to Bruges in 1995 without informing friends and family. It would also explain why Christie failed to recognise missing person photos of herself in the papers she was reading.
Whether this was the cause of Christie’s disappearance has never been fully established. It is true, though, that she was clearly fed up with her husbands wandering eye, as she divorced him in 1928, going on to marry Max Mallowan in 1930.
Her disappearance faded into memory as her infamy grew. She became one of the most significant playwrights of her time, having written Mousetrap, one of the longest-running plays ever. She also went on to publish sixty-six novels and fourteen short story collections. In addition, her books have been made into numerous films and series.