What author has only been outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare? It’s no mystery—it’s Agatha Christie, of course. But where did she get all of her ideas? Well, Christie’s story is just as gripping and twisted as any of her novels.
When it comes to Agatha Christie, her twisted family tree is the first mystery to untangle. Though her family was well-off, her parents’ backstory is borderline creepy. Her mother Clara’s family had sent the nine-year-old girl to live with an aunt. That aunt had a 17-year-old stepson named Frederick. Well, at some point—hopefully when Clara was a bit older—the pair fell in love.
They had three children—the youngest being Agatha.
Agatha’s childhood was normal and happy—if not a bit lonely, thanks to the age gap between her and her siblings. This wasn’t helped by her mother’s bizarre plan for her education. Despite the fact that her siblings were in school, Clara wanted to teach Agatha herself—and she didn’t want her to learn to read until the age of eight. Well, nothing could hold a bored and lonesome Agatha back from what she wanted.
She learned to read by four and escaped into a world of imagination—until it all came to a crashing halt.
When Agatha was just 11 years old, her family experienced a devastating tragedy. That was when her beloved father passed from pneumonia and chronic kidney disease. As she later reflected, losing him marked the end of her childhood. And that wasn’t the only problem. The family didn’t have a lot of money without him, and her siblings had moved out, leaving her alone with her mother.
Despite their financial difficulties, the Christie family managed to send Agatha away to a series of good schools. It was there that she finally began to find her footing.
Agatha may not have excelled in the music programs the way she expected to, but the social environment—as opposed to her lonely childhood—seems to have been good for her. After graduation, she began to write short stories. Sadly, this was no overnight success story. She was the recipient of many a rejection letter—but her stubborn streak would, in this case, end up being a saving grace.
Agatha kept her nose to the grindstone and penned her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert. Unfortunately, she was in for a major disappointment. Not just one, but six different publishers rejected her work. A glimmer of hope came when a famous novelist introduced her to his agent…who then told her he didn’t want the book.
Well, at least he encouraged her to try again? In the meantime, Agatha found a number of tempting distractions to soothe her bruised ego.
Publishers may not have wanted Agatha Christie—but plenty of men did. She was pretty and easygoing, with a lively social calendar. As a result, Agatha had a slew of suitors after her. She looked forward to getting married—but none of the men she met really made a lasting impression. However, another man did…and this one had staying power.
Archibald Christie approached Agatha at a dance and asked for three dances on her card, which was the custom at the time. After the first two, Archie asked for three more—which was quite unconventional. He left a mark on Agatha, which was a good thing, because he’d already made up his mind that he wanted to marry her. After three months, he proposed. There was just one problem.
Though Archie had ruthlessly pursued her for months, Agatha was already engaged. In fact, to someone she actually liked quite a bit. But though Reggie Lucy had proposed, he’d also hesitated to rush into marriage. It was a mistake that would end up proving fatal to their relationship. After they parted ways, Agatha was free to accept Archie’s proposal—but that wasn’t their only roadblock.
Agatha didn’t want to have to wait to marry the man she thought was the love of her life—but her mother was struggling to keep her home, and Archie didn’t have any money. She told Archie that she couldn’t marry him, because she had to support her mother. Well, after the hurdles he’d crossed so far, he wasn’t about to take no for an answer.
Archie’s persistence paid off, and Agatha eventually accepted—but sadly, their fairy tale soon turned into a living nightmare.
Agatha and Archie had a long engagement—but it wasn’t because they were getting to know each other. Archie was a pilot, and when WWI broke out, he went to France to fight. When he came home for Christmas in 1914, they quickly wed with the little time they had together. To say there was no honeymoon would be an understatement.
Agatha and Archie Christie spent the first six months of their marriage apart. While Archie fought, Agatha helped with the war effort in Britain. Despite her long hours at the Red Cross, she was still alone without her husband. And what happens when Agatha Christie is left alone? Well, she puts pen to paper.
While working with the Red Cross in 1916, Agatha met a number of Belgian soldiers and refugees. These men would serve as inspiration for her newest character: Hercule Poirot, a clever Belgian detective. He became the centerpiece of her second novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Two different publishers rejected it before one finally agreed to pick it up.
The Bodley Head publishing house signed her for five novels—but Agatha had no idea what she was getting into.
Like many young artists and authors, Agatha Christie was just happy that someone finally wanted to back her work—but she didn’t realize there was a dark side to the contract she’d just signed. The pay wasn’t great, and she was now stuck with them for five books. As her popularity began to increase, the sense that they were exploiting her also grew.
While Agatha struggled with the professional side of things, the end of WWI meant that her personal life was finally able to move full speed ahead. After Archie returned home, Agatha got pregnant and gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl. They named her Rosalind. But, as we’ll come to see, not everything was perfect in paradise.
During the 1920s, the British Empire Exhibition was touring the world to promote the last vestiges of the Empire. Agatha and her husband, Archie, were both involved in the promotion of said exhibition, and they went gung-ho about it. The Christies toured the world alongside the exhibition, going as far as South Africa and New Zealand—but there was a sad side to their world travels. They had to leave their young daughter behind for months at a time.
And soon enough, circumstances would soon land them back at home.
It seemed like the Christies were finally getting the honeymoon that WWI had denied them—but when they returned home, they were in big trouble. They were nearly broke. When Agatha brought up their money problems, Archie’s reaction was brutal. He suggested that she move back in with her mother. Was it a red flag? Oh, we’ll get to that…
In the meantime, Agatha rebuffed his idea and instead, began writing more—this time, with more success.
Archie got a job with the City of London, and Agatha’s writing began to take off. With the money they made, they bought a car and a house which they named Styles, after her first mystery novel. But all the new, shiny things in their life couldn’t distract from the cracks that were beginning to show.
For one, it seemed like Archie preferred to while away the hours on the golf course over spending time with his family. When Agatha suggested that they try for another baby, he gave her a vehement no. Agatha appeared unperturbed by her husband’s indifference and threw herself into finishing her newest novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
It would go on to become one of her most talked-about books yet—but Agatha would be far too distracted to enjoy her growing success.
In April of 1926, Agatha lost her mother Clara. Despite all their hardships—losing Agatha’s father and all their financial problems—they’d remained incredibly close. The loss of her mother sent Agatha spiraling. She attended the funeral alone, as Archie was in Spain. But even when he returned, he left her alone at her mother’s home while he went to his club in London.
Soon, it all became too much.
After losing her mother, the press began to print reports that up-and-coming mystery novelist Agatha Christie had left London for Biarritz, Switzerland in order to recover from a breakdown. They claimed that she was completely fatigued from working herself to the bone. Whether or not this was true, one thing was clear: the combination of career pressures, her husband’s behavior, and the loss of her mother had truly wreaked havoc on Agatha.
Unfortunately for Agatha, the worst was yet to come. In August of 1926, Archie made a disturbing confession. He’d been having a long affair with a young woman he’d met on the golf course. Her name was Nancy Neele, and they’d been carrying on for a whopping 18 months. Agatha was shocked. She’d never suspected a thing. And then, as the truth set in, so did the sense of hurt and disgust.
For months, Archie had seemed like a stranger—and now it all became clear. Here’s where the betrayal cut even deeper. In better times, Agatha frequently invited friends to stay with them at Styles. She’d actually invited Nancy numerous times, and Nancy had accepted. To add insult to injury, most of the people in their social circle knew about the affair.
Now Agatha was not only hurt—she was humiliated.
Archie immediately left for two weeks. Agatha had her sister and her secretary to confide in, but neither could provide her with the answers she was looking for. Her sister told her they’d patch things up, but her secretary was more pessimistic, saying "He won’t stay". Agatha’s daughter was the cruelest of all. Eight-year-old Rosalind told her mother Archie wanted to be with her, not Agatha—saying, "It’s you he doesn’t seem to like".
Kids truly have no filter.
After two weeks, Archie returned. Agatha begged him to give the marriage another chance, proposing a year-long trial period. Ever the sensitive type, Archie would only agree to three months. Agatha tried what she could to make things work, and the pair went on vacation together. It was quiet and uneventful—but when they returned home, they fell back into their old habits.
On top of everything, Agatha’s publisher was begging her for her next novel, and magazines were begging for stories. She could’ve used the free time, but when Archie came up with excuse after excuse to get out of the house, it just made her angrier. Their fights started as screaming matches and escalated into Agatha throwing a teapot at Archie.
He may have been the one engaged in an 18-month-long affair, but for Archie, it was a bridge too far.
By late 1926, Agatha was like a grenade with the pin pulled—ready to explode at any moment. And Archie was the one who made the mistake of dropping her. On the morning of December 3, he told her that he couldn’t spend the weekend with her. Eventually, she got it out of him that he’d be spending it with Nancy, and that he wanted to marry her.
Agatha finally had to face the truth.
Archie left for work, and Agatha and Rosalind spent the day with his mother, who noticed that Agatha was behaving erratically. Later that night, Agatha ate alone and waited for Archie to come back. He never showed up. At around 9:45, she got in her car and went for a drive. Though Agatha was used to building a mystery, not even she could have predicted what would happen next.
On the morning of December 4, 1926, a local cattleman found an abandoned car with the headlights on at Newland Corner in Surrey—approximately 15 miles from Styles. Someone else called the authorities to alert them, and they soon found the name of the car’s owner: Agatha Christie. The writer, however, was nowhere to be found.
It seemed like something out of one of her novels—but in fact, it was even more twisted.
The authorities showed up at Styles and informed the secretary, Charlotte, that it appeared that Agatha was missing. She called Archie, who was, of course, with Nancy. His reaction was characteristically callous. He came back and claimed he had no knowledge of his wife’s whereabouts, and that she hadn’t told him anything. Or so he said.
Archie Christie played it cool with the authorities—but he was hiding a dark secret. When he’d returned to Styles, he’d found a note that Agatha had left him. Before anyone else had a chance to look at it, he burned it. It doesn’t take a mystery writer to realize that’s extremely suspect behavior.
Agatha had also left a letter for her secretary Charlotte, which gave at least a few more clues. She mentioned that Charlotte should cancel Agatha’s weekend plans, and that she "cannot stay in this house" any longer. When the detectives investigating her disappearance learned about the problems between Agatha and Archie, they began to fear that she’d done something drastic and intensified the search.
Unfortunately, this drew the attention of the press.
Her stories may have been wildly popular, but Agatha was a very private person. Unfortunately, after she was missing for a few days, the authorities had no choice but to send out a missing person's notice. Archie’s fears were twofold—one, that the case would expose his affair with Nancy Neele to the public, and two, that his infidelity had perhaps driven Agatha to take her own life.
Ultimately, only one of these outcomes would come true.
Agatha’s name was making headlines in the UK and even made it all the way to the front page of the New York Times. As the local authorities gathered search parties, another clue emerged. Agatha had mailed a letter after her disappearance, sometime in the early morning on Saturday the 4th. She’d written to Archie’s brother Campbell, informing him she planned to go to an unnamed spa in Yorkshire.
The tone of the letter didn’t give any indications as to Agatha’s mental state or anything else—but at the very least, the authorities now had another hint as to where she might be.
However, when the authorities realized that Archie had spent the Friday night with Nancy at a friend’s home, in what staff of the time called an "unofficial engagement party", they began to count him as a suspect in Agatha’s disappearance. After all, during one of their bigger fights, Agatha had told Archie that she would never allow for a divorce. It was also during this period that investigators discovered he’d burned a letter from Agatha. He refused to let them know what it contained.
Between this and the constant hounding from the press, Archie was beginning to crack—just as his wife had. On Friday, December 10—just barely seven days since Agatha’s disappearance—the Daily Mail published an interview they’d conducted with Archie. In it, he claimed that Agatha had talked about how easy it would be to disappear before.
He also suggested that she’d disappeared voluntarily or had some sort of episode over the possibility of murder or self-harm.
Other mystery writers got involved with the search too. Novelist Dorothy L. Sayer showed up at one search, looked around for a minute, and then authoritatively stated that Agatha wasn’t there. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, gave one of Agatha’s gloves to a medium, who said that she was still alive and that she’d pop back up "next Wednesday".
It was all quite sensational—but the authorities were finally about to get a significant lead in the case.
Staff at a spa hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, began to report that one of their guests looked like Agatha. Authorities thought it would be best to allow someone close to her to make the identification, so they waited for Archie to travel there. Late on Tuesday, December 14 (not Wednesday, as the medium had predicted), Archie identified the woman as his wife, Agatha Christie.
One bizarre clue had made the authorities and the press sure that she was Agatha. She’d checked into the hotel using the surname Neele—as in, Archie’s mistress. Agatha had been at the hotel for ten days. Other guests had even spotted her reading the news about her own disappearance, yet none had clocked her as the author. Or, if they had, they’d kept her privacy.
After all, many famous guests frequented the hotel, preferring to stay incognito. And so, the question of where had been answered—but what about all the others?
When the authorities asked Agatha what the deal was, her response was surprising. She’d said she’d been in a confused state when she left home, couldn’t remember anything of the previous days, and that she was just remembering who she was again now after seeing Archie. To say they were skeptical would be an understatement. And they had good reason to be.
When she sat down to speak to Archie, Agatha revealed the twisted truth. She said that she’d staged the disappearance after realizing her marriage was really and truly over. And that wasn’t the most twisted part. She’d had an ally—and no, not her secretary Charlotte. She’d recruited her brother’s wife, Nan, who had spent the intervening days acting extremely upset at Agatha’s disappearance.
Then she revealed how she’d done it.
Agatha had planned many of the details of her disappearance as meticulously as she did the plots of her books. She’d left a fur coat, a suitcase of clothing, and her driver’s license inside the car to make it look as if something terrible had happened. Then, she’d rolled the car off the road in neutral, making sure to leave the headlights on to draw attention.
Agatha then took the train to London, where she stayed the night with her sister-in-law Nan. But what purpose was this all serving?
It seemed as though Agatha meant to stay away for three or four days, just to make Archie agonize over what he’d done. But there was one thing that she hadn’t counted on. She’d written her letter to Archie’s brother and sent it to his workplace over the weekend, expecting that when he got it, he’d send the authorities to the spas of Harrogate to find her.
Unfortunately, they never came knocking—and the delay led to an unintended consequence.
Despite the theatrical nature of her antics, Agatha Christie was, lest we forget, a very private person. If the authorities had discovered her at Harrogate on the Monday or Tuesday, as she’d intended, it’s entirely possible the press wouldn’t have picked up the story at all. After all, you can plot a mystery novel to a T—but while some readers will solve it ably, many can get left in the dark.
Agatha Christie quickly retreated to her home, away from the prying eyes of the press, who she refused to speak to. Neither they nor the general public was privy to much more than the barest details of her disappearance and discovery—and a claim of amnesia. As a result, the backlash was immediate and brutal. Many believed that it was a publicity stunt…or, even more horribly, a plot to frame Archie for murder.
Back at home, the press hounded Agatha and Archie for details, while the authorities got into debates about passing on the cost of all the searches to the Christie family. And, while Agatha thought she and Archie would continue to pass the year-long "trial" period he’d never agreed to, she eventually had to face the devastating truth. Her marriage was over.
This time, as opposed to a mysterious disappearance, Agatha engineered another kind of escape: a long trip to the Canary Islands in Spain.
Both her daughter Rosalind and her secretary Charlotte accompanied Agatha on the trip. Not only was it a timely refuge from the scrutiny, but it also gave Agatha plenty of time to write. Her disappearance ended up having an unintended consequence. While she hadn’t exactly been a household name before, she was one now, and her book sales eventually went up.
But there was, of course, an unpleasant matter to address back home.
When Agatha and Archie finally addressed the subject of divorce, they found themselves in a brutal stalemate. Agatha could reveal his affair to the world and bring all sorts of negative attention to Nancy Neele. But, if Archie chose, he could expose the truth about her disappearance—that it was staged, and not part of an amnesiac episode.
Archie agreed to give Agatha custody of Rosalind as long as they each kept quiet.
Agatha and Archie finally got their divorce in 1928. To add insult to injury, Archie married Nancy Neele just a week after the courts finalized it. When Rosalind went back to school, Agatha was alone again—but not for long. While planning her next trip abroad, Agatha made an impulsive decision to cancel what she’d already booked and take the Orient Express (it was a real train!) to Baghdad. It would wind up changing her life.
There, she met a British archaeologist named Max Mallowan. It wasn’t long before the two fell for each other. Agatha had finally found love again after two of the worst years of her life—but there was a scandalous side to her romance. Max was a full 13 years younger than her. Coming on the heels of her divorce, Agatha had many reservations, as did those closest to her.
Would Max pass the test?
One of the major problems in her relationship with Archie—aside from his affair, of course—is that she’d made a lot more money than him, but refused to let him have any. Agatha took stock of her past before accepting Max’s proposal of marriage. She came up with two conditions for him.
First, they’d split everything evenly, including the profits from her books. Second? He had to vow to never take up golf. Was it a happily ever after? Well, yes and no.
Agatha continued to produce novels at a prolific rate, and the memory of her disappearance faded into the past. She lived happily with Max until the outbreak of WWII, when he went to serve in North Africa. As she had during WWI, Agatha filled her time helping by volunteering at a hospital pharmacy. But as she spent each day banking what she’d learned about various poisons in order to use the info while crafting plots for her novels, someone was watching her.
During WWII, British intelligence agency MI-5 opened an investigation into beloved author Agatha Christie. Her 1941 book N or M featured a character named Major Bletchley. MI-5 feared it was a reference to the covert codebreaking center called Bletchley Park and that she had a man on the inside. Christie’s explanation for this coincidence was that she had been stuck at Bletchley Park while on the train to London, and she used the name for one of her "least lovable characters" as an act of petty revenge.
No doubt MI-5 was relieved to hear that.
Agatha came up with two of the most beloved characters in fiction: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Shockingly, Christie actually despised Hercule Poirot. She denounced him as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep". As a result, whenever she would put on theatrical adaptations of her own novels, she would completely remove him from the stories whenever possible.
Even after Max’s return from WWII, Agatha’s output never slowed down. She published an average of one novel a year, even as her health failed her. While readers often searched her work for revelations about her mysterious disappearance, it was her last novel that gave the most devastating glimpse into the dark truth about her final years.
Experts who studied her work believe that the changes in her writing style show she may have been experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Agatha Christie died of natural causes at her home in January of 1976. She was 85 years old. In her lifetime, she sold over 300 million books and, at the time of her death, was the "best-selling novelist in history". Agatha’s talent for crafting mysteries has cemented her place in history—and she kept the fun going, even after her passing.
Many years after Christie’s death, one of her former trunks was bought by a fan. Inside, there was a locked box that the fan actually refused to open, content to keep the mystery alive. Four years later, the box was eventually opened: It contained gold coins and diamond jewelry worth tens of thousands. Mysteries are great and all, but I think I'd take the treasure.
While she remained mostly tight-lipped, Agatha actually broke her silence on the subject of her disappearance in a long-forgotten interview with the Daily Mail in February 1928, some 14 months later. She claimed that she was dazed and had lost memory after hitting her head in the car, winding up at Harrogate believing she was a woman from South Africa named "Tessa" Neele.
The problem? There were so many holes in her story that it read like a pair of fishnet stockings.
For one, she’d used the name "Teresa Neele" to check in. And for another, memory loss and secondary personality don’t occur in tandem. If she truly was an amnesiac, she would’ve been wracking her brain trying to remember who she was—which doesn’t fit with all the accounts of her remarking on her similarities to the pictures of Agatha which appeared in the newspaper.
But did she ever come clean?
In her autobiography, Agatha made claims about how broke she was during and after the demise of her marriage—which for many women of the era, would’ve been a real issue. There’s just one problem. It wasn’t true. After her mother’s passing, Agatha came into a generous chunk of money, which is not to count the fact that her career was taking off. So why lie?
Well, no one crafts a story quite like Agatha Christie. She made herself appear beset by both marital troubles and financial pressure: the perfect set-up for a complete mental breakdown. While Christie never explicitly mentioned what happened in her autobiography, she certainly implies that those were factors.
In keeping with the nature of her books, the episode in her life remains a complete mystery to this day.
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Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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