Queen of Crime Novel missed for 11 Days
Agatha Christie was the most successful criminal author of all time. Her stories about Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple have thrilled millions of readers for more than fifty years and some of her ingenious cases confused even her shrewdest admirers. But with her death in January 1976 she left a real life secret behind that was so amazing as if she had thought it out herself.
In December 1927 – when she was already a celebrated criminal author – Agatha Christie disappeared for nearly two weeks. The headlines of the papers announced the most sensational theories to a breathless circle of readers. Suicide, abduction, murder. The police was looking for any clues why she had disappeared – but in vain.
Agatha Christie was born in September 1890 as daughter of a wealthy American who lived with his English wife in Torquay, Devon. The family lived in luxurious means and Agatha received only few regular classes. But the house was full of books and her mother encouraged her to read.
In 1914 she married colonel Archibald Christie and while her husband had been abroad with the army, she served as a nurse. She continued her studies as a pharmacist. During this time, she acquired her detailled knowledge in medicine, drugs and poisons which came in so very handy when she became a criminal author.
She wrote her first detective novel when she recovered from an illness and since 1926 she had had literary success. This probably rattled her husband who turned to another woman and confessed this love affair to his wife.
This information – which followed the death of her mother – drove her into desperation. And in the bitter-cold night on Friday, 3rd December, she put on a green cardigan, a grey woolen jacket and a velvet hat, stuffed some pound notes in her purse, got into her two-seated Morris and drove away in the night.
Early next morning the car was found empty at the foot of a hill near Newlands Corner, scarcely half a mile away from her twelve-bedroom-house in Berkshire. The car stood on a narrow beaten field-path. Its front tires towered above the edge of a fourty meters deep lime-pit. The brakes were loosened, the gear lever was put in neutral and the ignition was turned on. In the car some garments were found, among others a fur coat.
On the following Monday the police proclaimed her disappearance und the papers printed it in the headlines. Hundreds of policemen and thousands of volunteers scoured the region.
The preferred theory was that the famous author would have committed suicide. But where was her corpse?
In the meantime at about fourhundred kilometers away in Harrogate, Yorkshire, an attractive red-haired woman ingratiated herself with her fellow-guests in the Hydro Hotel. Her name – so she said – was Theresa Neele and she came from South Africa. But the head waiter of the hotel was sure that this friendly guest had a suspicious similarity with the missing author and he contacted the police.
Two years later, colonel Christie and Agatha got divorced and he was now free to marry Miss Neele. In 1930 Agatha married the archeologist Sir Max Mallowan and travelled a lot with him. Some of the exotic places that they both visited became plot in some of her novels.
In the course of time the recollection of the author’s disappearance faded. In her auto-biography she only indicated that had had a nervous breakdown. But is this the real explanation of what had happened many years before? When she had lost her memory from where was the clothes she wore at the Hydro Hotel and the money she had spent?
Had she in that December night the intention to kill herself and then – as her car did not crashed into the lime-pit – decided to go away for a while to think things over very calmly? When it was like this, why did not she tell the truth to the police?
Was the accident some sort of tactics to cause the pity of her unfaithful husband and to regain him? Was it a complicated trial to clear up the affair of her husband? Or was perhaps everything only a plan to punish the infidelity of her husband? Supposing the suicide attempt were successful. Then the police would have investigated and would have found in colonel Christie’s affair with Miss Neele a sufficient motive to get rid of her. Perhaps this is somewhat far-fetched but not more than some of Mrs. Christie’s mysterious novel intrigues.
Most of the people who could have helped to shed some light into the case are dead now. Miss Neele died in 1958 and colonel Christie in 1962.
In the course of the years, Agatha Christie wrote more than eighty novels, had been more often translated than William Shakespeare and reached an edition of threehundred million books. Despite this renown she remained an isolated mysterious woman. And she refused till her death to care for the solution of her most mysterious crime story – the one of her own disappearance a half century ago.