Agatha Christie’s real life disappearance mystery
Maybe she drowned herself in The Silent Pool. That’s what they thought when they found her green car near the area, lights on and hood up. The Morris Crowley was still full of the writer’s things, including a fur coat, a packed suitcase, and an expired driver’s license.
Soon, a full manhunt was on. Police in four countries were searching for her, joined by 15,000 volunteers. For the very first time in England, planes were used in a missing person’s search. They found nothing when they dredged the lake. They scoured the land for the Mistress of Suspense, now caught in her own real-life mystery.
Fellow mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took his colleague's glove to a psychic looking for answers. But no one had answers for 11 days after she vanished, and to this day the mystery surrounding this incident remains unsolved.
It was early December when she disappeared, just months after her fame reached new heights with the publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She’d received rave reviews and amazing sales. By many accounts, it was one of the best years of Agatha Christie’s life. But it was also one of the worst.
At 36 years old, she’d endured the illness and death of her mother and the breakdown of her marriage. The traumatic events triggered loneliness unlike she’d ever known before. 1926 had been marked with a languishing depression for Agatha. Her body was exhausted. She was emotionally overwhelmed.
She’d left behind a bitter letter to her husband Archie and a request for her secretary to cancel a previous reservation she’d made. It turns out that she’d actually made different reservations. She was found safe 11 days after she was last seen, checked into a resort spa, the Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan,) under an assumed name: Teresa Neele.
Some believe this was all an elaborate plan to get back at her husband, but others think she suffered from amnesia. . In 2006, Andrew Norman posited in his biography The Finished Portrait, that Christie was suffering from a fugue state, brought on by her severe depression. Maybe she'd just wanted to get away for a little while.
But maybe she was really not feeling well. When she was found, she seemed confused and was unable to recognize herself in newspaper photographs and stories. She seemed to have no knowledge of her life as a successful and acclaimed writer. This type of confusion is related to instances of Dissociative Identity Disorder, where a person disassociates from their core identity.
Most of us bury certain memories or find ourselves compartmentalizing parts of the self, but this state is a more severe form of that. It’s like running away from yourself completely, so much so that you become someone else entirely.
“I believe she was suicidal,” said Norman. “Her state of mind was very low and she writes about it later through the character of Celia in her autobiographical novel, Unfinished Portrait.” Still, this is just a theory.
We’ll probably never know how cognizant Christie was of her actions that week. The autobiography Norman mentions was written under the name Mary Westmacott, so she’s adding multiple layers of fiction, which is sometimes needed to attempt a stab at true honesty. No matter the level of Christie’s consciousness of her actions when she vanished, it’s no doubt that she was undergoing a breakdown. It seems the entire year of 1926, including her massive success, was eating away at her until she had no reserves left. She wanted, needed even, to run away into someone else’s skin. Since she could not accomplish that, she took a different name and location. It was the most she could do, but her attempt at calm and escape ignited international panic and mystery. Agatha Christie died in 1976, 50 years after her mysterious, and short-lived, disappearance.