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  • Writer's pictureFiona Prior

Agatha Christie goes missing

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Having reviewed the latest film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile last week, I remembered that my mother once mentioned that the author herself had disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

Research was super simple. Books, essays and even a movie has been made about the disappearance of the superior ‘who-dunnit’ novelist, and Wikipedia possibly has the briefest and to the point entry about this portion of her life.

Daily Herald, 15 December 1926, announcing that Christie had been found - disappearing for 11 days, she was located at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

“In August 1926, Archie Christie asked Agatha for a divorce. He had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, a friend of Major Belcher.  On 3 December 1926, the pair quarrelled after Archie announced his plan to spend the weekend with friends, unaccompanied by his wife. Late that evening, Christie disappeared from their home in Sunningdale. The following morning, her car, a Morris Cowley, was discovered at Newlands Corner, parked above a chalk quarry with an expired driving licence and clothes inside.

The disappearance quickly became a news story, as the press sought to satisfy their readers' "hunger for sensation, disaster, and scandal". Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward (approximately equivalent to £6,000 in 2020). More than a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes searched the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave a spirit medium one of Christie's gloves to find her. Christie's disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for another 10 days.

On 14 December 1926, she was located at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, 184 miles (296 km) north of her home in Sunningdale, registered as Mrs Tressa Neele (the surname of her husband's lover) from "Capetown [sic] S.A." (South Africa). The next day, Christie left for her sister's residence at Abney Hall, Cheadle, where she was sequestered "in guarded hall, gates locked, telephone cut off, and callers turned away".

Christie's autobiography makes no reference to the disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from "an unquestionable genuine loss of memory", yet opinion remains divided over the reason for her disappearance. Some, including her biographer Morgan, believe she disappeared during a fugue state. The author Jared Cade concluded that Christie planned the event to embarrass her husband but did not anticipate the resulting public melodrama. Christie biographer Laura Thompson provides an alternative view that Christie disappeared during a nervous breakdown, conscious of her actions but not in emotional control of herself. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder. (*this excerpt is shamelessly 'cut and pasted' from Wikipedia)

I go with the version that she wanted to embarrass her husband. Taking his mistress’ surname flags that she wanted him to know that this was the reason she fled and the fact that she had left letters with various family members – not mentioned above. Apparently, Archie Christie refused the police access to his letter.

Had this occurred in Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’, she would have shot her husband and/or her husband’s mistress and left varied red herrings for a Poirot figure to solve. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Archie Christe) she was not a character in one of her novels, but an upper middle-class women of the early 20th Century with a quiet disposition and a broken heart.

Nice gesture Agatha!

Daily Herald, 15 December 1926, announcing that Christie had been found—disappearing for 11 days, she was located at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire

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