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The Mysterious Murder of Lady Frances Garnett-Orme

In 1911, a British spiritualist was found dead at the Savoy hotel in  Mussoorie India and her mysterious murder inspired Agatha Christie to write her debut novel, 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles'.

In 1911, a British spiritualist was found dead at the Savoy hotel in Mussoorie India and her mysterious murder inspired Agatha Christie to write her debut novel, 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles'.

The Murder That Inspired Agatha Christie

It was said that the British empire at its colonial peak was so large that the ‘sun never used to set within the empire’.

And besides the regular travel of people, goods, and skills along the length and breadth of the empire, even ideas and inspirations used to travel between the diverse parts of the empire.

It was one such unsolved mysterious murder that took place at the quaint, hotel Savoy, in India, that inspired the ‘queen of crime’ Agatha Christie to create her timeless, legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in her debut novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles'.

As the story goes, the talks about the case reached Rudyard Kipling the famous author residing in India. Kipling passed it to his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle asking him to get the famous detective Sherlock Holmes residing at the iconic 221B Baker Street to solve the case. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave this story to Agatha Christie rather than writing himself and the result was The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Incidentally, almost everything in Christie’s book right from the architecture of the Savoy hotel that she used in her ‘Styles court’ and her character lady Emily Inglethorp who died of strychnine poisoning was inspired by the spooky murder of the British Spiritualist Lady Garnet who was found dead in a locked room within the hotel.

In Christie’s novel, Hercule Poirot solved the case with his ‘little grey cells’, however in the real world, the case has remained unsolved for more than a hundred years since then.

The unsolved murder of iLady Frances Garnett-Orme nspired the ‘queen of crime’ Agatha Christie to create her timeless, legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in her debut novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

The unsolved murder of iLady Frances Garnett-Orme nspired the ‘queen of crime’ Agatha Christie to create her timeless, legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in her debut novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Savoy Hotel, the Scene of the Crime

The Savoy Hotel was built by Cecil D Lincoln, an Irish barrister from Lucknow, India. It was said that a school building was existing on the site that was brought down and the hotel was constructed on top of it. His hotel, named ‘The Hotel Savoy’ opened in 1902.

Within a few months, it became the talk of the town due to its flamboyant architecture, extraordinary opulence, and the rich Edwardian furnishings that adorned its massive lobby and rooms. As author Ruskin Bond writes.

“Everything heavy, including the building materials, came uphill by bullock carts. Massive Victorian or Edwardian furniture, grand pianos, billiards tables, barrels of cider, and crates of champagne — all the appurtenances of a hotel that was to become well known as the Raffles in Singapore or the Imperial in Tokyo came up in these lumbering Mr. Buckle’s Bullock Cart Train.”

The Savoy became the crown jewel of Mussoorie and the hip and happening place for rich Britishers across the empire who wanted to escape the sweltering heat of the Indian plains.

It became the meeting place, a joie de vivre of the high echelons of society, and also acquired a reputation as a hotbed of illicit romances, unfaithful spouses escaping their oppressive marriages, and nightlong furtive liaisons that would be normally frowned at in other places.

The Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India became the crown jewel of Mussoorie and the hip and happening place for rich Britishers across the empire who wanted to escape the sweltering heat of the Indian plains

The Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India became the crown jewel of Mussoorie and the hip and happening place for rich Britishers across the empire who wanted to escape the sweltering heat of the Indian plains

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Miss Frances Garnett-Orme Was Murdered

It was at this point Miss Frances Garnett-Orme, a 49-year-old spiritualist visited the Savoy along with her companion Miss Eva Mountstephen. Both the ladies dealt with the paranormal and spent the majority of their time in their rooms indulging in practices like crystal-gazing, spectral table-rapping, and séances.

A day later Eva Mountstephen left for Lucknow for a day due to some ‘urgent’ work. On that very night, Garnett-Orme was found dead in her room with her body stiff with rigor mortis. The doors and windows were locked from inside and there was no evidence of somebody else being in her room. Evidence of prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) was revealed in the autopsy.

Suspicion immediately fell on her partner Eva Mountstephen who was accused of tampering with Garnett-Orme’s bottle of sodium bicarbonate-based medicine that she was in the habit of taking regularly to relieve her of stomach gases.

Mountstephen was acquitted later due to the want of evidence and a few months later, the doctor who performed her autopsy was also found dead due to strychnine poisoning. Both the murders remained a mystery and caused such a stir that people even stopped visiting the hotel for the next few months.

The Allahabad High Court declared the case as homicide done by person(s) unknown and closed the proceedings.

Almost everything in Christie’s book right from the architecture of the Savoy hotel that she used in her ‘Styles court’ and her character lady Emily Inglethorp who died of strychnine poisoning was inspired by the spooky murder

Almost everything in Christie’s book right from the architecture of the Savoy hotel that she used in her ‘Styles court’ and her character lady Emily Inglethorp who died of strychnine poisoning was inspired by the spooky murder

The Ghost Stories Haven’t Died Yet

It has been more than 100 years since that murder and the Savoy hotel today might not be as magnificent as it was during its heydays but the ghost stories haven’t stopped.

It is still believed that the lobby and the corridors of the hotel are haunted by the ghost of Miss Garnett-Orme. Even reputed guests at the hotel have seemed to have heard flushes going off, and doors opening mysteriously. It is as if the lady is still roaming about the hotel, trying to find her killer.

People who claimed to have seen her describe her as a ‘serene, calm’ woman dressed in white looking lost while wandering the corridors, staircase, and the roof of the hotel.

The times have changed and the case had been closed long ago in the police annals and it is unlikely that we would ever know who really killed Lady Frances Garnett-Orme that night.

Sources


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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