World-famous crime writer Agatha Christie became the star in her own 'whodunnit' in December 1926, and the real-life mystery remains unsolved to this day.
The 36 year old novelist vanished without trace or explanation for 11 days after leaving her Berkshire home, in southern England, on 3 December and driving off "into the night".
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, aeroplanes were also involved in the search. This was a big story, and the newspapers had a field day.
Her car was swiftly found not far away, but there remained no sign of Christie. As the first day of investigations progressed into the second and third – and there was still no sign of her – speculation began to mount. The press, as you might expect, began inventing ever more lurid theories as to what might have happened. Some said the incident was nothing more than a publicity stunt, a clever ruse to promote her new book: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Her personal secretary angrily denied that the whole thing was a stunt: “It is ridiculous. Mrs. Christie is quite too much a lady for that.”
Even Sherlock Holmes writer Arthur Conan Doyle was brought in to help crack the case, but to no avail. By the second week of the search, the news had spread around the world. It even made the front page of the New York Times, at which point the paper reported that between 10,000 and 15,000 people took part in the search for Mrs. Christie, aided by “six trained bloodhounds, a crate load of Airedale terriers, many retrievers and Alsatian police dogs, and even the services of common mongrels.”
Finally, on 14 December, 250 miles from where she had abandoned her car, Christie was found safe and well in a Harrogate hotel, in northern England, after being recognised by a musician performing there. Bizarrely, when she checked-in, she used the assumed name of Theresa Neele, her husband’s mistress.
Christie appeared unable to provide any clues to what had happened, however, and said she remembered nothing.
Christie never spoke of those missing days. And while theories have been put forward that she suffered memory loss after a car crash, or was in a fugue state brought on by exhaustion or depression, her disappearance has proved to be a mystery that even Hercule Poirot would have been unable to solve.
She soon made a full recovery and once again picked up her writer’s pen. But she was no longer prepared to tolerate her husband’s philandering: she divorced him in 1928 and later married the distinguished archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. But that's a whole nother story...