Murder On The Orient Express: A fiction detective novel inspired by a true crime story

The untold true story behind the fiction novel

By STYLEGUIDE

April 27 2018

The newest movie remake of “ Murder on the Orient Express”, will hit Singapore's movie screens on 30th November after its first remake in 1974. Based on a novel written by acclaimed crime novelist, Agatha Christie, the premise starts with a story of thirteen strangers stranded on the Orient Express, each one a suspect for a murder connected to the Armstrong kidnapping case. Amongst the passengers is detective Hercule Poirot, who must race against time to solve the case before the murderer strikes again.

Original book cover released in 1934

The book received great reception at the time of its release in 1934:

The Time Litererary Supplement (11 Jan 1934)

“Mrs Christie makes an improbable tale very real and keeps her readers enthralled and guessing to the end.”

 The New York Times Book Review, Isaac Anderson (4 March 1934)

“The Great Belgian detective’s guesses are more than shrewd; they are positively miraculous. Although both the murder plot and the solution verge upon the impossible, Agatha Christie has contrived to make them appear quite convincing for the time being, and what more than that can a mystery addict desire?”

Unknown to many, what inspired the novel was actually a mix of true events that occurred in the 1930s.

Inspiration of the book and characters

Events

There are two particular events that influenced the character and story development of the novel. A blizzard storm which left the Orient Express (a train service that ceased its operations in year 2009) stranded for six days in Turkey and a similar incident which happened to Christie herself where she was stuck on a train for 24 hours due to bad weather. She drew on her own dismal passage on the Orient Express, detailing the delay of the train, cabin settings and descriptions of some passengers on the train, particularly an American Lady, Mrs Hilton, who was the main inspiration behind the character Mrs Hubbard.

The Armstrong kidnapping case was based on a true crime in 1932

In the book

What sparked the murder on the Orient Express was the murder case of Daisy Armstrong, a young girl who was kidnapped and killed after the ransom was paid. The aftermath of the tragic event caused the Armstrong family to fall apart. Daisy's mother was so shocked at the turn of events that she died in premature childbirth, leaving Daisy's father, Colonel Armstrong, so heartbroken he shot himself. The family maid, accused of the crime, comitted suicide by jumping out from the window, leaving the murderer on the loose.

Lindbergh Murder Case, inspiration of the Armstrong murder case

On March 1, 1932, the son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr was abducted from his home. Apparently, the kidnapper used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window of his home and left a trail of mud prints in the room. There were no blood stains or fingerprints in or about the nursery, only an ill-spelt ransom note that demanded a ransom of $50,000 from the Lindbergh family.

A retired school teacher, Dr John F. Condon was then accepted as a go-between intermediary with the kidnapper. After multiple negotiations, the ransom was settled and paid in full on April 2, 1932, with the kidnapper revealing that Charles could be found on a boat named "Nellie" near Matha's Vineyard (New England). However the boat was devoid of life with no signs of the missing child. This sparked off a series of unsuccessful search parties in hopes of finding Charles.

The body of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr was eventually found, partially buried and badly decomposed on May 12, 1932. Coroner’s examination would later reveal that the child had been dead for close to 2 months. Suspicions of the kidnapper soon turned to Violet Sharp, a servant who worked at the Lindburgh’s home. The possibility of losing her job and the heavy-handed questioning tactics used soon drove Sharp to commit suicide.

It took another two years for officials to track down the kidnapper. The suspect was Richard Hauptmann, who swore his innocence to the Lindbergh murder case until the very end. With multiple evidence pointing towards him, Hauptmann was eventually convicted of first degree murder and given the death sentence by electrocution in April 3, 1926. Anna Hauptmann, wife of Richard Hauptmann, fought to clear her husband’s name until her death in 1994.

Interesting Facts 

- Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr was born on the same day as his mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

- Charles Lindbergh, father of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr rose to fame when he became the first pilot to make a non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, winning him the Orteig Prize.

- The 1974 movie adaptation was the 11th highest grossing film of the year and received 6 nominations at the Academy Awards.

- The 2017 "Murder on the Orient Express" is one of the few films in recent decades to use 65mm film camera, which gives a higher resolution than standard 35mm motion picture film format.

Why you should catch the movie

It is tough for a film to surpass the works of Christie's whodunnits, which comprised of ingenious plots inspired by real events that happened in the 1930s. However, Kenneth Branagh's classic directing skills and clever use of cinematic effects, together with its star-studded cast donned in an impeccable wardrobe design breathes new life to the classic novel, thus making it an absolute 'must-see' movie of the year.

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