The case that inspired Murder on the Orient Express

The Real Life Case That Inspired Murder On The Orient Express

Spoiler alert: This piece contains spoilers for Murder on the Orient Express

The legendary story, Murder on the Orient Express, was not only inspired by the famous train and Agatha Christie’s own experiences on board, but more surprisingly by a real life crime.

There are many contenders for the "trial of the twentieth century." One of them is the prosecution of Bruno Hauptmann for the Lindbergh kidnapping case. In 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the baby son of the famous aviator, was taken from his crib in the middle of the night at the Lindbergh's New Jersey home. A media whirlwind ensued, but after a couple of months of fruitless attempts to locate and rescue Charles Lindbergh Jr., the child's body was sadly discovered. The police made little headway in the case for a while, although some heavy suspicion fell on the household staff. Violet Sharp, a maid in the Lindbergh household, was repeatedly questioned by police on suspicion of complicity. Eventually, Sharp committed suicide. Later, the police concluded that she was not involved. After a couple of years and a media circus, the German born Bruno Hauptmann was linked to the crime; and was subsequently tried, convicted, and executed for kidnapping and murder. Hauptmann contended his innocence to the end and to this day many commentators believe him to be wrongfully convicted and executed, although others are convinced that justice was done.

Agatha Christie rewrote this case for Murder on the Orient Express when she crafted the subplot of the Armstrong kidnapping case. In Murder on the Orient Express, the little victim is a girl, Daisy Armstrong. After her body is found, her pregnant mother dies due to complications from pregnancy. The devastated father kills himself, and an innocent servant under suspicion commits suicide. Christie found it necessary to add the additional deaths to heighten the tragedy and for important plot purposes. In real life, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh survived (although the heartbreak naturally took an emotional toll on them) and had five more healthy children. In Murder on the Orient Express, there is no doubt about the guilt of the kidnapper, who escapes conventional justice by using bribery to receive a not guilty verdict.

Sign up to the newsletter to receive The World of Agatha Christie magazine