The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie is a fiction story about a serial killer on the loose, who murders his victims, and in locations in an alphabetical order, thus the A.B.C title. He first murders Mrs. Ascherin in Andover who is an old woman, followed by a young girl Betty Bernard in Bexhill, the third murder being Carmichael in Churston and the fourth murder being George Earlsfield instead of Downes in Doncaster (Christie, 1936). The murderer sends taunting letters to the famous detective Hercule Poirot to issue notifications about the dates and locations of the murders, but with planning and execution of the killings, the murderer is always ahead, leaving behind a similar hint of ABC Railway guide..
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With the trail of hints left after every madder and warning letters indicating the murder targets and locations, detective Poirot adopts unconventional methods to understand the motive of the killings and to track down ABC. In apparently slack story, Alexander Bonaparte Cust who a travelling salesman is suspected to be the serial killer after initial investigations indicate that he travelled to all of the murder venues on the day the crimes transpired (Christie, 1971). For all the murders, there are significant similarities and dissimilarities that this paper seeks to analyse
Similarities in the ABC Murders
The first murder by A.B.C is Alice Ascher, who is a small tobacco shop owner. Investigations by the surgeon reveal that the mode of killing was that the woman was bludgeoned or hit down by a heavy blow on the back of the head in her own shop, perhaps while she was reaching down for a packet of cigarettes from the shelf behind the counter. This means that the woman must have turned her back to the murderer before she was struck to death. The weapon used in the murder is however not found at the site. Prior to the murder, detective Poirot received a mysterious warning letter from an unknown person only identified as ABC, claiming that he will commit murder in Andover on 21st of the month (Christie, 1936). Poirot became distressed and informed inspector Japp about the date the murder was planned to occur, but the duo failed to stop the murder.
At arrival, detective Poirot found the door of the shop unfastened, and spots the huddled-up body of the Ascher nest to the counter. No indication of theft or robbery is noticed, but luckily the police and Poirot finds an ABC ABC railway guide that was left as a hint by the murderer, showing the Andover location. As investigation continues, it is found out that Archer was not in good terms with her husband Franz who is a drunkard, and who had threatened to kill her in more than one occasion. This revelation makes him the lone suspect in Alice’s murder, though detective Poirot later exonerates him with reasoning that he never had the required brains to commit her murder as a serial killing. On the other hand, the investigation given from Hastings’s diary gives a description of Alexander Bonaparte Cust who works as a travelling salesman selling stockings (Christie, 1983).
The first murder shares a lot of similarities with the second murder involving Betty Barnard in Bexhill one month later. The serial killer also wrote the notification letter to detective Poirot about the date and location he intended to commit the murder. Both the first and the second victim are females, probably sending the message that the serial killer finds it easy to murder females. A major similarity in the first two murders is also about the hint left behind by the serial killer. He leaves an A.B.C railway guide under the body of Betty as he did in Ascher’s murder (Christie, 1983).This convinces both detectives Poirot that the serial killer must be the same person. Both murders take place closer to the victim’s place of work. Alice was murdered inside her tobacco shop while Betty at a beach next to Ginger Cat, the small tea-room where she worked as a waitress. Equally, the only suspects in the first two murders are the victim’s considered close allies. Franz Alice’s husband and Donald who was Betty’s boyfried are considered the suspects because of their personal attributes.
The third murder that involves Carmichael Clarke also shares a number of similarities with the first two murders. ABC also sends a letter to detective poirot indicating that he intends to commit another murder at Churston after failing to stop the first two. This was a similar game to taunt the famous detective. Similarly, ABC leaves his usual hint; the ABC railway guide on the dead body (Christie, 1936). The mode of killing in the third murder resembles the first, where the victims are found to have been hit at the back of their head by a heavy material. It is also noted that Betty’s and Clarke’s murder take place at night. The only suspect in the third murder is Franklin who is the only brother to Clarke. According to analysis, he later turns out to be the serial killer who wanted to inherit Clarke’s wealth, but kills others in a cover up mission by making it appear as serial killings involving people not connected to his mission. This is also the motive in the fourth killing at Doncaster to create more confusion (Christie, 1971).
The fourth murder is at Doncaster. ABC uses the same technique by writing another letter to poirot. Poirot anticipates unmasking ABC on the Doncaster St. Leger race course. However, ABC attacks in a cinema hall, murdering George Earlsfield using a knife instead of Roger Emmanuel Downes, a logical victim sitting only two seats away. He also leaves the ABC railway guide on the floor between the legs of the victim (Christie, 1971).
It is imperative to note that serial killer also chose his murder victims carefully. He only chose victims who had publicly known personal differences with their close relatives or accomplices to conceal his involvement or be suspected. For example, Alice had a drunkard husband Franz who had threatened to kill her; Betty also had a disagreement with her boyfriend Donald. This approach was to ensure that the partners become the suspects (Christie, 1972).
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However, before establishment of the real serial killer, Alexander Bonaparte Cust who works as a travelling salesman is suspected in all the accounts to be the murderer. When his house is searched, boxes of ABC railway guides similar to those left as hints after every murder, packets of stockings and a typewriter used to type all the warning letters sent to Poirot are found. After intense interrogations, it emerges that Franklin, brother to Clarke was the serial killer who bought the typewriter, ABC railway guides and the stockings before sending them to Cust accosting himself as a ‘firm’. Detective Poirot informs him that his fingerprint was found on the typewriter keys, prompting him to attempt committing suicide, which is also foiled by the intelligent detective (Christie, 1983).
Contrasts in the ABC Murders
The ABC murders also contrast significantly from each other. Looking at the mode or killings, Alice and Clarke are murdered through hitting the back of their heads with a heavy material, while Betty is strangled using her belt at the beach and George Earsfield stabbed by a knife inside a cinema hall in Doncaster. ABC cleans the bloody knife using Cust’s sleeve and then slides it in Cust’s pocket to implicate him (Christie, 1983).
In the first, second and fourth murders, ABC mail the letters to Poirot using the correct address. However, he deliberately misspells Poirot’s address during his warning concerning the third murder making the later to delay by three days, probably to conceal the death of his brother at Churston who has been his prime target in his killing spree (Christie, 1983).
ABC also sends mixed signals by killing people across different socio-economic status. Alice is an old woman running her small shop in the poorer class section; Betty is a young girl just beginning life; Clarke being a very rich person only surviving with one wife suffering from cancer, and Bernard who is a barber. For the first time in the fourth murder, ABC kills a wrong person he had not planned, unlike in the first three instances where he murders by strictly following the alphabetical order principle in terms of name of the victim and the location.
ABC murders as depicted in the story expresses a very intelligent, well planned serial killer on the loose in England. The murders are similar in many ways including; same killing methods for first and third murder, issuing warning letters indicating the date and location of the murders in all the cases and leavings hints of the killer through the ABC railway guides common in all the cases. Two of the murders take place at night, while two during day time, although the forst murder takes place between 1730-1800 hours Christie, A. (1983). In all the four murders, the victims close relatives or friends are considered as the only suspects. These murders also contract from each other in a number of ways; (1) different killing methods for second murder through strangling and fourth through stabbing, (2) mailing the warning letter to Poirot using correct address for three cases except the third murder and (3) killing an unplanned person in the fourth murder.
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