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Lenfranco Cassetti (Alias Samuel Ratchet) is a victim who appeared in Murder on the Orient Express, the famous Hercule Poirot novel written by Agatha Christie. However, he was soon revealed to be a notorious kidnapper and child murderer and was killed by the victim's relatives and friends (13 people in total on the same train) for revenge.
In each film/TV adaptations, he was portrayed by Richard Widmark (in 1974), Peter Strauss (in 2001), Toby Jones (in 2010) and Johnny Depp (2017). In the 2006 video game adaptation, Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express, he was voiced by Sean Donnellan.
During the journey to Western Europe on the Orient Express, Poirot is approached by one of the passengers, Mr. Samuel Ratchett, an American businessman, who claims his life is in danger. He produces a small gun that he carries at all times, saying he believes it's necessary. He wants to hire Poirot to discover who is threatening him. Despite offers of increasingly substantial sums of money, Poirot declines his offer, saying, "I do not like your face".
That night, in Vinkovci, at about 23 minutes before 1:00 a.m., Poirot wakes to the sound of a scream. It seems to come from the compartment next to his, which is occupied by Mr. Ratchett. When Poirot peeks out his door, he sees the conductor knock on Mr. Ratchett's door and ask if he is all right. A man's voice replies in French, "Ce n'est rien. Je me suis trompé" ("It's nothing. I was mistaken"), and the conductor moves on to answer another bell further down the passage. Poirot decides to go back to bed but is disturbed by the fact that the train is unusually still.
As he lies awake, Poirot hears Mrs. Hubbard ringing the bell urgently. When he rings the conductor for a bottle of mineral water, Poirot learns that Mrs. Hubbard claimed that someone had been in her compartment and the train has stopped because a large snowdrift is blocking the track. He dismisses the conductor and tries to go back to sleep, only to be awakened again by a knock on his door. This time, when Poirot gets up and looks out his door, the passage outside his compartment is empty, except for a woman in a scarlet kimono retreating down the passage in the distance. The next day, he awakens to find that Ratchett is dead, having been stabbed 12 times in his sleep. Bouc suggests that Poirot take the case, as he is so experienced with similar mysteries. Nothing more is required than for Poirot to sit, think, and take in the available evidence.
The door to Ratchett's compartment was locked and chained. One of the windows is open. Some of the stab wounds are very deep, at least three are lethal, and some are glancing blows. Furthermore, some of the wounds appear to have been inflicted by a right-handed person and some by a left-handed one. The pistol Ratchett carried is discovered under his pillow, unfired. A glass on the nightstand is examined and revealed to be drugged. A small pocket watch is discovered in Ratchett's pajamas, broken and stopped at 1:15 a.m.
Poirot finds several more clues in the victim's cabin and on board the train, including a woman's linen handkerchief embroidered with the initial "H", a pipe cleaner, and a button from a conductor's uniform. All of these clues suggest that the murderer or murderers were somewhat sloppy. However, each clue seemingly points to different suspects, which suggests that some of the clues were planted.
By reconstructing parts of a burned letter, Poirot discovers that Ratchett was a notorious fugitive from the United States named Lenfranco Cassetti. Five years earlier, Cassetti kidnapped three-year-old American heiress Daisy Armstrong. Although the Armstrong family paid a large ransom, Cassetti murdered the little girl long before the ransom deadline and fled the country with the money. Daisy's mother, Sonia, was pregnant when she heard of Daisy's death. The shock sent her into premature labour, and both she and the baby died. Her husband, Colonel Armstrong, shot himself out of grief. Daisy's nursemaid, Susanne, was suspected of complicity in the crime by the police, despite her protests. She threw herself out of a window and died, although she was later proved innocent. Although Cassetti was caught, his resources allowed him to get himself acquitted on an unspecified technicality, although he still fled the country to escape further prosecution for the crime. In the 1974 movie, he hired a man to kidnap and Murder Daisy, but then betrayed him by leaving him to be executed and fleeing the country with the Ransom money. In the 2017 film, Cassetti's first name is John and he committed the crimes by himself two years earlier, but there was no trial for him. As the evidence mounts, it continues to point in different directions, giving the appearance that Poirot is being challenged by a mastermind. A critical piece of missing evidence—the scarlet kimono worn the night of the murder by an unknown woman—turns up on top of Poirot's own luggage.
After meditating on the evidence, Poirot assembles Bouc and Dr. Constantine, along with the 13 suspects, in the restaurant car, and lays out two possible explanations of Cassetti's murder. The first explanation is that a stranger—some gangster enemy of Cassetti—boarded the train at Vinkovci, the previous stop, murdered Cassetti for reasons unknown, then escaped unnoticed and its possible that the man has already left Yugoslavia. The crime occurred an hour earlier than everyone thought, because the victim and several others failed to note that the train had just crossed into a different time zone. The other noises heard by Poirot on the coach that evening were unrelated to the murder. However, Dr. Constantine objects, saying that Poirot must surely be aware that this does not explain the circumstances of the case.
Poirot's second explanation is much longer and rather more sensational: all of the suspects are guilty. Poirot's suspicions were first aroused by the fact that all the passengers on the train and the conductor were of so many different nationalities and social classes, and that only in the "melting pot" of the United States would a group of such different people form some connection with each other.
Poirot reveals that the 12 other passengers on the train, and the train conductor, were all connected to the Armstrong family in some way:
- Hector Willard MacQueen, Ratchett/Cassetti's secretary was devoted to Sonia Armstrong. MacQueen's father was the district attorney for the kidnapping case. He knew from his father the details of Cassetti's escape from justice and intended to kill Cassetti.
- Edward Henry Masterman, Ratchett/Cassetti's valet, was Colonel Armstrong's batman during the war, and later his valet, who also acted as butler to the Armstrong household.
- Colonel Arbuthnot was Colonel Armstrong's comrade and best friend.
- Mrs. Hubbard is, in actuality, Linda Arden (maiden name Goldenberg), the most famous tragic actress of the New York stage, and was Sonia Armstrong's mother and Daisy's grandmother.
- Countess Andrenyi (née Helena Goldenberg) was Sonia Armstrong's sister.
- Count Andrenyi is the husband of Helena Andrenyi.
- Princess Natalia Dragomiroff was Sonia Armstrong's godmother, and a friend of her mother.
- Miss Mary Debenham was Sonia Armstrong's secretary and Daisy Armstrong's governess.
- Fräulein Hildegarde Schmidt was the Armstrong family's cook.
- Antonio Foscarelli, a car salesman based in Chicago, was the Armstrong family's chauffeur.
- Miss Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary, was Daisy Armstrong's nurse.
- Pierre Michel, the train conductor, was the father of Susanne, the Armstrong's nursemaid who committed suicide.
- Cyrus Hardman, a private detective ostensibly retained as a bodyguard by Ratchett/Cassetti, was a policeman in love with Susanne.
All these friends and relations had been gravely affected by Daisy's murder, and outraged by Cassetti's subsequent escape. They took it into their own hands to serve as Cassetti's executioners, to avenge a crime the law was unable to punish. Each of the suspects stabbed Cassetti once, so that no one could know who delivered the fatal blow. Twelve of the conspirators participated to allow for a "12-person jury", with Countess Andrenyi taking no part in the crime as she would have been suspected the most, so her husband took her place (in the 1974 movie, they both stabbed Cassetti by holding the dagger. One extra berth was booked under a fictitious name – Harris – so that no one but the conspirators and the victim would be on board the coach, and this fictitious person would subsequently disappear and become the primary suspect in Cassetti's murder. (The only people not involved in the plot would be "M. Bouc," for whom the cabin next to Cassetti had already been reserved, and Dr Constantine). The main inconvenience for the executioners was the snowstorm and the last minute, unwelcome presence of Poirot, which caused complications resulting in several crucial clues being left behind.
Poirot summarises that there was no other way the murder could have taken place, given the evidence. Several of the suspects have broken down in tears as he has revealed their connection to the Armstrong family, and Mrs. Hubbard/Linda Arden confesses that the second theory is correct, but begs Poirot to tell the authorities that she acted alone as Cassetti's murderess. The evidence could be skewed to implicate her and she declares she would gladly go to prison if it meant the other passengers were spared. She points out that everyone present has suffered because of Cassetti's misdeeds, that there would likely have been other victims like Daisy if Cassetti had gone unpunished, and that Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham are in love. Fully in sympathy with the Armstrong family, and feeling nothing but disgust for the victim, Bouc pronounces the first explanation as correct. Dr. Constantine agrees, saying he will edit his original report of the murder as he now "recognizes" some mistakes he has made, which clearly indicate that Poirot's first explanation was correct, after all. Poirot announces that he has "the honour to retire from the case". 8
In Agatha Christie's Poirot
Cassetti was a mafia henchman in Long Island in America. He kidnapped a three-year old girl, Daisy Armstrong, and sent her parents a ransom demand of $100'000. Even though it was paid, Cassetti had already killed Daisy, whose pregnant mother was so shocked by the report of her death that she went into premature labor; both she and the baby died. Her husband, Colonel Armstrong, unable to face another day, killed himself out of grief. The Armstrongs' maid, who had been arrested on suspicion of aiding the kidnapper, also killed herself in her cell. Though she had in fact casually told Cassetti a few things about the family and the house, she was completely unaware as to who he was and what he was planning. Cassetti was arrested, but since his mafia associates had leverage on members of the legal system, evidence was "misplaced" and Cassetti went free. He took the ransom money, adopted a new identity as "Samuel Ratchett", and went on the run.
Mary Debenham organised a meeting of all those he had wronged. They gathered on the Orient Express where Cassetti was travelling. He had received threatening messages, telling him to return the $200'000 to a lockbox. He predicted that his life was in danger and asked Hercule Poirot for help; he refused. Cassetti was drugged, paralyzing him. That night, twelve people gathered at his lodging on the train. Each took a turn in stabbing him, ensuring that none of them knew for sure who delivered the killing blow. After solving the crime, Poirot let the murderers go as they had killed an evil man.
- Like Paul Déroulard, Cassetti is an interesting case in Poirot novels, since he was both a victim and a murderer, yet served as the sole villains in their respective stories for the people who killed them were actually sympathetic.
- Like Grace Springer, Mrs. Clapperton, Henry Reedburn, Harrington Pace, Sir Reuben Astwell, Paul Renauld, Simeon Lee, Lady Boynton, Leslie Ferrier, Paul Déroulard, Mary Gerard, Lord Edgware, Madame Giselle and Stephen Norton, Cassetti is presented as a murder victim, but their depraved nature and/or former crimes soon come to light in some parts of the stories.
- In Agatha Christie's Poirot, Cassetti seemed to have some remorse and confessed the sins to God before his death, though it never saved him from his doom.
References to actual history
- The Armstrong kidnapping case was based on the actual kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in 1932, just before the book was written. An innocent, but perhaps loose-lipped, maid employed by Mrs. Lindbergh's parents was suspected of involvement in the crime. After being harshly interrogated by police, she committed suicide.
Alfred Inglethorp | Evelyn Howard | Marthe Daubreuil | Jane Wilkinson | Cassetti | Sir Charles Cartwright | Norman Gale | Dr. Roberts | Franklin Clarke | Bella Tanios | Nurse Harris | Jacqueline de Bellefort | Simon Doyle | Lady Westholme | Superintendent Sugden | Jessie Hopkins | Martin Alistair Blunt | Patrick Redfern | Elsa Greer | Miss Gilchrist | Marrascaud | Nigel Chapman | Ann Shapland | Gerda Christow | Dr. James Sheppard | Rowena Drake | Nick Buckley | Micheal Garfield | Stephen Norton
Grace Springer | Mrs. Clapperton | Henry Reedburn | Harrington Pace | Sir Reuben Astwell | Paul Renauld | Cassetti | Simeon Lee | Lady Boynton | Leslie Ferrier | Paul Déroulard | Mary Gerard | Lord Edgware | Madame Giselle | Stephen Norton
TV series only