By Brad Dison
At around 10 o’clock on a cold Friday night, December 3, 1926, 36-year-old Mary Miller drove away from her home in Sunningdale, England, following an argument with her husband, Archie. All day Saturday, family and friends tried to locate Mary but were unsuccessful. On Sunday, a young boy found a car hanging vicariously over the edge of a cliff above a deep chalk pit near Guilford. Police arrived and searched the car. Inside they found women’s clothing, a fur coat, a leather case with some papers inside, and Mary’s driver’s license. Police searched the chalk pit, nearby houses, woods, and ponds nearby, but found no trace of Mary.
Investigators returned to Mary’s home and spoke with her husband. Archie said that Mary had suffered from “nervous prostration.” “She was a very nervous case.” He told detectives that he left before Mary, and that it was unlike Mary to go for a drive at that time of night alone. “The only explanation I can give,” Archie said, “is that she is suffering from loss of memory. My wife had a serious nervous breakdown last spring and had recuperated in France.” Archie explained that Mary’s “nervous breakdown,” was due to the death of her mother.
Many people resigned to the fact that Mary had committed suicide. Only days before, Mary had remarked to a family member that “unless I can get away from Sunningdale, it will be the end.” Before leaving home on Friday night, Mary wrote a letter to her husband which police said “amounts to a tragic farewell message, indicating that the end has been reached and she was resolved to sacrifice everything and commit some drastic act.” Mary left her husband’s letter unsealed along with a sealed letter which was only to be opened in the event that her body was found.
Family and friends told investigators that Archie’s and Mary’s home life appeared to be happy. Together, they had on child, a young daughter named Rosalind. However, the couple’s marriage was far from happy. Four months earlier, Archie told Mary that he wanted a divorce because he had fallen in love with another woman, Nancy Neele. On the day of Mary’s disappearance, Archie told Mary that he planned to spend the weekend with his mistress.
By the third day of the search, the number of people searching for Mary grew from just a few policemen to include hundreds of volunteers. Some of the searchers used bloodhounds but none of the dogs picked up the slightest scent. Policemen and volunteers widened the search. Pilots in two “aeroplanes” joined the search and flew low over the area. Searchers dragged every pond and searched all of the woods for miles around. Unable to search through thickets, one farmer used his tractor to cut paths into dense woodlands. A potential witness came forward and told investigators that she had heard screams near her home a short distance away from the search area. Volunteers and policemen searched that area and dragged the nearby stream. All of their searches proved fruitless.
Several searchers focused their efforts on a pond near where the young boy found Mary’s car, a pond locally referred to as “Silent Pool.” Near the abandoned car, searchers found a tin can with a note inside which read; “Ask Candle Lanche. She knows more about the Silent Pool…” Investigators were unable to determine who Candle Lanche was or even if the note was directly related to Mary’s disappearance. Local legends persisted that the pond was bottomless. For several days and nights searchers dropped grappling hooks from long ropes into the murky waters of “Silent Pool,” but found nothing. By this point, searchers held out little hope that Mary was still alive and expected to recover her body at any point.
Scotland Yard detectives received “only the vaguest clews” about Mary’s actions after leaving her house following the argument with Archie. A gravel pit worker told police that at about 6:20 on the morning after Mary drove away from her home, he helped Mary start her car near where the young boy found it abandoned. The farmer said Mary’s “head was bare and her hair was covered with frost. Her teeth chattered with the cold and her manner was distressed.” Once the car started, Mary drove away. The young boy found Mary’s car two hours later. Two men saw Mary’s photograph in area newspapers and told police that they saw a woman resembling Mary around noon three days after she went missing. The woman had “a vacant look in her eyes,” and was walking rapidly toward London. Police found no other potential witnesses.
Just when almost everyone had accepted that they would never find Mary alive there was a glimmer of hope. Archie’s brother, a resident of London, received a letter from Mary which was dated after her disappearance. In the letter, Mary wrote that she had been ill and was going to a spa in Yorkshire for treatment. Based on this letter, police suspended the search for Mary’s body. However, they still needed to find Mary to ensure that she was alive and well.
On December 14, 1926, a maidservant at a health spa in Harrogate, some 230 miles north of where Mary’s abandoned car was found, contacted police. She reported that photographs of Mary in the newspapers looked similar to a guest in the spa who registered as Mrs. Teresa Neele, of Capetown, South Africa. Neele, detectives noted, was the surname of Archie’s mistress. The guest arrived on the evening of December 4, the day Mary’s abandoned car was discovered. The guest was popular at the hotel. She sang, danced, played billiards, and went into town every day. The guest seemed perfectly normal. The only reason the maidservant contacted police was that the guest so closely resembled photographs of the missing woman.
Archie drove to the health spa to determine whether or not the guest was Mary. Archie recognized Mary immediately, but Mary did not recognize Archie as her husband. At first, Mary thought Archie was just an acquaintance “whose identity she did not quite fix.” After they spoke for a while, she recognized a closeness with Archie but thought he was her brother. Archie explained that he was her husband and that they had a daughter. Mary had no memory of either. After their discussion, Archie told reporters, “There is no question of her identity; she is my wife. She is suffering from complete loss of memory. She does not know who she is. We are hoping to take her to London to-morrow to see doctors and specialists, and we are hoping that with rest and quiet she will be fully restored.”
Within a few months, Mary’s memory recovered, mostly. Although she lived another fifty years, she was never able to explain her disappearance. She always claimed to have no memory of the event. She and Archie divorced. A week after their divorce was finalized, Archie married Nancy Neele. Mary continued her career as a writer and, four years after her disappearance, married an archaeologist.
In her career, which spanned several decades, Mary wrote sixty-six detective novels, many of which revolved around fictional detectives Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She also authored fourteen short story collections, six romance novels, several plays, one of which is the world’s longest-running play entitled “The Mousetrap.” Mary is the best-selling novelist of all time with sales of over two billion books in many languages. Mary’s full name was Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller. Her first husband’s name was Archie Christie. You know her as Agatha Christie.
The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), December 6, 1926, p.2.
The Shreveport Times, December 7, 1926, p.1.
The Boston Globe, December 8, 1926, p.10.
The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), December 8, 1926, p.9.
The Plain Speaker (Hazelton, Pennsylvania), December 8, 1926, p.4.
The New York Daily News, December 8, 1926, p.148.
The Shreveport Times, December 8, 1926, p.14.
Arizona Republic, December 9, 1926, p.10.
The Miami Herald, December 10, 1926, p.1.
The Windsor Star, December 9, 1926, p.7.
The Charlotte Observer, December 12, 1926, p.36.
Fort Worth Record-Telegram, December 13, 1926, p.2.
York Daily Record, December 13, 1926, p.7.
The London Guardian, December 15, 1926, p.11.
“The Home of Agatha Christie.” Accessed April 19, 2020. https://www.agathachristie.com/.