Agatha Christie : Black Feelings in A Freezing Night
Since 1926, the surprising disappearance of Agatha Christie for 11 days has remained unexplained. Let’s discover more about this incredible case that has never stopped questioning its fans and the entire press.
Let us begin with the SurreyLive site’s reference (1) to an interview given by Agatha Christie in the Daily Mail in February 1928, in which the novelist recounts how, on December 3, 1926, on the way back from a visit to a relative in Dorking, a relative who later turned out to be her husband’s mother, she passed nearby a chalk quarry that would become the most famous in England.
The Daily Mail interview tells us the queen of the mystery detective novel’s version through presumed memories, twenty-six months after the event.
“The idea came to my mind to bump into it,” Agatha Christie told the paper. She therefore declares her wish, on her return from Dorking, to throw her car against the side of a cliff at the well-known geological site of Shere. But she immediately said, “However, since my daughter was with me in the car, I immediately rejected the idea.” She adds, “That night, I felt terribly unhappy.”
It is safe to assume that she had come to talk to her mother-in-law about her relationship problem and that she would emerge dissatisfied. According to most sources, shortly after her return to Styles on Friday, December 3, the woman who had published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd a few months earlier leaves Styles a little later to redo the afternoon’s journey.
To the Daily Mail, Agatha Christie said,”I left home that night in a state of great nervous tension with the intention of doing something desperate.” She continues: “When I reached a point on the road that I thought was close to the quarry, I turned the car off the road by going down the hill towards it. I left the wheel and the car running. The car hit something with a jolt and stopped suddenly. I was thrown against the steering wheel, and my head hit something. Until then, I was Mrs. Christie.”
According to her, the 36-year-old woman Agatha Christie had ended that night in December 1926.
Back to the past
On Wednesday, December 1, Agatha Christie went to London for dinner and spent the night at her club. It is more than likely that she stayed in London on Thursday, December 2 because she had to see her literary agents in the afternoon. In the evening she travels to Ascot, a village near Sunningdale, with her secretary Charlotte Fisher, to take a weekly dance lesson.
We know that on the morning of December 3, 1926, Agatha and her husband Archibald Christie quarrelled. In August, “Archie” had admitted to having an affair with Nancy Neele for 18 months and this morning, December 3, Colonel Christie decided to move in with his mistress. During the day, Agatha Christie goes to her mother-in-law’s house in Dorking. We also know that she drives there in her car and not by train, according to her 1928 statements to the Daily Mail. If it starts from Styles at that time, its probable route is Sunningdale, Chobham, Woking, West Clandon, Wotton, Dorking. By estimate his day trip would be from one hour to one hour and thirty minutes.
When she arrived in Dorking, Agatha Christie stayed with her mother-in-law for only one hour, between 5pm and 6pm, despite the journey. Then she goes back home. The quarry she talks about in her interview, she says she saw it when she returned from Dorking to Sunningdale. In this sense, it is about a third of the way. Agatha Christie probably doesn’t arrive near the geological site until 6:30 p.m. However, in December at this time, it is already dark. It is therefore more likely that she noticed the quarry on the way or that she was previously aware of the existence of the place. In any case, there is a possibility that she may have noticed the site at another time, a time when she was in a different state of mind than the despair she mentioned in the Daily Mail interview.
Agatha Christie would be back in Styles around 7pm — 7.30pm. According to the sources, she left at 9:45 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. She claims that her daughter Rosalind accompanied her on the afternoon trip and the story goes that the girl was already in bed before her second departure. Time to eat, change and write the letters and the queen of the crime novel for whom the different poisons no longer have any secret “rushes around 10pm for a night drive in the English countryside at the wheel of her Morris Cowley…” (2).
For the sole purpose of smashing her car and her person together to a chalk cliff ?
Agatha Christie in Weekend
Leaving Sunningdale on a Friday evening at around 10pm, not having had to drive openly, not before the place she had, in her opinion, chosen, the novelist was able to drive safely. She did not decide to throw herself somewhere in the Basingstoke Canal, which passes through Woking and, in any case, she probably did not arrive in Newlands Corner until 11pm.
However, there is one more question. According to most sources, she leaves Styles to redo, at least in part, the afternoon’s journey. Yet, in an article in the Mail Online dated May 6, 2017, biographer Andrew Wilson states that she would first have gone in the opposite direction (northwest) “After driving aimlessly, she stopped near the river at Maidenhead but realized that even if she threw herself into the water, she was too good a swimmer to drown. Finally, she returned to Newlands Corner.” (3)
In this case this would explain Agatha Christie’s non-choice for the Basingstoke Canal but more importantly it could give sense in terms of timing, delaying her arrival to Newlands Corner until later in the night.
The temporary disappearance of the Crime queen remains a mystery to this day because no element of Agatha Christie’s life during the night of Friday, December 3 to Saturday, December 4, 1926 is precisely known. All we know is that it was a winter night. At what time did she arrive to Newlands Corner ? Mystery. At what time did she leave ? Mystery.
On Saturday, December 4, shortly before daybreak, a cowherd named Harry Green living southwest of Newlands Corner spotted an abandoned car with headlights that lit up the early morning darkness. Being on his way to work, Green decided to do nothing special. A little later, at around 8am, a young gypsy named Jack (or George depending on the version) Best, also saw the lights of the car while walking his dog. He approaches, and discovers a Morris Cowley with the front pushed into a bush.
At the same time, a certain Frederick Dore, a car tester, came along. After seeing the vehicle, he called the police from the Newlands Corner Hotel. The press will remember Best’s name above all, even if his first name remains uncertain.
The Morris Cowley is on a grassy slope with the rear wheels in the air and the driver’s door open. The car is in fact not very damaged. Inside are various personal objects belonging to the novelist, including a driving licence, about which it is often stated that it was expired.
For her part, Agatha Christie is already far away.
Base taken for Sunningdale-Dorking trips: 26 Miles/42Km/h, speed 30–40 Km/h. Sources :
(2) Agatha Christie’s Strange Runaway (Florent B)
(3) https://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/event/article-4476568/The-disappearance-crime-novelist-Agatha-Christie.html (by Andrew Wilson)
https://www.surreylife.co.uk/out-about/agatha-christie-and-a-real-life-shere-murder-mystery-1-1632599 on 15/09/2010 (text by Alec Kingham) republication of an article from Surrey Life magazine in October 2008. Research in the pages of Andrew Norman’s “Agatha Christie: The Disappearing Novelist”. Search in a page of “A Talent For Murder : A Novel” by Andrew Wilson.
For your information, the sunrises on December 4, 2019 and 1999 take place at 7:47 am (timeanddate.com)
Modified version May, 24, 2019