On the morning of December 3, 1926, Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie, got into a heated argument. She drove off in a green Morris Cowley, which was found in a ditch in Guildford, England the next day. Gone without a trace, Christie was found 11 days later, 240 miles away in a hotel in Yorkshire. She could not recall what occurred during the time she was gone.
Christie experts note that Archie Christie had been having an affair with a woman named Nancy Neele, which deeply upset his wife. Agatha used the name “Neele” to sign into the hotel where she was found.
Agatha and Archie Christie / via The Independent
Scientific American has put the spotlight once again on this mystery, focusing on the manner of Christie’s alleged memory loss. “Alleged” because some Christie experts have asserted that her proposed amnesia was more likely a ruse to punish her husband for cheating. Gwen Robyns suggests this in “The Mystery of Agatha Christie,” as did Christie’s colleague Edgar Wallace, who called the fiasco a regular old “betrayed wife’s revenge.”
The hotel in Harrogate, where Christie was found. / via The Independent
But the folks at Scientific American cast doubt on the notion that Christie’s memory loss was a fake. Many different varieties of memory loss can occur, and faking any of these would be pretty tough. According to neuroscientists Stefania De Vito and Sergio Della Sala:
But feigning the kind of amnesia from which Agatha Christie apparently suffered is much more difficult than it might appear. Most people have no idea what symptoms they should or should not display. A simple test of episodic, semantic and procedural memory would quickly diagnose fakery.
The particular variety of memory loss Christie suffered from might have been dissociative amnesia, according to a 2003 article published by psychologists Mireia Pujol and Michael Kopelman in Practical Neurology. While cases of dissociative amnesia typically only last for a few hours, it often occurs following a traumatic event (such as a heated argument with a cheating spouse).
Although many believe Christie’s amnesia was a fake, it seems unlikely she would have believably (and consistently) kept up the act. She passed away in 1976, 50 years after the incident, and never clarified the events of those 11 days.
This new analysis seems to suggest Christie did indeed suffer from actual memory loss. She was a spinner of mysteries, but, as usual, truth is stranger than fiction. While this mystery may remain unsolved, it won’t soon be forgotten.
Feature image courtesy of The Independent.