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Agatha Christie's real-life mystery at the Silent Pool
Agatha Christie
The Queen of crime writing became the subject of a mystery of her own

Dame Agatha Christie was born on 15 September, 120 years ago, and is known throughout the world as the best-selling crime writer of all time.

But, aged 36, she became the subject of a mystery herself, when she simply disappeared for 11 days.

After her car was found abandoned at the Silent Pool near Albury, a nationwide search began to find the author.

Eleven days later she turned up in Harrogate, but never could explain the reason for her strange disappearance.

There has never been a satisfactory answer as to why, on the night of 3 December, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter Rosalind goodnight, and then drove away from the family home Styles, in Sunningdale.

What is known is that she left the large Berkshire house she shared with her husband Archie, a colonel and former WWI fighter pilot, and drove to a quarry near the Silent Pool, just outside Guildford.

There, she abandoned her two-seater Morris Cowley coupe, with headlights blazing, leaving items of clothing and an expired driving licence inside, and seemingly disappeared.

She was also rumoured to have left letters saying she planned to travel to Yorkshire.

There has been much speculation about the reasons behind her unusual behaviour but the most likely is that she was upset about the breakdown of her marriage.

Agatha Christie
For 24 hours I wandered in a dream, and then found myself in Harrogate as a well-contented and perfectly happy woman who believed she had just come from South Africa
Agatha Christie

Husband Archie had announced he was leaving her for another woman, Nancy Neele, who lived near Shere, in Godalming.

This, coupled with the worry that she may lose custody of Rosalind in the break-up, may have affected the balance of her mind.

£100 reward

Her car was found early the next morning by a local lad called George Best, who spotting the headlights were still on, alerted the police.

A search ensued with thousands of her loyal fans joining the effort to find her, while The Daily News offered a £100 reward for information leading to her whereabouts.

Aeroplanes were used in the search and rescue mission - the first time they had been brought into service for such an event.

Another famous local author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, joined the hunt, contacting a medium in the hope the spirit world would guide them to Agatha.

And mystery novelist, Dorothy L Sayers helped in the fingertip search of the area surrounding the Silent Pool and Newlands Corner.

Archie Christie was suspected of his wife's murder and although he admitted they had a row about his mistress the night before she vanished, he was soon discounted as being involved.

He was quoted at the time as saying that she [Agatha] had told him "she could disappear at will and would defy anyone to find her".

And it seems she was right. There was no trace of her.

The police suspected suicide, but one man, Deputy Chief Constable Kenward, thought there was foul play.

But without a body, nothing could be proved.

The lady vanishes

Much has been made of where she went in the hours immediately after abandoning her car, with many speculating she had walked to the village of Shere and taken refuge in a B&B or pub.

However, in 2000, the Guardian published an interview with the daughter of Nan Watts, Christie's close friend and relation by marriage.

In it, the daughter suggests Agatha was aided in her disappearance by Nan, who took her to the Watts family home in Chelsea.

After spending the night there, she travelled by train to Yorkshire, where she was eventually found 11 days later.

Apparently Mrs Christie, or "Teresa Neele", which is the name she used in the hotel's register, had been staying at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel at Harrogate

She would probably have continued to stay there, posing as a South African lady who had recently lost a child, and who was there for rest and recuperation, had it not been for an eagle-eyed head waiter.

He spotted the new resident bore a remarkable resemblance to the missing crime writer, whose picture was splashed across the national papers.

Backed up by members of the house band, he contacted the police and Agatha was discovered, 230 miles away from where her car was found at the Silent Pool.

Although some thought she may have had a breakdown, others remain convinced she knew exactly what she was doing throughout.

She never revealed the truth about her disappearance but it seems likely it may have been an attempt to stop her husband leaving her for Ms Neele.

And as an accomplished wordsmith, it didn't go unnoticed that her choice of pseudonym for her time in Harrogate, was an anagram of 'Teaser' Neele - a certain dig at her love rival.

Agatha returned to her home in Sunningdale, minus Archie, and continued to deny any memory of the events surrounding her disappearance, right up until her death in 1976, aged 85.

Blue plaque for Agatha Christie
09 May 10 |  Oxfordshire


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