By Brian Boone
In 1926, the author of so many classic whodunits and murder mysteries, was already internationally and massively successful, thanks to hits like The Murder on the Links and The Secret Adversary. But then life imitated masterful mystery fiction—when Agatha Christie herself vanished with nary a trace as to her whereabouts.
• On the night of December 4, 1926, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight, didn’t say goodbye to her husband, Col. Archibald Christie, and left home in her automobile. She didn’t say where she was going, but then things were quite tense between the Christies—36-year-old Agatha knew all about the Colonel’s affair with a much younger woman.
• Christie’s car was discovered about a day and a half later, on December 6, outside the U.K. town of Guildford. It was definitely the author’s car—some identifiable clothing was left behind, as was her briefcase with business papers inside. Christie was nowhere to be found in the car, left teetering on the edge of a chalk pit.
• A police-led manhunt ensued for three days, temporarily ending on December 8. Christie had left three letters behind—one for her personal assistant (which consisted mainly of work-related correspondence), one for her husband (who refused to divulge the details to reporters or police), and one for her brother-in-law. He told authorities that Christie had run off to a spa in Yorkshire “for rest”—a euphemism for mental health treatment.
• Nevertheless, police were unconvinced by Christie’s admission in the letter, so they restarted the search and expanded it, bringing in the author’s dog to get his owner’s scent and follow it. He only whined in response, leading police to tentatively and publicly state that it looked like suicide was a possibility. Local rumors sprung up that Christie had jumped into a deep, reportedly bottomless body of water in the area called The Silent Pool. As many as 15,000 people descended on Guildford to help find the famous author.
• Another emerging theory: Christie had been driven mad by Sunningdale, her large home believed to be haunted by the ghosts of two murder victims. “If I do not leave Sunningdale soon, Sunningdale will be the end of me,” the author wrote to a friend just before her disappearance.
• On December 13, nine days after her disappearance, police stated a belief that Christie had likely gone to London and was walking around in plain sight, albeit dressed like a man. A séance held at the chalk pit didn’t provide many leads.
• December 15, 1926: Agatha Christie is found—right where her brother-in-law said she’d gone. Christie had spent the better part of 11 days at The Hydro, a spa-adjacent hotel in Yorkshire. She claimed to have been suffering from memory loss, and even checked in under a fake name: Tressa Neele. Both Christie and her husband denied the name had any meaning at all.
• In March 1928, Christie filed for divorce and both remarried. Christie married his longtime secret partner, the one with whom he’d carried on the affair that may have prompted his former wife’s disappearance. Her name: Tressa Neele.
You’ve probably read Agatha Christie’s more famous masterworks, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Check out a less heralded, thrilling, and riveting murder mystery from the queen of suspense — The Secret of Chimneys is available now from Canterbury Classics.