1946-Devonshire, England- Agatha Christie at typewriter in her home. (Getty Images)
Agatha Christie is known as the best selling novelist of all time. She wrote a total of 80 novels, 66 detective novels and 14 short stories. Her books have only been outsold by The Bible and Shakespeare. Regardless of her success as an author and novelist, she is also very well known for her mysterious disappearance on the evening of December 3, 1926.
Agatha Christie's abandoned car found at “The Silent Pool”
Agatha’s mysterious disappearance began on the evening of December 3, 1926, where she kissed her 7-year-old daughter goodnight and loaded herself and a suitcase in her vehicle, without notifying anyone of where she was going. Her vehicle was found the next morning, with only a fur coat, a packed suitcase, and her driver’s license inside. It had been abandoned in near a natural spring known as “The Silent Pool”.
Agatha’s disappearance launched one of the largest missing person investigations in Great Britain’s history. Over 1000 police officers and 15,000 volunteers, along with tracker dogs, airplanes, and divers all helped in the search for the missing author.
Police dredging a pond near where Christie’s car was found
Not only was the public concerned with finding Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the character Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, also took part in this mysterious investigation.
Doyle was a strong believer in the paranormal and gave one of Christie’s gloves to a psychic as a way to locate her.
Sayer went to the location where the disappearance occurred, searching for clues in hopes of finding some clear direction as to her current location.
Finally on the 11th day of her disappearance, Christie was found in a hotel in Harrogate where she had registered under the name, Nancy Neele. When she was found she remembered nothing, claiming she had amnesia.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Author Agatha Christie
On a cold winter’s night in 1926, 36-year-old mystery novelist Agatha Christie vanished from her English estate in Berkshire without a trace! Around 9.30 p.m. on December 3rd, Christie kissed her 7 year-old daughter Rosalind goodnight and went back downstairs. Instead of retiring herself, she climbed into her Morris Cowley automobile and drove off into the dark countryside. She would not be seen again for 11 days.
Agatha Christie was already one of the most famous mystery writers in all the world. So her disappearance sparked one of the largest manhunts in English history.
Her car was found empty on a steep slope at the edge of a quarry, not far from her home. Its hood was up and lights still on. Inside was Christie’s fur coat and driver’s license.
But there was no sign of Agatha herself, and no evidence of an accident.
Authorities suspected foul play, maybe even murder!
News of the famous novelist’s disappearance spread quickly, and a massive manhunt was organized. A thousand police officers and 15,000 volunteers combed the English countryside. Dredge teams scoured the surrounding lakes, ponds and rivers. Biplanes searched from the air – the first ever in England’s history for a missing person.
Even fellow mystery writers contributed to the hunt. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries was an avid occultist. He gave one of Christie’s hand gloves to a London medium in hopes that the “Spirit World” might provide a clue. Alas, it did not.
English mystery and detective writer (1890–1976)
DameAgatha ChristieLady MallowanDBEBornAgatha Mary Clarissa Miller(1890-09-15)15 September 1890Torquay, Devon, EnglandDied12 January 1976(1976-01-12) (aged 85)Winterbrook House, Winterbrook, Oxfordshire, EnglandResting placeChurch of St Mary, Cholsey, Oxfordshire, EnglandPen nameMary WestmacottOccupationNovelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, memoiristGenreMurder mystery, detective story, crime fiction, thrillerLiterary movementGolden Age of Detective FictionNotable works
- Creation of characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple
- Murder on the Orient Express
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
- Death on the Nile
- The Murder at the Vicarage
- Partners in Crime
- The A.B.C. Murders
- And Then There Were None
- The Mousetrap
- Archie Christie(m. 1914; div. 1928)
- Sir Max Mallowan (m. 1930)
RelativesJames Watts (nephew)SignatureWebsiteThe Home of Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English writer known for her sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote the world's longest-running play The Mousetrap, performed in the West End from 1952 to 2020, as well as six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. In 1971, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contribution to literature.
Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, and was largely home-schooled.
She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed in 1920 when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, was published.
Her first husband was Archibald Christie; they married in 1914 and had one child together before divorcing in 1928.
During both the First and Second World Wars, she served in hospital dispensaries, acquiring a thorough knowledge of the poisons which featured in many of her novels, short stories, and plays. Following her marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930, she spent several months each year on digs in the Middle East, and used her first-hand knowledge of his profession in her fiction.
Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling fiction writer of all time, her novels having sold over two billion copies. According to Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author.
And Then There Were None is one of the highest selling books of all time, with approximately 100 million sales. Christie's stage play The Mousetrap holds the world record for longest initial run.
It opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End on 25 November 1952, and by September 2018 there had been more than 27,500 performances. The play was closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award. Later that year, Witness for the Prosecution received an Edgar Award for best play.
In 2013, she was voted the best crime writer and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd the best crime novel ever by 600 professional novelists of the Crime Writers' Association.
In September 2015, coinciding with her 125th birthday, And Then There Were None
Why did mystery writer Agatha Christie mysteriously disappear?
Here is a question that will satisfy the curiosity of anyone who has ever read an Agatha Christie novel or seen one of her books as a movie or play.
What is known about her mysterious “disappearance”? (1) When did she disappear? (2) Where was she (at home, on a trip, etc.
)? (3) Was foul play suspected? (4) How old was she? (5) Could she have engineered her own disappearance to be dramatic in keeping with her novels? (6) Is she now presumed dead?
Linda D., Baltimore
Inasmuch as Agatha Christie was buried in an English churchyard in 1976, I think it’s pretty safe to assume she’s dead. However, you never know with these mystery writers. In any event, the famous “disappearance” you refer to occurred some 50 years earlier, and if she was senile at the time it is surely the most protracted case of that disorder in the history of medicine.
Mrs. Christie disappeared on the evening of Friday, December 3, 1926, from her home near a small town in Berkshire, England. She was an established mystery writer even then; her seventh effort, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was on the best-seller lists. Nonetheless, she was known to have been nervous and depressed.
Her mother, to whom she had been quite close, had died some months earlier, and perhaps more important, her husband Archie, a handsome war hero, was having an affair with a woman named Nancy Neele, which he made little effort to disguise.
On the day Agatha disappeared, in fact, Archie had gone to the home of some friends to spend the weekend with his inamorata. Around 9:45 PM Agatha announced she was going out for a drive. The next morning her car was found abandoned several miles away, with some of her clothes and identification scattered around inside.
There was an immediate uproar in the press, with speculation that Mrs. Christie had committed suicide, been murdered, lost her memory, or simply constructed an elaborate publicity stunt.
Agatha had written several confusing letters to her husband and others before vanishing. One, to her brother-in-law, said she was simply going for a vacation in Yorkshire; another, to the local chief constable, said she feared for her life.
A quarter mile from where her car was found there was a lake called Silent Pool that Agatha had used in one of her books; one of her characters had drowned there. The police promptly had the lake dredged, without result. Hearing of the husband’s infidelities, the police tapped his phones and followed him wherever he went.
They also organized 15,000 volunteers to search the surrounding countryside.
As it rather anticlimactically turned out, Agatha had gone to Yorkshire after all, specifically to a health spa in the town of Harrogate, where she signed in on the morning of Saturday, December 4, under the name, significantly, of Teresa Neele.
As the days passed and her picture continued to appear in the newspapers, several of the guests recognized her, but she laughed off suggestions that she was the missing author. Finally someone notified the police, who grabbed her husband and rushed up to have him identify her, which, on Tuesday, December 14, he did.
Mrs. Christie’s comment was, “Fancy, my brother has just arrived.”
The Christies immediately went into seclusion, and several doctors were called in; they put out the story that Agatha was suffering from amnesia brought on by grief over her mother’s death.
Virtually no one believed this, though, and Agatha’s subsequent refusal ever to discuss the matter–she made no mention of it in her autobiography–has fueled speculation among mystery buffs that continues to this day.
The most plausible explanation is that she simply wanted to get away from a bad situation and embarrass her husband at the same time. At any rate, the two were divorced in 1928 and she later married archaeologist Max Mallowan.
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The Mysterious Disappearance of Agatha Christie
At shortly after 9:30 pm on Friday December 3, 1926, Agatha Christie got up from her armchair and climbed the stairs of her Berkshire home. She kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind, age seven, goodnight and made her way back downstairs again. Then she climbed into her Morris Cowley and drove off into the night. She would not be seen again for eleven days.
A Star-Studded Manhunt
Her disappearance would spark one of the largest manhunts ever mounted. Agatha Christie was already a famous writer and more than one thousand policemen were assigned to the case, along with hundreds of civilians. For the first time, airplanes were also involved in the search.
The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, urged the police to make faster progress in finding her. Two of Britain’s most famous crime writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, were drawn into the search. Their specialist knowledge, it was hoped, would help find the missing writer.
It didn’t take long for the police to locate her car. It was found abandoned on a steep slope at Newlands Corner near Guildford. But there was no sign of Agatha Christie herself and nor was there any evidence that she’d been involved in an accident.
The Bizarre Conclusion
By the second week of the search, the news had spread around the world. It even made the front page Not until December 14th, fully eleven days after she disappeared, was Agatha Christie finally located.
She was found safe and well in a hotel in Harrogate, but in circumstances so strange that they raised more questions than they solved. Christie herself was unable to provide any clues to what had happened. She remembered nothing.
It was left to the police to piece together what might have taken place.
They came to the conclusion that Agatha Christie had left home and traveled to London, crashing her car en route. She had then boarded a train to Harrogate. On arriving at the spa town, she checked into the Swan Hydro—now the Old Swan Hotel—with almost no luggage. Bizarrely, she used the assumed name of Theresa Neele, her husband’s mistress.
Harrogate was the height of elegance in the 1920s and filled with fashionable young things.
Agatha Christie did nothing to arouse suspicions as she joined in with the balls, dances and Palm Court entertainment.
She was eventually recognized by one of the hotel’s banjo players, Bob Tappin, who alerted the police. They tipped off her husband, Colonel Christie, who came to collect Agatha immediately.
To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, c
The Curious Disappearance of Agatha Christie
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, the youngest of Clara and Frederick Miller’s three children.
Although she was also a successful playwright responsible for the longest-running play in theatre history – The Mousetrap – Agatha is best known for the 66 detective novels and 14 collections of short stories written under her married name ‘Christie’.
In 1912, 22-year-old Agatha attended a local dance where she met and fell in love with Archibald ‘Archie’ Christie, a qualified aviator who had been posted to Exeter. Archie was sent to France when the First World War broke out in 1914 but the young couple married on Christmas Eve the same year when he returned on leave.
Above: Agatha Christie as a child
Whilst Archie continued to fight across Europe for the next few years, Agatha kept busy as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in Torquay’s Red Cross Hospital.
During this time, a number of Belgian refugees had settled in Torquay and were said to have provided the inspiration for the fledgling writer’s most famous Belgian Detective; one Hercule Poirot.
At the encouragement of her older sister, Margaret – herself a writer who was often published in Vanity Fair – Agatha wrote the first of her many detective novels, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
When the war ended the couple moved to London for Archie to take up a post at the Air Ministry. In 1919 Agatha decided the time was right to publish her first novel and entered into a contract with the Bodley Head publishing company.
It was not until Agatha moved to Collins publishing house in 1926 for an impressive advance of two hundred pounds that she began to see the fruits of her labour and the couple and their young daughter Rosalind moved to a new home in Berkshire named Styles after Agatha’s first novel.
However, despite her success Christie kept a tight rein on the family finances insisting on a careful, modest lifestyle.
This was no doubt as a result of the Miller family’s own decent into poverty after Agatha’s father, an affluent American businessman, was stricken by a number of heart attacks leading to his death in November 1901 when Agatha was only 11 years old.
Some commentators argue that Agatha’s wish to keep a tight control on her own finances led to tensions in her relationship with Archie, so much so that he entered into an affair with his 25 year old secretary Nancy Neale.
Above: Archie (far left) and Agatha (far right), pictured in 1922
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.
The next morning Agatha’s abandoned car was found several miles away by Surrey Police partly submerged in bushes at Newlands Corner in Guildford, Surrey, the apparent result of a car accident.
The fact that the driver was missing but the headlights were on and a suitcase and coat remained in the back seat only fuelled the mystery.
The relatively unknown writer suddenly became front page news and a handsome reward was offered for any new evidence or sightings.
In the aftermath of Agatha’s disappearance both Archie Christie and his mistress Nancy Neale were under suspicion and a huge manhunt was undertaken by thousands of policemen and eager volunteers.
A local lake known as the Silent Pool was also dredged in case life had imitated art and Agatha had met the same fate of one of her unfortunate characters.
Famous faces also waded in to the mystery with the then Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks putting pressure on police to find the writer, and fellow mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seeking the help of a clairvoyant to find Agatha using one of her gloves as a guide.
Ten days later, the head waiter at the Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, (now known as the Old Swan Hotel) contacted police with the startling news that a lively and outgoing South African guest by the name of Theresa Neale may actually be the missing writer in disguise.
Above: The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate.
In a dramatic unmasking which would have been at home in the pages of any Christie novel, Archie travelled with the police to Yorkshire and took a seat in the corner of the hotel’s dining room from where he watched his estranged wife walk in, take her place at another table and begin reading a newspaper which heralded her own disappearance as front page news. When approached by her husband, witnesses noted a general air of puzzlement and little recognition for the man to whom she had been married for nearly 12 years.
The reason for Agatha’s disappearance has been hotly contested over the years.
Suggestions ranged from a nervous breakdown brought on by the death of her mother and embarrassment of her husband’s affair, to a cynical publicity stunt to promote the successful but still little known author.
At the time, Archie Christie declared his wife to be suffering from amnesia and a possible concussion, which was later corroborated by two doctors. Certainly her apparent failure to recognise him would seem to endorse this theory.
However, the couple went their separate ways soon afterwards with Archie marrying Nancy Neale and Agatha marrying archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and no one involved ever spoke of the disappearance again. Indeed Agatha makes no mention of it in her autobiography which was published posthumously in November 1977.
And so the most intriguing of all of Christie’s mysteries remains unsolved!