A MURDER AT SAVOY
It only took 5 seconds to take place but even after a century the murder still puzzles many. Agatha Christie’s first novel, Mysterious Affair at Styles, was inspired by this puzzling murder at the Savoy, a luxury resort in the cradles of the mountains. The death of an English lady under some bizarre circumstances gave the birth to one of the most loved characters, Hercule Poirot. Though, the police had not carried any drastic actions to identify the culprit behind the death of Miss Frances Garnett-Orme, the murder still now makes an engrossing tete-a-tete among people. At that time, literary minds came together and upheld serious, fascinating discussions about the murder but the mystery still remains. This idiosyncratic murder has appeared in many novels as central-ideas, as well. A combination of occult and crime- this is what makes the murder a unique one.
When the news of the murder got to the ears of Rudyard Kipling, he was so fascinated that he was compelled to write a letter to Arthur Canon Doyle, the maestro of detective fiction. Kipling wrote:
There has been a murder in India. A murder by suggestion at Musoorie, which is one of the most curious things in its line on record.
Everything that I improbable and on the face of it impossible is in this case.
Doyle, from his early days, was a lifelong lover of detective fiction. When the letter reached him in 1912, he was eager to learn more about the case as India was the foundation for many of his stories. Kipling, when he was gearing up for his writing career, also worked on several crime and mystery novels like the Strickland of the Indian Police. Both being severely interested came together and discussed the case.
Savoy, Musoorie. Mussoorie was on the way to development- there was a number of hotels, private schools, and hospitals. Though not as luxurious as the other hills in India, Mussoorie had become a well known place with some of the renowned schools and hotels one of them being the Savoy.
In the summer of 1911, came Miss Frances Garnett-Orme up to Mussoorie to stay at the Savoy. Born to an important family, her father was Geoge Garnett-Orme, a district registrar of the Country Court. As her father died in 1892, she decided to settle in India. In 1893, she sailed to India with the desire to tie the knot with Jack Grant who worked in the United Provinces Police. Unfortunately, Jack Grant was dead soon in 1894 before their marriage. Upset by his demise, she returned back to England and put down her life to spirituality and paranormal practices such as crystal gazing and séances.
From one country to the other, she kept moving. Once again, in 1901, she came back to India and started living her unsettled life in Lucknow. After spending a few years in Lucknow, she shifted to Nainital, a popular hill stations in the Kumaon foothills. Here she met Miss Eva Mountstephen, who was the governess at that time.
Frances’ came to know about Eva’s interest in crystal gazing and spirituality. Many say that there was something sinister about her. Eva had a connection with the spirit world and wanted to meet her friend, Mrs Winter who had died long back.
Seeing that both of them had similar interests, Frances’ decided to take Eva along with her to Lucknow. Though the two friends settled in the then-regional capital of United Provinces, they spent their 1911 summer travelling to the hill stations. Eventually, they came up to Mussoorie and booked a suite at the Savoy without knowing what was waiting for them.
Towards the end of the summer 1911, Mountstephen had taken off to Lucknow to arrange the household, for they should move to Jhansi to spend the winter. Not long after this, on September 15th In the morning, Miss Frances’ was found dead on her bed. The door was locked from inside, and an autopsy revealed that she was poisoned with prussic acid. Prussic acid is a quick acting cynide based poison. For days and months after, the hill station was rattling on the case. From various discussions by the locals, it is known that Mrs Garnett-Orme always was treating on sodium bicarbonate. Some say that the bottle which was refilled with sodium bicarbonate everyday was interfered by ‘someone’ with the colourless poison mixed up with some white powder.
Police wanted to assert that some sinister play was at work in the murder. According to them, some ‘sinister influence’ by Miss Mountstepen had forced Miss Garnett Orme to add the poison to her won bottle of medicine (sodium bicarbonate) at a certain time which allowed the murderer to not be there while the murder was happening. The case was taken to the Allahabad Court in March 1911 before Justice Tudball and Justice Rafiq on the charge of tampering the bottle with the poison, resulting her killing. However, such a theory of doing murder while not being at the spot was something very new to the court. The Chief Justice, after hearing the various alibis and about the paranormal activities the two friends practiced, decided that the mystery behind the murder would never be known.
Some months after, Miss Garnett-Orme’s doctor was also found dead of strychnine poisoning. Was there any link between Miss Garmett Orme’s death and her doctor’s? Was it a murder or a suicide? Was there anything sinister task involved? Was Miss Mountstephen the murderer? Perhaps we shall never know.
Participant Name- Rehan Sheikh