Agatha Christie might be known for writing great mysteries, but none are quite as perplexing as her own 11-day disappearance—as excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain by Giles Milton, which is the basis for the Unknown History podcast.
At shortly after 9:30 pm on Friday December 3, 1926, Agatha Christie got up from her armchair and climbed the stairs of her Berkshire home. She kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind, age seven, goodnight and made her way back downstairs again. Then she climbed into her Morris Cowley and drove off into the night. She would not be seen again for eleven days.
A Star-Studded Manhunt
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, airplanes were also involved in the search.
The Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, urged the police to make faster progress in finding her. Two of Britain’s most famous crime writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, were drawn into the search. Their specialist knowledge, it was hoped, would help find the missing writer.
It didn’t take long for the police to locate her car. It was found abandoned on a steep slope at Newlands Corner near Guildford. But there was no sign of Agatha Christie herself and nor was there any evidence that she’d been involved in an accident.
The Bizarre Conclusion
By the second week of the search, the news had spread around the world. It even made the front page Not until December 14th, fully eleven days after she disappeared, was Agatha Christie finally located. She was found safe and well in a hotel in Harrogate, but in circumstances so strange that they raised more questions than they solved. Christie herself was unable to provide any clues to what had happened. She remembered nothing. It was left to the police to piece together what might have taken place.
They came to the conclusion that Agatha Christie had left home and traveled to London, crashing her car en route. She had then boarded a train to Harrogate. On arriving at the spa town, she checked into the Swan Hydro—now the Old Swan Hotel—with almost no luggage. Bizarrely, she used the assumed name of Theresa Neele, her husband’s mistress.
Harrogate was the height of elegance in the 1920s and filled with fashionable young things. Agatha Christie did nothing to arouse suspicions as she joined in with the balls, dances and Palm Court entertainment. She was eventually recognized by one of the hotel’s banjo players, Bob Tappin, who alerted the police. They tipped off her husband, Colonel Christie, who came to collect Agatha immediately.
Agatha Christie never spoke about the missing eleven days of her life and over the years there has been much speculation about what really happened. What did Christie tell reporters about her disappearance?
To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.