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How did Charles Lindbergh's tragedy inspire Agatha Christie to write Murder on the Orient Express?

It was this terrible tragedy, which took place in the United States in 1932, that gave Agatha Christie the idea for her novel, The Murder of the Orient Express, which has been adapted for the screen several times... In addition, she combined her experience (in 1928) of the luxury train, the Simplon-Orient-Express which travelled to Constantinople in less than three days and which she had taken to Iraq: the evocation of Sumerian cities aroused the curiosity of this archeological enthusiast.

Charles Lindbergh's tragedy inspired Agatha Christie

Charles Augustus Lindbergh and his baby
Charles Lindbergh's tragedy inspire Agatha Christie

1928 was the year of her divorce from Archie Christie. But a chance meeting with a couple returning from Iraq (archaeological digs had just been launched there) made her reconsider her decision and it was to Baghdad that she set off, as an amateur archaeologist!

To get there, she realised a dream and decided to take the Simplon-Orient-Express, whose blue and gold carriages she had often admired in Calais station and which reached Constantinople in less than three days.

The snowstorm that brought the Orient-Express to a standstill was not invented: there had indeed been such a meteorological event in February 1929, when temperatures had dropped to -20 degrees Celsius and staff and passengers had had to survive for six days, starving and distressed. It is said that a passenger killed a wolf that was too reckless and ended up in the train chef's saucepans.

In 1930, on another trip on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie was stranded on the train for two days because of flooding on the tracks.

This story appealed to the Queen of Crime, who was able to imagine many scenes for her novel, linked to the themes of imprisonment, confinement and forced contact between complete strangers.

The Charles Lindbergh drama inspired Agatha Christie! It was one of the biggest news stories of its time. Charles-Augustus Lindbergh, (pictured above), the first man to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean, had retired with his wife Anne to the New Jersey countryside at East Amwell, away from the hustle and bustle and the glare of the public eye. On 1 March 1932, their nineteen-month-old baby was abducted at dusk and the kidnappers demanded a ransom of 50,000 dollars (later increased to 70,000) for the child to be returned to the parents.

The kidnapping sent shockwaves across America and became everyone's business, not least that of the Bureau d’Investigation, forerunner of the FBI. The Lindberghs, of course, agreed to pay the ransom, but on 12 May 1932, the child's body was found on the side of a road, a few kilometres from the parents' home. The autopsy showed that the baby had been murdered as soon as he was kidnapped.

In April, the Lindberghs' housekeeper, suspected of complicity, committed suicide. She swallowed cyanide.

The investigation went in circles and no suspects were arrested. However, on 19 September 1934, a German carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was arrested for the murder of the Lindbergh baby and in 1936, on 3 April, he was sentenced to death (electric chair) even though he had always maintained his innocence, despite the fact that when he was arrested, the police recovered part of the ransom.

Agatha Christie's novel was published before the criminal's arrest, on 1 January 1934, giving her the opportunity to put forward her own vision of the facts: she changed the baby's sex and the little boy became Daisy Armstrong. We won't say any more...

Cover of the film Murder on the Orient Express
Charles Lindbergh's tragedy inspire Agatha Christie

A huge news item and a trip on the Orient Express were to form the starting point for one of the most famous detective novels of our time. In 1974, Agatha Christie attended the premiere of her novel, adapted for the cinema by Sydney Lumet and starring Albert Finney as her favourite Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Late Queen Elizabeth II, a keen reader of detective novels, attended the premiere and paid her respects.


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