Among the greatest mystery novelists of all time, surely English crime novelist Agatha Christie ranks high. So well-known and ubiquitous are her works in literature that even people who have never read even a single one of her novels know her name, and over the course of her career until her death in 1976, during which she wrote 80 novels, Agatha Christie became the best selling novelist in history, the most widely published, behind the Bible and Shakespeare, as well as the most translated author, making her works known and enjoyed throughout the world, and she was celebrated with some of the highest accolades and awards a writer could ever possibly achieve. However, one of her greatest mysteries was carried out in real life, when she went missing without a trace and reappeared over a week later, with none of it ever being explained or satisfactorily solved.
In 1926, Christie was having a tough time of things. Earlier that year her mother, Clara Miller, had passed away from bronchitis, and to make matters worse her husband at the time of the illness, Archie Christie, was not around to help since he was away in Spain and proceeded to avoid the whole affair by going off to London after that. On top of all of this, Archie was embroiled in an affair, and indeed had informed Agatha that he planning on leaving her. The whole mess left Agatha Christie in a deep state of despondency, and many claimed that she was on the verge of an incoming nervous breakdown. She became addled and unfocused, prone to getting upset and worked up over the slightest annoyances, and had mostly lost her will to write.
On December 3, 1926, Agatha and Archie had a fight and she left to go on some errands, coming home to find that Archie had packed his bags and leave once and for all, heading off to see his mistress, Nancy Neele. At around 9:45 PM that evening, Agatha Christie got up at her home in Berkshire and kissed her 7-year-old daughter goodnight before packing a small suitcase, going downstairs, getting into her car, and driving off into the night. The only clue as to where she had gone was apparently a note she had written to her secretary claiming that she was going for for a trip to Yorkshire.
The next day, Agatha’s vehicle, a green Morris Cowley, was found abandoned on an embankment of a natural spring known as the Silent Pool, near Guildford, Surrey. The car had been left with its hood up and the lights on, along with her fur coat, her suitcase still filled with all of her belongings, and an out of date driver’s license lying within. There was no evidence of any sort of accident, and of the vehicle’s occupant there was no sign, and it seemed as if the great author Agatha Christie had simply stepped off the face of the earth. Considering that Agatha Christie was a major literary star, the disappearance soon hit national news and a massive manhunt was launched immediately, which would go on to be one of the biggest the country has ever seen.
During the intensive search nearly a thousand police officers and thousands more volunteers, as well as tracker dogs, airplanes, and divers spent days scouring every inch of the area looking for the missing woman and dredging the waterways, and hefty rewards were widely offered for any information. Even the renowned detective writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L. Sayers, were recruited to help in the search, in the hope that they could offer some unique insights into the mystery, but none were forthcoming. Known occultist Doyle even apparently went to psychics with some of Christie’s gloves in an effort to find answers from beyond, but this ended in frustration, with the medium merely giving the cryptic answer that she was alive but dazed and confused somewhere.
In the meantime, speculation ran rampant as to what had happened to the missing Christie. One idea was that she had committed suicide by jumping into the Silent Pool Spring, but there was no body ever found there despite extensive searches and Christie’s novels had been really taking off in popularity. Would she really want to kill herself? For others the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of her unfaithful husband, who was seen as suspicious to say the least. Still others thought this was all merely a publicity stunt to promote her latest book. None of it amounted to little more than blind speculation in the absence of any physical evidence whatsoever.
Then, in the very middle of all of this mad searching and speculation, Agatha Christie just suddenly appeared under comparatively mundane circumstances. On December 14, which was 11 days after she had vanished, Agatha was found to be staying at the elegant Swan Hydropathic Hotel near Harrogate. According to hotel staff, she had arrived by taxi the day after she had vanished and checked in under the name of Teresa Neele, from Cape Town South Africa, which was particularly interesting as this was the surname of her husband’s lover. The mysterious woman had been seen around the hotel grounds keeping to herself reading newspapers and playing bridge, as well as dancing, explaining to other hotel patrons that she was merely a bereaved mother getting back on her feet. Oddly, despite her high profile and widely publicized disappearance, the one who eventually recognized Christie as the missing famous author was allegedly the hotel’s banjo player, Bob Tappin, who was the one who would go on to contact authorities.
When confronted, Christie claimed to have no memory whatsoever of the past 11 days, suggesting that she had some form of amnesia. Police would later speculate that as she had been traveling she had been involved in a car crash and subsequently lost her memory in the accident, after which she had made the dazed journey to Harrogate. There was also the idea that she had been propelled into a “fugue state,” or temporary loss of memory and out of body state brought on by trauma and stress, after suffering a severe nervous breakdown, which she had been on the verge of doing before she vanished. Christie herself would explain of her apparent amnesia, while offering no real clues into her vanishing, by saying thus:
For 24 hours I wandered in a dream, and then found myself in Harrogate as a well-contented and perfectly happy woman who believed she had just come from South Africa.
Despite these claims of memory loss, there were plenty of people who were suspicious to say the least. Many thought that this was just an elaborate shot at revenge against her straying husband, and that the amnesia was all a ruse, but several doctors and other witnesses seemed to support the fact that the troubled author was actually suffering from amnesia of some form. Regardless of what the real answers are, Christie herself would remain silent on what had actually happened over those missing 11 days, never elaborating at all on what had really happened and dooming the whole affair to speculation and debate.
Although her marriage was dead and she would officially divorce Archie and go on to marry archeologist Sir Max Mallowan, Agatha Christie’s career would not seem to suffer from all of the incident and its publicity, as she then went on to pen some of her most renowned works, such as Murder She Wrote, Murder on the Orient Express, and Gosford Park. Her strange 11-day disappearance has remained largely unsolved, with no one really knowing what happened to her during that missing time, despite the intense debate, speculation, and numerous books and articles that have swirled about it.
It seems rather fitting that one of the most talked about and mysterious vanishings of all time would happen to a renowned writer of mystery novels. It is almost too fitting to be true, yet there it is, and the case has been picked apart and discussed ad infinitum. What happened to Agatha Christie during those 11 missing days? Why did she fall off the face of the earth only to reappear again Was that part of the plan all along or a fluke? Was this an effort to get revenge on her straying husband, an attempt to start a new life, or a genuine case of total amnesia? No one really knows the answer for sure, she never spoke of it even up to her death, taking the secret with her, and the strange vanishing of Agatha Christie has gone unsolved.