In the end of the book it is said that the culprit believes, even though the crimes commited were perfect and police will be unable to solve it, there are three clues left that can help identify the Killer.

What are these three clues?

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Spoilers for the book follow

First, the killer is found with a bullet through the forehead. This is the "mark of Cain". Cain was the first murderer:

And the Lord said to him, Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him (Genesis 4:15).

The precise nature of the mark is not revealed, and there is uncertainty as to whether it was in fact a physical mark due to the difficulty of translating from the Hebrew. However, if it was a physical mark it must have been very obvious to serve its purpose.

How, then, do we deduce that the wound is to be interpreted as a mark? Because the killer in the book is playing God. As Lombard remarks in the book:

That is to say, he’s played God Almighty for a good many months every year. That must go to a man’s head eventually. He gets to see himself as all powerful, as holding the power of life and earth—and it’s possible that his brain might snap and he might want to go one step farther and be Executioner and Judge Extraordinary.

The second clue is that the actual killer is the only one who is not actually guilty of murder. His "crime" was sending Seton to the gallows in spite of a lack of conclusive evidence. However, our killer justifies this by pointing out that Seton was certainly guilty of a great many other things and nevertheless deserved to hang.

The final clue harks back to the poem that gave the book its original (now seen as offensive) title:

Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

This is the fate of Dr. Armstrong, who is discovered washed up on the beach. The killer had identified Armstrong as the weakest and most gullible member of the group and had tricked him into helping further his plan by deception. A "red herring" is a trick or a distraction and the inference is that the clue should help identify Armstrong as somehow being implicated in the plot.

  • 1
    Lombard's remark is specifically about the judge, right? Not about the (unknown) killer. So unless they already knew the judge was the killer, how would somebody connect this to the killer playing God? – Rand al'Thor Oct 19 '17 at 10:40
  • @Randal'Thor fair point - perhaps I'm overthinking this. One could presume that Christie was thinking of the mark as a physical one and was unaware of the debate around its nature. But I couldn't find any direct evidence for this so I went to the text instead. All three "clues" are extremely oblique and one could argue that their interpretation is reliant on someone piecing apparently unrelated information together - such as perceiving that judge could be seen as a god-like figure. – Matt Thrower Oct 19 '17 at 10:43

When I read this in middle school I discovered that the culprit's name contains the letters of the anonymous "U. N. Owen":

Justice Lawrence John Wargrave.

I've often looked for confirmation of this but haven't found it anywhere.

  • Do any of the others' names also contain these letters? If not, this could indeed be a (very subtle) hint. But without more info, it could also be just a coincidence - if you look for patterns, you will inevitably find something. – Rand al'Thor Sep 12 at 15:31
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    Not all of the letters and certainly not in the correct order. – Humphrey van Weydon Sep 12 at 16:33

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