Agatha Christie was one of the most popular mystery writers in England in the early 20th Century. She wrote numerous novels about unsolved missing person’s cases, mysterious murders, and locked-room cases. As such, the eyes of the country were on a bizarre story centered on her disappearance in 1926. Suddenly, the mystery author was at the center of her own mystery.
Agatha Christie was born Agatha Miller in 1890 in Torquay, England. She grew up in a wealthy home and taught herself to read at age four. She quickly developed a love for the written word and took up writing short stories when she was 18.
She would later meet Archibald “Archie” Christie in 1912, and the two hit it off immediately. Agatha’s mother warned her against pursuing a relationship with Archie, stating that he was a hothead who would be unfaithful to her. The two married only three months after their first meeting, in spite of Agatha’s mother’s protests. Archie joined the military to serve in the First World War as a pilot, which put their relationship on hold.
When he returned from war, the two moved into a home together, and Agatha began pursuing her career as a writer full time. By 1926, however, following her mother’s death, Agatha’s husband had been cheating on her with a younger woman named Nancy Neele.
Archie planned to spend the weekend of December 3, 1926, with his “friends,” away from his wife. Agatha suspected this was to be a romantic couple’s getaway, and so decided to go for a drive to a nearby spa to take her mind off of things. At some point during her drive to the spa, something happened.
Agatha’s car was found along the road on the route to the spa, spurring an immediate police response. Units were dispatched all over England to look for the author, who was reported missing. This, naturally, ruined Archie’s weekend with his young lover.
After ten days of frantic searching, Agatha turned up, safe and sound, at the spa. A player in the hotel’s band had spotted her there, noting her resemblance to the missing author. Christie told police that she’d been staying at the hotel for the intervening ten days under an assumed name, Teresa Neele, (the same surname as her husband’s lover).
She claimed to have lost her memory on the way to the spa and thought up the name Teresa Neele when she checked in to the location. She had no memory of getting out of her vehicle and reportedly saw news reports about her own disappearance and remarked that she looked a lot like the woman in the newspapers.
Christie would later divorce Archie, but she never really answered any questions about her missing ten days. She avoided the topic altogether in her autobiography. And, while she turned up fine, theories about what led to her disappearance have abounded in the years since the incident.
Some believe that she was under extreme emotional duress and entered a fugue state to run from the reality of her failing marriage. Others contend that the incident was a publicity stunt to drum up interest in her next book.
Many Christie biographers, however, content that the truth is much simpler than that. Author Jared Cade contends that Christie was just looking to embarrass her husband and ruin his planned romantic weekend with his young mistress. However, the events got out of control, and the media circus around her disappearance led her to fabricate a story about losing her memory in order to lay low for long enough to avoid the public eye.
No matter what happened, the case remains one of the rare unsolved missing person’s cases where the person in question resurfaced unharmed. And, while the story has a happy ending, it remains fascinating for mystery fans, as much due to the intrigue surrounding the tale itself as it is due to the author at the center of the mystery. In the end, the world might never know what really caused Agatha Christie to go missing for a week and a half in the winter of 1926.