What do you do if you discover your husband has been cheating on you?
If you’re a famous mystery author, you might just frame him for murder.
In 1914, Agatha Christie married her first husband, a military officer named Archibald Christie. The two had, on the surface, an ideal marriage. They seemed to care for each other deeply, and Agatha’s writing career was taking off. They quickly earned enough money to buy a large estate, cars, and other trappings of wealth.
At some point, though, Archie began cheating on her. Researchers differ on whether he started before they were married or whether he cheated only once, with Nancy Neele. Everyone agrees, however, that his dalliance with Neele was the most extensive one. So extensive, in fact, that in December 1926 he planned to announce his intent to divorce Agatha – the source of most of his wealth – to marry Nancy Neele instead.
That plan was interrupted, however, when he was called back from his vacation because his wife had gone missing. She had left the house in the middle of the night and her car had been found the next morning. It had been abandoned at a cliff which overlooked a large pond, and some of her clothes – as well as her driver’s license – were still in the car. (History Extra)
Foul play was suspected, and it was easy for the police to determine the most likely culprit: the man who stood to inherit her fortune and had been intending to marry someone else. With her alive, he would have won some of their joint property in the divorce; with her dead, he stood to gain all of it.
Further investigation demonstrated that Archie had gotten a telephone call on the night of her disappearance and had raced off into the night in his own car. It also established that he would have been able to intercept her… shortly before the cliff where her car was abandoned.
Agatha had written three letters before leaving the house. One was to her brother-in-law, in which she claimed she was going away to a spa for a few days. Another was to her secretary, and a third to her husband. The police examined the available letters and deemed the contents – particularly the contents of the letter to her husband – to be extremely suspicious.
A search of the Yorkshire spas found no Christies, nor Millers (her maiden name). Her husband came under deeper suspicion as a nationwide search began for Agatha Christie.
Eleven days after she had disappeared, she was found at a spa… under the name of Neele, her husband’s mistress. She claimed to have been suffering from a fugue-style amnesia, which was the reason she hadn’t recognized her name being discussed as a missing person by other guests. (Poirot.com)
Her fans have suggested the fugue state was real, resulting in conveniently selective amnesia. (Vintage News) Some have said she was suicidal because of the recent death of her mother and her discovery that her husband was about to leave her for the other woman. But public opinion was that she had attempted to have the state kill her husband while she maintained complete deniability. That opinion was bolstered as the evidence was revealed, demonstrating a strong circumstantial case for her murder.
It was further strenghtened by author Jared Cade, who interviewed members of Agatha’s family. The relatives provided details of help Agatha had received during her attempts to punish Archie, and those details were presented in his book Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days.
A movie, Agatha, was made in 1979 and dealt with a fictionalized version of the incident. It starred Dustin Hoffman, Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Dalton.
They eventually divorced two years later. Colonel Christie married Neele, then. But there are no indications he continued to cheat during the remainder of their marriage. Sometimes one warning is enough.