Agatha Christie Wiki

Actress June Whitfield as Mrs Lancaster.

In the novel By the Pricking of My Thumbs, ”Mrs Lancaster” (real name Julia Starke AKA ”Killer Kate”, AKA ”Mrs Yorke”) was a resident at Sunny Ridge at the same time as Ada Fanshawe and Elizabeth Moody. When Tommy and Tuppence were at Sunny Ridge to visit Tommy's Aunt Ada Fanshawe, Mrs Lancaster surprised Tuppence by asking her it was her poor child behind the fireplace. She added that it was always the same time of day, ten past eleven. She was described as being an old lady with "white hair combed back off her face", and a "pretty pink and white face".

When Tommy and Tuppence return to the home a few weeks later to settle the affairs of Aunt Ada who had just died, they discover that Mrs Lancaster had been taken away by relatives quite suddenly. Tuppence thinks something strange is going on and that perhaps Mrs Lancaster is in danger and sets out to find her. This search forms the main plot of the story.

It is only towards the end of the story that she is found and her true identity is revealed. She was Julia, the daughter of Helen Warrender and the wife of Sir Philip Starke. In her youth she had been a dancer, and had later gotten involved in criminal activities. Later she developed a mania for killing children, believing that this was a divine mission to provide her own dead child with a companion. Sir Phillip, assisted by his secretry Nellie Bligh faked her death and had her moved to various old age or mental homes to keep her away from harming others.

She was, at one time, a resident at the Rosetrellis Court for Elderly Ladies, in Cumberland. While there she used the name Mrs Yorke.

At one point she might also have been a resident at Saltmarsh House, based on an event in Sleeping Murder.


Possible appearances[]

  • The Pale Horse - Mrs Lancaster is possible referenced in chapter 4. David Ardingly says that he was in the waiting room of a mental home when an old lady sipping a glass of milk asks him: "Is it your poor child who's buried there behind the fireplace?" This is the almost the exact same question Mrs Lancaster asked Tuppence. Here however the "always the same time" is ten past twelve.
  • Sleeping Murder - in chapter 10 when Gwenda Reed is at Saltmarsh house, an old lady holding a glass of milk sits down near the fireplace and asks her "Is it your poor child, my dear?" Here she says it's always half past ten.


This Mrs Lancaster is not the same woman as the Mrs Lancaster in the short story The Lamp.