Genevieve Scott, Myjournal.com, 10/21/2021
You might think you know famed mystery writer Agatha Christie from her many novels.
Most mystery buffs have read at least one of her 66 “cozy” mysteries.
She’s sold over 2 billion books worldwide, and as mentioned above, those are truly Biblical numbers.
So you imagine her happily writing her stories, herself no doubt set in a pretty English village, where truth and justice will always win out.
You might think she’s a mix of her two heroes: the somewhat silly Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, a nosy spinster with a nose for trouble.
What a contrast, the worldly, deductive genius Poirot and Marple, a knitting and watching sort of person, who has lived in the same small English village all her life. No wonder they exist in separate realities, different series. What neat little worlds they both occupy. Surely their creator must live in one as well.
One thing is constant: her stock characters move like pieces in a chess set until they gather in the drawing room and all is revealed. The mystery is solved.
They are such calming stories.
We should never imagine we know anyone from their novels.
Let’s take a look at a still unsolved mystery, the disappearance of Agatha Christie, on one bitterly cold December night in 1926.
Agatha, raised in a rather wealthy, upper middle class family, is used to being comfortable. As a young woman, long-faced, with slightly crooked tiny pearl-like teeth, she is saved from being plain by her large, dark hooded eyes.
At 22 she met then- Lt. Archibald Christie. In two years, after a successful career in World War I, he would ask her to marry him, and they wed in 1914. Some might think she has made a good match with Archie, as her husband is called. In 1926, he is still quite handsome and dashing. Perhaps too much so.
Fast forward. She is now 36 years old. Agatha and Archie, now Col. Archibald Christie, have had a most adventurous life: they have traveled widely and are noted as among the first Europeans to have experienced surfing. Now settled, they have one child, little Rosalind, aged 10.
Always along with the couple’s travels and in their home was Agatha’s beloved mother. We don’t how Archie felt. But now she has died and Agatha is despondent. All agree on that, Agatha and her mother were inseparable.
Now in middle age she is just at the bloom of her astonishing career. So far, publishing first in 1920, she has written several detective novels, including “Murder On The Links.” These cosy mysteries have enabled the purchase of the Sunningdale, the large country home in which the Christies now live. But now, since the death of her mother, she is deeply depressed. Some call this house gloomy, set as it is on a lonely lane. Some say it and say it spooks Agatha, but that is village rumor. One friend adds that Agatha said Sunningdale would be the death of her.
It is not a happy home. Her husband has just asked her for a divorce. He has a young mistress whom he wants to marry. Real life is no novel, and Agatha’s is not playing out as she might have written it.
Did Agatha wish to create her own mystery, always her way to solutions? Or did some real-life villain design her disappearance?
Of course there was some sort of “rhyme” and “reason” to her disappearance, there always is. But what, precisely, was the nature?
Agatha Left Clues - The Chase Is On
“It is said that the discovery of this affair and Archie’s request for a divorce was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, especially since it followed the death of Agatha’s beloved mother Clara from bronchitis. On the evening of 3 December 1926 the couple fought and Archie left their home to spend a weekend away with friends, including his mistress. Agatha is then said to have left her daughter with their maid and departed the house later that same evening, thus beginning one of the most enduring mysteries she had ever masterminded.”
Ben Johnson, Historic UK, “The Curious Disappearance of Agatha Christie”
That night in December, so close to the holidays, Agatha Christie seemed to be preparing for an unannounced journey.
What is fact is that Agatha was on her way out of her home in England she shared unhappily with her husband, Col. Archibald Christie…
The couple argued earlier in the evening…
Archie, as he was called, was firm. Yes, he was going to a gathering of friends, without Agatha…
The reason, they both knew, is to see his mistress, Teresa Nile. She is a 25-year old secretary, met through mutual friends.
He tells Agatha he wants to make Nancy, as Teresa was called, his wife. He has demanded a divorce.
He left for the party.
Then she is alleged to have packed an attaché case that contained, among other items, bottles labeled poison lead, opium, a postcard, a loaf of bread and a couple of children’s books.
Perhaps she added a nightgown, a fresh change of clothing, her hairbrush and other toiletries
She kissed her ten-year-old daughter goodnight, and left her in the care of the nanny.
Weren’t those rather odd things to pack? Do most mothers abandon their daughters with a kiss but not a word?
Agatha put on her fur lined coat and got in her roadster, a Morris Cowley.
Soon her car but not Agatha would be found.
Here’s the Car But Where’s The Body?
In her car were the peculiar items she is supposed to have packed: the lead, the opium, the postcard, the books, the bread. A few items of men’s clothing added to the mix. Indicating her identity were an expired driver’s license and her fur-lined coat.
The popular English mystery writer was declared missing and the whole country rose up, an amazing notion today, summoning such huge effort to find a burgeoning novelist.
There was at the time, as ever, a hunger for sensation in the press. Home secretary William Joynson-Hicks pressured police and more than 1000 police officers, 15,000 volunteers and several aircraft were employed to find her.
That day her disappearance made the front page of the Times.
By Dec. 11, a week after Christie’s mysterious disappearance, there was nothing to report.
But it was found out that Christie had left three letters behind at her home: one each for her husband, secretary and brother.
Her husband refused to disclose the contents of his. The secretary’s letter contained scheduling details, only asked her to break an appointment for her, adding that she was going for Yorkshire for a few days. Her brother’s letter said she was going to a heath spa in Yorkshire for rest and treatment.
Those were the only clues.
Dec. 13th six trained bloodhounds, a crate load of Airedale terriers, retrievers and Alsatian police dogs as well as common mongrels were used to assist in the search. Christie’s own dog was used in the search but only wined pitifully.
The police speculate, noting the clothing in Christie’s car, that she might be disguised as a man.
Some of the public and press began to think of Christie’s disappearance as a publicity stunt for her next novel.
Her secretary angrily disputed this accusation. “It is ridiculous. Mrs. Christie is quite too much a lady for that.”
Detectives appealed for help from the public, asking motorists and amateur sleuths to help with sightings. Spiritualists gathered at the chalk pit, appealing to Christie for words should she be in the Great Beyond.
Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes as well as a known Spiritualist gave a medium Christie’s gloves, hoping for guidance. Dorothy Sayer’s, certainly not a detective but a respected writer of mysteries pitched in on the search.
Not surprisingly, Agatha Christie’s husband and his mistress were both under suspicion. It was a circus.
Ten days after Christie’s disappearance the head waiter at the Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, contacted the police. He thought a vivacious guest from South Africa, going by the name of Teresa Neale, just might be the missing writer in disguise.
A Hundred Year Mystery, Still Unsolved
Solving a mystery reduces it to a puzzle, one that can be answered correctly and then put away. It’s fascinating until that very last piece, then satisfying, but also complete. Ready to put back in it’s box.
In an unsolved mystery, questions linger.”
Kate Weinberg, Crimereads, January 20. 2020
Ah, the reunion of Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie, after her sensational disappearance was classic Christie.
She might have written the scene in which her husband took a seat in a corner of the hotel’s dining room. He watched his wife enter, take a seat at a table and open a newspaper with its headline heralding her own disappearance. Agatha received Archie with a stony stare, then claimed not to know her husband of 12 years.
Christie signed her name in the hotel’s registry as “Tressa Neele” (Neele was the surname of her husband’s lover) and added she was from Capetown, South Africa.
“Her memory is gone,” said her husband to the press.
The next day Agatha left for her sister’s home where the press reported she was kept in “a guarded hall, gates locked, telephone cut off and all callers turned away.”
Now, what do you think?
Some have suggested Christie tried to set up her unfaithful husband and his mistress for murder. Whom other than Christie could have peppered the scene with such clues, certainly enough to suggest foul play?
A biographer says it was a fugue state. The author Jared Cade concluded that Christie set up the scene and its conclusion simply to embarrass her husband but hadn’t anticipated the public melodrama.
Did she suffer a nervous breakdown? Using her husband’s mistress’s name as her own—didn’t that indicate a severe disturbance? Or anguish?
Public reaction was largely negative as Christie was unharmed, and many wondered if she’d created the whole event for publicity.
Christie never commented on the whole affair, saying it was not worth mentioning. Seriously, not worth mentioning?
In January of 1927, a very pale Christie sailed with her daughter and secretary to the Canary Islands to rest. Returning after three months, Christie sued her husband for divorce.
Archie married Nancy.
Was it revenge or madness, jealousy or malice? You tell me.
Was this Christie Mystery the most subtle of them all…?