A gripping three-part adaptation of the Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, The A.B.C. Murders, arrived on Amazon Prime February 1. In a television landscape saturated with true crime and depictions of real serial killers (like Netflix's most recent installation, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes), it's hard to resist wondering whether The A.B.C. Murders are real, too.
The crimes depicted in Agatha Christie's A.B.C. Murders, set in the early 1930s England, are undeniably heinous — but the murder plot itself is downright literary. I mean, just check out the alliteration. First, Alice Ascher is found dead in her Andover tobacco shop. Then, Elizabeth "Betty" Barnard is killed on the beach in Bexhill. The murderer finishes up his string with Sir Carmichael Clarke, who is killed outside his Churston home. At each site, the murderer leaves an ABC Railway Guide. After each crime, Hercule Poirot (John Malkovitch in the show), Christie's Belgian detective, receives a letter from a murder who signs his letters A.B.C.
Like most serial killers, A.B.C. follows a pattern in carrying out his crimes. But this kind of pattern requires a high level of foresight — or authorial intervention. Perhaps not surprisingly, the events found in The A.B.C. Murders are completely the product of Christie's imagination.
So, a novelist wrote a mystery novel — there's nothing inherently surprising in that. The uncanny part of the A.B.C. Murders' legacy comes decades later, when sets of murders took place in Rochester, New York and Northern California that resembled Christie's 1936 book.
Like Christie's A.B.C. murderer, the murderer who preyed on children in 1970s Rochester followed a deliberate pattern in carrying out these killings. His victims were all 10- and 11-year-old girls; they were all strangled. Finally, they all had alliterative names, and their bodies were found in towns with that initial. So in 1971, 10-year-old Carmen Colon was found strangled in Churchville, NY. In 1973, the body of Wanda Walkowicz turned up in Webster, and Michalle Maenza was found in Macedon.
The so-called "alphabet murders" or "double initial murders" of Rochester have remained unsolved for decades. But a string of uncannily similar unsolved murders that occurred in California in the '70s and '90s finally has a perpetrator. In 2013, 79-year-old Joseph Naso was sentenced to death for the murders of Roxene Roggasch, Carmen Colon, Pamela Parsons, and Tracy Tafoya.
Efforts have been made by law enforcement to link Naso to the Rochester murders. Clearly, there's a resemblance between the strings of murders — two of the victims even share a name. However, the one DNA sample taken from a Rochester victim didn't match Naso's. Also, Naso's extensive journals indicate that he preyed on adult women, not children.
But, as The Guardian points out, there may be credence in the theory that Naso is the Rochester double initials killer. In 1920, a 22-year-old woman named Sheila Shepard from Saratoga Springs, NY was found strangled. At the time of her murder, Naso, a photographer, was frequently traveling between New York and California. The Guardian posits that Shepard marked Naso's "transition" from children to adults.
One Alphabet Murderer sits on death row. One Alphabet Murderer is found in the pages of an Agatha Christie novel. And there's a chance that the third Alphabet Murderer, responsible for the deaths of three children, still walks free.
Agatha Christie couldn't have known that her story would one day have a real-world parallel. But Christie was a woman who believed in humans' capacity for darkness — as well as incredible logic. She probably wouldn't have been surprised.