Agatha Christie 11 (62% – 69%)


In the next part of the book the author describes Agatha Christie’s reluctance to grant interviews or to appear in television. The only exception is her photographs on her sixtieth birthday, which were taken by Angus McBean. Angus McBean (8 June 1904 – 9 June 1990) was a Welsh photographer, set designer and cult figure associated with surrealism. In his later years he became more selective of the work he undertook, and continued to explore surrealism whilst taking portrait photographs of individuals such as Agatha Christie, Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward. Both periods of his work (pre and post war) are now eagerly sought by collectors and his work sits in many major collections around the world.

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In 1949 the Atticus column in the Sunday Times revealed that Mary Westmacott was Agatha Christie. The gossip column ‘Atticus’ was started by T. P. O’Connor. Mary Westmacott was the nom de plume used by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie adopted the pen name Mary Westmacott to publish six romance novels, even though these novels are not in the actual sense of the word or even like the literary era called “romanticism”. Critics have even gone as far as saying these six novels aren’t romance, they’re simply just novels. They’re romantic because these stories aren’t unhappy, they give us some added values to life, and they affirm living. Although Mary Westmacott was revealed to be Agatha Christie in 1949, it didn’t stop her from publishing two more Westmacott novels, still under her pseudonym.

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The following segment of the book is about English murder and how Agatha Christie’s take in crime was. Some prominent murderers are mentioned and their stories sketched: Hawley Harvwey Crippen, the Thompson-Bywater murder, George Joseph Smith, Herbert Armstrong, the Croydon murders and the Bravo case.

Hawley Harvey Crippen (September 11, 1862 – November 23, 1910)  was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London for the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen. His wife was a harridan, and the man fell in love with another woman, but his wife refused to divorce. Crippen killed her and buried her in their basement, and told people she had returned to the United States.

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Edith Jessie Thompson (25 December 1893 – 9 January 1923) and Frederick Edward Francis Bywaters (27 June 1902 – 9 January 1923) were a British couple executed for the murder of Thompson’s husband Percy. In 1920 the couple became acquainted with 18-year-old Frederick Bywaters. Edith and Bywaters began an affair, which Percy discovered. He confronted the pair. A quarrel broke out and, when Bywaters demanded that Percy divorce Edith, Percy ordered him from the house. On 3 October 1922 the Thompsons attended a performance at the Criterion Theatre. As they walked along Belgrave Road, a man jumped out from behind some bushes near their home, and attacked Percy. After a violent struggle, during which Edith Thompson was knocked to the ground, Percy was stabbed. Mortally wounded, he died before Edith could summon help. The attacker fled. At the police station she appeared distressed; she confided to police that she knew who the killer was, and named Frederick Bywaters. Believing herself to be a witness, rather than an accomplice, Thompson provided them with details of her association with Bywaters. As police investigated further they arrested Bywaters, and upon their discovery of a series of more than sixty love letters from Edith Thompson to Bywaters, arrested her too. The letters were the only tangible evidence linking Thompson to the murder, and allowed for the consideration of common purpose, namely that if two people wish to achieve the death of a third, and one of these people acts on the expressed intentions of both, both are equally guilty by law. They were each charged with murder. On 11 December the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and both Thompson and Bywaters were sentenced to death by hanging. Thompson became hysterical and started screaming in the court, while Bywaters loudly protested Thompson’s innocence.

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George Joseph Smith (11 January 1872 – 13 August 1915) was an English serial killer and bigamist. In 1915, he was convicted and subsequently hanged for the slayings of three women, the case becoming known as the “Brides in the Bath Murders”.

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Herbert Rowse Armstrong TDMA. (13 May 1869 – 31 May 1922) was an English solicitor and convicted murderer, the only solicitor in the history of the United Kingdom to have been hanged for murder. Scotland Yard  eventually arrested him on 31 December 1921, and he was charged with the attempted murder of Oswald Martin. The Major maintained he was innocent. When he was arrested, the police found a packet of arsenic in his pocket and many more in his house. Mrs Armstrong’s body was exhumed and examined by the eminent Home Office pathologist Dr Bernard Spilsbury. Her body was riddled with arsenic ten months after death, and on 19 January 1922 Major was charged with the wilful murder of his wife.

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Between 1928-29 three members of a close, suburban family died in agony from arsenic poisoning. Police found no real motive for the crime and no solid evidence to bring the killer to justice. This crime was never resolved, and Agatha Christie was always fascinated by the case.

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Charles Bravo
 (1845 – 21 April 1876) was a British lawyer who was fatally poisoned with antimony in 1876. The case is still sensational, notorious and unresolved. The case is also known as The Charles Bravo Murder and the Murder at the Priory.  The poisoning of Charles Bravo occurred four months into the marriage. Bravo’s death was drawn out, lasting from two to three days, and painful.  One hypothesis is that Charles Bravo was slowly poisoning his wife with small cumulative doses of antimony in the form of tartar emetic, which explains the chronic illness that she suffered from since shortly after their marriage. While treating himself with laudanum for toothache before going to bed he mistakenly swallowed some; then took the tartar emetic, mistakenly believing it was a true emetic that would induce vomiting. Their housekeeper Mrs. Cox reportedly told police that when they were alone together, Charles had admitted using the tartar emetic on himself; but he later changed his statement, perhaps to deflect suspicion from himself to Florence. Other investigators have offered different suggestions as to what happened to cause the poisoning, including suicide, murder by the housekeeper Mrs. Cox (whom Bravo had threatened to sack), murder by Florence, and murder by a disaffected groomsman whom Bravo had discharged from employment at The Priory. According to the book, Agatha Christie thought that the killer was his doctor. Later Agatha based her novel “Ordeal by Innocence” on the premise of how the innocent suffer when the criminal gets away with murder.

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