Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery remains a mystery over ninety years later. On December 3rd, 1926, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight, packed a small bag, and left a note for her secretary that she would not be returning that night. She got into her two-seater Morris Cowley automobile and drove off.
The next day, the automobile was found hanging over a ditch, held back from falling by bushes. They found an attaché case in the car and some clothing. There was no sign of the author. Christie was a well-known author by then, her most recent novel at the time was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which made her disappearance international news. Her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who had recently demanded a divorce, claimed she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A massive search by a thousand police and thousands of volunteers looked for three days before they called the hunt off. Christie’s brother-in-law claimed to have received a note that read she’s going to a Yorkshire spa for rest and treatment. Not convinced or reassured, the police continued their search.
As the manhunt continued, rumors spread that the disappearance was a publicity stunt, a rumor her secretary vehemently denied. Other rumors claimed the future Dame Agatha was in London dressed in men’s clothing. A spiritualist was consulted, determining Christie met with foul play.
Eleven days later, the author was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, registered under the name of Mrs. Tressa Neele. The Colonel claimed the entire incident was because of a nervous breakdown, and he did not know about the significance of her alias. That second point was a complete lie. The name belonged to her husband’s lover. Christie knew of the affair and had been distraught.
When the Colonel came to pick up his wife, it’s been said Christie met him with an icy stare.
Fifteen months later, Agatha Christie sued and divorced her husband. In 1930, she remarried. Archibald Christie also married. His new wife, none other than Tressa Neele.
Over the years, many biographers have tried to find out exactly what, why, and where Agatha Christie disappeared. Was it revenge for her husband’s affair, manic depression, amnesia, or something else? No one knows for sure. Throughout her life, Christie refused to talk about that period, except once to a British newspaper, and her story revealed few details.
When one of the greatest mystery writers has an unsolved mystery in her own life, you can bet there would be much interest. In 1977, author Kathleen Tynan wrote the novel Agatha, featuring her own interpretation of what happened during those eleven days. Hollywood released a big-screen adaptation of Agatha in 1979 starring Vanessa Redgrave as the shy author, Dustin Hoffman as a fictitious American journalist, and Timothy Dalton as Archibald Christie. More recently, two British Made for Television films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018), and Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019) turn Ms. Christie into Jessica Fletcher. A third film in the series is scheduled for this year.