The 1926 Disappearance of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie young

Early on in her writing career, an incident in Agatha Christie’s personal life transformed her into a woman who could have been a character in one of her mysteries. Already a well-known author, she went missing for eleven days starting in early December of 1926, sparking a nationwide search.

At the time, Agatha was 36 years old, and had been married to Archie Christie since 1914. Though they were initially in love, their relationship was stormy from the start, and time proved that they weren’t a good match.

Some time before the disappearance incident, Archie had met Nancy Neele, and the two embarked on an affair. When he confessed the liaison to Agatha, the couple quarreled, and in a pique, Agatha took off in her car.


An abandoned car

On December 3, 1926, the vehicle was found abandoned not far from the couple’s Surrey home in England. Her disappearance sparked a nationwide search, with more than a thousand people involved, both police officers and volunteers from the public.

Rewards were offered; Archie was at first suspected of foul play. Ponds were dredged; woods were combed for any trace of the author. This 1926 article from the Associated Press is typical of the press coverage of the case:

 

Novelist Missing; Auto is Wrecked

Workingham, Berkshire, England., December 7, 1926 — AP — Scotland Yard detectives have been called in to aid the Berkshire constabulary in their search for the American novelist Agatha Christie, who disappeared after leaving her home in Sunningdale in her motor car late Friday night.

Her car was found yesterday in a hedge on the Surrey Downs. It contain a grip holding clothing and some papers. There was no trace of Mrs. Christie, who is the wife of Col. Archibald Christie and a daughter of the late Frederick Miller of New York.

. . . . . . . . . .

agatha christie 1926 disappearance

Agatha Christie’s disappearance in 1903
made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic

. . . . . . . . . .

A nationwide hunt

The police are arranging a nationwide broadcast of her description and are dragging all the deeper streams and ponds in the region. As the countryside consists of woods, brush and downs, several days will be required before the district can be completely combed.

Mrs. Christie is an expert motorist and friends are unable to account for the position of her car when found, as it was apparently abandoned while in action, swerving into the thick hedge in which it was lodged.

The first body of water dragged is a little lake half a mile from the position of the automobile. It bears the sinister name of “Silent Pool,” is deep and has rather mysterious ins and outs, being covered with reeds in places. The police dragged it again Monday and also five other ponds in that region.

More than 100 men of the Guildford constabulary are working on the case, as well as the Berkshire police and Scotland Yard operatives who make a speciality of tracing missing persons.

. . . . . . . . . .

Agatha Christie stamp Isle of Man

Agatha Christie Postage Stamps

. . . . . . . . . .

What really happened

What really happened was that Agatha had somehow made her way to a friend’s home after abandoning her car (and leaving behind the few possessions she had taken with her in it). She took a train to Harrogate the following day. There, she checked into a hotel under the surname Neele — rather bizarrely, as that was the last name of her husband’s lover.

She stayed at the hotel as if in a daze for the next ten days or so until a pair of guests recognized her. The nationwide — even international — search for the author having been very publicized (it made the front page of the New York Times), they contacted the authorities.

Agatha claimed she had some sort of amnesia that caused her to behave so out of character; others believed that it was an act of revenge against her husband. It has often been speculated that she may have intended to commit suicide by crashing her car.

Anyone who had any insight into the incident believed that she was extraordinarily distraught over her husband’s confession. She never wanted to speak much of the incident, nor clarify what had truly motivated her.

 

Divorce and remarriage, a happy ending

The Christies divorced in 1928; Archie did go on to marry Nancy Neele. Two years later, Agatha married Sir Max Mallowan, a noted archaeologist. While the initial break-up was painful, both she and Archie enjoyed much more happiness in their second marriages.

Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance and the story that surrounds in continued to fascinate the public imagination for decades. It inspired the film, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman, which received mixed reviews. There have also been several book-length treatments of the incident, including Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade.

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Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan

Agatha Christie and second husband Max Mallowan

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